Lughnasa/Lammas

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’. [1] 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. In Ireland, Wales and England, Lammas was also the day for separating the lambs from the ewes, as it was thought to be luckier to do it on that day. Some even say that this is the origin of the word Lammas, as masses were said for the protection of the lambs on that day. Lammas appears just once in Old English poetry, in the calendar poem known as the Menologium. In the section for August, the poem describes Lammas and the coming of autumn: “… everywhere August brings/ to peoples of the earth Lammas Day. So autumn comes…Plenty is revealed, beautiful upon the earth.” [2]

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. It is always stressed that the events were presided over by kings, with the one near Tara headed by the high king of Ireland and the others by local kings.  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. [3] 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. [4] Each assembly was held at the grave of a mythical woman who died clearing land for pasture, perhaps hinting at an earlier harvest celebration.  The eleventh century collection of Irish heroic tales known as the Ulster Cycle gives the four festivals of the old Irish year as Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Bron Trogain, rather than Lughnasa. Bron Trogain means ‘the earth sorrows under its fruits’ [5] and suggests the labour of the earth goddess in giving birth to the harvest.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021


[1] King Alfred the Great, (trans. Rev James Ingram), Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016 

[2] A Little History of Lammas, https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2017/08/a-little-history-of-lammas.html?fbclid=IwAR01BbnyJQP1mKPZ8r34JOcV5vA-kHIrcHYerMdjU8l0r4eekXm-byLDtlI, accessed 5.11.19

[3] Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996

[4]  Roger Sherman Loomis, Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Constable, 1995

[5] The Táin: Translated from the Old Irish Epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, Penguin Classics, 2008

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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