The month of July was a pleasant if rather active time, representing something of a build up towards the Lammastide itself. On the first weekend of July I took a walk over to a nearby village, this was to explore the fields above the villages and to admire the beauty of the English countryside. The wheat, that modern short stalked variety, although less stately than the traditional forms, was none the less pleasing to the eye on a bright sunny day. I stopped to appreciate the views and to take pictures of the vista, the trees were in full leaf, set majestically against a landscape of rolling Derbyshire hills.
Lammastide is a name we in the Hearth of the Turning Wheel use to describe the first harvest period, what most today refer to as Lughnasadh, Lughnassa or simply Lammas, as there are several variations on the name. There are equally several variations on what is the appropriate date for the holding of the festival or observance.
Lughnassadh is an ancient Irish festival and in English, a more appropriate name would be the Commemoration of Lugh. However, this choice of title for the festival often leads to a misunderstanding of who is actually being commemorated. In legend it is the God Lugh who inaugurates this festival in honour of his dearly loved foster mother, the Goddess Tailtiu (White and Talboys 2004). This Goddess cleared the forest of Breg for her children or people to use as agricultural land. An effort that proved so taxing, that the Goddess expired as a result of the exertions.
It is this subtle theme of sacrifice that is the key to understanding the festival itself but it is important to understand that it is not a festival of Lugh. The Irish Lughnassadh is given by Lugh for us to remember his foster mother. The primary and underlying theme is that we should remember the sacrifice of the land and how the land in the form of the crops harvested at this time, gives up life for us.
Although the Lammas Day can be celebrated on a choice of dates, the true observation is of one of the four tides of the ritual year (Crowther 1981). There is a difference of interpretation with regard these tides and different traditions give them different names. Furthermore, some see the cross quarter days as the start of a tide (Carr-Gomm 2002), while others see them as the midpoint. It is the energy behind these tides that is the more important factor and why each festival can be symbolised by a particular phase of the moon.
Lambtide or Candlemas is the tide of Lustration or Sowing, Maytide is the tide of Activation or Growth, Lammastide is the tide of Consolidation or Reaping and Hallowtide is the tide of Recession or Death, leading to new growth and the start of the cycle once more.
The Lammas tide, which may run from the Summer Solstice to the Autumn Equinox or from August Eve to November Eve, depending upon perspective and tradition, may be symbolised by the waxing or old moon. Growth has reached its peak and if the crops are not soon harvested, then the life energy within will be drawn back into the land.
At the time of this first walk I was surprised at how dry the land was, even after a recent period of rain. A subject of conversation when I stopped on my way home for a cider at the White Swan. A quality country public house at the bottom of the hills and close to the village church. Equally of note was how green the wheat remained throughout the month of July, the tide approaches truly but the wheat was far from golden yellow, the Lammas Tide was not yet with us.
These observations remained unchanged on my later trips to those same fields during that month of July. On one occasion I took a friend for dinner at the White Swan, before we went exploring the hillside together. As we climbed the hill the moon rose over the horizon, just a day or two past full, blood orange and only lightly enveloped in a low sparse cloud. It was a scene of great beauty and it truly made the walk. I struggle to find words to describe that moment, so I will not try but instead I leave the reader to imagine that moment for themselves.
On another later trip and once again after enjoying a fine lunch at the Swan, I noted with pleasure that Church Farm had been rethatched. We have few thatched cottages in this part of Derbyshire but even rarer are examples of thatch sculpture. My delight at the new thatching was therefore increased, when I spotted the exquisite thatch hare mounted atop the cottage, which itself is one of the oldest still extant buildings in that particular village.
Later in the month I returned with friends to the same village but to a different public house, the Royal Oak this time, to watch folk dancing in the open air. There is something quintessentially English about standing outside a pub, pint in hand watching folk dancing on a summer’s evening. Even when the dancing may not be considered traditionally English. Outside I was able to watch two groups perform, one was ‘Chip off the Old’ an all-female Morris side and the other ‘Restless Soles’ an Appalachian Clog group. The latter as a dance form is derived from Northern English and Irish dance that fused in the USA during the early years of colonisation. Today the dancers use studded tap shoes, the use of actual wooden clogs is rare.
Good company, good drink, snacks and live entertainment, there are few ways better to appreciate an English summer and appreciate the experience I certainly did. In the not far distance, rising above the village I could see the wheat fields, forming a delightful backdrop to an evening’s enjoyment. Inside in the function room of the Royal Oak, the French Dance group had opened their doors and were inviting all present join them in a sort of unofficial ceilidh. That rounded off the evening quite nicely.
The next evening (Thursday 28th), I once again found myself in a pub surrounded by friends. I was having quite a social July. This was the Hearth of the Turning Wheel Lammastide Moot, a social moot hosted by the Inner Court of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel to enable a general ‘getting to know’ each other over a drink or two.
This invitation only moot was open to all members of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel past and present, members of the Outer Court, Friends of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and their ‘plus ones.’ The moot was organised via our private Facebook group, the Friends of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel. That group was originally created to provide communication within our now closed Teaching Circle but now exists as an extension of our outer court. Membership is therefore open to inner court initiates, outer court guests and those who have yet to attend a ritual but may have an interest in our Hearth philosophy.
The moot was an intimate and enjoyable gathering. All present were impressed with our new choice of venue in Derby. The real ale is good, the cider is good and the food outstanding. The service is polite and welcoming. What more could we ask for? We now plan to trial our monthly social moots for the rest of the year.
The moot was also an unofficial celebration of my own harvest, with the news that my written piece ‘Sacrificing the Lammas Man,’ had been published in Pagan Dawn, the journal of the Pagan Federation.
That last weekend of July was a busy one, besides the organising of the future moots, there was a necessary exchange of emails on Hearth business. Furthermore, in preparation of our activities planned over the next week, I returned to the ‘hill’ to gather wheat. This once debugged and allowed to dry, was used to decorate my living room
On Monday the 1st August I stood on the top floor of a five story building just before the Lammas dawn. I was nearing the end of a night shift and I watched the most beautiful sliver of a waning crescent moonrise. In the evening that same day, the Hearth of the Turning Wheel met for our seasonal observance. The Lammastide had arrived.
We can now reflect that the autumn is expected to be a busy one for us in the Hearth of the Turning Wheel. Besides the usual observances, we now have moots to monitor and two ‘members in waiting’ to be supported in their development. This important latter factor is the responsibility of the Defender and the Summoner. That is our harvest but what is yours?
Carr-Gomm P. (2002) Druidcraft: the magic of Wicca and Druidry. Thorsons.
Crowther V. (1981) Lid off the Cauldron. Frederick Muller Ltd.
Griffith D.B. - The Chattering Magpie (2009) Wheels within wheels. Privately presented paper.
Griffith D.B. - The Chattering Magpie (2013) Tides of the Year. Brigid’s Fire. Issue 15 Lughnasdh – Harvest Festival pp32 – 33.
Griffith D.B. - The Chattering Magpie (2015) The Lammas Tide: is there a conflict of interpretation? Pagan Dawn. Issue 196 Lammas – Autumn Equinox pp20 -21.
White J. Talboys G.K. (2004) Arianrhod’s dance: a Druid ritual source book. Grey House in the Woods, Ayrshire.
Other relevant links
Restless Soles on Facebook:
Chip off the Old Morris Dancing Team
John Barleycorn by Robert Burns/Trad. (1782)