By Mike Gleason
Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of the First Harvest, by Anna Franklin
Llewellyn Publications, 0738700940, 216 pp. (+ appendices, glossary, bibliography and index), 2003
In a pleasant change from the average Pagan book, the authors of this work admit that there is very little documentation, folklore, or anything known for sure about this festival, or even when it was held. It was, apparently, a fairly regional celebration (Britain, Ireland, Gaul and possibly northern Spain).
A number of associated festivals and observances are explored, as well as traditions (both Pagan and Christian) which grew up around this time of year. There is no attempt made to assert primacy for any of these. They are simply presented to the reader as information to be enjoyed.
During discussions of the representation of the vegetation gods, there are constant references to the use of corn as a symbol, without making any mention of the fact that, in much of the ancient world, corn was synonymous with grain in general, and did not necessarily refer to corn as it is commonly seen today. Thus, when “an ear of corn” is referred to, it may be more accurate to think of a “head of wheat.”
This book is moderately “padded” by the restatement of the same information several times in various places; but, as many people tend to “browse” through books of this type, this “padding” serves the useful purpose of increasing the likelihood of that information sticking in the reader’s mind.
Several short lists of deities appropriate to various celebrations occurring at this time of year appear in Chapter Four. While these lists are quite limited, they do serve as a starting point for ongoing investigations. Suggestions for food and games appear in later chapters.
Chapter Five is dedicated to basic magics associated with this festival. Instructions are included for the construction of several different forms of corn dollies. The examples they offer use “corn” in its generic sense, since wheat stalks are the basis of these dollies.
There are sample spells for friendship and love, as well as practical advice on making a staff. There is a recipe for Vervain Lustral Water on page 97 about which I have some reservations. My uncertainty is about the amount of vervain – the conversion from U.S. to Imperial measurement just doesn’t seem right to me. Interpretations of some omens are included as well as suggestions of stones to be used in household protection.
There are nine pages of incense recipes for a variety of deities from a number of cultures. If you can’t find one you like out of this bunch, you’re not trying. I would recommend making a small bit of each of them (and burning them), so that you can see which works best for you. Don’t be afraid to tinker with the proportions, if you are so inspired.
Paul provides insights into the dyeing of fabrics, including some plants as source material and instructions in basic dyeing techniques.
Chapter Six consists of games and competitions to liven up your Lammas gathering. With a couple of exceptions all of them are quite enjoyable ways to divert yourself and your guests.
Chapter Seven includes recipes for body paints, and making stencils; as well as mask and shield making; and suggests ways to find your totem and power animals. The relaxation techniques and visualizations are pretty standard. There is a healthy amount of information given about a reasonably large group of animals. This part of the chapter is a valuable resource and should not be overlooked.
Chapter Eight consists of recipes for the Lammas/Lughnasa feast. All measurements are provided in American, Imperial, and metric quantities so, no matter what system you are used to using, you don’t need to make conversions.
Naturally, being a harvest feast, there are plenty of bread recipes, but no aspect of the feast – from the salad course to the dessert – is neglected. This chapter will enable you to plan a real harvest feast.
As in Midsummer, which I have previously reviewed, the final chapter is dedicated to ritual ideas from a variety of sources. The instructions for ritual preparations are fairly simple and standardized.
The “Lughnasa Calendar” in Appendix One runs from July 15th through August 25th, and includes many festivals [Greek, Chinese, Roman, Christian, and Nordic (among others)].
Appendix Two is simply a listing of alternate names for this festival.
Appendix Three provides a short list of symbols associated with, and appropriate for, Lammas; while Appendix Four gives some of the associated deities. The seventeen pages which make up Appendix Four should serve as a starting point for your own explorations.
Appendix Five gives the words (but not the music) for a few songs and chants relevant to Lammas, as well as a bit of their background.
The two page Glossary was hardly needed. It is too short to be of much help, and the terms have already been dealt with adequately in the text.
As with the other books in this series which I have read, it is a good source for general background on the holiday. It is NOT what I would consider a “must have” book, but it is well worth adding to the Coven library for basic information.