Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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Lammas, the First Harvest, the Beginning of the End of Summer

Many people have been readying for Lammas this past week. My Instagram feed has been full of beautiful loaves of bread in all shapes and sizes, filled with herbs or sprinkled with oats and other grains. I’ve made my own loaves of bread in preparation and am planning for other elements of the holiday: an outdoor fire in our fire bowl, homemade kvas, some soup or stew to sop up with the homemade bread, a fresh salad, some outdoor games with the kids, maybe a walk in the woods.

I love this holiday that is essentially a celebration of bread. Bread is a sacred and ancient food, one so common and humble that we often take it for granted. But no one can deny the wholesome, enriching influence of homemade bread: the feeling of connecting with old ways as we get messy with flour and meditatively knead the dough; the rich, savory perfume emanating from the oven as it bakes; the softness of the inside and the hard crust of the loaves eaten plain, with cheese, or slathered with butter or jam. It is a gift to make bread -- to ourselves, our loved ones, and our homes. It’s no wonder that the Matres and Matronae, ancestral mother-goddesses worshipped by Celtic and Germanic tribes across northwestern Europe and whom I worship and honor, were depicted in iconography with grains or loaves of bread, along with fruits, babies, and dogs. Bread is a staple in many meals, a magical food born from grains carefully grown from the earth, at first green and then gold, milled and baked, wholesome and hearty.

A Bit of Lammas History

Lammas is an English harvest holiday, the name stemming from the Anglo-Saxon term hlaf-mas. The celebration traditionally involves baking bread and presenting it at churches to be blessed (or to one’s feudal lord). Afterwards, the blessed loaves might be used in magic work. For example, Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft mentions breaking Lammas bread into four pieces and placing them at the corners of a barn to protect the grains inside. Other elements of Lammas celebrations involved communal games and races. It was and remains a time of enjoyment and relaxation after a season of hard work in the fields, while the weather is still warm.

A less well-known Germanic holiday that was also celebrated at this time is the Icelandic freyfaxi, a holiday that involved a blōt (a sacrificial ceremony), horse races, and sports dedicated to the god Freyr. This suggests that Lammas is perhaps one of a family of Germanic holidays celebrated by tribes across northern Europe, though not all of them are remembered.

Kvas

Kvas is a Slavic homebrew made from bread, yeast, sugar, and water. Raisins are a traditional flavoring agent, but you can also add fruits like apples, strawberries, cherries -- you name it. Rye bread is typically used, but I’ve made it before with plain whole wheat bread, which gives it a lighter flavor but works just as well. I first learned about kvas from a Ukrainian friend of mine, who says it’s still a common drink there (although, often store-bought now). The shorter the fermentation period, the lower the alcohol content, so you can adjust it to your comfort level with alcohol. One day will give it virtually no alcohol, but a week-old kvas will be pretty strong. Two or three days gives it just a little kick. Which means that, even though we’re only a few days away from Lammas, there’s still time to make it!

You can follow this simple recipe for an easy kvas. Customize it with fruit, herbs, even edible greens you find in your yard and live out the tradition of celebrating the fruits of the earth around your home on this first harvest feast of the season. I’m adding some mint, lemon balm, and apple into mine.

Whether you eat your bread, drink it, or a little bit of both, Merry Lammas!

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 29 July 2019

    I made corn pudding yesterday. I have enough left over rice to make rice pudding later in the week.

  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife Wednesday, 31 July 2019

    Yum! Enjoy!

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