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Pagan Wheel of the Year: Lammas/Lughnasadh

Lammas//Lughnasadh (pron. LOO-nah-sah)

Stones: Aventurine, Citrine and Peridot

Colours: Gold, yellow, orange and red

Sign: Leo – Ruler of the 5th House – house of creativity, love affairs, pleasure, fun and children

Tarot Cards: Strength (8) and Wheel of Fortune

Regardless of any faith or following we might hold; this time of year feels like something to be celebrated. I’ve been looking into some of the customs and folklore surrounding Lughnasadh having felt the pull to celebrate this year!

The etymology of this calendar day seems to split opinion in terms of origin. One theory suggests that it is associated with the ancient Irish deity Lugh – patron of all human skills, with a particular interest in Kings, fun and heroic escapades! Another theory places Lammas as an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “Bread-Mass” and there are plenty of thoughts on both titles in between. The names are interchangeable so there is a good chance that these are just examples of the same celebration in different hats; a literal carb-fest, if you will – a feast day to enjoy the abundance of the season, to bring in the first harvest and to drink…a lot…

If you have a spare hour or six, the ‘Corn King’ is a fun rabbit hole to investigate. Many of us will be familiar with corn dollies – the very much pagan practise of twisting barley to create the shape of a woman (Venus/fertility Goddess imagery) and placing them over the front door or in the home as a protective poppet – has trickled down into being a part of the Christian faith Harvest Festival as a decoration to represent agriculture. However, the ‘Corn King’ appeared again and again in my research – references spanned from to a game in which the player is encouraged to throw a sickle at a man made of straw until his head comes off; through to mentions in modern cinema like Wicker Man and Midsommar. It is suggested that this ritual or fun killing of kingly effigies is a call back to the belief that an ancient people would sacrifice their king around this time of year, to ensure a bountiful harvest. This theme appears in Tarot too! In Tarot, it is in the Wheel of Fortune card (particularly in the Morgan-Greer deck, but referenced in Rider-Waite Smith etc) that we see the wheel turning; an old king losing his place or being sacrificed, in order for fate, time and the wheel of the year to keep on turning.

Medieval European texts make reference the kneading, baking and eating of bread around this time, even before any mention of a fixed festival date. In writings from the 17th Century, make note of the loudness and party spirit of those working the land over Lughnasadh but predominantly focus PURELY on the food and drink consumed during the feast time! (Looking at you, Instagram - some things never change!) This does mean that we have a fairly solid idea of what to consume to engage in some traditional Lammas feasting-fun! Bread (obviously), popcorn and other grain-based foods, beetroot, apples, ginger or peppery veg like rocket and an assortment of meat and sweet pies. We need to think in terms of tasty, seasonal foods that take time and effort to prepare. Pasties were a popular choice, especially as they used to be an entire hand-held meal with meat in gravy at one end and sweetened fruit in the other! Strong red wine and Mead are the drinks of choice – don’t forget to drink deep, all the writings are really keen on that detail. Gingerbread men have become a modern-day favourite as this both “kills the king” and is delicious. Be sure to consume these head first for the proper effect.

Considering the classic pagan/witchcraft go-to of IMMEDIATELY CLEANSING, ENERGIZING AND PURIFYING WITH FLAMES – Lughnasadh is rarely celebrated with fire (fire and dry, recently harvested crops don’t seem like a top-quality mix). However, a nice (contained) lit charcoal brick with some combination of the following herbs on it would make a pretty lovely Lammas incense. Thyme (for cleansing, healing and yin energy), Marjoram (for peace in the home), Rose (like a loving hug for you and your household), Marigold (for inviting abundance) Sandalwood (for calming and protection) and Frankincense resin (for deep energetic cleansing and protection). All of these together makes for a solid elemental blend for cleansing, balancing and feeling contentment with your crop!

Hazel wood is also known to be related to Lughnasadh, a tree associated with Mercury – Planet of communication. Potentially, this could stem from the belief that the Gods created an alphabet using Hazel leaves to convey secret messages to one another so that us mere mortals could never crack the code. Hazel is often the wand material of choice for green or hedge witches (again, in the spirit of communication- translating intent to hand, hand to wand, hand to energy) as well as hazel branches being used for water-dowsing. If ever there was a perfect time to responsibly forage and (carefully) whittle a hazel wand, it’s now folks.

There seems to be so many different ways that cultures used to ‘mourning the death of John Barleycorn’ that have died away. However, there is a suggestion that a few across the UK still survive in some variation. In fact, it might be said that the ‘Burry Man’ of South Queensferry in Scotland. The role of ‘Burry Man’ is an esteemed honour bestowed upon a man local to South Queensferry; his parade involves him dressing head to ankle in bur covered chicken wire (burs being clawed, sticky, dried seeds or fruit) and decorated with flowers or leaves. He then, painfully, waddles through South Queensferry on a slow pub crawl (drinking at every bar in the town), while people give him whisky, money or stick more burs to his outfit to ensure good luck for the year ahead! It was first recorded in 1687 and the locals quote it as a 12th Century practice! This whole march is believed to bring good fortune to the town, much in the way the parade and sacrifice of the Corn King may have in the eyes of our ancestors (and with just as much booze). It looks like the ‘Burry Man’ has survived global pandemic and will be back at it again on the 12th of August 2022 if you’re nearby and fancy cheering him on!

As for my first real celebration of Lammas on the day this year; I’ll be cleaning house to make room for the new, baking bread to say thanks for the old and destroying gingery men to ensure a bountiful and fun year ahead!

Happy Lughnasadh, everyone! Written by Amelia Whitehouse 2020

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