Hail the Sun King!
August 2d is Lammas. I like to call it Loaf Fest, from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-monaþ or “loaf-month”; our Gaelic friends call it Lughnasadh, and among the Baltic tribes, this is the return of the Sun King, Svarog. Among all Heathens, it is a harvest festival, one that celebrates the end of summer crops and the beginning of the Lammas Garden, as we head towards cooler and shorter days.
The importance of Loaf Month among the ancient Heathens is seen today in the number of harvest customs and rituals that remain with us. Though many have faded away, due to mechanization, the start of Harvest Month lingers still as an important reminder of the strength of family, of community, and of magic!
As with so many of the Heathen holidays (literally, Old English haligdæg, ‘holy day’), the early Church, unable to eradicate it, incorporated it, which is how the ‘mass’ part of Lammas came about. But Heathen history certainly did not start there; beyond doubt, one’s ancient ancestors were keenly aware of Earth’s natural rhythms, living as they did, hunting and harvesting food for their table.
Loaf Fest was a joyous time, but also marked a death. Harvest, in particular, was a sacrificial time. Of old, animals were sacrificed, later, grain of the field, yet deeper still is the seasonal ‘dance’ between the Lord and Lady – Frey and Freyja. Traditionally, the Lady ruled the year beginning at Disting, and the Lord ruled beginning at Harvest. But for one to thrive, one must ‘die’. While living in Germany I participated in seasonal rites where a full-sized effigy of the ‘goddess’ was killed by women, so that a full-sized effigy of the ‘god’ could rule in Her place. This practice is remarkably similar to something my family did, and I continue to do. Beginning with making a bread image of the Lord, which graces my family altar until His demise in February.
Across Old Europe, such practices were common. In Germany, England, and Ireland, for example, a correct procedure was followed to assure next year’s harvest; one that involved cutting the last sheaf in the field by the ‘neck’, then performing a rite over this bundle.
The day the people began to reap the corn was a day of commotion
and ceremony in the townland. The whole family repaired to the field
dressed in their best attire to hail the God of the harvest.
Laying his bonnet on the ground, the father of the family took up his sickle,
and facing the sun, he cut a handful of corn. Putting the handful of corn
three times sunwise round his head, the man raise the ‘Iolach Buana’
reaping salutation. The whole family took up the strain and praised
the God of the harvest, who gave them corn and bread, food and flocks,
wool and clothing, health and strength, and peace and plenty.
Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1862 CE, page 139
Other traditions involved the creation of a Corn Dolly or Kern Baby, both of which resembling the now-grown-old Lady. In Scotland, this effigy is called Cailleach, the ‘divine hag’, the ‘veiled one’. From this, it is clear that your forebears interpreted the countryside and wild places in a way little understood today. In fact, what many do today, pales by comparison. The idea of a Lady / Goddess whose power wanes, to be replaced by a Lord / God whose rule waxes, seems far-fetched and far-removed from our modern life and understanding. Even so, there remain those who still follow the Old Ways – to assure the Lineage of Loaf Month remains alive.
Today, Harvest is a reminder of family coming together, so that ‘many hands make light work’. Today, we can focus on our reciprocal commitment with family and friend, to give thanks for what we have, to pray that our wealth and weal lasts us through Winter’s Long Night, and that we each grow strong under the Sun Lord’s protection. After all, this is why we still jump the fire: as a blessing that we grow strong with good health!