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Loaves of Bread at Lammas Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Dulse Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Groom carrying Bride over threshold Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Celtic God Lugh Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Harvest Crop Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Harvest sacrifice to the Gods Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

St. Catherine  Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Domnu, Mother Goddess of the Fomorians

Celtic Fires at Lammas Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.

Corn Dolly at Harvest Moville Inishowen Co Donegal.









Lammas - Lughasadh (1st August)

Lammas is a cross-quarter festival which falls around 1st August when summer is at its height. With the coming of Christianity to the Celtic lands, the old festival of Lughnasadh took on Christian symbolism. Loaves of bread were baked from the first of the harvested grain. It is the beginning of the long harvest period. 'Lammas' literally means 'loaf mass' - a celebration of the bread made from the first cutting of corn, and placed on the church altar on the first Sunday of August. At this time of year it feels like summer will go on forever, but this is the first warning of the coming winter. Food must be gathered and preserved from now until the last of the autumnal nuts have been collected. From now on the days will grow visibly shorter.

The Ould Lammas Fair which takes place in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, is a celebration which has been carried on for more than three centuries. Within the town, streets are lined with hundreds of stalls selling a wide variety of goods, from livestock to painted scrolls. But the busiest trade is always at the stalls offering the traditional Lammas treats of Yellow Man, a sticky honeycomb toffee; and Dulse, a reddish sea weed of the variety ‘palmaria palmata’ which has long been eaten and also used in medicine by the Irish - especially in the north. For the fair, it's collected from the nearby shores, dried out until it's crisp, and then packaged in bags for sale. To read more about The Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle
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In ancient days, the prosperity of the tribe relied upon the fertility of the land and its people. Harvesting grain was laborious work and each grain was considered to be precious. Threshing floors had a board nailed across so none was lost and this is remembered nowadays when a couple are newly married - the husband carried his wife over the threshold.

According to Celtic legend, Lugh decreed that a commemorative feast be held each year at the beginning of the harvest season to honor his foster mother, Tailtiu. Tailtiu was the royal Lady of the Fir Bolg. After the defeat of her people by the Tuatha De Dannan, she was obliged by them to clear a vast forest for the purpose of planting grain. She died of exhaustion in the attempt. The legend states that she was buried beneath a great mound named for her, at the spot where the first feast of Lughnasadh was held in Ireland, the hill of Tailte. When the men of Ireland gathered at her deathbed, she told them to hold funeral games in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. Tailtiu’s name is from Old Celtic Talantiu, "The Great One of the Earth," suggesting she may originally have been a personification of the land itself, like so many Irish goddesses. In fact, Lughnasadh has an older name, Brón Trogain, which refers to the painful labor of childbirth. For at this time of year, the earth gives birth to her first fruits so that her children might live. At this gathering were held games and contests of skill as well as a great feast made up of the first fruits of the summer harvest. As years passed, traditions surrounding the feast at Tailte began to solidify into events and ceremonial activities designed to celebrate not only Tailtiu and the bounty of the harvest that her original sacrifice provided but also to honor the work and sacrifice of human beings as they strove to provide sustenance for their families and community.

Lugh is also 'John Barleycorn', whose energy has gone into the grain and is cut down as a sacrifice to the fertility of the land. The god or spirit of the grain lived in the grain until the grain was harvested and then was released. However, once the god was released, there was no guarantee that it would return. So people may have begun the earliest corn dollies as a form of trapping the god so that it would not be freed, but would continue to grow good crops thus ensuring the survival of the community.

Grain has been an essential part of the community since humanity first decided to settle down and grow their own food rather than having to hunt it or gather as they followed the prey. But the crops were fallible. A storm could come at the wrong time, mice could eat the seeded grain, etc. and such a disaster could mean the difference between survival and starvation. So a new culture was built around the cycle of the all-important crops.

One of the most important and dangerous times of the year was during the harvest. If the crops were ripe and not yet safely gathered, they were vulnerable to all sorts of natural hazards which occurred according to the whims of the gods. So people did everything they could to assure that the harvest was safe and that the grain would rise again the following year.

It was also a common concept to hold sacrifices to a god or goddess for a successful outcome. This also occurred to ensure the fertility of the field and the success of the crop. Often the two concepts were combined, so that a sacrifice was encapsulated in the last few stalks of grain to be harvested from the field, such as the tradition associated with the "Knack" or "Neck" from Devon. Oral tradition has it that the story behind this particular design is that a person walking past the field when the last few stalks of grain were harvested was seized and ritually sacrificed and the body rolled in the last few stalks of grain.

Witches often refer to the astrological date of August 6th as Old Lammas. This date has long been considered a 'power point' of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the Lion, one of the 'tetramorph' figures found on the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune (the other three figures being the Bull, the Eagle, and the Spirit). Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four 'fixed' signs of the Zodiac, and these naturally align with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.
It was a time for communal festivities with bright, flaming Catherine Wheels (the root of "Catherine" is cognate with Cathar, a "heretical" group in southern France which was massacred by the Catholic Church):
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. 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. (They also kept trying to expel this much-loved saint from the ranks of the blessed because she was mythical rather than historical, and because her worship gave rise to the heretical sect known as the Cathari.) At any rate, a large wagon wheel was taken to the top of a nearby 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. And just as the Sun King has now reached the Autumn of his years, his rival or dark self has just reached puberty.

The thing, the other, and what's between" form the magic three, recognizing the too often ignored yet crucial relationship between ostensible opposites. Inside and outside meet at thresholds, earth and sky meet at mountain tops, sea and earth meet at tide lines, new year and old year meet at Samhain. Any of these things, by bringing opposites into reconciliation, also represent the meeting place of our mundane world and the magical "Otherworld", and are therefore sacred. A god who embodies the coming together of many different realms and energies, would be extraordinarily powerful even in the company of other deities. Such a god is Lugh.

According to Pagan beliefs, as the corn is cut, the corn mother's energy retreats into the last stand of grain. Traditionally, this sheaf is ceremonially cut and made into a corn dolly. The Celtic Sun god, Lugh, dies as the Sun begins to wane. Lughnasadh is named for Lugh, the Celtic deity who presides over the arts and sciences. From the outset, Lugh's unique place in the pantheon is guaranteed by his "inter-racial" conception. His mother, Eithne, is the daughter of King Balor, and therefore a princess of the Fomoire, the one race said to have always inhabited Ireland. Fomorians, depending on which tale is heard, are monstrously ugly or breathtakingly beautiful, and in either case not to be trusted. Lugh's father, Cian, is of the Tuatha de Danaan, the "Tribe of Danu" who will ultimately be the Shining Ones worshipped by ancient Celts. Eithhu delivers Lugh, and in some versions, two more babies (destined to become seals) making Lugh one of three. Balor tries to drown all three, but only Lugh escapes the briny deep, to be fostered by Tailtu and Mannanan, each of whom have qualities that add to the liminal essence of Lugh's nature.

Another custom drawn from Lammas relates to fire. Lammas was, to the Celts, one of four Great Fire Festivals, held on the cross-quarter days. During Lammas, the custom of lighting bonfires was intended to add strength to the powers of the waning sun. Afterward, the fire brands were kept in the home through the Winter as protection against storms, lightning and fires caused by lightning.

One traditional Lammas custom was the construction of the kern-baby, corn dolly, or corn maiden. This figure, braided into a woman's form from the last harvested sheaf of grain, represented the Harvest Spirit. (In America, the tradition is continued in the making of corn husk dolls.) The doll would be saved until Spring, when it was ploughed into the field to consecrate the new planting and insure a good harvest. In other traditions, the corn dolly was fed and watered throughout the Winter, then burned in the fires at Beltane to insure a continuation of good growth.



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Supported by the NE Inishowen Company.