Lammas, Lughnasadh or Freyfaxi--Harvest's Start is Here!

There were three men came out of the West
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Threw clods all upon his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was Dead.--Traditional

Image from
In Northern Europe, the summer months were often difficult.  While stores from the previous year were dwindling away, fresh food was still growing.  The beginning of August marked the start of harvest from gardens and fields, the fertility of a successful crop and hope for a bounteous year.  Because of this, our ancestors from the UK, France, Germany, and Scandinavia all celebrated this time of year in various ways. 

In the UK, Lammas(Loaf Mass) was one of the important feasts of the middle ages, where the first loaves made from the new harvest were brought to the church to be blessed.  In Ireland and Scotland(and most likely also in Gaul up until the First Century), it was Lughnasadh to the Celts; a time devoted to the hero-god Lugh.  There are many local folk traditions still remaining in various place, often strongly tied to fertility.  The "Harvest Mare" in Wales, or corn dollies are another theme, where the last grain gathered is fashioned into a braid or figure, which is then kept until the following spring. 

Many modern Heathens have Freyfaxi on this day, the name a reference to evidence of the ancient sacrifice of horses to the god Freyr, the Norse god of crops and fertility. Others tie this time of year to his mother, Nerthus, or link it to the interplay between Thor, the god of lighting and summer rain, and his bride Sif's magical golden hair.

In Slavic nations, there is some evidence that the worship of Perun, a god of thunder and lightening similar to Thor, was for the most part passed on to "Elijah the Thunderer"  after Christianity became common, and August second is still his Saint's Day in some areas. 

Whatever the belief system, it seems to me as though for many of the traditions that exist, an ongoing theme is the interplay of two concepts:  Bounty and Sacrifice. 

My friend Thalassa over at Musings of a Kitchen Witch took a modern approach to both in her recent Lammas post.  She points out the extremes of the current relationship with food, particularly that, while many go hungry in the world, Americans in particular have developed serious problems with an overabundance of empty calories, with our strange malnourished obesity rapidly becoming a cultural epidemic.Her advice?  To take this season and become involved.  I would like to add to her recommendations the idea that many food pantries in America run low in the summer, since most people donate during the winter holiday season. 

Happy Lammas, and wishing you all a rich and plentiful coming year!


Kjerstin said...

LOVE this post! There's a lot to be said for eating seasonally... I've been doing Bountiful Baskets over this last semester and it's been wonderful to get fruit and veggies in season throughout the summer. Not quite like having a garden, but still pretty nice!

Jesse said...

I really need to start doing Bountiful Baskets! I keep having people tell me how great it is, and just haven't been able to swing it.

I need to make that a priority here!

~~louise~~ said...

Oh Jesse,

I so wanted to do a post for Lammas. Now I'm glad I didn't. You did a wonderful job of truly captivating the spirit of Lammas. I'm so glad I didn't miss this post. I am absolutely going to save it for the future.

Thank you so much for sharing...

~~louise~~ said...

P.S. Thanks for adding me to your sidebar. I've done the same. To think I almost missed this post. Now, I don't need to worry any longer:)

Jesse said...

You're welcome! I've missed a couple of yours lately and was really sad when I finally noticed!

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