Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Trouble with Lammas

Lammas < Old English hlæfmæsse, “loaf mass.”

“A harvest festival formerly held in England on August 1 when bread baked from the season's first ripe grain was consecrated.”

Blessing the harvest's first grain: something we've probably been doing since the end of the last Ice Age.

But (etymologically speaking, anyway) the name is inescapably Christian. What to do?

Well, there's always Lúnasa. (That's the simplified Modern Irish form of the feast known in Old Irish as Lughnasadh [and by many other spellings]).

But that name has problems of its own. For one, it's specific to a specific culture and a specific pantheon. For another, for English-speakers, it is and always will be a foreign import.

Some Old Craft folks that I know wouldn't be caught dead using a Pagan Revival term like Lúnasa. In the old days, under the radar was the only safe way to fly. Where they come from, it's Lammas all the way.

Here's one you probably haven't heard before: the Gule of August. We get Gule (rhymes with Yule, which is nice) from French, although there's a Welsh form (Gwyll) too; its ultimate origin may be Latin vigilia, “vigil.” Well, in the Wonderful World of Polytheism more is generally better; “Gule” is fine if you want to mystify your friends.

August Eve? Well, yes, that does the job, though colorful it isn't.

My hopes got raised a few years back when Garman Lord, the father of Theodism (contemporary Anglo-Saxon heathenry) derived Lammas from OE hlæf-mæst, which he rendered as “loaf-feast.” Smashing. Alas, mæst didn't really mean “feast”; it meant “fodder” (as in “animal feed”). So that won't do, although it's a good story.

So, back to Lammas. There's this much to say for it: it's familiar, it's short, it's native. So what that it originated as a Christian term? The only people likely to know that are word-geeks like me who probably spend too much time reading dictionaries, anyway.

Well, purism is its own punishment. For the time being, I suppose I can manage to live with “Lammas” : a Christian name for a Pagan occasion.

Call it payback for Easter.

A one-M lama is a priest;

a two-M Lammas is a feast;

and you can bet your silk pajamas

there aren't any three-M lammmas.


(With apologies to Hillaire Belloc)


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Tagged in: Lammas Lunasa Lunasagh
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Thursday, 03 August 2017

    Interesting, and fun information too. I enjoy your writing. HOpe you check out mine some time, A Word to the Wise, Blessed Be, Tasha

  • Aline &quot;Macha&quot; O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Thursday, 03 August 2017

    Wonderful, Steve, as always. Thanks! Sharing on Macha's FB page.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 03 August 2017

    So, your down home famtrad would have home made bread, preferably from home grown grain. The making of corn dollies, especially the passing on of local or family styles. A Bible reading of the miracle of the loves and the fishes, along with the fishermen in the community teaching the youngsters to fish and adding the catch to the feast. If quail hunting season overlaps Lammas in your area include the Bible reading about the quail in Exodus, and include quail on the menu. Pull out a copy of Rhythm of the Redman and have your local boy scout troop do the basket dance. Pray to God, the ancestors and the fairies that not every dish at the feast will have zucchini in it, and dig in.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 07 August 2017

    Thanks Tasha, I love "Word to the Wise." Happy Lammas.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 07 August 2017

    Please, please, please, O gods: Please may every dish on the Lammas table not have zucchini in it.
    So mote it be!

  • Mariah Sheehy
    Mariah Sheehy Tuesday, 08 August 2017

    This Gaelic polytheist/Druid/ is glad the pan-Pagan Celtic trend seems to be waning a bit. I'm happy to share Lunasa with anyone who actually does something Gaelic, but if it's just the name, go with Lammas or Harvest. Also, can the people following fad gluten-free diets (you think it "makes you feel better" but you're not actually gluten intolerant or allergic) leave the GF for the people who have actual medical reasons. Not GF myself but I've heard enough such anecdotes from them.

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