Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lammas: Celebration of the First Harvest


Traditionally, Lammas marked the closing of one growing season and the safeguarding of another through the winter. Lammas is recognized as a Christian holy day, and is celebrated by the Church on the 1st of August. The celebrations often took place the last day of July or the first day of August, with the harvesting of grain. The sacredness of grain has been noted as far back as humanity itself. It is also a cross-quarter day, one of the four High Holidays or Greater Sabbats of Paganism. 'Lammas' was the medieval Christian name for the holiday and it means 'loaf-mass', for this was the day on which loaves of bread were baked from the first grain harvest and laid on the church altars as offerings. Strong associations of grains to the Gods or Goddesses of death and resurrection were also present.

Grains make up the main sacred meal in many different cultures. For example, the barley meal, called Tsampa, is part of the Tibetan daily diet. In North America, the corn meal staple, eaten daily by Native Americans of the Northeast is called Samp. It has been discovered that in many of the homes of Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, Hungary and Yugoslavia, there are small clay temple models which date back to the Neolithic period (6000-5000 BC). Many of these have human figures shaping and baking the loaves in bread ovens. In these countries, the Goddess of Life, Siva or Ziva, is shown holding a sheath of wheat.

Lammas has to do with consecrating the first loaf of bread made from the first harvest of that year. In the same spirit, corn dollies are made from the straw of the first harvest at this time as well. "Corn" in British means "grain" in American. Most of the famous "corn circles" that have occurred in Southern England in the last decade occurred in wheat fields, though other crops are involved as well. Modern corn dollies are many times made of wheat. In the case of the Iron Age Celts, their corn dollies were probably made from made from two early grains called emmer or spelt. Once again, in Celtic climes, this first harvest of the corn/grain crops occurs around the beginning of August.

Lammastide was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and themselves in bright colors and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange, ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers. The atmosphere must have been quite similar to our modern-day Renaissance Festivals.

A ceremonial highlight of such festivals was the 'Catherine wheel'. Although the Roman Church moved St. Catherine's feast day all around the calendar with bewildering frequency, it's most popular date was Lammas. A large wagon wheel was taken to the top of a near-by hill, covered with tar, set aflame, and ceremoniously rolled down the hill. Some mythologists see in this ritual the remnants of a Pagan rite symbolizing the end of summer, the flaming disk representing the sun-god in his decline. Just as the sun king has now reached the autumn of his years, his rival or dark self has just reached puberty. Traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Books of Shadows say very little about the holiday of Lammas, stating only that poles should be ridden and a circle dance performed. This seems strange, for Lammas is a holiday of rich mythic and cultural associations, providing endless resources for liturgical celebration.

The most popular of all stories of this time is that of the Celtic God Lugh, the Solar God of the Celts. Lughnasad marks that moment at the beginning of August just before the harvest of the seed that had been planted in Samhain (sow-an) in early November, first moved on its own at Imbolc in early February, and had sprouted and was growing at Beltane in early May. The Celtic harvest season began when the first crops were gathered at Lughnasad and lasted until the last sheep and cattle were brought down from the highland pastures in time for Samhain around the first of November.

Some myths say that Bel (of Beltane fame) was his father. Others say that both London (Lugh-dunum - Lugh's town) and Lyons in France were named after him (though the linguistic link is not particularly clear in either case). In any event, this Solar deity was honored throughout the Celtic world from Ireland to southern France. The Sun is critical to a successful harvest. Just as Lugh Long Arm offered himself to the Tuatha De Danann, the crops offer themselves to us at the peak of their power and ripeness. It's no wonder that Celts offer the first of their harvest to him.

In most cultures there is a story of the grain god and his dying and resurrection. The oldest possibility is the story of Tammuz, the Sumerian God, beloved of Ishtar. In Greece the grain God was a female, Demeter. In Rome, the Goddess was Ceres, from whose name the word "cereal" is derived. The Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians called their grain God Adonis. To the Anglo-Saxons and Norse people, the Goddess Freja is, among other things, a grain Goddess. Her name means The Lady, Giver of the Loaf.

In Christian mythology, there was a grove of trees sacred to Tammuz (the Sumerian grain God) in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. (Bethlehem, by the way, means "house of bread".) Many cultures look at the harvesting, winnowing and grinding of the grain as the death of God, and then the sprouting of grain as his resurrection. Churches to this day look at the bread as the body of the dying God, and often loaves are baked in the human form. Eating this bread is the partaking of eating the flesh of the God.

This Sabbat/festival is also known as the "Celebration of Bread". As bread was one of the main staples of our ancestors, the ripening of the grain was the cause for great celebration. The reaping, threshing and preparation of these breads spawned great ritual, feasting and ceremony to ensure a healthy bounty for the following year.
Lammas is a time of robust health and erotic energy. Ancient tribes met during this time of the year to gather news, to settle any disputed arguments, arrange marriages, and show off strength and skill. As might be expected, celebrations were held outside, under the bright blue sky. In addition to sporting events and traditional horse races, there was mighty feasting by the people. The celebration and honoring of these themes was fundamental to the fabric of our ancestors' lives and we should celebrate this festival with the same inspiration and energy. Whether your ceremony is the harvest of a vegetable garden, baking bread, or taking this time to make changes to your nature table, Lammas and Autumn have arrived and another season has turned.

Early people cut down the wheat with scythes and tied them into bundles. Then using flails, they pounded their grain to separate the kernels from the plants. By pounding, the husks were also loosened so they would come easily away from the grain. Beating the wheat was referred to as threshing. The kernels were then thrown high up into the air. The wind would catch the husks and carry them away, leaving only the grain behind. This was called winnowing.

They performed grinding of the grain by pounding two stones together. Native people used a mortar and pestle. Many times the pestle was carved from a piece of hardwood. It was used to literally pound the grain into flour. The quern was then developed, which was a hand-operated pair of grind stones. It was made of two round and flat stones placed on top of one another. The lower one did not move. The grain was then poured into a hole in the center of the top stone. As the top stone turned, the grain was crushed and the flour pushed out the sides. The quern sat on a barrel and the flour would spill over the edges and into the barrel. This led almost directly to the gristmills, which were so apparent near villages and town throughout the world.

Then, the baking of the bread began. The process was originally a four-step process. Grinding the grain, which was accomplished with the pounding between two stones. Followed by moistening it with water. Then shaping it into a loaf, usually a circular or round loaf. Finally baking the loaf. The first breads ever recorded were made by the Essene people. Essene bread was most likely baked on hot rocks under scorching sun light as they had no ovens.

The use of yeast came later, most likely in Egypt, where they used it for brewing beer and wine. Bread baking should be a sacred ritual. At Lammas, it is suggested that sprouted wheat be added to the loaf to express the idea of the dying and then resurrecting of the God of the Grain. (If you plan to do this, sprout the wheat a few days before baking. Directions for sprouting wheat are included in the Essene Bread recipe). Harvest & Essene bread (recipes follow) should be baked in rounds and torn apart, and eaten with the hands.

Some more ideas for celebration include the following: If you have a spring or well in your area, bless it and decorate it with flowers or float flowers at a local creek or pond. Take unwanted things (such as bad habits) from your life by throwing symbols of them into a fire. Bake a loaf of bread in the shape of a man and make him a part of your feast. Actually harvest the fruits from your garden with your family. If you don't have a garden, visit one of the pick-your-own farms in your area or support your local farmers market, and thank the farmers who have brought you these wonderful fruits and vegetables. Share your harvest with others who are less fortunate or cannot make the bread themselves. Finally, at the nature table: take a walk and collect goodies from the outside. Decorate with sickles, fresh vegetables & fruits, grains, berries, corn dollies, bread. The traditional Lammas colors are orange, gold, yellow, red and bronze.

REFERENCES:
Hope, Murry. 1987. Practical Celtic Magic. Thorsons Publishing Group, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press.
Ross, Anne, Dr. 1986. Druids,Gods & Heroes from Celtic Mythology Peter Lowe Publishers.




Celtic Warrior
by
Theodor de Bry, 1590.


It was just before that mighty confrontation, known as the Second Battle of Moytura, where the Tuatha De Danann met the Fomorians face to face that Lugh, the deity after whom Lughnasad is named, first comes to Irish Celtic consciousness. He showed up at the walls of Tara during the celebration of King Nuada's reinstatement.


"Who are you and what is your purpose?" was the challenge from the doorkeeper.
"Tell King Nuada that Lugh Long Arm is here. Take me to the King for I can help him."
"And what skill do you have, for no one enters Tara without qualifications," replied the man at the gate.
"Question me doorkeeper, I am a carpenter."
"We have one already."
"Question me, I am a smith."
"Sorry, we have one of them as well.
"I am a champion warrior."
"We've got our own."


At this point, it appeared that anything that Lugh might offer, the gateman would reject, but Lugh persisted with a list of his qualifications - harpist, poet, sorcerer, one skilled in the strategies and tactics of war, cupbearer, metalworker and physician. In each case, the gateman replied that they already had one. Finally Lugh said, "Then ask the good King if he has anyone who has all of these skills. If he does, I will not enter Tara."


When King Nuada heard these words, he sent his best chess player to the main gate of Tara to challenge Lugh to a game of chess. Lugh firmly trounced him. At this, Lugh was finally welcomed to Tara, and went on to lead the warriors as Battle Chief of the Tuatha De Danann to victory over Eochaid and the Fomorians.

First Harvest Bread
You can use Vegan versions if you wish !

2 cups milk (slightly warmed)
2 packages dry baking yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Mix these ingredients together and then cover the bowl and set in a warm place until mixture has doubled in size (approx. 45 minutes). Then add to this mixture the following:

3 Tablespoons softened butter
2 cups unbleached white flour

Stir until bubbly. Now comes our favorite part: adding the sprouted wheat:

1 cup sprouted wheat
1 cup rye flour
2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour

With flour on the board and your hands, turn out the dough. Gradually begin to knead the dough, adding more unbleached white flour until the dough becomes elastic and smooth and no longer sticks to your fingers. Place into a lightly greased bowl, turning once to cover all of the dough, and cover with a cloth. Keep it in a warm place until it has doubled in size (this time about one hour). Punch dough down and separate into two loaves or slightly flattened rounds. Place on greased cookie sheet and cover again with cloth. Let dough double in size once again (another hour). Beat a whole egg and a Tablespoon of water together and brush over both loaves. Bake in a 300 degree oven for approx. 1 hour or until they sound hollow when they are tapped.

We serve ours with Earth Balance butter sweetened with honey, or spiced up with some garlic or parsley.

Blessings on your harvest bread!

Verses for the Miller

The Miller

The windmill stands out
On top of the hill,
And when the wind blows
The great sails never stand still.
We'll go up and talk
To the miller so gay,
And then to grind corn
He will show us the way.
chorus:
The long arms go round,
The wheels go click-clack,
The white flour slips down
And is caught in a sack.
The miller's man carries it
Off to make bread,
For little boys, little girls,
All must be fed.

The miller is dusty,
His clothes are all white,
He's working amongst flour
From morning till night.
The sacks are so heavy,
They make him quite hot,
But he laughs at hard work
And he cares not a jot.
chorus
The long arms go round...

Blow, Wind, Blow
Go, mill, go!
That the miller may grind his corn,
That the baker may take it
And into rolls bake it,
And bring us some hot in the morn.

Winding and Grinding
Round goes the mill,
Winding and grinding,
Can never stand still.

Ask not your neighbor
Grinds great or small,
Spare not your labor,
Grind the wheat all.

Winding and grinding,
Round goes the mill,
Winding and grinding,
Can never stand still.

The Mill Wheel

Round, round it goes! As fast as the water flows
The dripping, dropping, rolling wheel
That turns the noisy, dusty mill;
Round, round it goes! As fast as the water flows.

Turning all the day, it never stops to play;
The dripping, dropping, rolling wheel,
But keeps on grinding golden meal.
Turning all the day, it never stops to play.

Sparkling in the sun, the merry waters run.
Upon the foaming, flashing wheel
That laughs aloud, but worketh still,
Sparkling in the sun, the merry waters run.

The Miller

When a mill went up, many people moved to the region to be able to get flour for their bread. A good miller was very important in these communities. A good miller needed to know how to operate and maintain the gristmill. He needed to know about the different grains, and grinding them without spoiling the flour. He needed to be strong, to carry bags of grain and flour back and forth from the mill. He worked very hard, because everyone needed their grains ground into flour for their bread. The miller was most likely paid in flour. he would then trade his flour for the items he needed. Often times these included food, goods, services and land. The miller quickly became one of the richest men in the community. For many Waldorf teachers, the miller symbolizes the activity of how to work the fruits of the earth, and the joy, which comes from that experience. He strongly symbolizes spirit cognition.

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