Hlafmas was the first of two Germanic harvest festivals which come each year. Weodmonath literally means plant-month, Weod being the root for the modern English word weed. The reason for its name is obvious, traditionally when we all lived in an agrarian society, we would all be out in the fields harvesting the grain, and later ploughing and re-seeding the Earth for next year. It was not an easy time of year by any stretch of the imagination for the country folk, so the celebration was likely as much religious as it was a morale boost for the coming hard-work. It might also have been a great celebration because many communities would have run out of grain entirely by this point in the year, and they'd soon be able to enjoy fresh baked bread once again!
Obviously different weather conditions each year meant that the 1st of August was not always doable, but as society has moved forward with standardised time, rather than seasonal, the date has become fixed.
Unfortunately, the Saxon celebration of Lammas today has come to be interconnected with the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh which was celebrated around the same time. Considering that the two peoples resided on the same island, it goes without saying that the two tribes would have harvested the first crop at very similar times of year. Despite the two separate cultural identities, after Christianisation it makes sense that the Church would have not seen any difference between the old ways of the Germanic villages and the old Ways of the Celtic ones. To them it was part of the same "devil worship" which was to be amalgamated into the Church calendar in order to appropriate it to the new Christ God. As time went on, Lughnasadh and Lammas have essentially merged into the same festival to the point where even many scholars today speak of the two terms inter-changeably.
So we know that Hlafmas was Christianised in England, hence the name which is clearly not Pagan in origin. There are various references to the festival in Anglo-Saxon literature such as bede, but not enough information to really get a grasp about what the pre-Christian belief must have been. Unfortunately it's impossible to ever truly know the rituals performed before Christianity got in the way - but being a reconstructionist we can look at the fragments that we have left and try and re-build from what we do have.
It is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon book of charms that at Lammas a loaf would be baked from the first batch of grain, blessed and split into four parts. Those four quarters would be placed in the four corners of a silo or barn where the grain was to be stored, and was said to protect the grain over the coming months. Obviously, to simple peasants living from the land, a problem with your grain could be a death sentence for your entire community over the winter months, hence the reason, even if it's just psychologically, that people would feel the need to use ritual use of folk magic. Even after conversion to Christianity.
The sad thing is that today, where we do not live in an agrarian society we have lost what is sacred and important. Most people no longer feel any connection with the land in which our life sustaining food grows in, or the importance of the changes of season. To most, food is simply something we buy in bulk in Tesco, something to gorge on without a second thought and throw most of it away at the end of a meal. I'm not saying that I myself don't fall into that trap for the majority of the year, but this is why I believe harvest festivals, even today, are vitally important to us.
In a world which is increasingly being overpopulated whilst poisoned by pesticides and subjected to genetic engineering, the next generation need to understand exactly what food is and where it comes from more than ever. Today many children cannot even identify what meat comes from what animal, let alone the processes which enables us to produce flour. We are a society that no longer knows how to look after or feed itself, and because of that it is on a constant threat of collapse. The number of lives which would be lost if computers suddenly failed is simply apocalyptic, and a reason why not only children but adults too, should take stock exactly what food really is.
So how can we reconstruct an Old-English Pagan festival when the only remnants we have left are Christian?
I'm sure not everyone will agree with me on this, but paganism in general - and Odinism especially, is based on actions, not thoughts alone. We can argue until we a blue in the face about what constitutes the 'right' ritual to use. We could track down archaic textbooks until we are old and grey and perhaps still not be any closer to finding a workable way of reconstructing the old religion.
My personal belief is to use the clues we have left, but use intuition to fill in those gaps that we have left staring at us in the face. The important thing is not in how we honour and give thanks for the food that sustains us, but the very action of doing so. After all, would our Gods not be more appreciative of a simple offering done in an informal fashion, than for us to simply shrug our shoulders and admit that we don't have enough anecdotal evidence for how it used to be done? The truth is that despite being called the old way, it is still very much a living religion - so it is better to breathe new life into an old tradition than morbidly trawl through archaic textbooks.
But aside from honouring the Gods and the ancestors for a moment, the whole point of this this time round is more for ourselves. We have lost a very important reality check when it comes to our own needs. To stop appreciating food as a society is really, really unhealthy - and that realisation is only going to come from adults who understand that a real shift in mentality needs to occur.
My Lammas Offering
So I'm sat here this evening after writing the preceding part of this post, with the rising moon light flooding into the upstairs landing. Seems a perfect picture out of my window right now for a Lammas theme - the full moon lighting up pale fields of stubble as far as the eye can see. Sounds like I'm making this up for effect but its true.
So talking about offerings, its obvious that even after Christianisation the old folk magic still existed and in simple terms an offering was still being given to ward off (presumably) evil spirits or fungus that might spoil the grain in storage. Obviously I don't have such worries, but I'm simply giving thanks for the food we eat over the year.
I've baked a loaf of bread from spelt flour, an ancient kind of wheat which was before mankind had managed to properly create a high yielding 'domestic' version. It doesn't have to be spelt but I figure that it would be recognisable to more of our ancestors than ordinary bread flour. I also substituted the water in the recipe for milk, which provides a symbol of life sustaining energy - which is important givem its ritualistic use. The bread was marked with a Fehu rune, a symbol associated with wealth, food and abundance. I've cut the loaf into slices to take to a small piece of local woodland tomorrow morning.
I could have given the whole loaf as an offering, but thats the sort of wasteful behaviour we need to turn away from. In the Havamal it is Odin who says that it is better to not offer anything, than to offer too much. So how I interpret that is that essentially, do not offer too much food or resources up in religious ritual, if it makes your own life harder. Granted, this is just a loaf of bread - but why give more than is needed?