Lammas

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For the village in England, see Lammas, Norfolk.
Lammas
also known as Lambess
Observed by England
Scotland
Pagans
(Neopagans, Wiccans)
Christians
(Catholics, Anglicans)
Type Cultural, Religious (Pagan, Christian)
Celebrations Handfasting
Funeral Games
First Fruits
Observances Loaves made from the grain collected at harvest.
Date 1 August (Northern Hemisphere)
1 February (Southern Hemisphere)
Related to Lughnasadh

In some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, August 1 is Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, "loaf-mass"), the festival of the wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic:[1] a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called "the feast of first fruits". The blessing of first fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western Churches on the first or the sixth of August (the latter being the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ).

Lammas coincides with the feast of St. Peter in Chains, commemorating St. Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison.

History[edit]

In medieval times the feast was sometimes known in England and Scotland as the "Gule of August",[2] but the meaning of "gule" is unclear. Ronald Hutton suggests[3] following the 18th-century Welsh clergyman antiquary John Pettingall[4] that it is merely an Anglicisation of Gŵyl Awst, the Welsh name of the "feast of August". OED and most etymological dictionaries give it a more circuitous origin similar to gullet; from O.Fr. goulet, dim. of goule, "throat, neck," from L. gula "throat,".

Several antiquaries beginning with John Brady[5] offered a back-construction to its being originally known as Lamb-mass, under the undocumented supposition that tenants of the Cathedral of York, dedicated to St. Peter ad Vincula, of which this is the feast, would have been required to bring a live lamb to the church,[6] or, with John Skinner, "because Lambs then grew out of season." This is a folk etymology, of which OED notes that it was "subsequently felt as if from LAMB + MASS".

For many villeins, the wheat must have run low in the days before Lammas, and the new harvest began a season of plenty, of hard work and company in the fields, reaping in teams.[7] Thus there was a spirit of celebratory play.

In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after Midsummer. At the end of hay-making a sheep would be loosed in the meadow among the mowers, for him to keep who could catch it.[8]

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1.3.19) it is observed of Juliet, "Come Lammas Eve at night shall she [Juliet] be fourteen." Since Juliet was born Lammas eve, she came before the harvest festival, which is significant since her life ended before she could reap what she had sown and enjoy the bounty of the harvest, in this case full consummation and enjoyment of her love with Romeo.

Another well-known cultural reference is the opening of The Battle of Otterburn: "It fell about the Lammas tide when the muir-men win their hay".

William Hone speaks in The Every-Day Book (1838) of a later festive Lammas day sport common among Scottish farmers near Edinburgh. He says that they "build towers...leaving a hole for a flag-pole in the centre so that they may raise their colours." When the flags over the many peat-constructed towers were raised, farmers would go to others' towers and attempt to "level them to the ground." A successful attempt would bring great praise. However, people were allowed to defend their towers, and so everyone was provided with a "tooting-horn" to alert nearby country folk of the impending attack and the battle would turn into a "brawl." According to Hone, more than four people had died at this festival and many more were injured. At the day's end, races were held, with prizes given to the townspeople.

Neopaganism[edit]

Main article: Wheel of the Year

Lughnasadh or Lammas is also the name used for one of the eight sabbats in the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. It is the first of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the autumn equinox (also called Mabon) and Samhain. In the Northern Hemisphere it takes place around August 1, while in the Southern Hemisphere it is celebrated around February 1.[9][10][11][12]

Other uses[edit]

Lammas is one of the Scottish quarter days.

Lammas leaves or Lammas growth refers to a second crop of leaves produced in high summer by some species of trees in temperate countries to replace those lost to insect damage. They often differ slightly in shape, texture and/or hairiness from the earlier leaves.

In the Inspector Morse episode "Day of the Devil", Lammas Day is presented as a Satanic (un)holy day, "the Devil's day".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ T.C. Cokayne, ed. Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcarft (Rolls Series) vol. III:291, noted by George C. Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century, 2nd ed. 1991:371.
  2. ^ J.P. Bacon Phillips, inquiring the significance of "gule", "Lammas-Day and the Gule of August", Notes and Queries, 2 August 1930:83.
  3. ^ Hutton, The Stations of the Sun, Oxford 1996.
  4. ^ Pettingall, in Archaeologia or, Miscellaneous tracts, relating to antiquity..., (Society of Antiquaries of London) 2:67.
  5. ^ Brady, Clavis Calendaris, 1812, etc. s.v. "Lammas-Day".
  6. ^ Reported without comment in John Brand, Henry Ellis, J.O. Halliwell-Phillips, Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, new ed. 1899: vol. I, s.v. "Lammas".
  7. ^ Noted by Homans 1991:371.
  8. ^ Homans 1991:371.
  9. ^ Nevill Drury (2009). "The Modern Magical Revival: Esbats and Sabbats". In Pizza, Murphy; Lewis, James R. Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers. pp. 63–67. ISBN 9789004163737. 
  10. ^ Hume, Lynne (1997). Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 9780522847826. 
  11. ^ Vos, Donna (2002). Dancing Under an African Moon: Paganism and Wicca in South Africa. Cape Town: Zebra Press. pp. 79–86. ISBN 9781868726530. 
  12. ^ Bodsworth, Roxanne T (2003). Sunwyse: Celebrating the Sacred Wheel of the Year in Australia. Victoria, Australia: Hihorse Publishing. ISBN 9780909223038. 

External links[edit]