Lammas, the first of the Harvest Festivals, marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The days grow noticeably shorter; there may be a cool spell or two to cut the heat of summer, and showers wash clear the soot and allergens from the skies, an intimation only of the season to come.
'Lammas' is actually a medieval Christian name meaning "loaf-mass" or the "Feast of Bread" from the Saxon word, Hlaf-mass. As the feast name indicates, this was the grain harvest from which loaves of bread were baked and given up in offering. In Irish-Gaelic, the name for the festival was 'Lugnasadh' and referred to the games or "nasad" of the Irish sun-god, Lugh. Lugh, or as he was known in Ireland, Lugh of the Long Hand, son of the Sun, held the games in honor of the memory of his foster-mother, Taillte.
Lammas is the first of the three harvest festivals, and symbolizes the waning strength of Bel, (Belenos) the Celtic god of light. It emphasizes his willingness as Corn King to sacrifice himself so that the tribe may endure the winter months ahead with sustenance and hope; that hope being grounded in the mystery of the Cauldron of Rebirth.
To many of us, Lammas represents the unbroken physical link of seed to harvest and back to seed. This is the most obvious concept, as seed from one crop has always been saved back as seed for the next crop. The importance of the transformation of the grain into flour is most evident, as well, as we head towards the winter months. But inherent in this is the crux of our spiritual beliefs, as we see the symbolism applied not only to the physical world, but also to our own spiritual lives. The grain seed is the kernel of soul, our unbroken link to the Ancestors; the Harvest King's sacrifice is the harvest that we, ourselves, reap from our actions and thoughts of the year just passing, and from that which we bring with us from our previous dances on the Wheel.
And so Lammas is not merely a time to celebrate and feast and make merry in the largess of the God and the Goddess, but a time to take stock of what we have sown and are now reaping in our own personal lives, and what we wish to plant for not only the coming year, but for the life that comes after this for us, as well as for those who will one day call us "Ancestor."