As Witches, we all have different things that get us into the mood for a little Witchery. Some people like to go outside and talk a long walk. Others prefer to meditate in a dark room. Let’s not forget that we all have our own ideas about what Witchery is, too.
The Sabbats are an interesting thing. For many Witches, they are eight holidays that line the ring of the Wheel of the Year, mostly based on Celtic holidays. If you’re unfamiliar, they tend to be called Samhain (Oct. 31st-Nov. 1st), Yule (winter solstice), Imbolc (Feb. 1st-2nd), Ostara (spring equinox), Beltane (May 1st), Litha (summer solstice), Lammas/Lughnasadh (Aug. 1st), and Mabon (fall equinox). Perhaps the reason that these Sabbats are interesting is because, even if you’re a certain type of Witch –kitchen, ocean, natural…the list goes on — the Sabbats mostly have their own distinct flavor and feeling. Everybody celebrates them differently, sure, but if you’re in the northern hemisphere, Mabon is a harvest holiday, Ostara is a fertility holiday…and there’s not always a lot of wiggle room in that regard.
So, how can we get ourselves into the mood for the Sabbats as they come around? How can we integrate the distinct feeling of each of these holidays into our busy lives? For me, one of the best ways is with music. I can sit at my full-time job desk, do my work, and listen to Spotify.
Of course, not everyone likes the same styles of music, but there’s no denying there is something very, well, Lammas-y about the following songs. (Some people say “Lughnasadh,” and that’s perfectly fine. I personally haven’t had the opportunity to work with Lugh, and so I mostly use the term “Lammas” to refer to the grain harvest aspect of the Sabbat.) The great thing about modern music streaming is that you can listen to a song you really like, and in one click you can find a whole slew of songs by the same artist. Listening to Sabbat-specific music has introduced me to a number of pagan music groups that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Without further ado, let’s get into this list. Rather than just ten songs as a lot of playlists are, I’ve given you over an hour of music to really get you into the spirit of the harvest. They’re not in a particular order, but they’re all available on Spotify, so you can make your list however you want. An explanation of why these songs are on this list follows.
- Songs from “Friday Afternoons”, Op. 7: Cuckoo! (Benjamin Britten, Choir Of Downside School)
- John Barleycorn (Must Die) – Remastered 2010 (Traffic)
- Lughnasadh (Damh The Bard)
- Before The Twilight Falls (Emerald Rose)
- Homegrown Tomatoes (John Denver)
- The Scythe (Gaia Consort)
- Lughnasadh Dance (Damh The Bard)
- The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Loreena McKennitt)
- Everything I Own (Bread)
- Harvest Song (Spiral Dance)
- English Country Dances: Scotch Cap (Musica Pacifica)
- The Lammas Tide (The Corries)
- Lammas (Lisa Thiel)
- Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Simon & Garfunkel)
- Benjamin Bowmaneer (Kate Rusby)
- Harvest Season (Heather Alexander)
- Sun King (Reclaiming)
- Deora Ar Mo Chroi (Enya)
- The Door (Spiral Dance)
- Laddie Are Ya Working? (Heather Alexander)
- In The Name Of the Dance (S.J. Tucker)
- Fear No Darkness (Adrian Von Ziegler)
- Burning of the Piper’s Hut/The Piper’s Lament (Beltaine)
Why These Songs Are On The List
- Cuckoo! – Benjamin Britten was a great 20th century composer of children’s music, and this version is on the soundtrack for Moonrise Kingdom, a quirky Wes Anderson film that happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. This short gem explains the life of the cuckoo bird, with the following lyrics, “In April I open my bill. In May I sing night and day. In June I change my tune. In July far far I fly. In August away I must.” The child-like innocence of the song combined with the melancholy melody of the cuckoo bird leaving in August seems to fit the bittersweet end of summer.
- John Barleycorn (Must Die) – This classic song follows the plight of John Barleycorn, the human personification of the grain, as he is taken from the field, stripped from his shell, crushed, and made into food and drink. Nothing reminds us of the cycle of the Earth as well as knowing how intimately we must work with the land to reap its harvest.
- Lughnasadh – Damh the Bard is an awesome singer whose pagan-themed music is great for any Sabbat. If you’re a trained musician, you may not love his voice, but the imperfection of it is kind of the appeal. This song is another homage to the Earthiness of this Sabbat and the power of Lugh.
- Before The Twilight Falls – Emerald Rose had years of pagan music recordings, and while I don’t believe they’re producing music anymore, their work will be treasured for years to come. “Before The Twilight Falls” reminds all of us that we have to seize the rest of the summer before winter sets in.
- Homegrown Tomatoes – If you’re a fan of the mysterious tone of a lot of pagan music, you may not like this country-style folk song. But, we can learn a lot from the lyrics, especially in how great hard work tastes in the harvest of our produce.
- The Scythe – Gaia Consort uses all the jangly guitars in this song to evoke the image of a dusty country road and the end of the harvest time. Just a beautiful classic for this time of year.
- Lughnasadh Dance – Another great song from Damh the Bard, very dance-y and exciting (as you could expect from the name). Damh’s knowledge of folktales and legends really comes out in his songs, and this one is no exception.
- The Wind That Shakes The Barley – This song has all the nostalgia and sadness that may come with the dying days of summer. If you’ve never heard music by Loreena before, you’re missing out. Her voice will make you feel the melancholy of the end of the season.
- Everything I Own – This song is probably the least pagan of the music here, but the name of the group is Bread, so…. In all seriousness, this song is all about being grateful for protection and good times, and how to serve the — er, entity — that has served you in return.
- Harvest Song – The beginning of this song is a classic harvest rhyme that people may have been singing for hundreds of years (by the sound of it). The rest of this piece is a little hectic and chaotic in its feeling, and perhaps gets at the root of the frantic approach some take to the end of the summer.
- English Country Dances: Scotch Cap – No beating around the bush here. I just heard this song and thought it sounded like a good Lammas piece! No words, just classical music with lots of flute and a dance-y melody.
- The Lammas Tide – The singers have such a lovely Irish lilt (I think, I’m an American, so what do I know?) that it just brings you to a pub that everybody goes to after they’ve been out in the fields.
- Lammas – Lisa Thiel’s take on Lammas (she does songs for each of the Sabbats) is all about gratitude for the harvest. We could all stand to thank the Earth for everything she provides!
- Scarborough Fair/Canticle – Some people prefer this song at Beltane. However, my Beltane playlist has the version by Damh the Bard, which is less soft and wispy. Simon and Garfunkel’s version, which with most people are familiar, brings to mind fields of wheat waving in the wind. The song does refer to the harvest, too. And, I have to mention that this version does contain the background verses referring to war and soldiers far from home, which again brings in the melancholy of the season.
- Benjamin Bowmaneer – This song doesn’t really mention the harvest at all. However, the somewhat mischievous guitar in the background just seemed to fit this Sabbat. And, Kate Rusby’s voice is really beautiful, so if you don’t listen to her, you should check out some more of her music.
- Harvest Season – I discovered Heather Alexander very recently, but she almost sounds a little like Loreena McKennitt, which is exciting. Her piece about the harvest is perfect, especially with its fast beat, like a race to finish picking produce before winter.
- Sun King – This chant is entirely an homage to Lugh the Sun King, who sacrifices his life for the harvest. It’s extremely catchy, but I think captures the grief that can affect people at this time of year, as we watch the summer slip away. (This melancholy starting in June, after the solstice, is something that I only started experiencing once I started studying Witchcraft and understanding the Wheel of the Year. Still, I definitely feel it!)
- Deora Ar Mo Chroi – I picked this song for the playlist because someone had used this song in the background for a YouTube video talking about Lammas. It seemed to fit well, so here it is on the list.
- The Door – Another piece by Spiral Dance, this song rock-esque song, I think, talks about the difference between the light and the dark, which is a huge theme for this time of year.
- Laddie Are Ya Working? – A great song by Heather Alexander which evokes the sense of working in the fields. It definitely reminds us of all the work that needs to be done before the end of the harvest season.
- In The Name Of The Dance – S.J. Tucker is probably one of the classic pagan musicians. She uses a bit of digeridoo in this piece, which is an instrument that is apparently associated with summer (I didn’t realize this until I started listening to pagan music). This isn’t my favorite one of her pieces, but if this song introduces you to S.J. Tucker’s work, then I’ve done my job.
- Fear No Darkness – I actually have this song on my Beltane playlist for its sheer fun nature. I absolutely love this song, and any of the Celtic Collection by Adrian Von Ziegler. However, the title works so well with my Lammas playlist because a lot of the songs on this list are quite melancholy. I think this song near the end is a great reminder that you don’t need to fear the winter (especially in this day and age, what with supermarkets and central heating), because the summer will always return.
- Burning of the Piper’s Hut/The Piper’s Lament – Similarly to the last song, I had another version of this piece (by the same group, “Beltaine”), on my Beltane playlist (fittingly enough). However, that version was much faster and like a dance. This one is certainly a lament, and I felt that having these two versions as bookends of the summer is about the best way to show how the Wheel continues turning.
I hope that this playlist helps you get into the mood for Lammas. Sure, this is one of the less hopeful Sabbats in a way, but it’s no less important. After all, the harvest is a feast time and in the past was a forecast of how well your winter was going to go. So, don’t forget to get the joy out of this holiday, too, with a lot of feasting.
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