No, it’s not the same thing as Lughnasadh. The latter is a festival honoring the Celtic god Lugh. The Celtic festival may or may not have been a harvest celebration. I don’t really know much about Celtic traditions. What I do know is that the Lammas celebration has nothing to do with Lugh or any other foreign god or goddess. Lammas is very specifically a harvest festival described in the 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a “feast of first fruits”. And the Anglo-Saxons are unlikely to have honored any gods other than their own at this time of year. They did not readily assimilate Celtic culture. If they did, I would be typing this in Welsh rather than in English.
Lammas celebrates the harvest of winter wheat. This is sown in the autumn and is ready to harvest, usually, by mid to late June. My godson Alaric (henceforth referred to as Alaric the Younger) and I had a discussion about this over pizza earlier this year. His wheat was almost ready to harvest, and he’d noticed this event occurs 5-6 weeks before the traditional harvest festival date. However Alaric the Younger harvests his wheat with a combine. The huge machine cuts the wheat and separates the grain from the chaff rapidly as it progresses across a field. Until very recently – a blink of the eye in the course of human history – winter wheat was cut by hand and tied, again by hand, into sheaves. After the village’s wheat had been sheafed, it was later brought in and threshed by hand. The grain then had to be ground into flour. And only then, weeks later at the Lammastide, could the wheat be presented in its final, edible form as a loaf of bread.
And this is what Lammas (Hlafmæsse) means, the loaf-offering. The central act of any Lammas húsel should be the offering of bread.
Lammastide is a very special time of year for me, because it was on Lammas Eve, 1971, when I first pledged myself to our gods. I think of Lammas as my “rebirthday”, and this year I will be 38, in Pagan years. In the summer of 1971, the year Jim Morrison died, I had been told about the old gods. But like many people, I was hesitant to take that big step into polytheism. Then on Lammas Eve, I awoke in the middle of the night feeling miserable and lost and very much alone. Those feelings dissipated as the goddess Hertha (Hrethe) came to me and invited – urged – me to follow an older path. On that night I found a candle, lit it and poured out my heart to the old gods.
I didn’t offer a loaf of bread that year, but I’ve observed this traditional practice ever since. I think the best offering is a loaf you have baked yourself. If you don’t have any experience baking bread, here’s a tip: Buy a bag of the pre-made unbaked loaves you can find in the freezer section at your local supermarket. Thaw the dough overnight in your refrigerator, and then give it a personal touch the next day. Knead in whatever you want – raisins, nuts, spices – to create a unique and interesting loaf. After this, all you need to do is let the dough rise and then pop it in the oven for half an hour. The directions are on the bag.