Folklore: The sabbat of Lammas, the celebration of the grain

Marking the beginning of the harvest, Lammas is a pagan festival that is celebrated at the beginning of August

Cereal field at Lammas foraging time

It is Lammas (Lughnasadh) on 1 August, the Pagan sabbat that marks the beginning of the harvest. It is one of the eight yearly festivals that observe the equinoxes and turning points in the seasons. Lammas — derived from the Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass” — is a “quarter day” of the calendar and celebrates the peak of summer when both flowers and crops are in abundance. It precedes Mabon, the end-of-harvest festival in late September.

The Celtic festival of Lughnasadh and Anglo-Saxon festival celebrated around the same date (also known as the feast of the first fruits) were later appropriated by the church in England, which celebrated Lammas as a harvest festival when loaves of bread made from new grain were consecrated. Within the modern Pagan and Wiccan traditions, it remains a festival of bread and grain and is celebrated with feasts and crafts, such as the making of corn dollies and baking of the figure of the god in bread.

While this year’s rains and changeable weather have left us with an unseasonably green start to the month, the yellows of grain crops are beginning to colour the landscape, and mature wild grasses are also plentiful.

The earliest evidence of using of grains to make breads dates back to the Middle East, particularly Egypt, around 8000BCE, when breads that resembled chapatis were made using a grinding tool known as a quern.

Bread-making spread as a process throughout the world, with both leavened and unleavened cultural variations. The Mexicans began stone-grinding grains for tortillas around 100BCE, while the Persians were using windmills by 600BCE. It was the Romans — naturally — who advanced the technique, inventing water-milling around 450BCE.

Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) on Rye