You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Saturday, 2 February 2013

of Lammas, and the First Loaf

I was walking up the stairs yesterday morning when I first caught it, sensed it. A smell, perhaps, or a feeling in the air - but what exactly? I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Is it that it's a bit cooler today? No, that's not it, it's more than that. Hmm. I got on with my day.

Then I was out in the backyard, just a little before sunset, when I caught it again. Oh yes, that's it. I definitely smell autumn coming. I did a little counting of the days in my head and then smiled when I realised, oh yes, it's February already. February 1 - it's Lammas. Perfect timing. I love it when it works like that.

Lammas is the celebration of the first harvest. The Sun King has been in his prime, at the height of his powers since the Summer Solstice. The Goddess is heavily pregnant with the Divine Child, his son and heir, and the crops are ripe in the fields. But there is a change coming, and it heralds the time of sacrifice for the Sun King. He must die and return to the Earth, that he can be reborn. The Great Wheel turns. The life of the King is cut by the scythe that harvests the crops. The grain, the life force of the Sun King made manifest, is ground into flour and baked. The people then have bread, and in this way, assimilate the life force of the Sun King, and live through his sacrifice.

A Lammas loaf is not just an ordinary loaf of bread - it's a sacred loaf that embodies the Sun King. This was already a very old tradition when Jesus shared it with his disciples, telling them "Take, eat, this is my body." The Divine has become manifest of the earth through the grain, and we achieve communion with the Divine by consuming its embodied form, the bread.

Lammas is all about bread - literally, 'loaf-mass.' Harvesting the grain, baking the bread, and, of course, feasting on the fruits of our labours.

I'd never actually baked a loaf of bread before, not like a proper loaf of bread. I've made some flatbreads and chapatis, and I've baked cake-y things that are called a 'loaf,' as in 'carrot and walnut loaf' or 'zucchini loaf.' I do dimly recall some effort at bread rolls in Home Economics class in school, and even more remotely, a possibility of an experience with damper while at a Brownies camp. But an actual, proper loaf of bread? No, hadn't gotten around to that one yet. I've been meaning to, for ages, of course. I've been collecting recipes for at least ten years already. So I said to myself today, I said self, today is the day.  It's Lammas, and I'm going to bake some bread.

I cleaned the kitchen. I lit the candle and the incense on the little kitchen altar.

I revised my recipes, and googled a few more. I popped out to the corner shop for milk and butter - and treated myself to a little round of Brie cheese. I wanted to find a way to put something that had grown in my garden into the bread, to make it more special, what with it being no ordinary loaf of bread, but a Lammas Loaf. That's why I decided to make it a herb bread, with sage, rosemary and thyme from the garden. I would have loved to have put a little hint of parsely in, too, just in honour of Simon and Garfunkel, but that didn't seem like the best choice from a culinary point of view, so I restrained myself from overdoing the symbolism. I collected my ingredients.

At this point my camera's battery ran out and it was on the charger while I got into the whole breadmaking adventure, so there are no photos of the process, but I can assure you that it was rather sticky and quite messy. I took that as probably a good sign.

In the tradition of Johnny Barleycorn, I've made my first loaf of bread into a mannikin that I must really call Johnny Wheatcorn, to be more accurate, if less poetic.

You might be pleased to know that I sacrificed this particular embodiment of the Sun King in a humane fashion, quickly and neatly tearing his head off first, rather than tearing him apart limb from limb while he's still awake. Some heathens are just barbarians. I shared his flesh with Mr CJ and then buried the remains in the earth, sparing a few crusts for the birds.

I also produced a couple of lovely rolls and something that's pretty damn close to being a proper, official loaf of bread. And yes - totally, respectably yummy. Dinner was bread and cheese and it was fabulous. I'm calling this one a success.

Corn and grain, corn and grain,
Those who fall shall rise again.

Hail the Sun King!


  1. this was a FASCINATING post! i've never heard of Lammas bread and its origins, so that was so interesting to me. it's also cool to think that as you are heading into fall, we are heading into spring here in Canada - in particular on the West Coast/Fraser Valley, which is typically much, much less wintery than the rest of Canada (which is still in a deep freeze and won't see spring until the end of May). i'd love to see your recipe!