Tag Archives: Lammas

Harvest Dollies for Modern Pagans

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Historically, grain dollies were made from the last sheaf harvested, and either left in the field or placed wherever grains were stored. It was often tied or plaited to be roughly human shaped, but in some places shaped like an animal. It was representative of the Spirit of the Harvest, or the Corn Mother. In Ireland, the grain harvest is associated with Lughnasadh. But the god Lugh is not a grain god or earth god. He’s not John Barleycorn (who is English, and more about the production of beer). Lugh isn’t a sun god either, but I’ll get to that later.

The grain dolly from the previous harvest would be ploughed into the first furrow of the new season in the spring, or else otherwise destroyed in some way to release the spirit of the previous year’s grain. Another tradition, the one that most Pagans follow (and I don’t know the origin), states that it is to be kept to insure a bountiful crop through the next harvest season and burned around the time that a new one is made from the last sheaf.

Since Neopagans have three harvest holidays (Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain) in the widely observed “wheel of the year”, there is some debate over which holiday to burn a grain dolly. I would think the answer would be to make it close to one’s local grain harvest date. Arkansas grows soft red winter wheat as a commercial crop. Harvest begins in May and ends as late as the first week of July. So, for our locality, if you want to burn your grain dolly at the end of harvest, it makes sense to do so at Lughnasadh, rather than at any of the later harvest holidays. That, and because it’s the harvest holiday that has a strong grain theme.

Note that I’m calling them grain dollies instead of the more traditional “corn dolly”. This is because Americans have confused traditional use of the word corn to exclusively mean maize. To the Europeans, corn meant grain. Corn dollies were not corn husk dolls. They didn’t have maize back then. Corn dollies were made of whatever grain various European cultures predominantly ate, like wheat or oats.

But we do live in the modern western world, and many would say that we need to adapt traditions to where we are and the way we live now. Americans in general do eat a lot of corn, both as a vegetable and as a grain, and as a sweetener (although Arkansas doesn’t grow much maize commercially). Corn husk dolls are easier to make than wheat dolls, which is probably a big part of why most American Pagans make corn husk dolls instead of the more traditional grain dollies for harvest holidays. The materials are also easier to find. Not many people grow wheat in their backyard garden but plenty grow corn, or could get corn in the husk at any farmer’s market or grocery store. Maize harvest starts mid August in Arkansas and can last late into September or even October, so it would make sense to burn your cornhusk harvest dolls at the Autumnal Equinox or Samhain if you are so inclined.

Unless you are a farmer or a gardener who grows grains, your harvest doll is purely symbolic anyway, not made from the last sheaf of anything, but symbolic of the harvest for you personally. So make it of whatever materials represent the harvest for you (you’ll notice that one of the dollies in the picture below is make of both cornhusks and wheat), and burn or bury it at whichever of the harvest (or spring) High Days that you feel drawn to do so.

Harvest Dollies | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Three Easy Lughnasadh Crafts

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Lughnasadh is a celebration of first fruits and grains. It is the wake of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu- Great One of the Great Earth. Lugh is a god of many skills and has many roles. His name is associated with light, but contrary to popular belief, it is the flash of lightning, not sunlight, with which he has been traditionally associated. In County Mayo thunderstorms were referred to as battles between Lugh and Balor. Balor’s evil eye represents the scorching late-summer sun. Lugh’s defeat of Balor represents August storms defeating the crop-threatening summer heat and drought.

The theme of these three crafts are wheat and blueberries. Blueberries are a traditional Lughnasadh food, and according to Mara Freeman, the Sunday nearest August 1st was called “Bilberry (blueberry) Sunday” (Kindling the Celtic Spirit). Blueberries, to me, also represent the color of the stormy skies hoped for at Lughnasadh. It is good luck and a good omen if it rains on Lughnasadh.

blueberries and wheat crafts

salt-dough blueberry beads
The first thing you’ll need to make is the salt dough blueberry beads. Take a handful of salt dough, add a generous squirt of blue food coloring, and a few drops of red food coloring. Knead in the color well. Adjust if necessary to get the color you want. Roll into blueberry sized balls, poke a hole through the middle with a skewer, and let dry.

wheat & blueberry crown
Measure two inches down from the top edge of a brown paper grocery bag and cut in a straight line to get an even strip. Fold this in half lengthwise. Wrap around your child’s head to measure for size. Remove, tape in place and trim excess. Arrange placement of blueberry beads and wheat heads. Glue in place.

wheat & blueberry necklace (or wall hanging)
With heavy-duty thread and a yarn needle, string blueberry beads and wheat heads, piercing through the middle of the wheat head. Stop and tie off when you reach the length you want. You may want to trim the long bristles of the wheat.

wheat mobile

Lughnasadh mobile
To make this craft, you’ll need: blueberry beads, wheat heads, heavy string or yarn, marker or crayon, scissors, glue, a hole-punch, stained glass paint (or white glue mixed with food coloring), painbrush, and waxed paper (or re-purpose some clear plastic packaging).
First, trace three shapes onto your wax paper or plastic packaging. Use your wheat heads to help you decide how big they need to be. My shapes were a half-circle, a circle, and a triangle, but you can choose whatever shapes you like. Paint the shapes, the color of your choosing, with the stained glass mixture. Let dry and cut out. Punch holes in the top and bottom of each shape. Arrange wheat heads on shapes with color peeping though. Glue in place and let dry. Thread onto string or yarn, interspersed with beads, tying knots to hold each item in place. Hang from a sunny window.

three Lughnasadh crafts

salt dough wheat plaque

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With Lughnasadh/Lammas coming up in a couple of weeks, a fun project to work on is a wheat plaque to decorate the family altar, hearth, or nature table. I used ordinary salt dough for this project (1 cup salt, 2 cups flour, and around 1 cup water). You can add paint or food coloring to the dough if you like, or paint after the project is completely dry.

First, I rolled out my well-kneaded dough, thickly and evenly. I used a mixing bowl and pizza cutter to get a clean even arch at the top. Then I used a ruler to cut a straight bottom edge. I used a teardrop shaped clay tool to press in tall grasses, and a knife tool for the wheat stalks. I used a couple of methods for the wheat grains; one is to press in each grain with the teardrop shaped clay tool, and the other is to make little snippets up and down the stalk with the end of a pair of small scissors. The latter method is my favorite, because it adds interesting dimensions to the plaque. I added swirls and small holes for a finishing touch. The plaque can be hung on the wall when dry (don’t forget to poke a hole in the back with the blunt end of a tack when turning over to dry the back), or propped up on a shelf.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try curving the plaque around a foil-covered vase to dry, then attach salt dough rings to the back to hold candles. If you poke holes all the way through the plaque with a straw, you can add amber colored beads that would shine in the light of the candle.

wheat plaque

Our Loaf-Fest

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We celebrated Loaffest a little bit early at our house. We had a week-long trip coming up and I wanted to celebrate before we left. I figured I’d have time in a day or so for a quick solitary ADF ritual (for my DP), but I wanted to first try out my “no-ritual” plan to celebrate with my family. It turned out to be a really memorable High Day, in my book. The day before our celebration, I set up a seasonal altar shelf in the dining area and pulled the dining table out to the center of the room. That night, I asked my youngest daughter to read “Sif’s Golden Hair” from D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths. With much laughter and funny voices for some of the characters, she did so, with her little brother listening to most of it.

lammas altar

The next day we set out to pick wildflowers for the altar and take nature pictures. Later, we commenced to concocting our Loaffest feast: cheesy meat pie, salad, honeydew melon balls & blueberries, bread rolls in all different shapes (harvest knots, various spirals and swirls) and toppings (poppy seed, sesame seed, cinnamon & sugar). We had blueberry crisp a la mode for dessert, and blackberry lemonade to wash it all down.

blackberry lemonade

When the food was all laid out on the table, I lit the altar candle and acknowledged the Three Hallows with offerings. We hailed the Kindreds Three, and the patrons of the occasion: Thor and Sif. We placed offerings in an oblong red dish at the end of the dining table closest to the altar. Que the music (via my playlist), and we began our feast! The mood of the day was just right; good food, relaxed atmosphere. We sang along with the music, named our favorites on the playlist, and sat and gazed in awe at our Loaf Fest shrine. The temperature was mild that day so we had all the windows open and the insects were already starting to sing before our meal was through. The boys went outside to play water guns. My daughter and I wrote our prayers and wishes and blessings on little strips of paper and burned them in an old copper pot. She and I ended our “rite” by singing our ending song and blowing out the candle.

loaffestcollage

Often times, I put way too much emphasis on having a formal (and often public) ritual for any given High Day. I get so preoccupied with it that I forget to play up other customs of the day. Many times I have gotten so worried about speaking at a public ritual, or anxious that things won’t turn out right when I’m in the role of leader, that I would end up not enjoying the holiday at all. I needed to have a “no-ritual” High Day for a change- to just enjoy the turn of the Wheel, and to remind myself and my family that the High Days really are fun and are meant to be enjoyed. Our celebration wasn’t exactly a blót, though it was Norse themed. It had a couple of ADF Druid tidbits, but it wasn’t “core order of ritual” by a long shot. What it was, was just right for celebrating with my family, and it will be a High Day I will remember for a long, long time.

Kids’ Activities for Lughnasadh / Lammas / Freyfaxi

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Here are some ideas and resources for celebrating Lughnasadh/Lammas/Freyfaxi with children. These three early to mid- August holidays overlap and share some common themes; the grain (and berry) harvest, fertility of the land, and sporting events and fairs that include horse races.

I disagree with the notion that this was a time of honoring the waning sun. I think that idea comes from the Victorian-era notion that Lúgh is a sun god. The Celtic god Lúgh is most likely a lightning god; his name means “flashing light” and his epithet lonnbeimnech means “fierce striker”. In County Mayo thunderstorms were referred to as battles between Lúgh and Balor. Balor’s evil eye represents the scorching late-summer sun. Lúgh’s defeat of Balor represents August storms defeating the crop-threatening summer heat and drought. Lightning strikes help fertilize the soil with nitrogen, and of course, the rain that comes along with the thunder and lightning is essential for a good harvest.

Many of the (otherwise somewhat useful) books and stories suggested below have a few lines or words in them describing Lúgh as a sun god. Unfortunately, this is true of many, if not most, children’s mythology books. When I find some that are more accurate, I will happily (joyfully!) update this list. So, as with anything, read to yourself before reading aloud to your kids to correct historical mistakes and inaccuracies.

EXPLANATION & INFORMATION

STORIES

  • “Saving Freyfaxi” by Christy Lenzi, a four-part story starting in the July/August 2010 issue of Cricket magazine. The story is about a Viking girl who is put in charge of a sacred horse, Freyfaxi, dedicated to the god Frey.

GAMES Games are of special significance for this holiday; the death of Lúgh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu, is commemorated by the Lughnasadh Games.

  • More familiar games well suited to this holiday are horseshoes/ ring toss, footraces, tug-of-war, and sack races, etc.
  • Idea for an indoor game: play the board game “Hi-ho Cherry-O” with real blueberries instead of the plastic cherries.

CRAFTS / ACTIVITIES

  • Go berry-picking.
  • Visit a horse ranch. Horses are associated with both Lúgh, and with the Norse god Freyr.
  • Help a grown-up with bread-baking; practice kneading and shaping dough into harvest knots and other shapes.
  • Make deity coloring pages to decorate your altar; use an internet image search to find one you like, save it, and go to a photo editing website like ScrapColoring to convert your image.

Lughnasadh deities

  • Try wheat weaving. Braided wheat straw decorations are symbols of good luck and prosperity. They are part of the harvest celebrations of many cultures. They are often called “corn dollies”, but this kind of corn dolly is not shaped like a person. (Also, corn dollies are not made with corn husks. In Europe, corn means a grain like wheat, barley, or rye.) For a simple first wheat weaving project, take three wheat stalks of equal length and soak the stems in warm water until they bend easily. Line them up beside each other. Starting at the wheat heads, braid the stalks all the way to the end, loop it around and tie to just above the wheat heads with a red ribbon. Find a book at the library on wheat weaving and work your way up to making more difficult wheat weaving designs.

Kids Activities for Lammas

Countdown to Lammas – Holiday Planner

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July  8th – 14th

  • Decorate home for the holiday / make crafts to decorate home, like wheat weaving and dough crafts.
  • Take seasonal (outdoor) pictures with family/friends.
  • Firm up ritual plans, if you haven’t already. Will you be attending a festival, local event, a family event, or doing something on your own? If you are planning the ritual, decide on location and script/liturgy.
  • In addition to any ritual plans, you may want to plan on attending a local harvest festival or fair; check community calendars and plan accordingly.

July 15th – 21st

  • Make menu plans and grocery list.
  • Find some good berry patches and places to pick pawpaws.

July 22nd – 31st

  • Shop for menu items.
  • Forage paw paws (if ready) and wild berries.
  • Prepare some menu items in advance (breads and desserts, for example).

August 1st

  • Prepare feast (or potluck dish).
  • Have ritual, attend any other festivities, and celebrate!

*And by “Lammas” I mean to include Lughnasadh and Freyfaxi.

thanks

Tailtiu Shrine

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In Irish mythology, Tailtiu (pronounced tal-chuh) was the foster-mother of the god Lugh. Her name meant “The Great One of the Earth”. She died of exhaustion after clearing land for farming in what is now known as county Meath. Thereafter, every August, Lugh held funeral games in her honor. These funeral games (and fairs) became known as Lughnasadh; “the assembly of Lugh”. An older name for this holiday is Bron Trogain; “Lamentation of the Earth”.

Tailtiu Shrine

“Great en the fair wood was cut down by her,
roots and all, out of the ground,
before the year’s end it became Bregmag,
it became a plain blossoming with clover.
Her heart burst in her body
from the strain beneath her royal vest;
not wholesome, truly, is a face like the coal,
for the sake of woods or pride of timber.

Long was the sorrow, long the weariness of Tailtiu,
in sickness after heavy toil;
the men of the island of Erin
to whom she was in bondage
came to receive her last behest.
She told them in her sickness
(feeble she was but not speechless)
that they should hold funeral games to lament her
– zealous the deed .”
-from the Metrical Dindshenchas