My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Lughnasadh/Lammas: Our Home Altar

Lughnasadh and Lammas are two names for holiday between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox on the 1st of August. The name 'Lughnasadh' relates to Lugh, the Irish deity and 'Lammas' is an Anglo-Saxon term for the 'loaf mass'. They were two different celebrations as Gaelic and Germanic cultures were different, although they had similarities.

In the Gaelic festival, it was a festival of the god Lugh (the name literally means 'Lugh's gathering'), in memory of his foster-mother Tailitu, or in modern Irish Gaelic 'Tailte', who died from exhaustion in clearing the plains of Ireland for agricuture. The modern Scottish Gaelic word for both the festival and the month of August is Lùnastal. Traditionally it was a day for sporting events, as well as feasting. I have my own interpretation of Tailte and the sacrifice of the wild order of things to agricultural order of things, but that is a topic for another blog entry, maybe next Lùnastal.

Lammas comes from 'hlaf-mas' in the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons, the loaf-mass, and a harvest festival, the first, celebrating the wheat (grain) harvest. In what is now England, according to dark-ages Christian syncretism, a loaf blessed at this festival was thought to have beneficial properties.

Green painted paneled wall with white dado-rail. Leaf-green curtains of synthetic satin. The altar-cloth is yellow, and on it are two gold place-mats with La Tène style designs, a pentagram candle-holder, an earthenware chalice, a pentacle dish with salt, a gold candle in an earthenware dish, two white soy taper candles in off-white candle-sticks, and a loaf of home-made bread
The Lammas altar, with home-made bread from Raven! 
I am living far enough North that even with climate change and milder weather, the fields aren't always harvested already by the actual August 1st date of Lammas; it is important to note that English summers are much warmer (these days often reaching 30C, sometimes quite a bit above that), and especially in Southern England where I grew up, things are harvested earlier. The thing to note about any agricultural calendar is that it will vary according to local conditions, and the Neo-Pagan version of the Wheel of the Year is effectively an adapted mixture of Germanic, Celtic and solar agricultural calendars. Another thing of note for Neo-Pagan celebrations in comparison to historical festivals on this date is that before the industrial revolution, a LOT more people were involved in farming, and mixed livestock and agrarian farms were more common than modern farming where farms often specialise in one type of produce. Even amongst Neo-Pagans who garden for food, few will actually be growing grains themselves, as the land required to cultivate enough grain to make something is usually more than those who don't actually farm have. (I have one patch of something that's probably rye from where some bird-seed was scattered by accident, but it's barely big enough to make a corn-dolly or Brigid's cross!). This leaves a question: what do agrarian harvest festivals mean to a contemporary Pagan?

The most obvious thing is that while we may not individually grow wheat (or barley, rye, oats, rice etc.), most of us consume them. There is now a complex industry that grows, mills, and bakes, and that industry massively impacts the planet. Remember Tailte? In medieval myth she was a queen, but this is likely the mythological reinterpretation of a deity from a Christianised perspective, as a Goddess that dies so that the wilderness may be cleared for agriculture to flourish, she seems like someone very relevant to a time when we're becoming increasingly aware that human intervention needs to be in balance with the natural world, and also the awareness that with all forms of agriculture, some things must die so that what we want to eat my thrive; even organic farms require pest management.

To me, it is an important time to give thanks to all the people who work hard so that we get to eat, to conveniently buy food from shops (although I'm slowly trying turn my back garden into a vegetable garden!), and to especially think about the impact of agrarian farming, good and bad. Nothing in this world can be fairly glosses into simple generalisations, and it is a good time to look at those complexities, to reflect on how to be more compassionate and ethical as shoppers, thinking of both the ecological impact of what we buy, and the impact on the people who grow things, thinking of the governmental policies that help and hinder farmers, and help and hinder the environment, about the careful nuances and balances that need to be made so we can support people whose livelihoods are about feeding us, and simultaneously support the planet that sustains us.

[It is interesting that the first Eco-Village in Wales to usher in the One Planet Development system is called 'Lammas' and that the local planning rules say that the inhabitants needed to have sustainable land-based enterprises.]

In more symbolic terms, it's the first harvest festival, and like Mabon (where we also celebrate the metaphorical fruits of our labour alongside the literal ones), it's a time to celebrate out achievements (personally, I think it's a good time to celebrate sporting achievements, especially). 

Now I have introduced what Lughnasadh and Lammas are, I will describe and explain the altar I built to celebrate it. The most obvious thing on the altar is the large pentagram candle-holder. Pentacles and pentagrams are the primary symbols of Wicca, but I am not really Wiccan any more - however, their symbolism in Wicca is a representation of the five Classical elements, which I do not take literally as elementals, but use as a framework to appreciate the natural (and sometimes arteficial) world - whereas traditional Wiccans invoke the 5 elements, or the Watchtowers, often as literal elemental spirits, for each element I write a paragraph about those things in the natural world - eg. writing about how I can see the sea/firth from the top of the hill, hear the nearby stream, feel the rain that falls, etc. for Water, talking about the stones of the mountains, the quarried stones of the local architecture, the earth in my garden, etc. for Earth, the flames of my fire-pit and the warmth of the sun for Fire, the breeze the rustles the leaves, the breath of my meditation, etc. for Wind, and the energy of the ritual itself, my soul, and that of every living thing for Spirit or Energy, etc. I like this framework, it's a good starting point for thinking about things around me, a set of arbitrary categories that make a good format for reflection.

Another thing that's likely obvious, especially from the first photograph, is that the altar is full of gold and yellow - a bright yellow altar-cloth with two golden-yellow napkins with the sort of spiraling circular art that spans the cultures broadly categorised under the umbrella of 'Celtic' from La Tène metal-work to the Book of Kells, a golden candle in a dish that is glazed from olive to almost amber like the shades of ripening corn, and although it is hard to see in the photographs because the brightness makes them appear white, the tealight candles are yellow beeswax. Yellow is a colour associated with agrarian harvests, from fields of ripe wheat and barley, to yellow maize. It is also associated with the sun, something the god Lugh is also associated with (although he is not a direct parallel of Apollo, there is a reason he was often associated with him in 19thC late-Romantic thinking; they are both associated with the arts, poetry, athleticism, light, and truth).

The main feature of this Lughnasadh/Lammas altar is a loaf of home-made bread baked by Raven. He has been experiementing with different types of bread, inclding trying to make gluten-free bread that's still crusty, and this is his most recent attempt at the latter. Eating this bread was an important part of our ritual. 

New chalice!
I have a new chalice! I picked it up in a charity shop, and it was either £1.50 or £2.50; either way not much. I liked that it is ceramic - earthenware - and that the abstracted dark designs in the glaze remind me of ravens. It is a wine-goblet, so food-safe unlike some of the decorative metal chalices that exist. My previous chalice - the red glass one that was on the altar for Beltane - has unfortunately become too chipped to use, so was put in the glass recycling. 

The pair of off-white candle-holders are Raven's. I think there's either three or four in total, but we only used two this time, mostly for practical lighting rather than symbolic reasons. 

Home-made bread, candles and chalice
The wand you can see on the right of the altar is mine - it is made of oak, and was carved by a friend of mine as a birthday present about 12 or 13 years ago. I wrapped it with threads. I am actually thinking of getting a new wand made, one that is thinner and lighter, slightly shorter - basically, one slightly less chunky for home rituals, reserving the larger one for group rituals where I wouldn't want a thinner wand to be damaged in transit. I am also thinking of getting a stave made, or even carving one myself (although carving and 3D art in general is not something I am particularly competent at). 

Wand, leaf-blade athame, and and pentacle oil-burner
Another thing I retain from when I was Wiccan is the use of an athame. My athame is not black-handled or steel-bladed like the traditional Wiccan ritual knife, but instead has a varnished wooden handle and a brass blade in a leaf-blade sort of shape. It is an old letter-opener that I got from things being thrown out of a building about to be demolished, with a blade shape reminiscent of Bronze Age swords from Ireland and other parts of Europe, and being brass (a copper-zinc aloy) it is not too dissimilar from bronze (a copper-tin alloy). If I were a rich witch,  a replica of a Bronze Age sword would definitely be something I would definitely commission, but currently that is out of my range of affordability.

My altar for Lughnasadh/Lammas is relatively simple compared to altars set-up for the other holidays so far, but hopefully it is a helpful example of an altar for the festival. I will continue the series with altars for Mabon, Samhain/Samhuinn and Winter Solstice. I endeavour to be educational with these posts, and to both inform the curious who may be new to Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft, and to dispell misconceptions about these practices being something 'dark' or 'evil'. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your explanation of these holidays, and how they relate, in particular, to the area in which you live.

    While many pagans observe these holiday s, it is obvious, as you point out, that locale plays an important part. I live in the southern United States, and I can assure you that Lammas is not the time of harvest as it might be in Scotland, England, or northern Europe. It is still hot and very much summer here, and will remain that way for quite some time.

    I have taken to identifying certain days of the year that I call marker days. They have significance for me, but likely, not for anyone else. I suspect that this is, at least in part, how these early pagan calendars were crafted. Of course, the solstices and equinoxes are absolute the world over, and it makes sense to mark these events, and the mid-points in between. Still, weather-induced activities vary greatly even in various parts of the northern hemisphere.

    1. It's important that we remember that the Neo-Pagan eightfold calendar is a synthesis of mostly Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic with bits of other European folk holidays grafted on. Folk holidays of similar theme vary in date in different cultures across Europe, let alone the seasonal and agricultural holidays elsewhere


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