In less than a week, July ends and August begins. In the Hokku Calendar, summer ends with the last day of July, and the first of August is Harvest Home, as it was commonly called, or in older speech, Lammas, and in Gaelic Lughnasadh (Loo-nuh-suh). Harvest home is the beginning of autumn in the old calendar.
Harvest Home comes halfway between Midsummer’s Day and the Autumn Equinox. It is so called because in old times it was when the harvest is “brought home” to barn and house. Prominent in this harvest is the ripened grain, and that leads us to its second name, Lammas.
Lammas is a slurring of the words “Loaf Mass,” so called because that was when the first grain was brought in, ground to flour, and a loaf baked from it and taken to church. So we can think of it as the first baking of bread from the new harvest.
All of this connects us to the earth and to very ancient times, because this harvesting of the grain was ritualized as the annual death of the Spirit of the Grain. Through spring and summer it grows and flourishes, dressed in green, and at summer’s end it matures and is cut down and partly ground to flour, but later the “body” is also placed in the earth at spring planting (as seed grain), so the Spirit is resurrected and dies each year. In later folk tunes with liquor in mind, the Spirit is called “John Barleycorn.”
But the Spirit of Grain was generally seen as female, and stalks of grain would be woven into an ornamental shape kept indoors through the winter, called in some places a “corn dolly” — “corn” meaning grain in the British Isles.
There were many variations on this practice. In one, the last tuft of grain was woven into a human form, decorated with ribbons, carried into the farmhouse, and seated in a chair of honor at the Harvest Supper. Other regions had other customs relating to the “corn dolly,” and even other names and forms for it.
In any case, the “power” of the grain, its “spirit” was felt to be preserved over winter in the corn dolly until the time of spring planting.
So Lammas, Harvest Home, is an old harvest festival that we would do well to bring back into celebration. I am in favor of anything that reminds us that our lives depend on the earth and its produce, and that we should respect it.