You can still feel the summer heat, and in fact now, you feel it even more intensely than at the solstice. These are known as the “dog days” because the “dog star” Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) is now rising and setting with the sun and will do so from until September. With the heat comes slightly shorter days and longer nights, as well as the time of the first grain harvest.
Lammas means “loaf mass.” It’s a celebration of the bread made from the first grains to be harvested, and signals the initiation of the harvest season. Lughnasad (pronounced LOO-na-sa) comes from the Irish God Lugh, who is both a Sun God and a God of Grain. His name means “Bright or Shining One” and his name and association with the harvest reflects the two strongest elements of this season. He loved games and competitive sports to keep up the physical strength and vitality of his followers, so the festivities in his honor included these kinds of activities.
Commemorating the Corn King
This time of year also marks the death of Bel, the Corn King. During the festivals, corn cakes were made in the shape of the Corn King’s body, and consumed along with ale made from the first crop of corn. This was a ceremony to honor the King who gave his life so that the people could have food — an early Communion ritual.
There are no secular holidays during this seasonal shift that we have in common, so the field is wide open as to how to honor this holiday. It seems the main way to celebrate this seasonal marker is to take a vacation, which may be the remnants of this festival.
Regardless, what’s called for is to celebrate the themes of the first harvest, coupled with the intensity of the sun’s light and heat. It’s a playful time, so a vacation during this season is congruent with the theme of ancient festivals. The key here is to get outdoors and be active, since we’re still enjoying the residual heat of summer, in spite of the barely discernible shorter days.
Make and share bread
Bake some bread and break some bread with friends and family. Although bread is generally available throughout the year, you can create a ceremony around the baking and the sharing of this bread. Bake it from scratch if you’re so inclined, or else you can purchase it pre-made, ready to bake. Either way, invite a few friends and family over, perhaps in the late afternoon when it cools down. Let the smell of bread offer its enticement to your guests. Once it’s done, set it out with great flair, and have available butter, honey, and jams, and make a feast of the fresh-baked bread. You can add any other elements to this ceremony, but make fresh food the central piece.
Ask your guests to bring fresh foods, such as organic fruits and salads, ones that preferably are grown locally and are in season. Include these along with fresh grains and nuts as part of the table. Let this fresh food feast be dedicated to the bounty of the Earth, the nourishment She provides for us all.
Enjoy a picnic with ritual feeding
An appropriate alternative is to have a picnic, one where you bring these items to share in a feast. Let the centerpiece be these representations of the early harvest, as this is truly the central theme of this holiday.
You can include in the ceremony a ritual feeding of one another, as I described previously. Before the full meal takes place, each person takes some grapes, wedges of apple, or slices of fresh bread. You create the sacred circle, and the host explains the purpose of this part of the ceremony, that the joy in giving and receiving are the same. Sharing food is the most elemental and basic way of giving and receiving.
The guests are then asked to close their eyes and imagine they haven’t eaten for a couple of days. As this idea sets in, the host turns to the person on their left and feeds them, slowly and deliberately. The task of the recipient is to receive very slowly and chew very slowly, savoring each bite with gratitude. The person who first received the food, then turns to the person on their left, and does the same. This proceeds around the circle until everyone has had a chance to experience it.