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Lammas by Teresa, August 1997

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August 1997 E-Zine Issue

Lammas

by Treasa

"Lammas," or "Lughnasadh," (Loo’nas’a) one of the eight annual Wiccan "Sabbats, " was celebrated by the ancient Druids to pay homage to Lugh. Lugh was one of the ancient Irish kings of the De Danainn dynasty who was also known as "sam ildanach," meaning "possessing, or skilled in many arts (together)" and many tales are recounted of his abilities.

Over time, Lugh was mythologized into a god—the Celtic Sun God. He was celebrated with a festival originally called "Lughnasadh, or "The Day of Lugh." In time, this festival became "Lammas," the harvest festival associated with the first ripening of the corn.

The Irish tale, "The Battle of Magh Tuiredh," demonstrates clearly how Lugh was viewed by the Celts. Lugh, we are told, came to the royal court of Tara while a great feast was in progress. The doorkeeper asked what skill he possessed, since no one without a special skill might enter Tara. "I am a wright," said Lugh. "We have a wright already," he was told. "I am a smith," said Lugh. But again, the doorkeeper replied that they had one. And so Lugh continued his repertoire of skills—as champion, hero, wheelwright, metal-worker, gold-smith, warrior, bard, harper, poet-historian, sorcerer, doctor, cupbearer and more. But each time, Lugh was denied entrance and informed that the Tuatha de Danainn already had experts in each of the aforementioned areas. "Then," said Lugh, "go to your king and ask him if he has in his court anyone who is at once master of all these arts and professions. If he has, I shall not ask admittance to Tara." When Eochaid, the King, heard Lugh’s question, he was overjoyed. There was no other in his court who could claim to be a master of all the arts and skills so highly prized by his people. Eochaid came to the door and led in the amazing Lugh, appointing him to the chair of the "Ard-ollam," the Chief Professor of the Arts and Sciences.

Lugh, whose name means "The Shining One," is one of the most colorful figures among the Tuatha De Danainn. He is credited with inventing certain Celtic skills and games, such as ball games, horsemanship and fidchell (the symbolic board game of the Irish Celts, often called "chess" in translations.) Lugh is often described as "Lugh of the Long Arm" in Irish tradition. His magical sling and spear are the typical attributes of power in a god of victory and light. Thus, Lugh became the God of Light and Knowledge or the "Sun God."

Some traditions hold that Lugh established the festival of Lugnassad in memory of his foster-mother, Tailltiu, who died on that day and whose death was thus annually commemorated. (Tailltiu is also known an a Celtic earth goddess resembling the Greek Ceres, a spirit of fruitfulness, nourishment and fertility). The festival is, indeed, closely associated with the Celtic "Cult of the Dead," and of the "dead" or "dying" sun of summer. Religious rites were employed to ensure the sun-god’s existence for another year. The celebration of the "Lugnassad," we are told, was thought to have a distinct bearing on the yield of corn, fruit, milk and fish throughout Ireland, and negative results would follow if its rites were neglected. Marriages would also often be performed as a special feature of the fair.

The ceremonies of Lammas originally included sports and games of skill, and the persistence of the harvest festival as a semi-Christian rite, in which the first loaves were consecrated in churches, reveals how important it was in the lives of the Celts. Lugh was associated with the first harvest as consort of the goddess of abundance.

Since Lammas is usually associated with the harvest and the baking and eating of bread, I have attached a recipe for Irish soda bread. This bread is popular throughout Ireland. It is often baked fresh for tea or even breakfast. Delicious with a nice hot cup of tea!

IRISH SODA BREAD

4 Cups plain flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. sugar (optional)

2 cups buttermilk or sour milk

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Scoop up handfuls and allow to drop back into the bowl to aerate the mixture. Add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Now work quickly as the buttermilk and soda are already reacting. Knead the dough lightly—too much rough handling will toughen it, while too little means it won’t rise properly.

Form a round loaf about as thick as your fist. Place it on a lightly-floured baking sheet and cut a cross in the top with a floured knife. Put at once to bake near the top of a pre-heated oven for 30-45 minutes at 450o F. When baked the loaf will sound hollow when rapped on the bottom with your knuckles. Wrap immediately in a clean tea-towel to stop the crust hardening too much.

Brown soda bread is made in exactly the same way but with wholemeal flour replacing all or some of the white flour; this mixture will probably require less buttermilk. Another variation is to add cup raisins to the white bread.

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