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Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 1st Lammas or Loaf Mass, Seasons. Nature, Christianity, Paganism. Now Ask the Beasts, and Let Them Teach You!


Today is Lammas and I am glad.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere where the days and nights are of unequal length and vary throughout the year, the year is divided in half by the equinoxes – March 20 and September 22 – when days and nights are of equal length. Then the year is divided into quarters by the solstices – June 21 and December 21, with, respectively, the longest day and shortest night, and the shortest day and longest night of the year.

The year is divided into eighths by the halfway points between solstices and equinoxes: February Second, Candlemas or Groundhog Day, May first or May Day, August first, Lammas or Loaf Mass, and Halloween or All Saints' Day.

In the vocabulary of Arnold van Gennep's "Rites of Passage," these days are liminal times. Liminal comes from the Latin "limin" or threshold.

In a rite of passage – for example a Bar Mitzvah – a person goes from being one thing – a child say – to being a man.

Van Gennep pointed out that that in between time, between leaving childhood and assuming adulthood, is a dangerous time, because one identity has been cast off, and another has not yet been completely assumed. This is the limin, the in-between time, no longer one thing, not yet another. It is for this reason that traditional people assess liminal times as magic times.

Pagans will perform ceremonies today on Lammas.

Catholics used to celebrate Lammas, too. They called it Loaf Mass.

From Catholic Culture:

"…this day was offered as thanksgiving for the wheat harvest, used for the bread that becomes the Eucharist…As the hot, dry corn weather of July settles down on our countryside, there is a stop in our feasting. These are the days when dawn is not too early to get out a-berrying, and moonlight is not too late to tie tomatoes. Even the birds do most of their talking in the dew of the morning or the cool of the night. And in between the rickety-rackety tractor snorts on the hills and whinnies on the down grade, each one of the family is preoccupied with the plans of the day and more than occupied with the raw material of our life. I think the Church as well as tradition herself knew we were all busy in July. The Church lets us all be Marthas for the month, to work like the bees in the hive gathering food for our families. Tradition lets us all be Jacks for the month, to be as dull as dross while we fill the barns."

Read more about Catholicism and Loaf Mass here.

Length of days in Birmingham. Source
I'm not a farmer.

I'm not a Pagan.

My Catholic church no longer celebrates Loaf Mass.

But I am glad it is Lammas.

I don't own a car, and I walk everywhere, I live without air conditioning, and my ancestors evolved in cold, dark Northern Europe. My sister, who has sent her DNA off to be analyzed, reports that we are related to Vikings and Sami. You don't get much farther north than that.

Summer to me means walking uphill to work and watching my sweat drop on the path in front of me. It means stripping down to nothing and sleeping downstairs on the floor next to a fan and gulping midnight air that's ninety degrees and feels solid. It means counting the days.

Since I walk everywhere, the seasons penetrate me.

Aha. I am walking across a mall parking lot and I hear a killdeer. Killdeer are shorebirds that sometimes nest on gravel rooftops. Winter must be breaking up and soon it will be spring.

Aha. There, on the path, is Saint John's wort. It must be summer solstice. St. John's wort flowers on this day.

My shadow is short; it's summer. My shadow is long; it's winter.

Lammas, August first, is the time we begin to notice that the days are not quite so long as they had been for a while, starting June 21, the summer solstice. I noticed when I got up this morning at five that the sky was still dark. For a while there it was feeling like no matter how early I got up, I couldn't beat the sun. The change in the length of the day speeds up as we move toward the Equinox.

You start hearing more crickets – gryllus pennsylvanicus – at this time. You start seeing some red undertones in the leaves of burning bush.

But, really, for me, the big sign of Lammas is the light. The retreating light, its retreat getting faster as we slide down the sine wave.


Since Catholics have surrendered Loaf Mass, Pagans have picked up the slack and claimed Lammas as their own.

I'd love to see more Christians allow nature into their spiritual lives. We shouldn't leave it to the Pagans.

Lindow Man, possible victim of human sacrifice. Source: Wikipedia
I'm not a Pagan and I'm not attracted to it. I find human sacrifice to be about as repugnant as any idea humanity has ever come up with. The Pagan god demands that humans die for him. Jesus died for us.

The Romans outlawed Celtic human sacrifice. It's a pretty sad thing when a people as reprobate as the Romans have to tell you that what you are doing is wrong. Lindow Man was a possible Celtic human sacrifice. He was found in a remote bog, strangled, struck on the head, and with his throat cut. The three-fold death may have been part of a ritual.

I'm also troubled by Pagans' willingness to lie. Neo-Pagans claim that they are practicing a religion that is thousands of years old. That's just not true. Today's Paganism is a make-it-up-as-you-go phenomenon. Pagans claim that their religion descends from a worldwide, woman-loving, goddess-worshipping religion. That's not true, either. (See, for example, here.) Also, Neo-Pagans tell some real whoppers about the religion they pit themselves against, Christianity. As a woman, I am deeply troubled by their invented history of the Witch Burnings. Just one example: Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English's "Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers," a book that is full of lies – and yet still embraced by many Neo-Pagans.

Finally, it's impossible not to notice how many Neo-Pagans are obese. What's up with that?

You can find Pagans talking about their obesity crisis here, here, and here. Oh and here. And here.

Of course there are fat Christians, too, disclaimer disclaimer etc etc. But I do notice it. The Pagan / obesity connection. It's certainly worth thinking about. The many, many, many websites I found talking about this show that that's true.

I wish my fellow Christians would join with me in interweaving the natural world into our worship. We Christians rightly fear the evil excesses of Pagans in relation to nature. What evil excesses you ask? Well, ancient Pagans actually did worship animals. What that meant. In Ancient Egypt, you needed to be mummified to enjoy your afterlife. Egyptians mummified millions of ibises – sacred birds. Millions. Millions!

The slaves who built the pyramids? Not mummified.

But that wasn't just Paganism in the ancient world. The Nazis revived Paganism. Nazis insisted that worms – yes – worms – be handled in lab experiments so that they would not feel pain.

And we all know how much horrific suffering Nazis inflicted on human beings.

That, in a nutshell, to me, encapsulates the evil excesses of the Pagan overvaluation of nature. Ibises: heaven. Human beings: slave labor followed by death and extinction.

The Judeo-Christian tradition values human beings more highly than animals. But there is great love for the natural world expressed in the Bible. The Book of Job expresses as much love of the natural world as anything I've ever read, including Thoreau or Aldo Leopold or John Muir. Here is just one excerpt:

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
“Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
“Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind?


  1. "It's a pretty sad thing when a people as reprobate as the Romans have to tell you that what you are doing is wrong."


    Fascinating blog post. The things one learns...