At present Lammas is one of the more obscure festivals, particularly in Southern England where its significance is lost and its memory obscured. There are two strands to its story. One commemorates the last of the Lord of the Waxing year, whose spirit is considered to linger in the land of Summer until Lammastide and the beginning of Autumn; and it is therefore a wake for His Midsummer death. We note that as at the Spring Equinox Robin was chosen but did not consummate his love till May Day; so though chosen at Midsummer, Arthur does not fully enter into His own till Lammas. The other strand is the story of the Goddess, who journeys to the Land of the Shades where the Lord of the Waning Year reigns. By Her journey, and, in a sense, Her own sacrifice She takes up Her own reign as Queen of Shades and Darkness.
Lammas is the end of Summer. The period between it and the Hallows marks the going to rest of the Earth and it is so typified in our story with the Goddess Herself going to the dark land, where She will rule below as She does above. Her colour is red, the colour of life, for as we shall see She takes with Her life into the land of death.
This festival also symbolises that stage in our life’s story when our major work is done. The theme is therefore ‘Rest’. The soul of Robin is put to rest. The earth prepares to rest in darkness, and we should have time to rest and assess our passage through life and whatever achievements we have made, and, in so pondering, hope to become wise. The ritual contains at closing a deep meditation and stillness; one of the few times that our rite sits outside itself and contemplates activity rather than by meditating in its ever moving dance.
Lammas is a processional festival; the spiral of life circling slowly in and out again and so on. There are still some processional paths and shrines. One of them is Silbury Hill, which seems to be named after a Celtic variant of the Goddess called Sele (a moon deity). The name also occurs at nearby Bath which was called by the Romans Aqua Sulis, and not too far away is the city of Salisbury. In this context it is amusing to note that there is a strong case for the so-called ‘Silly Season’ also being a memory of Her name as it falls at the time of Lammas. Our memory of the season remains in the August Bank Holiday and some Wakes Weeks, which, as said, were held in honour of the dead God. It is also the time of the traditional ‘Summer Holidays’, though strictly in Autumn. But the theme is there. ‘Rest’.
To return for a moment to Silbury: its spiral path is also in a way another maze, a distant but clear echo of the labyrinth as a rite of passage, a transformation of state and consciousness to another plane. It is also a work of Art, one of the great earthworks. Today such sculptural ideas are being explored by contemporary artists as a means of increasing awareness of the Earth around us, and offering symbols of creative potency to enhance our experience of the rhythms and energy fields of Earth.
Under the impression that it might be a burial mound, archaeologists have recently dug into the centre of the mound. They found nothing despite a local legend that a Knight in golden armour was buried there still mounted upon his horse. (Arthur or His older manifestation Bran the Blessed?) Silbury was raised to be an omphalos, a sacred centre and navel of the Earth. It also was a temple of the Lord of the Dead, whose spirit it enshrines. Some evidence of this can be found in the Lammastide ceremonial procession and picnic that used to take place there in the last century and presumably before.
With our own ceremony we hope to be made more aware of our own rite of ceremonial passage tempered by the glowing hopes of the birth of harvest time. We learn to see Lammas as part of the mystery pattern that we, being creatures of life and death, must conform to.
Our ritual traces, with the Goddess, Her path to the Shades, and Her change to the bountiful Mother of the Harvest. She goes to another handfasting to the Lord of the Waning Year and so becomes Queen of the Underworld, where at Autumn Equinox She will take Her rightful place. By Her going we can live, for, as we have seen, life depends on death and vice versa. Into the hands of the God will be placed the responsibility for guarding the life to come; yet our ritual can hardly be gloomy with such bounty before us. Therefore let us at this time be grateful and hopeful.
The men and women assemble apart. If possible the ladies should carry or wear flowers, preferably poppies. A statuette of the Goddess, or simulacrum of Her presence, such as a mask, should be available to be carried in procession. As is suitable for a ‘dark’ ritual, evening is the time for the ceremony. The man who acts as the Lord of the Dead should wear a dark cloak, purple being excellent for the purpose, and a wreath of evergreen oak upon his head. Some meat and wine should be placed at the centre of the ritual site. The men are provided with candles or flaming torches. As they are still in mourning for Robin they should be so dressed.
When all is ready the men process to the ritual area and then slowly spiral inwards. The march should be conducted with the greatest solemnity. As each man reaches the centre the candle or torch lights are extinguished one by one. They then wait in darkness for the procession of the women to approach. Shortly the ladies, all of whom are carrying lit candles, appear. As they near the ritual area one of the men steps forward to challenge them.
“We who mourn for a spirit passed now ask you in the name of the Lord of the Dead to presently declare what brings you to this sterile realm.”
To which the lady replies:
“In the Lady’s name I come to bring life to this dark place.”
The challenger then says:
“You may only enter this dark by bringing darkness with you.”
So saying he snuffs her candles, and ushers her into the circle around the Lord of the Dead.
Each woman comes forward in turn and is dealt with likewise, until only the Lady is left. At the approach of the man She holds up the Statuette of the Goddess, demanding:
“By this token know me. I am the ruler of all life and death, and by this right I bring light into darkness. Know me, who can shrive all souls who wander dark, bound in its fear.”
The man falls back and the Lady, Her candle still lit, processes around the ritual area 9 times anti-clockwise, holding up Her light and the statuette so that a11 can see. Finally She approaches the Lord of the Dead, who challenges Her in terms similar to the previous male speaker. He receives the same reply. Now He demands in turn that, because of life and summer, there must be permitted death and cold. This She must permit, in full acceptance, confirming Him as ruler in His Land of Shades. After a pause the Lady signifies Her acceptance, also replying that by Her acceptance She has made Herself Queen of His Land and He is also bound by Her laws and will Himself die. The Lord of the Dead bows before Her and offers His hand. She places the statuette in the centre of the circle, and taking His hands in Hers, goes and stands in the middle of the ritual area, saying:
“This Summer’s King is gone, but as earnest that His spirit will again live in this bright land, the promised hope lives with you in His sustenance of bread and meat. Each God to each gives way. Eat, drink and have great joy because of it.”
The Lord then breaks up the bread and gives everyone a piece. Each of the deities’ representatives now pours a libation to the other and invites their followers to do the same, each to each, and then to drink with them.
Each of our festivals as the year progresses tend to become more structured in speech and action as the framework of the emerging year becomes more and more apparent, yet all spontaneity is not lost, for now, apart from the closing meditation and sermon there is plenty of room for improvised and serendipitous ritual. Processions, dances, and further wine and food are in order, until, when felt to be appropriate, the Ringleader calls everyone to sit upon the ground and take most solemn consideration of their state.
The First Sermon
(Read over by the light of the candle as part of the ritual.)
Midsummer was the first time in our year when death was considered and we saw why it should be so considered, though we had met its possibility at May Day. It is one of the great mysteries and equals its opposite mystery, birth. And then there are the great questions: Where do we come from? Where do we go? Who, indeed, are we?
Though we may say we know, or believe, we truly do not know but in this life gaze and peer forward as we do tonight, measuring the dark forces ahead and the declining days. We shall meet all these forces again at the Hallows; and fear is one of them, fear of the cliffs of darkness and eternal night. Only a fool has no fear.
A child frightened of the dark needs a comfort, an outstretched hand from its mother, a small light in its darkness, above all the reassurance of her presence. Our Goddess goes to the Land of Shades and walks among its fears, giving that helping hand, those soothing words. We must learn from our ceremony not to despair. Life changes and in death we change. We cannot go on in death or after it as we do in this life. The story of the Gods teaches us this lesson. We must learn to let go those fears and take courage in Her presence. These are matters for meditation. We must see the Goddess’s journey as our own. As She finally goes into the realm of the Lord of the Dead let us now try to go with Her into that land of transformation. Let us here sit down, be still and face our fears, asking a comfort when the darkness comes in close.
(The single candle is extinguished and the group sit in silence.)
After a while, when the time is felt to be right, the leaders of the men and women commence a simple chant or humming. This is taken up by everybody and, after some few minutes, a small ‘Candle of Comfort’ is lit. All are asked to stand and solemnly process 8 times sunwise. At the conclusion of this procession the Lady approaches the Lord. She is now carrying a sheaf or an ear of wheat. She bows before Him and presents the ear as a most sacred charge upon Him. She warns Him strictly to keep it in His care, for it is indeed His soul and also the souls of all others in His realm. He is enjoined to guard it until once again the young year will bid it flourish, as we all will be bidden who keep ourselves in the confidence and love of the Goddess.
The Lord of the Dead has the final speech:
“Because of this light, this comfort and this gift, I shall accept this charge and keep you in My land. By your coming, there will be yet green places, fair fields and sweet airs to stir the meadows of My flowers; and these beyond the suffering plains of darkness. Through the place of ashes this light of the Goddess will shine. It will lead your journey once again towards a greater light. I promise you will be changed by Her mercy, altered by this land, and be again, by virtue of this light shining through your darkness and your fear.”
Now the ladies relight their candles and place them round the circle. The Lord of the Dead calls upon all to feast with him and not to be afraid. He fills a bowl with red wine, the Lady stands beside Him and takes the first drink. All then follow. The ritual is over.
The Second Sermon
Before leaving our account of Lammas, there are important points to be stressed from the ritual, and others that depend from them and are inherent in our ceremony.
Lammas deals with death, sometimes in symbolic forms of great beauty; but equally it deals with life. Our rituals with the deepening year become deeper in themselves, layer upon layer of meaning and wisdom being added. Our simple story, our foundation is being built upon adding all life’s scenery to its basic narrative.
Simply the Goddess goes to the God of the Waning Year as She did at May Day to Robin. This ancient myth is a prime source of legend and poetry. By entering His kingdom, She becomes His ruler and its mistress. Her writ runs below as above: a statement that she rules our subconscious life as well as conscious being. But there is a price to pay. Summer ceases. Winter becomes a grim certainty. We must prepare ourselves. Yet, and apparently paradoxically, Her going makes the life-giving harvest possible. Again we are in life because of death: the opposites are set to balance once again as they will at Autumn Equinox. Arthur’s realm cannot be wholly dark. Somewhere, because of the Goddess’s going there is light and green fields. Every pagan culture speaks of them: Elysium, the Happy Hunting Grounds, the very Green Fields that old pagan Falstaff babbled of on his deathbed. Ah well! He went to “Arthur’s bosom,” and may we all end there.
Lammas and its meditation is a striving for deep awareness. Our ceremony gives no anodynes. It is quite clear that no pagan expects a resurrection of the body or the mind for that matter, but we hope for a translation of ourselves, a soul journey. Underneath all life, and perhaps all things there is an awareness of being, like a musical note, something deep and continuous in us, part perhaps of that old and now not so discredited notion the Music of the Spheres; it is the harmony of the universe, and its being in us. It is our belonging. We cannot avoid this, but recognise it as a comfort and the working of the Goddess in us. It is that part that makes and remakes us and our environment from day to day, minute by minute, its ever shifting patterns combining and recombining in the cosmic dance. My time may be illusion for when we die this time stops for us; but my point and part of the lattice of being, like a tiny light in the Lammas darkness glows on and, like a Will o’ the Wisp, can appear here, there and anywhere in the Goddess’ Universal Cat’s Cradle of creation as it evolves and tries, in worship and glory, to know itself.
We exist because we evolved so; but also the space was ready for us. There were quantum points in the shifting harmonies, places where humans, moulded as it were from outside, could immediately occupy. One of the lessons of Lammas is that we are indivisible from our Universe and all our actions affect it as it affects us. It also behoves us to therefore think carefully what we do and why, for we are all one on the Earth and one with it; and the Earth itself is an entity which some call Gaia – a Goddess name.
There is yet more to this matter of inter-connectedness than I have indicated, but this is open to careful thought and individual search, and that is the best way to find out things of real value. But picking up one of the themes of Lammas, we must now let these matters rest and meditate upon them in our hearts.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White