22nd July 1987
Dear Tessa and Glyn,
Now we approach the Festival of the First Fruits. Its Celtic name Lughnasadh means ’mourning for Lugh’, while the Saxon name of Lammas means ’loaf-mass’. Since Lugh was an ancient name for the Sun God, these two titles sum up much of the festival’s meaning. Summer is on the wane, the Sun’s strength dwindles and we mourn his passing. This is a wake, as well as a celebration. But there is also a birth, the tender beginnings of harvest. The Sun’s power has ’gone into the corn’. Soon this will be cut down, and so he will be reborn, ’the Bread of Life’. In this can be seen the underlying reasons for the theme of sacrifice.
As I said in an earlier letter, blood was actually spilt at Lammas in the past, when the man-who-stood-in-for-the- God was ritually sacrificed to ensure a good harvest. This was at a time when the pure essence of Pagan worship had been corrupted, and the people’s understanding had become crude. What caused the corruption? Historically, it seems to have been the rise of patriarchy. Philosophically, I believe it has to do with the nature of manifest life. Certainly, everything goes through this same cycle of pure seed beginning, followed by established growth, corruption and decay, then death and eventual rebirth (often in a wiser or more integrated form).
Back to this year’s Lammas Rite. At the Festival of the First Fruits we assess the coming harvest, seeing the very first signs, the first fruits. And we look to see what acts or sacrifices can alleviate any damage or avert any loss of crops.
The Goddess is giving birth now, and we celebrate this birth, the fruits of field and orchard, garden and hedgerow. At the same time, the God’s strength wanes, dies and is reborn. Like any man in sexual union, his strength is given to her. For the seed leaves a man’s body and along with it goes life energy. He revives to make love again, sooner or later. But the energy he has given can help to create a child. She takes it and transforms it, and then a child is born. This is the inner meaning of Lammas. We celebrate the life energy that the God has given, as well as all the creation that the Goddess is bringing forth.
A solitary witch might begin Lammas with a walk in the country. I know that you two both have access to this. For those who don’t, there are parks, back gardens, canal paths and ’waste’ land. Look for the first fruits of harvest. Are there blackberries on bushes? If you are in the countryside, how does the corn look? Is it golden and tall or still green and unripe? How do these things compare with your life? If you set yourself to learn something back at Candlemas, are you making progress? If you are a craftsperson, are you satisfied with your techniques? In your business or profession, are you making any headway? In the cycle of this year’s life, and in longer cycles, are there fruits?
Bring back a hedgerow fruit to place upon the altar.
On the night of Lammas, cast your circle and invoke the Lady and the Lord. Through them, the harvest time has come round again. Give thanks for the first signs of harvest in your life, as well as in the fields. For the two go hand in hand, and how can we be fruitful if the Earth is not?
When you feel ready to raise some power, dance deosil around an unlit candle, in the cauldron, at the centre of your circle. Your chant could be like this:
For Sun we mourn
as he shall wane.
The crops remain.
Through kern and corn,
the harvest born,
shall life return.
Our Mother Earth
now brings to birth
the life poured forth
in light and warmth.
Alternatively, you can chant some wild and complex poem of your own making. Use your wand to direct the power into the candle. As you light it, say Now may the light shine forth, and may the harvest ripen. For we live by the land, and only by her health and fruitfulness can we be rich in health and fruitfulness. Sun shine in strength and brilliance. Sun pour out blessings on the land. I light this candle to the Sun.
You should have with you a small bowl of vegetable oil. Sunflower is suitable, but whatever it is, it should be the best-quality oil that you can buy. It represents an offering. The bowl should be plain pottery or wood. Consecrate the oil, setting it aside for magic. Then pass the bowl swiftly through the Lammas flame. Now, sitting cross-legged beside the cauldron, gaze into the oil. All oil has connections, symbolic and practical, with fire, heat, flames, and thus with the Sun. And the Sun gives strength and brightness to the Goddess-as-Mother-Earth. Say aloud, Now as the Sun pours out his strength upon the Earth, that the crops may ripen, and that the harvest may be great, I too offer my strength to the Goddess, to Mother Earth. I bring—[for example, my intention to protect the Earth from further harm, where and when I can].
Make any pledge that you can make sincerely, and breath it into the oil. Visualize the energy you will give to the fulfilling of this promise. See it as a gold stream carried on your breath, that then merges with the oil, and carries the magical ’charge’ of your offering.
Then take the oil deosil around the circle to the altar. Touch it to your stone or pentacle, thus ’giving it to the Earth’. Leave the bowl on the altar and return to sit silently beside the cauldron, until you are ready for the next part of the rite. Think about your promise; see yourself carrying it out; and see the fruitful consequences. (After the rite is ended, pour the oil onto the earth in your garden.)
Now take from the altar the hedgerow or garden fruit, representing first fruits of a harvest in your life, a symbolic indication of your hopes. If you were a painter, for example, your hope might be to produce many good pictures. If you were a fruit farmer, then it might literally be a rich harvest of fruit. But Lammas is also a good time to think about any long-term harvest that you hope for in your life. Do you see any first fruits of this? If not, do your hopes need reassessing? Are they unrealistic or are they too pedestrian? Do you underestimate yourself, or life?
Take the fruit deosil around the circle and then sit beside the cauldron. Think about and visualize the harvest. What qualities and what creation do you hope for? What ’results’ would you like your life to have? Children? Successful spells for the healing of Earth? Wisdom? Love? The making of music? Seen from this perspective, much of what human beings worry about is revealed as surprisingly irrelevant. For the Lammas meditation measures everyday concerns against a long-term ideal.
Name out loud the harvest that you hope for, and place the fruit in the cauldron, by the candle.
There is probably some reason why you fear that the harvest will not materialize, after all. Most of us do fear that we will fail, somehow or other. For example, a person may want to paint, but may have no confidence in her own talent; or she may feel guilty, since time spent painting is time not spent in nurturing other people.
Take your athame in one hand, and with the other remove the candle in its holder from the cauldron. Gently inscribe the words (or symbolic picture) summing up your obstacle, on the candle stem. Use the point of your athame. It need not be clearly etched. The intention is what matters.
Say, As the candle burns and the word [or picture] is gone, so may my—[for example, guilt] be gone. May it be transformed, as wax becomes a flame, an illumination.
Wipe the point of your athame on a cloth, to remove any wax.
Now celebrate the harvest which is to come. Play music, dance or write a poem, sing or make something or draw a picture. Whatever you do, it should be enjoyable. Be aware that what you do in fun and celebration in the circle will enhance your creativity in life. Burial and birth and bread, these are the themes of Lammas, but it is not a sombre time. It is a thankful time. The first fruits are there to be enjoyed and to encourage hope. They are a sign of what will be, at the main harvest.
The Lammas communion is especially sacred. Take a loaf of bread (which preferably should be home-baked, but any wholemeal loaf will do). This is, or will become, the Bread of Life, that which arises from the Sun’s sacrifice. It is, essentially, the Sun’s life-energy, reborn as bread.
Pass the loaf through the candle flame, then carry it round the circle deosil, holding it high at each quarter, and finally holding it high above the altar. Say a prayer of consecration and invocation, something like this: Now the Sun fades and the corn will be cut down, the God dies. He is life itself and his spirit passes into the corn and into all the crops and every kind of harvest. Changed, he is reborn, for life cannot ever finally die.
Cut a slice of bread with your athame. Before eating it, say,
I, priestess [priest] and Witch, eat of the Bread of Life on behalf of all people, that all may be fed. This is the Bread of Immortality. Though everything must die, I know that by this nourishment we share rebirth. From moment to moment, year to year and life to life, we die and are reborn, transformed. We are not separate nor ever, finally, alone. For this, the Bread of Life, is the Bread of Communion
Keep the rest of the bread to share with family and friends.
Now consecrate and drink the wine.
When you are ready, thank the Goddess and God for their blessing on your rite, and thank the Guardian Spirits, bidding them, Hale and farewell. Open the circle. Wise and blessed be. Eat of the Bread of Life with happiness.