The First Grain
Lammas, also called Lughnasdh, is celebrated on August 1, honoring the first harvest of the season in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the cross-quarter day between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, marking the beginning of the harvest season. Even though it may be the hottest time of the Summer, it is also when the first hints of Autumn are perceptible. The first grains, including corn, are nearly ready to be harvested, the trees begin dropping their fruits, tomatoes are ripening, and the ever-shortening daylight becomes more apparent with each sunset. Before the Wheel turns to the darker months, this is our time to appreciate warmth and sunlight and how they support the season of growth.
Why does the holiday have two names? The word Lammas comes from an Anglo-Saxon word which means loaf-mass, or celebration of bread, and reflects the vital importance of the grain harvest to the community. Even today, a large part of our diet consists of bread and other grains, so we can easily understand the importance of this life-sustaining harvest. At Lammas we celebrate John Barleycorn and the Great Corn Spirit who is the living Spirit of the grain.
Lughnasadh is the older, Celtic name for this holiday. The Sun God, Lugh, whose height of power we celebrated at Beltane, infuses the grain with his power. When the grain is harvested, He is sacrificed, giving his life so that others may be sustained by the grain and the life of the community can continue. He is eaten as the bread and is then reborn as the seed returns to the earth, reminding us that everything dies in its season, everything is reborn in a new form, and the cycle of Birth, Death, and Rebirth continues.
Lughnasadh also recalls the story of the sun god Lugh ordering a commemorative feast for his mother, Tailtiu the Beautiful, at the beginning of the harvest season. Other harvest goddesses include Ceres, She who feeds us; Demeter, Mother of the Grain (and mother of Persephone); Inari, Great Spirit of the Fields; and the Great Corn Maiden. Even Virgo, whose sign the Sun is about to enter later this month, traditionally holds a sheaf of corn. At Lammas we celebrate the Sun God, Lugh, as well as John Barleycorn, Great Corn Spirit who is the living Spirit of the grain.
At Lammas, we feel an upswell of relief and gratitude for the coming harvest; when we’ll reap what we have sown earlier in the year. Our hard work has a tangible result! And yet, we are reminded that we must maintain patience while we wait for the ripening to finish. Don’t pick too early! Hecate, Goddess of the crossroads, mediator between life and death, is invoked for protection of the ripening grain and fruit. By her grace, she also protects us from ourselves; reminding us to wait to harvest at the right time (not too early and not too late), and thus saves us from ruining our work by impatience or slothhood.
Above all, as we take our daily bread to nourish our bodies and we practice our faith that She is with us as we move through the cycle of our lives, surrounding us with abundance and preparing us to move at just the right time
When we think of corn, we think of succulent cobs of crisp, sweet, buttery yellow or white kernels; blue corn, decorative corn, corn bread and corn chowder. Corn! But, did you ever wonder why it's corn? "Korn" is an old Greek word for "grain." Wheat and oats, barley and even rice, are korn. This usage is preserved in the song "John Barleycorn must die." When Europeans crossed the Atlantic and were introduced to the beautiful grain the Native Americans grew, they, of course, called it "corn." And nowadays we think of corn as only that, but corn is Kore (pronounced "core-a"), the Great Mother of us all.
Her name, in its many forms – Ker, Car, Q're, Kher, Kirn, Kern, Ceres, Core, Kore, Kaur, Kauri, Kali – is the oldest of all Goddess names. From it we derive the English words corn, kernel, carnal, core, and cardiac. "Kern" is Ancient Greek for "sacred womb-vase in which grain is reborn."
The Goddess of Grain is the mother of civilization, of cultivation, of endless fertility and fecundity. To the Romans she was Ceres, whose name becomes "cereal." To the Greeks, she was Kore, the daughter, and Demeter (de/dea/goddess, meter/mater/mother) as well. To the peoples of the Americas, she is Corn Mother, she-who-gave-herself-that-the-People-may-live. She is one of the three sister crops: corn, beans and squash. In the British Isles she was celebrated almost to the present day as "Cerealia, the source of all food."
Honoring grain as the staff of our life dates at least as far back as Ancient Greece. Nearly four thousand years ago, the Eleusinian mysteries, which were regarded as ancient mysteries even then, centered on the sacred corn and the story of Demeter and her daughter Kore or Persephone. Initiates, after many days of ceremony, were at last shown the great mystery: an ear of Korn. Korn dies and is reborn, traditionally after being buried for three days. Corn and grain are magic. The one becomes many. That which dies is reborn.
Many Native American stories repeat this theme of death and rebirth, but with a special twist. In some origin of corn stories a woman is brutally murdered, in others she demands to be killed. No matter. Once she is dead, she is cut into pieces and planted. From her dismembered body, corn grows. Again and again, everywhere around the world, the story of grain is the story of humanity. The sacred symbolism of grain speaks loudly to the human psyche. To the Ancients, the light in our lights is the Kore, the core, the soul, the seed, of each being.
Real, whole grains sustain us. Real, whole grains are sacred. Real, whole grains reconnect us with our human lineage. When we eat them, we feel satisfied in a deep and fundamental way. When we eat them, we ground ourselves, we nourish ourselves in multiple ways.
But bleached and enriched grains do not sustain life, nor are they inherently sacred. Grains that have had the bran and the germ stripped away do last longer, but have little to offer us physically or spiritually. When we eat them, we feel empty. Thus, many of us have come to equate bad news weight gain with carbohydrates, specifically, grains. Grains are the Goddess who sacrificed for us; they aren't to blame. It's the processing that does us in.
August is a good time to make peace with the Corn Mother. Switch to organic corn chips; some supermarkets carry them. Explore millet, kasha, quinoa, teff, kamut, spelt, wild rice, brown basmati, and my dietary mainstay: Lundberg organic short-grain brown rice. Cheer Ceres. Throw your own whole-grain Carnaval!
Grains are medicine, too. Corn silk is an important remedy to help bladder woes. A handful of rice or barley boiled in several quarts of water is a folk remedy for anyone who lacks appetite or who has digestive woes. We're all familiar with the heart-healthy effects of eating oats. And oat straw infusion, made from the grass of the oat plant, is considered a longevity tonic in India.
Celebrate the Corn Mother any way you can. Invite Her into your life as food, as medicine, as decoration. And don't be surprised if you feel happier and healthier than ever before. The green blessings of the grains are special blessings indeed.
Herbs and flowers: all grains, grapes, heather, blackberries, sunflowers, nuts, and crabapples
Incense: sandalwood and rose Colors: orange, yellow, brown, and green
Gemstones: agates and moonstones
Decorations: corn dollies, wheat weavings, and grain
Goddesses: Hecate, Lillith, Medusa, Kali, Erishkagel, Chamunda, Coatlique
Lammas Is A Perfect Time To:
Decorate Your Sacred Space, Altar or Home
Make your home or sacred space feel abundant with items that invoke the magic of the season, such as:
seasonal flowers (sunflowers, zinnia, black eyed susans, snapdragons, cone flowers etc),
herb clippings from your garden
a bowl of seasonal fruits and veggies
crystals, including: Carnelian, Pyrite, Citrine, Green Aventurine, Tiger’s Eye
red, orange, yellow and green candles
any kind of grain- like sheaves of wheat, corn husks
Lammas is traditionally a celebration of grain. To honor this tradition, bake a loaf of bread, a cake, muffins… something with grain. Eat what you have made sacredly, mindfully taking each bite and naming with gratitude everything you have received this year.
Host a Harvest Feast
Prepare a feast with all local ingredients (make sure you get some grain in there) to honor the abundance of the season.
Craft A Corn Dolly
In the British Isles, celebrants make corn dollies from the last of the newly-harvested wheat. The corn dolly holds the energy of the grain Goddess and, when placed above the door or the mantle, will bring good luck to the household all year.
Reflect on everything you have manifested this year. What has come into your life, what have you grown, and what are you truly grateful for this year. If you’ve been having a hard year emotionally, physically or financially this is even more important. Focus on the positive and take time to write these things down. Sometimes we forget how truly wealthy we are.
Clean Up A Space in Nature
Head to your local park, walking trail, beach, etc and clean it up - pick up some garbage or weed a public garden.
Create an Offering for the Earth
Gift something to the Earth. You can keep it simple, like gifting one of your crystals back to the Earth, or you can get creative and make an elaborate handmade gift.
Lammas Portal Work:
We call on the Harvest Mother, as we face our fears of failing, of losing the harvest, of making mistakes. She gives us the strength to do what needs to be done, to tell the truth even when we are afraid, to say no to things that are not right for us. She helps us get rid of what we don’t need, and she helps us finish what we start. She is hope as well as fear. You can ask for her help, but remember, to honor the Harvest Mother we never take the easy way out. We do what is right and we work hard at something and wait patiently for rewards, as the wheels turn and the Wheel turns. The Goddess loves us deeply. Her rewards are abundantly available to all.
Ponder the Wheel of the Year guiding Nature in an assured never-ending cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth.
Nature doesn’t struggle, vacillate or question what she “should” do.
Nature receives what comes and uses these gifts to her purpose, even the destruction of what is for an ultimately better outcome.
Nature knows about just being, enjoying what she is, just as she is. Nature doesn’t create stress unless it’s for the purpose of growth.
Here are some questions.
If you are still, listen and trust, do you realize it doesn’t have to be difficult to thrive and harvest? What might be revealed to you about what you need to fulfill your purpose?
How can you react and what will you receive if you do? Are there ways to react that can be supportive without being entirely disruptive?
Will you know when to take time for renewal and restoration of body, mind and soul?
Do you trust in your true role that is your true self? Can you let yourself be inspired by the knowledge that you are beloved and here for a reason?
Are you ready to step into your fullness? Of all that you were born to create, to offer, to reap?
A Poem For Lammas
How Would You Live Then?
by Mary Oliver
What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
flew in circles around your head?
What if the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor?
What if the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill the bowl?
What if the brook slid downhill just past your bedroom window so you could listen to its slow prayers as you fell asleep?
What if the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds?
What if you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang from its painted branches?
What if you suddenly saw that the silver of water was brighter than the silver of money?
What if you finally saw that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day and every day—who knows how, but they do it—were more precious, more meaningful than gold?