Lammas – The edge of darkness

From: “The Witches Year” ~  by Lucy Cavendish

Catherine wheels light up the night, corn dollies are dressed and honoured, bread is baked and sacrifices made – this is the mysterious and little-understood Lughnasad. Here are Lucy’s own rites and spells to help you reap its power.

Lughnasad marks the coming of the shadows, the lengthening of the dark; the nearing of the crone energy that will be fully expressed at Samhain. The maiden (Beltane) has become the mother (summer solstice) and the mother now faces growing older and the approach of her crone-time. But on January 31, Lughnasad, or Lammas, reminds us that even amidst bounty, the wheel turns; after harvest, fruit falls. Personally, it could mean your time has come to let go of people, of allowing change to come, of accepting growing older, and understanding that wisdom can be a challenge.

Lughnasad is perfect for industry and planning – for reaping the bounty of summer’s fruits and endeavors and preparing for the coming winter. This can be literal – you can conserve or can foods, or you could start to look at the next six months and think of where you would like to be when the wheel of the year has turned a further 180 degrees.

So be busy and start planning for winter – what do you need to do, personally and practically or professionally, to be ready for the cold, or symbolically harsh times?

If you pay attention you’ll notice signs of summer’s passing: the lowering of the sun’s arc in the sky, no signs of new growth, a slowing of the energy, and a need to think of the future while at the same time feeling reluctant to move on. The myth of witchcraft speaks of this time of year as the time of the death of the king, or the sacrifice for the land. In ancient Celtic cultures a symbolic king was selected from the young men of the clan and was, according to evidence of burial mounds, sacrificed. He would live the life of the king until his death, and it was understood by his community that he would die so that the land could be “fed”… Even today, after we take from the earth, we need to give back. This is where the tradition of the gingerbread man comes from – a delicious and symbolic sacrifice.

A time of nostalgia and regret

At Lughnasad, we tend to look back. We can feel pangs of regret for plans, dreams, ambitions and relationships that did not come, literally, to fruition. Feeling haunted by what we view as our failures can be overwhelming. It is wise to see any “failure” as a test – to look back and regret and to learn is worthwhile, to be immobilized by regret is not only pointless, it can be destructive. Not only that, it is a shortsighted to assume that you know what is and isn’t destined to be a failure – only with the wheel’s turns will life’s lessons be revealed. The energy of this festival demands that you plan and store, for the winter, and thank the earth and the universe for what you have received. So move on!

The corn dolly

So, how to reverse the cycle of nostalgia and go forward? One symbolic way is to make a corn dolly. Take corn cob and decorate it – make her a dress, and a bonnet, and hang her in a conspicuous part of your home – she will serve to remind you of the plenty you have enjoyed, and will help to bring forth more after the fallow times.

A powerful ritual for Lughnasad is to visit a farm and actually pick some produce yourself. One year, my husband, daughter and I had been invited to a late new year’s picnic on a property outside of Byron Bay, which was held on a blueberry farm – we wandered amid the blueberry fields for about a half an hour before finding our companions – while we wandered we plucked delicious blueberries and ate them standing in the fields – the life force of the berries was intense and, as I studied more about this festival I learned that the blueberry is a sacred plant for this time of year. So we’d spontaneously had our own Lughnasad celebration. Share some of your bounty with others. Leave a basket of fruit to someone who will appreciate it, give a donation, count your blessings and share of them. As a human being, you have a link to every other on this earth – give and the witch’s law of the threefold return will be invoked.

A Lughnasad Ritual

Cleanse your home. Follow with a smudge stick, then use a ceremonial broom to finish off. Sweep away sadness, and feel and accept the gravity of winter.
Now you are ready for your ritual. 

You will need:
Your athame
Gold and green candles
A black pen
Gold paper
Sea salt
Frankincense incense
Spring water

Open the magic circle with your athame, to represent the scythe of harvest.

Light and lift the candles, and say
I welcome the spirits of fire
Light and lift the incense, and say
I welcome the spirits of the air
Take a sip of the water and say
I welcome the spirits of water
Lift the sea salt and say
I welcome the spirits of the earth

Reflect on anything you may regret – write these down with your black pen on your gold paper. As you write, sincerely farewell it. If there is anyone or anything you are holding on to now is the time for letting go.

Burn your list safely and say goodbye, with empathy, and compassion. You will move forward.

Close the magic circle.

Letting go spell

This is from my book, Love Story, a book of magic and spells, and would be a wonderful way to take your power back after a draining love affair or venture that didn’t work out – but that you can’t seem to move on from. This is perfect to do just for Lughnasad so you can start to move forward with the new energy.

On a Saturday night, when the moon is waning
Draw a soft warm bath
Into which you have scattered three handfuls of pure rock or sea salt
Then, gently place one free-range egg into your tub
Light an indigo candle and bathe in its light
Rewind the tape of all your sad love stories, and allow any feelings that may arise
To come to the surface
Any lingering pessimism, bitterness, anger hurt or sadness to stream out of your feet through the water and into the egg…
When you pull the plug on that bath
You will literally feel the pain of the past drain from your own body and mind
Then, just to be on the safe side, take your egg outside,
Under the soft light of the waning moon.
Bury it at least ten centimeters deep in the earth
Sprinkle some water mixed with a few torn verbena leaves
Now, you can move on with your new life.

A dear friend did this spell after a painful separation – however, I felt it was a little too soon after the break and had advised her to give it more time. She went ahead, and rang me, aghast, as several days later her carefully buried egg had re-emerged from the earth.

Lughnasad energy and this spell will help you move on with issues, people and pain that need to be let go of – not ones you wish could be avoided!

Harvest spell

This from my magical spellcard deck; it’s simple and perfect for Lughnasad.
On a Wednesday, light a stick of vanilla incense
Take a silver coin and wrap it
In an orange piece of fabric
Place this in a magical place
Light two green candles anointed with neroli
An place hem either side of the pouch
Light them
Concentrate on the silver coin – visualize your dream coming true in the present – not at a future time
Say three times

As the waves of the ocean are infinite
As the trees in the forest grow tall
Let my work now bring me to harvest
I’m ready to receive my all

Shift your focus to the orange cloth
And understand that harvest is coming
Blow out the candles and place flowers and and sprigs of fast-growing herbs around your magical space.

Lughnasad rites

Lughnasad falls on January 31, from sundown to sundown. Here’s what to do.

• Declutter, then throw or give away anything you do not need
• Help a neighbour – one close by or one in another land
• Save water, speak impeccably of others, recycle, mulch, be kind, start a savings plan – the energy will support you in your efforts.
• Eat blueberries, blackberries, crab apples
• Bake a gingerbread man to symbolize your sacrifice
• Give up something you love and use the time and the money you save to help someone (chocolate, cigarettes, drinking expensive wine – it is only for one quarter of the year).
• Tarot association – the Death card

Remember that this card of the major arcana is about change and symbolises the stripping away of dead wood. Don’t fear the reaper!

The Catherine wheel

In ancient times at Lughnasad, a large wheel would be taken to the top of a hill, covered in tar, set alight and rolled down. Later called Catherine wheels (to hide their Wiccan origins) for Saint Catherine, they actually symbolise the turning of the wheel of the year towards the dark. Ignite your own Catherine wheel – they’re gorgeous, great fun, and they remind of time’s passing, and to relish today, every day.

(This essay was copied from an old version of Lucy’s website which is no longer available online. Her new website is at