Lughnasadh is the Celtic spelling of the holiday Lammas; that name itself is a corruption of the phrase “loaf-mass.” Lammas celebrates the gathering of the first harvest, and is also acknowledgment that the Sun is now, without doubt, in His waning phase. Although summer’s heat has set in with the rising of Sirius (the “Dog Star”) with the Sun each day, those days are observably shorter now, and winter is known to be arriving.
Lammas, generally celebrated on the first of August, is the first of three harvest festivals on the Wheel of the Year. Those who celebrate their Cross-quarter Days at the astrological moment will hold festivities when the Sun crosses the fifteenth degree of Leo.
In either case, the holiday is a harvest festival featuring the “first fruits” – those fruits, vegetables, and grains available at this time of year – as the sacrifice made to the deities.
Wheat is reaped for the first time now, and peaches, plums, and apricots are available at this time of year. Lettuces and greens are best before they bolt; peas, beans, and other legumes are coming into season. Root vegetables are not usually ready to harvest at this point in the year.
Offering the first fruits, and the first loaf of bread baked from this year’s wheat, are the usual rituals carried out at Lammas’ altar. If you choose to bake bread, this is a simple fast recipe, with a warning label attached: a “fast” yeast bread takes three hours + bake time minimum.In the US, yeast comes in little three-part packets. You will use one of the three here.
You will need:
A large bowl
Two loaf pans, or a 13″ x 8″ (33 x 23 cm) casserole pan, flat pan, or other pans of your choice
2 cups (240 grams) of white or unbleached wheat flour
6 cups (720 grams) additional flour (can be entirely whole wheat; two cups can be rice flour for lighter texture, rye flour, or other grain flour)
2 tblsp. (15g) salt
Roughly 2 cups (500 ml) water (water should be warm, not cold, and not so hot it burns the inside of your wrist)
One packet of yeast (1/2 tsp or 2.5 g)
Oil or melted fat, not measured
Non-stick spray is optional
Mixer is optional
To begin, measure the ingredients and assemble the tools.
Set the oven to 200 Fahrenheit (90 C). Stir the dry yeast and the salt into the 2 cups/240 grams flour. Add one-half the water. Oil your hands, and mix, or use a mixer.
Add flour a handful at a time; add water as necessary. Mix until smooth and shiny, and velvety to the touch.
When the dough grows too thick to mix more into easily, gently knead the completed dough just until small blisters form under the surface. Grasp an edge of the dough, fold it into the remainder, turn the dough one quarter-turn, and repeat.
When small blisters form under the surface, stop kneading. Pour about 1/4 cup (60 ml) oil into the bottom of the bowl, replace the dough, and turn it to oil the surface.
Turn the oven OFF.
Set the bowl of completed dough inside, on top of a baking sheet, and check it every half-hour or so. When it has doubled in size, remove it, and set the oven to 200F/90C again.
Lubricate the baking pans with spray or oil.
Punch down the dough by oiling your hands and pushing them into the middle of the batch. Knead it again as you did the first time, until it has lost most of the size it gained by rising.
Shape the dough into a loaf by dividing it in half, making each part a rough rectangle and smoothing its surface, then rolling it and tucking the ends under for a loaf. Place each loaf into its baking pan.
Turn the oven off, place the pans in the oven, and check on it every 15-20 minutes. Put the pans on the same shelf, with roughly equal spaces between the pans and the oven walls. When the dough has risen almost to its final shape (making “shoulders” over the edge of the bread pan and rising above it), set the oven to 325 F (165 C).
Set the timer for 30-45 minutes. Tap the center of each loaf when the shorter period has elapsed. If it sounds hollow, baking is complete.
If it needs more baking time, check it by tapping every five minutes. Let cool if you must, but I tell you, there is nothing more truly the Gift of the Goddess than hot yeast bread eaten with butter.
“First fruits” from one’s own orchard or garden are wonderful to lay on the altar – provided they haven’t come into their own early, and tempted you to eat without first offering some to the deities! Make your first harvest and place the offerings into the refrigerator if you must – this will be left for the animals, as all offerings are, so it won’t matter that they are not so optimally nutritious as they might be if truly first fruits. Or you may offer your personal first fruits and make another harvest, symbolic this time, for the holiday.
In any case, do celebrate Lammas. The Loaf-mass holiday is one of the three wherein we see the goodness the Goddess sends toward all of us in its most direct form. As the first harvest, the culmination of a year’s work and wisdom, Lammas occupies a memorable place on the Wheel of the Year.