However, British Witches often refer to the
astrological date of Aug 6th as Old Lammas, and folklorists call it Lammas O.S. ('Old
Style'). This date has long been considered a 'power point' of the Zodiac, and is
symbolized by the Lion, one of the 'tetramorph' figures found on the Tarot cards, the
World and the Wheel of Fortune (the other three figures being the Bull, the Eagle, and the
Spirit). Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four 'fixed' signs of
the Zodiac, and these naturally allign with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft.
Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.
'Lammas' was the medieval Christian name for the holiday and it means
'loaf-mass', for this was the day on which loaves of bread were baked from the first grain
harvest and laid on the church altars as offerings. It was a day representative of 'first
fruits' and early harvest.
In Irish Gaelic, the feast was referred to as 'Lugnasadh', a feast to
commemorate the funeral games of the Irish sun-god Lugh. However, there is some confusion
on this point. Although at first glance, it may seem that we are celebrating the death of
Lugh, the god of light does not really die (mythically) until the autumnal equinox. And
indeed, if we read the Irish myths closer, we discover that it is not Lugh's death that is
being celebrated, but the funeral games which Lugh hosted to commemorate the death of his
foster-mother, Taillte. That is why the Lugnasadh celebrations in Ireland are often called
the 'Tailltean Games'.
The time went by with
Between the late and early,
With small persuasion she agreed
To see me through the barley...
One common feature
of the Games were the 'Tailltean marriages', a rather informal marriage that lasted for
only 'a year and a day' or until next Lammas. At that time, the couple could decide to
continue the arrangement if it pleased them, or to stand back to back and walk away from
one another, thus bringing the Tailltean marriage to a formal close. Such trial marriages
(obviously related to the Wiccan 'Handfasting') were quite common even into the 1500's,
although it was something one 'didn't bother the parish priest about'. Indeed, such
ceremonies were usually solemnized by a poet, bard, or shanachie (or, it may be guessed,
by a priest or priestess of the Old Religion).
Lammastide was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The
medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and
themselves in bright colors and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange,
ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers. The atmosphere must have been
quite similar to our modern-day Renaissance Festivals, such as the one celebrated in
near-by Bonner Springs, Kansas, each fall.
A ceremonial highlight of such festivals was the 'Catherine wheel'. Although the
Roman Church moved St. Catherine's feast day all around the calender with bewildering
frequency, it's most popular date was Lammas. (They also kept trying to expel this
much-loved saint from the ranks of the blessed because she was mythical rather than
historical, and because her worship gave rise to the heretical sect known as the Cathari.)
At any rate, a large wagon wheel was taken to the top of a near-by hill, covered with tar,
set aflame, and ceremoniously rolled down the hill. Some mythologists see in this ritual
the remnants of a Pagan rite symbolizing the end of summer, the flaming disk representing
the sun-god in his decline. And just as the sun king has now reached the autumn of his
years, his rival or dark self has just reached puberty.
Many comentators have bewailed the fact that traditional Gardnerian and
Alexandrian Books of Shadows say very little about the holiday of Lammas, stating only
that poles should be ridden and a circle dance performed. This seems strange, for Lammas
is a holiday of rich mythic and cultural associations, providing endless resources for
Corn rigs and barley
Corn rigs are bonny!
I'll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie! [Verse quotations by Robert Burns, as handed down through
several Books of Shadows.] .