A Lammas Celebration

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by Erna Colebrook

(from GreenSpirit Winter 1999)

“You are invited to our Lammas celebration”, a voice said over the phone.

It was Freddie Denman speaking. He is the Church of England vicar of Sparkwell and Cornwood, two villages on the lower slopes of southern Dartmoor which have retained a pleasant rural aspect though only 20 minutes drive from Plymouth.

All Michael and I knew about Lammas was that it was an ancient celebration, a ritual to do with harvest. Brewer put us right: ‘the day on which, in Anglo Saxon times, the first fruits were offered. Formerly, bread for the Lammas day Eucharist was made from the new corn of the harvest’. It is also the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, which means ‘mourning for Lugh’, the Sun God of the Celts.

As soon as we arrived at Bickford Town Farm where the celebration was to take place, we knew we were in for a very special evening. From the field were wonderful views to the highest tops of Dartmoor. What a setting! A good bonfire had been prepared and was waiting to be lit. There was a tableau with sheaves of corn, surrounding a reproduction of a painting of Christ with an open book and an effigy of Mary half hidden in the corn. All charmingly and creatively put together. Unmistakably present was a public address system and overhead spotlights. Young people were making the last preparations to ensure the smooth running of the evening. For this was a young people’s event. They belong to a church group called Genesis with which Freddie Denman hopes to revive the old festivals.

We estimate that there were around 70 people at the celebration of whom a good number were teenagers. The rite started with the words from Teilhard de Chardin which we use at our own earthwalks. Then the fire was lit. This is the celebration of the Harvest Mother As she gives birth to her Harvest Child This is the time when the Sun King dies with the waning year and the Corn King dies when the grain is reaped. The celebration was under way. The four spirits were summoned to form the sacred circle by four girls standing at each direction. We all received a bread figure with the words, ‘with this discard your harvest fears’ and we duly threw our figures in the fire.

A song and dancing followed. In the order of service it said, ‘A few thoughts’. The Reverend Freddie Denman’s words turned out to be a wonderful plea for a return to embracing the Earth Mother, for aligning ourselves with the Earth’s energies and for casting out our fears. It was a rousing address full of creation spirituality. I am sure the distant hills were looking and listening to the figure in white robes standing at the microphone. It was a truly moving time.

Another song followed after which the Harvest Loaf was carried round and each person broke off a piece and ate it. Here was the heart of Lammas. The song, ‘My heart will go on’ was followed by a reading of Olive Schreiner’s ‘Third Dream in the Desert’ voiced over some gentle music by Freddie Denman. Next came readings by Hildegard of Bingen and another song.

All too soon the four spirits of the sacred circle were dismissed. A song of thanksgiving summed up the celebration. ‘Thank you for hearing me, Thank you for loving me…. Thank you for breaking my heart.’ It was time for a Celtic blessing. The evening had darkened. We left the glowing embers with a deep sense of gratitude and feeling of being deeply blessed. Things are stirring, a new confidence in a more earth-directed spirituality is slowly taking root and growing.