• Michael Martin

The Blessings of Lammas and Bread


Corn Doll

Lammas, or Loaf Mass, is a feast I would hope to see grow in popularity as more and more people look for a way to connect the Christian Year (or, we might say for our neopagan brothers and sisters, the Sacred Year) with the agrarian year, a synergy once assumed but now almost entirely neglected. Celebrated on August 1st, Lammas marks the midpoint between St. John’s Day (June 24th) and Michaelmas (September 29th), which, as you can easily see, hover near the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox respectively. May Day (May 1st), All Saints/All Souls (November 1st/ 2nd) and Candlemas/St. Brigid’s Day (February 1st/ 2nd) complete the cycle of half-turnings. And they all should be observed.


Traditionally, Lammas was celebrated as a harvest festival to mark to first grinding of the new wheat, so it is no wonder that the ancients associated this event with Christ and the Eucharist. (You have to suspect that this was part of the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lembas bread” in his mythopoesis). It is also the beginning of fair season—a tradition which persists in most rural areas to this day, though shorn of its sacred dimension. According to historian Ronald Hutton, in England the observation of the harvest season starting with Lammas was marked by “the crowning of girls as harvest queens by sets of reapers, the bringing home of the last load of corn covered in garlands, with loud acclamations, and the weaving of images from grain stalks.” [1] This season ended just before All Soul’s Day, after the surplus livestock were slaughtered and the meat salted for winter storage. Again, usually sans salting, this remains the practice in rural communities—I’ll be doing so myself this Fall with the surplus livestock on my farm. But, tragically, this moment in the cycle of life and sustenance is also deprived of its sacred dimension in almost all cases. This is something we should remedy.


You may have noticed something in my description of these mostly-vanished folk customs: they are incredibly sane and health-giving. I’ll take a harvest queen over the celebrated drag queens of our culture any day. Likewise, I’ll take bread and lamb from my farm over the diets of crickets and maggots being pushed by celebrities and the WEF. Because I’m not a fool.


Even the simple practice of making a corn dolly is a way to begin to resacralize our relationship to God, the Cosmos, and our food. Here at Stella Matutina Farm, we observe these practices and host a big and merry harvest festival at Michaelmas. The English folk tradition is rife with the remnants of such observations and practices. The ballad “John Barleycorn Must Die” is one iteration of this mythic and sacramental motif, but so is the tale of the Gingerbread Man. Put simply: something must die, that we might live. A basic lesson of life.


Steve Winwood deserves a round of applause.


According to T.F. Thiselton-Dyer in his magisterial British Popular Customs Present and Past (1876), another folk custom on Lammas was the visitation of sacred wells. I don’t know of any such wells nearby (though I plan on digging a well on my land for a hand pump very soon) but I know if I lived near a sacred well or spring… I’d be there! (Side note: I visited Chalice Well in Glastonbury many years ago and my eldest child was baptized with water I smuggled out of there. So arrest me.)


The Eucharistic connotations of Lammas bread, of course, are the most important: the magical act by which we eat the god who then inheres in us. Sir James Frazer in his classic text The Golden Bough, includes a section subtitled “Eating the God,” which is about the ritual eating of the divinity in contexts other than Christian, and he also associates it with first-fruits customs. “In these examples,” he writes, “the corn-spirit is represented and eaten in human shape [like a gingerbread man]. In other cases, though the new corn is not baked in loaves of human shape, still solemn ceremonies with which it is eaten suffice to indicate that it is partaken of sacramentally, that is, as the body of the corn-spirit.” [2]


Part of Frazer’s project, of course, was to show that Christianity’s god-eating was old news. But he didn’t really get it. What existed as a mythic imagination (though nonetheless very real) prior to Christ became historical and metaphysical reality through Christ’s institution of the Eucharist with the words “This is my body. This is my blood.”


They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?

Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.

For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:30-35)


What I am describing as an ideal here may strike some as quaint, or even a complete fantasy. I don’t think so. In fact, I think we are heading for what some have called a “New Middle Ages.” Those of us who survive the current chaos anyway. Rudolf Steiner, though he didn’t use that language, in his reimagination of the Christian year and festival life, certainly spoke to this, as did the Russian sophiologists Nikolai Berdyaev and Pavel Florensky. Florensky, surely one of the great polymaths of the twentieth century, put it this way:

History has days and nights. Periods of night are dominated by the mystical element, noumenal will, susceptibility, femininity. Daytime periods of history are characterized by a more active, superficial interaction with the world, phenomenal will, masculinity. The Middle Ages were a period of night; the modern age is a daytime period. We are now at a threshold of a new Middle Ages. In its depths the Christian world-understanding is medieval. In the modern period the present world-understanding is useless. The present return to the Christian world-understanding shows us that we are at the threshold of a Middle Ages.” [3]

Actually, I think we are watching the desperation of the daytime period of the masculine in its death throes. The chaos in the Church, the machinations of the WEF & Co., the pathetic attempts by men to usurp the place of women and the feminine: these are symptoms of breakdown, not ascendancy. Their days are numbered.

And, as I often say, the way to realize the sophianic reality of the New Middle Ages is by embodying it. The things we do—the rituals we observe, the realities we celebrate, the communities we love, the foods we eat, the sacramentality of Things—make the Kingdom come to life.

So make the Kingdom come to life.


Alison Milbank on Lammas.

Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

1. Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England (Oxford, 1994), 44.

2. Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough, abridged edition (New York, 1927), 480.

3. Pavel Florensky, At the Crossroads of Science & Mysticism, trans. Boris Jakim (Semantron Press, 2014), 7.

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