Tag Archives: Loaf Fest

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

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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

A Celtic-Norse Loaf Fest Blót

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My background is mainly Celtic Reconstructionist, but last year, I began following an Ásatrú path. At first I thought perhaps I would just celebrate the Celtic Feast days (Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, and Lughnasadh) as purely Celtic, and have the Equinoxes and Solstices be Norse. As I’ve gone along, I have found it has been much more complicated than that. Combining two different (but related) traditions has been an intricate dance. I often find myself drawn to incorporating both into the same ritual. This ritual is a result of such combinations I’ve made.

Lughnasadh / Loaf Fest Blót
It is best that this ritual be held on a hilltop or near a stream or river. Bring bannock with berries baked in. Bring flowers to either bury (in which case, you’ll also need a small shovel) or float on the water. If you opt to have the ritual by water, the flower floating symbolism acquires a second meaning, especially if the flowers are sun-colored; as symbolic of the hot summer sun being quenched/subdued by water.

Saining: Sain with water and juniper.  Ring bell (or silver branch) to signal beginning of ritual. (You may want to do a Three Realms blessing/meditation at this time.)

Introduction: “We gather now as our ancestors did, to worship the Old Ones and commemorate the turning seasons of the year at the time of Lughnasadh, and the feast of First Fruits and Grains.”

Fire Lighting: The family flame-keeper lights the Sacred Fire and says: “In the names of the Holy Ones, we kindle the fire of cleansing and creation, the first mystery and the final mercy. Let flame be quickened by flame, and may the holy flame of our Faith and Folk which ever burns, grow again to bathe Midgard in its sacred radiance.”

The Call: “Hail Sif, golden-haired beauty, goddess of the ripening grain. Hail Tailtiu, Great One of the Earth, you who gave your life to the clearing of land for crops. Givers of grain, shapers of sustenance, you who feed us, hear our call. Hail Thor, hammer wielder, Hail Lúgh of the lightning spear, storm lords who give nourishment to the crops through rain and lightning, hear our call. Hail Spirits of this place. Hail Ancestors of our people. You whose efforts have brought us life and livelihood, hear our call. Harvest fruits have all been gathered; Sif’s shining hair has been cropped; generous bounty of the gods and spirits, we give thanks to you and celebrate in your honor!”   

Song: “Sif’s Seasons” and/or “Blossom Lifter

Bread Blessing: Pass the bread over the fire, hold it up, and say: “Behold, it is the bread of life, harvested from the lap of Mother Nerthus. Spirits of the Harvest, Bounteous Earth, for the nourishment you have given, we are thankful. We honor the spirit of the grain. We honor the spirit of the sun and wind and rain which have gone into the grain, and the efforts of all who labored over the land. May the Spirits of Life live within us.” Break of a piece and toss into the fire, then break off a piece to eat. Pass around the circle for all to do the same.

The Hallowing & Blessing: the mead is passed over the fire. The participants and the altar are sprinkled with the hallowed drink. Leader says: “May the blessings of the gods, goddesses, and holy wights be upon us.”

The Sharing: the drink is shared and hails made. Additional prayers or readings may be said. When the last of the drink is poured into the blótbolli, say: “Holy Ones, accept our gifts! Hail the gods, goddesses, and holy wights!”

Farewell to Summer: “Summer lingers here but soon will fade. The shortening days will be felt by the Earth and Her children in crisp air and turning leaves. And so we bid our farewells to summer…” All toss flowers into the water and watch them float downstream and out of sight. (Or toss them into a pit in the ground.) If desired, for each flower folks may name an aspect of summer and say “Farewell _____.” 

Reading:  “Farewell to the Season of Beltane” from the Celtic Devotional by Caitlin Matthews, or  “Nothing Golden Stays” (original version) by Robert Frost (see the Lughnasadh ritual I wrote last year).

Offering & Closing: The mead in the blótbolli is poured onto the ground at the base of a tree or over stones, while saying: “From the Gods to the earth, to us. From us, to the earth, to the Gods. The cycle continues. The rite is ended”

A LUGHNASADH RITE

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(A part of my “little ritual” series.  Materials from, and adapted from ADF, the Carmia Gadelica, and other sources.)  For this ritual, bring bread and flowers in addition to the usual “little ritual” supplies.

*(Edited to note: I wrote this ritual when I was a Celtic Reconstructionist and scheduled it for this later date. For info on how to convert this ritual to an ADF format, see the “little rituals” article highlighted above.)

Circumambulation (Circle ritual area three times. Skip this if ritual is in your own back yard.)

Purpose
“I am here to keep the old ways and honor the Kindred
at the time of Lughnasadh.”

Three Realms Blessing
“As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be —
I stand at the Center of Earth, Sky and Sea.”

Fire Lighting
“I kindle the sacred fire in wisdom, love, and power.”  (light fire)
“Sacred fire, burn within me.” 

Hail to the Spirits
Hail, Earth Mother, whole and holy, honor unto thee!” 
(touch the earth, give offering)
“I offer now as the ancients did to the Kindreds Three!”
“To the Fair Folk, I give offering and welcome.”  (place offering in bowl or fire)
“To the Ancestors, I give offering and welcome.”  (place offering in bowl or fire)
“To my Deities, I give offering and welcome.”  (place offering in bowl or fire)
“Lugh and Tailtiu, I honor you on this day.”  (place offering in bowl or fire)

Bread Blessing  Holding up bread, say:
“O Lady of the Harvest, Lord of the Grain,
Bounteous Mother and Father,
for the nourishment you have given, I am thankful. 
I honor the spirit of the grain. 
I honor the spirit of the sun and wind and rain
which have gone into the grain.
May the Spirits of Life live within me.”
Eat some of the bread and offer some to the Spirits.

Blessing Cup
“Ancient Ones, a Child of the Earth calls out for your blessing. 
Hallow these waters, O holy powers. 
Grant me the blessing I seek. 
May the Wisdom, Love and Power
of the Deities, Ancestors and Sidhe flow into this Cup of Blessing.” 
(Hold cup out with both hands and feel the energy flow into the cup.)
“This cup now holds the waters of life!
I drink this in the name of the Kindred.”  (drink deeply)
“May these waters I have received
flow through my body and through my spirit,
and may they pour out into the rest of my life.” 

Farewell to Summer
“Summer lingers here but soon will fade. 
The shortening days will be felt by
the Earth and Her children in crisp air and turning leaves. 
And so I bid my farewells to summer…”
Toss flowers, one by one, into the water
and watch them float downstream and out of sight.
If desired, for each flower you may name an aspect of summer and say “Farewell _____.”

–Optional Reading: 
“Farewell to the Season of Beltane”- from the Celtic Devotional by Caitlin Matthews (p.71),
or “Nothing Golden Stays” (original vesion) by Robert Frost:

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
In autumn she achieves
A still more golden blaze
But nothing golden stays.”

Parting Blessing
 “I offer my thanks to the Mother of All.
I offer my thanks to the Deities, Ancestors and Fair-Folk.
May the Three Sacred Kins bring joy to all beings,
and renew the ancient wisdom.
As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be.”