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.
|The Lammas altar, with home-made bread from Raven!|
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).
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.
|Home-made bread, candles and chalice|
|Wand, leaf-blade athame, and and pentacle oil-burner|
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'.