Depending on your individual spiritual path, Lammas may be an excellent opportunity to do some inner work. This is the harvest season and part of the cycle of rebirth. Many take this time to reflect on the upcoming abundance and reap what they have sown throughout the past few months. Be grateful for all you have, but also take time to prepare yourself for colder days ahead. Plan ahead for the next year, consider what you need to do to achieve your goals, reevaluate your efforts and sacrifices. Others take it as opportunity to celebrate their own skills and abilities, knowing that summer days are soon coming to an end. It is a time of excitement and magic, and a time for sharing bread and wine with friends and family.
Lughnasadh is one of the four ancient Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolic, and Beltane. It is named after Irish sun god Lugh. Whereas the English/Anglo Saxon word for this festival is Lammas (meaning loaf/bread), Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest season, the time for gathering in and giving thanks for abundance.
In the Northern Hemisphere this is typically celebrated on July 31st or August 1st. The Sabbat is about the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth - the trees drop their leaves but are bloom again in the spring.
The Wheel of the Year has turned once more and you may feel like decorating your house accordingly. While you probably can't find too many items marked as "Lammas decor" in your local discount store, there are a number of items you can use to decorate for lammas (lughnasadh). Think autumn and harvest. Grapes and vines, dried grains, sheaves of wheat and bowls of oats all are great, or even corn dolls, squashes, pumpkins, apples, plums and peaches.
As part of your intentions to apply gratefulness practices in your Lammas traditions, consider building an altar and include all kinds of produce, grains, bread, and other agricultural symbols. This altar may simply be decorating your home, bringing the season into your space. Use bright autumn leaves, nuts, acorns, and other natural goodies found in nature during this time. Candles in deep rich colors such as reds, burgundies, or other late summer and early autumn colors can help you reflect the changing season. Cornflowers, poppies, and straw braids may also add a beautiful touch, dried or even fresh.
Lammas is a grain holiday, representing the first harvest, so also a great time to bake bread and share with your favorite primary care provider (hint, hint). In our modern world, it's often easy to forget the trials and tribulations our ancestors had to endure. For us, if we need a loaf of bread, we simply drive over to the local grocery store and buy a few bags of prepackaged bread. If we run out, it's no big deal, we just go and get more. When our ancestors lived, hundreds and thousands of years ago, the harvesting and processing of grain was crucial. If crops were left in the fields too long, or the bread not baked in time, families could starve. Taking care of one's crops meant the difference between life and death.
By celebrating Lammas as a harvest holiday, we honor our ancestors and the hard work they must have had to do in order to survive. This is a good time to give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives, and to be grateful for the food on our tables. Lammas is a time of transformation, of rebirth and new beginnings.
Celebrate Talents and Craftsmanship
It's a traditional time of year for craft festivals, and for skilled artisans to peddle their wares. In medieval Europe, guilds would arrange for their members to set up booths around a village green, festooned with bright ribbons and fall colors. Perhaps this is why so many modern Renaissance Festivals begin around this time of year!
Lugh is also known in some traditions as the patron of bards and magicians. Now is a great time of year to work on honing your own talents. Learn a new craft, or get better at an old one. Put on a play, write a story or poem, take up a musical instrument, or sing a song. Learn to dance! Whatever you choose to do, this is the right season for rebirth and renewal, so set August 1st as the day to share your new skill with your friends and family.
Celebrate with Ash
Because of its close association not only with the Divine, but also with knowledge, the ash tree can be worked into your holiday festivities in a number of ways. Did you know that in the British Isles, newborn babies were sometimes given a spoonful of Ash sap before leaving their mother's bed for the first time, to prevent disease and infant mortality. Placing Ash berries in a cradle protects the child from being taken away as a changeling by mischievous fae.
In Ireland, five trees stood guard over the land, in mythology, and three of them were Ash. You can often find Ash trees growing near holy wells and sacred springs. In a Norse myth, Odin hung from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days and nights so that he might be granted wisdom. Yggdrasil was an Ash tree, and since the time of Odin's ordeal, the ash has often been associated with divination and knowledge. It is eternally green, and lives in the middle of Asgard.
In some Celtic legends, the Ash tree is also seen as a tree sacred to the god Lugh, who is celebrated at Lughnasadh. Lugh and his warriors carried spears made of ash in some folktales. From Greek mythology, there is a tale of the Meliae. These nymphs were associated with Uranus, and said to make their homes in the ash tree. And in northern England, it was believed that if a maiden placed ash leaves under her pillow, she would have prophetic dreams of her future lover.
The Ash appears as Nion in the Celtic Ogham alphabet, a system also used for divination. Ash is one of three trees which were sacred to the Druids (Ash, Oak, and Thorn), and connects the inner self to the outer worlds. This is a symbol of connections and creativity, and of transitions between the worlds.
Some traditions of magic hold that the leaf of an Ash tree will bring you good fortune. Carry one in your pocket, those with an even number of leaflets on it are especially lucky. In some folk magic traditions, the ash leaf could be used to remove skin disorders such as #warts or boils. As an alternate practice, one could wear a needle in their clothing or carry a pin in their pocket for three days, and then drive the pin into the bark of an ash tree — the skin disorder will appear as a knob on the tree and disappear from the person who had it.
Protect Your Home
This is the time individuals think of protecting their home, their property, and their family. There are a number of ways to do this. Of course, there are superstitions and customs that many utilize during this time, and some cultures even that utilize magic. The use of protection spells has been documented back to the times of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, and is found in magical belief systems from all over the world. There are a number of simple ways you can do protection workings using items you probably already have around your house.
Consider making an onion braid. This is a simple protection charm to hang in your home to protect those who live there. Braiding is a very relaxing and magical way to spend an evening, and by braiding your onions, you can prepare them for winter storage – basically, you're accomplishing the magical and the mundane all in one shot. To do this, you'll need a bunch of onions with the green tops still attached, and about four feet of heavy twine. Begin folding the twine in half, and tying a knot near the end, creating a loop. Lay the twine on a flat surface and place an onion upside down so that the greens of the onion form a third "string", along with the two free ends of the twine.
Using the two free lengths of twine and the onion stem, form a tight braid. Repeat this until the onion is securely in place. Repeat the process with the rest of your onions, braiding them in and out between the other stems and the two strands of twine. As you do so, focus your intent. Onions are magically linked to protective magic, so you can braid the onions and recite an incantation linking them to whatever sort of protection you feel you need.
Others may implement crystals or stones into their protection rituals. Hematite is often used to create a barrier around your home. Maybe put a piece of hematite at each corner outside your home, or use amber, carnelian, or onyx. Protective oils and herbs may also be used, such as violet, thistle, honeysuckles, or fennel.
You may be familiar with the iron horseshoe for good luck. Hang the open end facing down to keep evil spirits out of your home. A horseshow found alongside the road was thought to be particularly powerful, and was known to provide protection against disease. It's funny; I grew up in Holland and so many of these superstitious practices are very familiar to me and I've always thought everyone did this, only more recently realizing these are things common to European culture, but much has been lost here in the States. Not too long ago, Jeremy and I were visiting a Mexican restaurant which had large horseshoes on the wall. We were both familiar with them hanging with the open side up to hold in the good luck, so I suppose to each their own with that one.
Black salt sprinkled around your home for protection is common to some. In western Scotland, it was once popular to make a small cross of rowan twigs and bind them together with red string. Hanging this in the window or over a door will keep negative influences from crossing the threshold. Whatever you do and for whatever reason, these can be nice rituals to discuss the importance of protecting one's home and one's family with your children. It's a great time to turn in, check yourself, and your habits and make needed corrections and updates as appropriate.
As a teenager, I so very much adored sunflowers and today, it is my oldest daughter's favorite flower. When summer is at its peak, it isn't uncommon to see rows of sunflowers blooming i all of their colorful glory. Ranging from just a foot or two high to well over eight feet in height, sunflowers come in a variety of yellows and oranges. They have been growing in North America for ages so there is a significant amount of folklore surround them.
Early colonists in North America learned about the many uses of sunflowers from the Native American tribes near them. In addition to being useful as a source of yellow and orange dye for fabric, the sunflower also comes in handy medicinally - it was known for its antimalarial properties. Some people also believed that sunflower seeds were preventatives against the spread of smallpox.
The sunflower originated in South and Central America, and migrated north, most likely due to the migration of Spanish conquistadors. Remains of sunflowers dating back 4,600 years have been found in Mexico. In the 1500s, Spanish explorers took sunflowers back to Europe with them, and the species has spread around the world since then.
In Greek mythology, there was a maiden who fell in love with Apollo. Every time he passed overhead in his fiery sun chariot, she stood in her garden and gazed at him longingly, even though she had chores and tasks to attend. Apollo, who made a point of shining brightly so people on earth couldn’t actually see him, eventually got fed up with the girl’s foolishness. He flung one of his sun arrows at her, and she turned into a sunflower on the spot. To this day, she faces east in the morning and west in the evenings, following the path of Apollo. In some versions of the story, it was not Apollo but the other gods who took pity upon her and turned her into a sunflower.
In many folkloric traditions, sunflowers are seen as symbols of good luck. Planting them around your home and garden will bring fortune your way. It is also said that if you pick a sunflower at sunset, then wear it on your person, it will bring you good luck the following day.
Sunflowers are often associated with truth, loyalty, and honesty. If you want to know the truth about something, sleep with a sunflower under your pillow - and the next day, before the sun goes down, the truth should be revealed to you. The sunflower is considered a flower of loyalty because day after day, it follows the sun, from east to west. In some folk magic traditions, it is believed that slipping a bit of sunflower oil or seeds into someone’s food or drink will cause them to be loyal to you.
The sunflower is often associated with fertility, thanks to its connection to the sun. To bring about conception, eat sunflower seeds or take a ritual bath with sunflower petals. A necklace or crown of dried sunflower heads can be worn–particularly at Litha, the summer solstice–to bring about fertility.
In 17th Century Europe, some rural practitioners of folk magic used an ointment that would help them see the Faerie folk. This used a blend of several summer, sun-oriented flowers, mixed in with sunflower oil and left in the sun for three days until it thickened.
In some forms of Hoodoo, the sunflower is associated with great joy. The oil is often used as a base in magical oils for ritual purposes. You can blend your own magical sunflower oil by blending freshly harvested petals into a carrier or base of sunflower seed oil, which is available in most grocery stores then leave it in the sun to absorb solar energy prior to use.
Make Your Own Smudge Sticks
Smudging is a great way to cleanse a sacred space, and most people use smudge sticks made of sweetgrass or sage for this purpose. Although they are available commercially—and are fairly inexpensive—it's easy to make your own if you've got herbs growing in your garden, or if there's a place nearby where you can go wildcrafting.
Although the use of wrapped smudge sticks is generally attributed to Native American cultures and practices, the burning of fragrant herbs in a ritual context is found in numerous societies throughout history. Herbs were burned in ancient Egypt, and the practice is recorded and documented in a tablet inscription that has been dated back to 1500 b.c.e. Many eastern spiritual systems, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shinto, utilize burning herbs—either loose or as compacted incense—in ritual practice. For the ancient Greeks, smudging was included in rituals to contact the dead, and often was used in tandem with ritual fasting.