Lughnassadh The Festival Of The Corn Harvest

This festival accords with many of Wiccan principles, especially the Threefold Law.

Time: Sunset 31 July-sunset 2 August (31 January-2 February in the southern hemisphere)

Focus: Willing sacrifice for the greater good, natural justice and karma, trusting the cosmos to provide by giving without seeking immediate return; also spiritual transformation, renewal of the life force by absorbing the powers of the spirit of the corn through food and drink.

This is the festival of the corn harvest, called Lammas or Loafmass, when on 1 August the first loaf is baked from the harvested wheat. It corresponds to the Christian harvest festival when in some churches corn is still offered on the altar, but the concept of offering up the first fruits to the deities in return for abundance throughout the year is a very ancient one.

The Lammas loaf, made in the pagan tradition from the last sheaf of corn to be cut down, was regarded as sacred by very early agricultural societies onwards. Before Christian times, it was believed to contain the spirit of the corn; the barley fermented by the autumn equinox was the blood of the Corn God, or the spirit of the crops, who in popular folk song was called John Barleycorn. This is probably the origin of the Wiccan cakes and ale ceremony. This last sheaf was cut by a number of people casting their sickles simultaneously, so no one would know who killed the Corn God, though he offered himself willingly so that there would be abundant future harvests.

As well as being used to make the harvest loaf, some of the corn was woven into corn dollies, symbol of the Earth Mother, decorated with the scarlet ribbons of Frigg, the Norse Mother Goddess. These corn dollies would be hung over domestic hearths throughout winter. Some were made into the shape of a Corn Mother or a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, and others were tied into knots that bound in the power and protection. This art continues today in rural places.

The old name for this month in the Celtic Coligny calendar was Claim-time, when debts would be collected and contracts were arranged. Trial marriages for a year and a day were frequently set up at Lammas, by young couples simply joining hands through a holed stone - they could renew the contract annually if they wished.

Lammas evolved over the centuries into an occasion for craft fairs and festivals, with people travelling from miles around to sell their wares. There were also parades by the trade guilds, and hiring fairs where workers were found to help in the fields for the summer weeks.

Nowadays, the festival energies are good for fighting injustice for oppressed people or creatures, especially for making sure that workers in Third World countries are not exploited financially; for teaching new skills so that people in poor lands and deprived areas may have a chance to create their own prosperity, and for all acts of unpublicised charity.

On a personal level, Lughnassadh is potent for rituals concerning justice, rights, contracts, business affairs, regularising finances and seeking advancement in career; for personal and legal commitments and partnerships of all kinds; also for learning new skills and trades and for mature people in their forties and fifties.

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