Lughnassadh is upon us.
Already, those of us who garden have been proudly plucking things from branches, vines, and stems, and bringing them to loved ones to share. In our garden grows tomatoes- OF COURSE- blackberries, cucumbers, snap peas, potatoes, mint, lavender, sage, thyme, nasturtiums, cabbages, blueberries, and PLENTY of flowers as well. Snap peas, our herbs, blueberries, and nasturtiums have already been picked, and shared, and enjoyed. The cabbage leaves are folding into themselves nicely to form little purple balls that will grow huge by fall. We are waiting for the greens to die back, indicating the potatoes are ready to pull from the ground. Already, we have dozens of tiny, jewel like tomatoes that grow larger every day. I’ll be planting more seeds so we can have another crop of radishes and snap peas.
All over the British Isles, this time was celebrated as first harvest. Depending on where you lived, offering of whatever was grown was used in rituals. In England, the offering would be wheat, whereas Irish celebrations would include offerings of the first corn harvested.
Since food was central to the pre-Christian Pagan celebrations, I’d like to write a little about Lughnassadh history, and discuss some of today’s magical uses of food.
Last year’s August Article focused on Lughnassadh and the Irish traditions and their history. So, this year, I will write about Lammas, which is English, instead.
For Neo Paganism, of course, Lammas, or Lughnassadh is the first of the three harvest festivals, the other two being Mabon and Samhain. Today, we celebrate with modern Sabbats and gatherings of oftentimes storebought goods for potlucking. But in ancient times, the English in particular did things differently at this time.
What was Lammas?
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to this time as the feast of first fruits, and specifically, celebration of the wheat harvest. Midsummer began the hay harvest, which winds up to a finish just before the wheat harvest starts. It is speculated that there may have been wheat shortage close to the time of Lammas- as the last year’s wheat ran low, so new wheat was a big deal.
Sometimes, the very first sheath of wheat cut was separated from the rest of the harvest and individually processed and baked into a special loaf of bread. The bread would be used magically to place in the four corners of the building used to store the wheat, in belief this protected it. After Christianization, people would take a loaf of bread baked from the first wheat to church. It was used at the communion for that service, thanking their god for the harvest.
In the 1500’s, it has been recorded that a bit of secular pageantry included the men who had worked the harvest dressing in costumes, driving the carts of wheat around, asking for money. The carts would have been decorated with ribbons and made to look absolutely beautiful. Harvest celebrations included a feast- and it is the European harvest festivals that further developed into Thanksgiving in America. As with any harvest pre-industrialization, food could be salted, dried, canned, or pickled, and eaten at a later date. But the fresh produce would be cooked into elaborate dishes and enjoyed at the festivals.
Until the 20th century, it was considered bad luck to cut the last sheath of grain, so people would race to see who could complete their own harvest first. Sometimes, the very last stalk or sheath was harvested by people taking turns tossing blades at it.
After Christianization, people might have changed deities, but the harvest celebrations continued. First, Lammas was turned into the feast day of when St. John the Baptist is believed to have been rescued from prison by an angel. Beginning in 1969, it changed into the celebration of the life of a different Saint- one who was seen as a reformer, who freed the Catholic Church of some of its excess, reworking not only policies, but also seminaries. He suspended Priests who tried to say Mass in just fifteen minutes, and sold his carriage and ecclesiastical ring to help the poor. You might imagine this made him unpopular with other Priests, and when advanced age and illness set in, he was kicked out of the very church he founded! It is fitting that a most holy feast day of being thankful for the beginning of harvest is now one seen as a day to remember one of the people who worked to police the clergy and advocate for the poor.
Food is Magic!
At this time of food harvest, I think it fitting to explore also the ways we use food as magical tools in our lives.
Sometimes, we think of magic as being something you have to take a lot of time to study and prepare for before doing an operation. While magic certainly can be, it can also be something as simple as saying “bless you” when somebody sneezes, or saying a healing prayer silently while stopped in traffic as an ambulance to goes by. Like the ancient English would simply break bread in four pieces to place it in the four corners of the barn holding their harvested grain, we do simple things every day we don’t even think about and we use food to do it.
Aside from blessing food in ritual or eating certain foods at specific Sabbats, witchcraft using food is a practice that is alive and well in modern times- and not just in Pagan communities.
How many people have you seen say a prayer before they eat? The magic words of the prayer are supposed to thank whatever god/ess the person worships, and a blessing of the food is asked. An even nicer addition I have heard over the years is when people say , “And may god bless the hands that prepared this food.” In my tradition, we bless our foods ourselves as opposed to asking a god/ess to bless it for us- and I am not supposed to eat anything unless it has been blessed. It is believed by some that food itself can have unclean energy in it and a simple spiritual cleansing of a prayer cleanses it and this cleanses your body.
Along with this concept is that of food taboos. Certain foods are considered unclean by some. Very famous is the Jewish and Muslim prohibition against pork. But some refuse to eat any animal products at all because they believe it is cruel and sinful to kill and ingest another living creature.
Gather Round , One and All
The simplest form of magic that food is used for is to bring people together in fellowship. Food has the ability to get people to come to things they otherwise would not attend. People might be grumbling, but if you say “Refreshments will be served”, people will come out of the woodwork from all directions.
Birthdays, weddings, wakes, or even business team building lunches are well-attended and everybody welcomes the chance to sit down and eat. Food helps relax people, quell hunger, tastes good, and makes people stay at the gathering longer, and thus more communication happens. I used to dread the monthly quality assurance meetings I had to attend when I was an Activity Coordinator on a Skilled Rehab Unit. However, I always looked forward to the free pizza and salad they catered for us to eat when our kitchen was not laying out a dazzling spread. It also gave us opportunity to host to our M.D. who was responsible for our Resident’s care. It made me happy to see him wolfing down the good food, because not only was he a good doctor, but he was a good person. He used to sit and play piano for our residents even though that was not his job. I don’t really remember all the frustrating arguments that took place at those meetings, but I do remember the food. That was just a way to sweeten the mandatory attendance at a very unpleasant meeting every month.
Specialty breads and cakes
Think of one thing that is used at a lot of rites of passage- a cake or special bread. Think of what is in it oftentimes- it’s the basic sugar, flour, butter combination. Three ingredients that deliver energy very fast, and not only taste good, which makes us happy, but is extra special when it is made just for you and your occasion.
At a Macedonian wedding reception I attended, breads were baked at home by family members, and a special ring dance was done in which everybody took turns dancing with the breads, putting in well-wishes for the couple. Some of the breads were kept for the couple only, and other bread was broken up and everybody at the reception got some. I was floored because these people are all modern Christians and they were using ancient magical practice- which I refer to as witchcraft, to wish the bride and groom well- as if their dance would ensure a successful marriage. The breads were made from a specific recipe, and probably made in the same pans the bride or grooms grandparents made their parents wedding breads from. Handkerchiefs that had been made by a great grandmother and had been used at many other family gatherings were also twirled by dancers- thus consecrating and unifying the family even more. I was very pleased to see this tradition kept alive in modern times. (But I did not tell anybody they were doing witchcraft! ? )
That Warm Welcome
Food is also used to make people feel welcomed and loved. My Mother was a Christian, but she was a witch- although she did not know it. One of the things she understood intimately was the enchantment food held over people. If you feed people, it almost always endears you to them. Mom was a homebody even before she became disabled- and she especially loved it when she got visitors. The first thing out of her mouth to a visitor- which she taught me to say also was- “Can I get you anything to drink?” She kept LOTS of drinks stashed in her fridge. And a TON of ice. AND lots of soda, most especially Coca-Cola.
My grandmother also kept drinks for people- Coke and Pepsi as well, because not all the grandkids preferred Coke, and not all preferred Pepsi. Unlike my mom, Granny always- until she was too old to do so- kept a pot of coffee going all day long until after dinnertime. This was both because her last husband loved coffee, and so she could have plenty on hand whenever anybody wanted some. As a result, whenever I smell coffee or see cold Coca-Cola, I automatically feel relaxed and welcomed. Some might call this psychological conditioning- but I call it magic.
If you do things like this, your visitors know they won’t be thirsty and will be comforted, and if they know you have a variety of drinks, including their favorite, that makes them feel special. This will make people want to keep going back to see you- which is exactly what Mom and Granny wanted!
At my house, we don’t always have something in the fridge- but we DO have a nice stash of teas. I also have doilies, a lovely teapot, or mugs and bagged teas for people who don’t want the fuss of loose leaf tea prepping. I find tea to be more relaxing that sodas, but I offer coffee as well. Sometimes, you want a cold drink, especially if it is hot- but sometimes, even in Summertime, a hot drink soothes the nerves. Herbally, I keep either chamomile or lavender in the house as well, for their relaxing properties, and of course, I have plenty of caffeinated concoctions for when people are tired and need a pick-me-up!
I Can Keep You Very Well!
In modern times, a courtship ritual when somebody wants to date you is they will take you out to eat- buying you a meal. A lot of young ladies like the idea of a man spending a lot of money to treat her to a fancy restaurant. This is done to show the man can afford to support her well in a relationship. While relationships have changed, and most people now live in two earner households, this tradition is one that is not died out.
Always on My Mind!
Remembering people’s dietary restrictions or their preferences can also be used as an enchantment to endear you to them. Unless you are like me, and have to ask for reminders- which all my friends understand- remembering what people can and will eat will make them feel closer to you.
I used to know a very hard to please lady- one who I actually don’t miss…because she was SO hard to please. But during the time I knew her, she taught me a very valuable lesson through all of her complaining. MANY times, I listened to her tell the story of the time she went for Thanksgiving at a friend’s house. Now to me, when somebody invites you to join their family for Thanksgiving, it’s an honor, not something to gripe about afterwards, but this lady felt otherwise. She said it was her worst Thanksgiving ever because there was NOTHING at the house she could eat. She had anxiety driven self inflicted food restrictions which meant she could hardly ever eat anything unless she, herself prepared it. A lot of people just did not bother to invite her to eat, but I had her give me a list of her food restrictions- and I can’t remember if it was two pages or five pages, but it was an absolute tome. I memorized it and fed her on numerous occasions. More than once, she told me I was one of the only people who ever had things she could eat. The fact I remembered what she would eat was one of the things that held us together,
Pass the Recipes, Please!
Recipes, too, are magical. I never understood the desire to keep recipes secret or only in the family. But apparently, this makes a lot of people feel it is more special that way, and for them and theirs only. This works very well for some people because it helps solidify family ties and strengthen that sense of family identity.
In my family, there were no secret recipes- but the women developing their own variation of basic things their mother, my Granny had cooked. For example, Granny used Lipton’s onion soup mix in her meatloaf, whereas Mom abhorred it and used spaghetti sauce instead. I liked both, and developed my own variation which is somewhere in between, but using ingredients neither did. Rather than sticking with a top secret way of doing a recipe and not changing it, the cooking tradition I learned was to experiment and make the recipe your own. Each generation thus contributes to a living tradition that is ever changing, and that is very magical.
Don’t Eat the Fairy Food! Or DO!
In lore, it is said some people refused the food placed before them by the Sidhe. This was out of belief that if they ate fairy food, they would never be able to leave that realm. This is because those foods bestowed immortality- but when the kidnapped person returned to the world of men, that wore off and they would immediately turn into a very old, and dying person. Immortality is what some thirsted for and they wondered, why would you ever want to leave such a good thing behind? However, in some stories, this was actually not a good thing. One account tells us a man was transported to what he beheld as the very splendid realm of the Sidhe, and he PRETENDED to partake of their wine they gave him, but instead just watched them. After a few minutes, he saw that the splendor he had initially beheld to be but an illusion, and the attendees were horrifying, and some were actually just dead, decaying bodies. He escaped and returned home safely.
When a fairy wanted to become human, he or she need eat only mortals food, and thus became such! If a human being wanted the Sidhe to work for them, they would leave them food- oftentimes, bowls of cream.
Magically, lore would tell us, the foods we eat in fellowship with others makes us all become one with each other, mortal and immortal alike. Seeing how people identify their families and cultural groups through things including foods shows that this magic works.
Tantalizing Aphrodisiacs and Love Spells!
If you want to be really sneaky when you are attracted to somebody, you can use aphrodisiacs and aromatherapy to try and sexually arouse them. It is said that lavender, pumpkin pie, oysters, chili peppers, avocado, chocolate, honey, bananas, coffee, and watermelon, are just some of the foods said to also be aphrodisiacs. This is definitely magical! Now, as for love spells with food- I never do love spells. I believe somebody should love me on their own, or they can hit the road…but I’ve used aphrodisiacs on occasion.
A whole other take on witchcraft with food is PUTTING substances in the food you feed to people. It’s a very easy way to get some energy inside the person to get them to act favorably towards you. While I’m not going to put a drop of my blood or urine into somebody else’s food or drink, I think this article I will share article is absolutely worth reading for educational purposes. In this article also are some opinions from people who feel witchcraft is wrong or not valid at all. I disagree with this. I have done a lot of successful spellwork. Although I do agree with the suggestion you communicate rather than just casting a spell if you are having relationship woes.
Charge the Food!
Other things you can do is to just charge the serving plates, utensils, the dining table, or the very foods themselves with your intentions. Say you want somebody to hire you for a job and they just happen to be coming for dinner- chant over the food, table, or serving ware to help influence the person to hire you. You don’t even have to use any fancy ingredients for that. You can write your intentions on paper, placed under the plates or taped to the underside of the table. You can also write your intentions on a piece of paper, and burn it, letting the smoke from the burning paper blow over the cooking ingredients, being careful not to let the ashes fall into the food of course…or you COULD let a little of the ashes fall into the food!!!!! The food can just absorb the energy of your thoughts.
Remember in Like Water for Chocolate, the heroine of the story is forced by her cruel mother to cook the wedding feast for her sister who stole and married her lover? Everybody got terribly sick after eating the food, because the heroine had wept into it, and her agony seeped into it. Bad things can absorb in food that way- but goodness, so can wonderful things! Why else do you think “mom’s food” prepped with the exact same ingredients tastes better than when you prep it?
You Can Add and you CAN Take Away As Well
One thing I had forgotten was fasting and purging as means of purification. This is considered more worship, but this ritual practice is a magical one. How many people do you know who say they “practice clean eating” as if certain foods will dirty up their nice, pure bodies? The view that certain foods bless and others defile is a universal belief, but nobody seems to be able to agree on which foods are good and which are bad. Shunning pork and animal products have already been mentioned, but fad diets as a means of trying to purify the body are magical in nature as well.
I remember when nobody would touch carbs because of the Atkins diet craze, and after that nobody would touch any sugar. Soonafter, artificial sweeteners became the “great satan”, and anything non organic is considered the epitome of filth in some circles. Some who have no health reason to shun gluten do so because it is trendy to believe gluten is bad- and then there are those who are doing the paleo diet, claiming it is better for us, because our ancestors ate it. Yet they forget that the Paleolithic period began two million years ago, and ended ten thousand years ago with the agricultural revolution. This added farming to our lifestyles which brought about more variety in our diets, which increased our health and longevity. I always say that it must be really nice to be rich enough to be able to afford such self inflicted dietary restrictions!
Fasting before mass or shunning certain things during Lent has been a Catholic practice for generations. A ritual fast may be for short term deprivation as a sacrifice to a god, like during Ramadan, or to induce what some call visions, but what medical science calls hallucinations from food deprivation. It is said the aesthetics the Buddha studied with practiced extreme fasting, but the Buddha believed too little food was as bad as too MUCH food and that neither was good for people.
As far back as ancient Mesopotamia, people have been purging through induced vomiting or enemas- mixed with herbs- to expel what was believed to be evil spirits or witchcraft they believed had been snuck into their food.
People do this because they believe certain substances will damage or defile the body or spirit. But certain things also can bless and heal the body. This is done through good energy, and focusing love into food- which anybody can do, even if they don’t consider themselves a very powerful witch!
Aside from these ideas I have shared, I have a suggested working for the Sabbat!
First Harvest Favorite Foods Celebration
For your Lammas or Lughnassadh celebration, you don’t necessarily need to harvest your own corn or wheat and use it in the meal and as gifts to the gods. What you can do is have a potluck where everybody brings one of their favorite foods. But do this with a twist…have each person bring a dish that is not only one of their favorite things to eat because they especially like the taste- have them bring a food that has a special story to go along with it. Have everybody take turns sharing their story. Instead of casting circle, stand in a circle to do this and begin with the person who is at the east and move clockwise to tell the food stories. Instead of a formal blessing of the food, each person should focus happiness, joy, and the good things this food makes them feel, and the hope that the people eating the food will also experience that happiness.
To keep with the tradition of the gods feasting with the people, have each person put a little of the food they brought on a plate. They then pass it to the next person who will in turn put a bit of their dish on the plate, until a little of everybody’s food is on the plate. Then hold the plate up, and say something like “Together, we offer this to the gods of our hearts and lives. Look down upon the harvest of our joys we share with one another, and partake of this with us. We thank you for the good things, good people, and good experiences we have in our lives. Blessed Be!” Set the food at a place of honor at the table or at your altar- wherever you feel is the best spot to give to your gods.
Blessed First Harvest!