Slowly but surely I am settling into my eclecticism. Welsh words led me to Druidry, but some names just feel better to me in Anglo-Saxon – a very British mix. Lammas – hlaf-mas, loaf mass – is one such word. Much as I love the connotations of Lughnasadh and speak the language of Gŵyl Awst, this time of year I will always celebrate as Lammas-tide. And the celebration of the first loaf, baked from the flour of the first grains, is all the more fun since I’ve started baking my own bread.
It feels good to walk straight past a whole section of the supermarket – but my journey into druidry demands that I go ever deeper. Where will those first precious grains from the harvest go? How do they reach the bags of flour I use to make my bread? All questions which are playing on my mind right now. This is not the year to learn the art of scything, or milling, but I find myself increasingly respecting these age-old methods, and wanting to at least experience them, to learn the deeper magic of the Lammas loaf.
I started baking Lammas loaves four years ago; the first was a saffron loaf, which I took to the top of South Cadbury and shared with the spirits of that sacred South Somerset place, on an afternoon of sunshine, white clover and mead. For this year’s celebration, I tried my hand at soda bread; it was a DISASTER, hilariously bad, and very humbling for that. Luckily, others brought more successful – and delicious – efforts to the feast on Saturday, and the whole celebration was ripe with abundance.
While the soda bread was baking (or, more accurately, burning on the outside while entirely failing to cook on the inside), I learned to play John Barleycorn on the ukulele, and gave the spirits of my hearth a little serenade. I never used to like that song, but – like Lammas – it’s become part of my life now, a frame of reference in my paganism. I sing it to the ripening wild grasses on my walk to work, hum it to the fields as I pass them on the train. John Barleycorn must die, that we may live.
Lammas, for me, is a time for community – and especially for shared celebration with the wider community of pagans. Before venturing into paganism, this is a festival I never knew; where I grew up, we didn’t harvest grain. I find myself missing the South Downs, and the community of Sussex pagans who became my friends. The season is a little more advanced down there; here in Lancashire, there is still green among the gold, and the first harvest of the grain has yet to happen. I miss the sweeping expanses of the cornfields, freckled red with poppies under bright blue Southern skies. But the season has a different beauty in this part of the world, and I look forward to learning it. Last night I ate the first wild blackberry of the year, washed with Summer rain, on top of Helsby hillfort. Magic in its purest form. We are truly blessed to live among such wild abundance.
Whatever this harvest season brings you, may it be bountiful.