At your Festival sounds the horn,
Calling the people again,
Child of barleycorn, newly summer-born,
Ripening like the grain.
—Gwydion Pendderwen, Lughnasad Dance
Lammas is a Feast observed in the Old Calendar. It marks the offering of the First Fruits before the holy altars of the Guardians of the Land and the Old Ones, revered by our ancestors. As a “cross quarter day,” it falls traditionally between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. My personal preference is to honor it in accord with events observed in the local harvest cycle, though I usually celebrate with my beloved Green Men in mid August or later, depending on how busy everyone always is in High Summer.
As the date of August Eve approaches, I wait for that sudden gust of bracingly cool air that always seems to raise the hackles on my flesh. So unexpected in the heat of Summer–it makes one think of the gleam of a suddenly drawn blade by moonlight. I had just this experience last Saturday, two days before writing these words. I was walking down a lane near my home and suddenly a blast of cool air, seemingly from nowhere, made me pause and shiver. And I reflected on the season of the year and marked the sign of the Lammas tide drawing in.
After I had been turning the Wheel of the Year for awhile, I began to notice that Lammas is a very special Sabbat for me. These days inevitably bring forth a brooding, heavy energy. The Blade of Necessity is endowed with the twin edges of Sorrow and Fortitude. On Market Day, the local Farmers bring out the bounty of their fields by the groaning cartload. This morning I ate a dish of local peaches, blueberries and raspberries, and the flavors were finely ripened. I bring the peaches home from the Market and set them on a window ledge where the sun coaxes them into warmth and a firm, juicy softness. Lammas may have tinges of sorrow, but it is inevitably a deeply sensuous, even sexy time of year.
This is the first of three Holy Feasts associated with the Harvest, and as such, for me it inevitably adumbrates the twilight of Summer and intimations of Fall. The stories of the Tailtiu Games that have been recorded in some of the sources show that this was a time of fairs and merry-making, of games and diversions, singing and dancing. Some of the “games” that have been set down sound like quite the field day for pranksters, too. The peak of Summer is passing, but there is still time for fun, innocent or otherwise. Even in recent times the month of August, when all Europe traditionally goes on vacation, was described as the “silly season” in the news.
Perhaps it is all a reminder that where there is sun, there must also be shade. The Blessings of Darkness and Light are the twin Powers that rule the Wheel of the Year. And Lammas is a most significant point in that great Turning. There is sacrifice, but there is also hope for renewal, and an omen of new harvests yet to be envisioned awaiting us in the future.
I like to remember these words:
Thus the rite is done, the price paid, the sacrifice taken. But from this now dead ear shall spring new life, and each of you will in time take one seed from it. Plant it in your own homes, watch it grow, and then bring back to this our circle the seed from its growing. … As with the symbol of the seed, so may we take away with us some small part of the wisdom of the Mother.
(words from Lammas Liturgy, as recorded in Witchcraft: a Tradition Renewed, by Doreen Valiente and Evan John Jones)