The intense heat of the Dog Days has brought summer growth to its end, and the crops have ripened, ready for cutting. For the farmers, this is the most important time of year, the harvest – the gathering of the golden wheat and the silver oats, the root crops and the fruit, when they warily scan the skies and sniff the wind for the scent of rain. In the past, all the village would assemble to help, and itinerant labourers would be drafted in. Factory and school holidays were timed to coincide with the period, so that more people would be free to assist.
According to the Irish, Lughnasa (1 August) is the last day of summer and the start of autumn, and therefore the correct day on which to begin the harvest. To begin the harvest before Lughnasa was thought to be wrong, and even shameful, and only a very needy man or a bad farmer would do so. The Scots would exclaim “It’s lang to Lammas!” in jest when food was late to the table, reflecting the reality of scarcity when waiting for the harvest to begin. People looked forward to the day of first reaping when the hunger would be over. Everything that had been worked for was in reach.
Around the world the first of the harvest, called the First Fruits, was offered to the Gods, and only after giving the Gods their portion, were people free to enjoy the rest. In ancient Greece, barley was offered as first fruits to Demeter and Persephone at the great temple of Eleusis, where underground granaries stored the produce. In some places, the First Fruits were believed to contain a spirit. Estonians would not eat bread from the new corn until they had bitten on iron to protect them from the spirit within. In Sutherland (Scotland), when the new potatoes were dug, the whole family had to taste them or the spirits in them would be offended and the potatoes would not keep. 
This time of year is concerned with the rites at the beginning of the harvest, the offering of the First Fruits, and the sacrifice of the gods of the grain, so that we might eat. August begins with Lughnasa, the modern Pagan celebration of the beginning of the harvest, the bounty of the earth, and the abundance of all that Mother Earth gives us. The modern festival has its roots in both the Irish Lughnasa and the Anglo-Saxon Lammas.
In England, the first day of August was known as Lammas, probably from the Anglo-Saxon hlaef-mass meaning ‘loaf-mass’. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 921 CE mentions it as ‘the feast of first fruits’.  It marked the time when the first of the grain crop was gathered in, ground in a mill and baked into a loaf. This first loaf was offered up as part of the Christian Eucharist ritual. Many modern Pagans use the word Lughnasa for this festival. It is an Irish word, which translates as ‘the games/assembly of Lugh’, and the only time Lughnasa is mentioned in the Irish chronicles is in connection with the tribal assemblies held for the weeks each side of 1 August. The gatherings included the settling of tribal business matters, horse racing, athletic contests, martial contests, games, and even sometimes real fights for the right to rule and become king. They may have included rituals to ensure a plentiful harvest, though there is no record of this.  One chronicle does relate, however, that for the old Pagans, holding the fair ensured corn, milk and full nets, men like heroes, tender women and good cheer in every household; if it were not held there would be decay and immature kings.  Each assembly was held at the grave of a mythical woman who died clearing land for pasture, perhaps hinting at an earlier harvest celebration.
Rite for Lughnasa
Lughnasa celebrates the fruition of the year’s work with the start of the grain harvest, the weaning of calves and lambs, the first apples, pears, bilberries, blackberries and grapes. For your Lughnasa celebrations gather a basket of assorted ripe fruit and vegetables and place it on the altar, or decorate the ritual area with fruits and grain. They may be blessed during the course of the ritual and shared out at the end of the evening for luck, if you share the occasion with others. Have ready bread and wine. Place one brown and one yellow candle on the altar.
I come to celebrate the rite of Lughnasa as the time of the harvest is here. The fields are golden in the Sun with ears of ripe grain. It is a time of rejoicing, for we see the fruits of our labours. It is a time of sacrifice, when the Corn Lord gives of himself, so that we may have our bread.
Light the brown candle and say:
Come Great Goddess,
Mother Earth, whose body supports us,
Lady of Life and Lady of Death,
Be welcome here as Queen of the Harvest.
Light the yellow candle and say:
Welcome O Corn Lord,
Golden haired son of Mother Earth,
Lover of the Sovereign Goddess of the land,
Sacred King who meets death at the Queen’s hand.
Take up the bread and say:
The year did spin and spring come round
While our dear Lord lay in the ground
Till rain fell thick upon his bed
And slowly then he raised his head
And grew apace till Midsummer’s Day
When with his flowering bride he lay
But the year does spin and he must die
And as a seed must once more lie
We hunt him down with sharpened sickle
To pierce his heart and see blood trickle
To flay his skin from off his bones
And grind him up between two stones
Our dying Lord has lost his head
But with his death we have our bread.
When you are ready, take up the wine and say:
The first of the harvest is always for the Gods.
Pour some wine on the earth (or into a dish on the altar, which you can take outside later). Say:
The first of the harvest if for the Gods.
Hold the cup and say:
I drink and salute the Queen of the Harvest, and as that as I drink, I may know abundance, Blessed Be.
Drink. Take up the bread and say:
The first of the harvest is always for the Gods.
Put a piece on the ground or on a dish on the altar, which you can put outside later. Say:
I eat, but it is not bread I eat, but the body of the God, sprung from the womb of the Earth, ripening under the Sun. I thank the God for his sacrifice, and ask that as I eat, I may know his compassion.
Eat some bread.
Take some time for meditation and consider what you have received this year, what you have harvested. How have you used this? What do you need to sacrifice? When you have finished say:
I give thanks to the Goddess of the Earth. Lady, grant me your blessings. Be with me in my life, as you once were to those of old. Grant me your wisdom. Blessed be!
Great Lord and consort of the Goddess, grant blessing to this land.. Be with me in my life as you once were to those of old. Grant me your blessing. Blessed be!
I have celebrated the rite of Lughnasa. I have witnessed the harvesting of the grain and the sacrifice of the Corn Lord. I have honoured the Lady and her Lord. Let this ritual end with love and blessings. Blessed be.
© Anna Franklin 2020
Image © Paul Mason from The Sacred Circle Tarot, Anna Franklin and Paul Mason, Llewellyn, 1998
 James Frazer, The Golden Bough, Macmillan, London, 1976
 King Alfred the Great, (trans. Rev James Ingram), Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016
 Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996
 Roger Sherman Loomis, Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Constable, 1995