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Northern Hemisphere: August 1 or 2
Southern Hemisphere: February 1 or 2
Themes: first fruits, harvest, gratitude, benevolent sacrifice, utilizing skills and talents
Also known as: Lughnasa, August Eve, Feast of Bread, Harvest Home, Gŵyl Awst, First Harvest
Situated on the opposite side of the Wheel from Imbolc, which heralds the end of the winter season, Lammas marks the beginning of the end of summer. It is the cross-quarter day between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.
Although the days are still hot, sunshine is still abundant and the fields and forests are still teeming with life, we can begin to feel the telltale signs of the approaching autumn. The Sun sets earlier with each passing day, and many plants begin to wither, dropping their seeds to the ground so that new life can return at the start of the next growing season.
Berries, apples, and other fruits begin to ripen on trees and vines, and the grain in the fields has reached its full height, ready to be cut down and stored for the winter. This is a bittersweet time, as we are surrounded by the abundance of the summer’s bounty, yet becoming more aware by the day that we are heading back into dark time of year.
Lammas is the time of the “first fruits” and is known in Wiccan and other Pagan traditions as the first of the three harvest festivals. Grain crops are now or soon will be ready for harvesting, along with corn and many other late-summer vegetables and early-autumn fruits. Of course, plenty of produce has already been available for harvesting, and plenty more will be ready later on in the season. But Lammas marks the point in time when harvesting, rather than planting or tending, becomes the main focus.
This is a time to consciously recognize the fruits of our labors—whether literally or metaphorically—and to give thanks for all that has manifested. We recognize the inherent sacrifice of the plants that give their lives so that we may eat, and we are humbled by the greater life-and-death cycles that govern all of creation.
Just six weeks after the Summer Solstice, the God at Lammas is now visibly on the wane. He is approaching his old age, rising later each morning and retiring sooner every night.
The Goddess in her Mother aspect is still waxing, as the Earth continues to bear the fruit of the seeds planted at the start of the growing season. She is still pregnant with the new God, who will be born at Yule, after the old God completes his journey to the Underworld at Samhain. This is one of the most poignant moments on the Wheel of the Year, as the Goddess demonstrates that life goes on even though we all experience loss and the fading of the light.
In ancient agricultural civilizations, grain was often associated with the death and rebirth cycle, and many Wiccan mythological traditions draw on this archetype at Lammas. In one version, the Sun God transfers his power to the living grain in the fields, and so is sacrificed when the grain is cut down. The God willingly sacrifices himself so that his people may live.
And yet the God is later reborn, ensuring that the crops will grow once again to feed the people for another year. The harvest practice of saving seed grain for planting next year’s crop is both a practical necessity and a way of participating in the metaphor—saving the seeds is a way of ensuring the God’s rebirth.