The Anglo - Saxon Chronicles refer to this harvest festival as the " Feast of first fruits ". Also in the Anglo - Saxon Chronicles there is written a charm that says that if you break the first loaf of baked bread from the new harvest into four equal pieces, and then place them in each of the four corners of your grain storage area it would protect the harvested wheat from harm. This time of the year, in the Viking Age, also marked the end of the raiding season for many Vikings who would come home with their spoils of war to work their fields, and to harvest their crops.
In this modern day and age we take for granted the food that we are provided with. And I mean provided with ! Very few people these days have full gardens to grow their food needs. Even fewer still take their harvest and preserve it for future use as our ancestors did. However, to see the fragility of crops, even with our modern cultivating methods, all you need do is look to the United States midwest region which has been in an immense drought for much of the growing season that is devastating their crops. The farmers in the midwest say it is the worst drought they have seen since the 1950's, and many crops have been cut severely in size, and some have been lost entirely. I am sure that we will not feel the pangs of hunger that our ancestors did, but we will feel the effects at the supermarket in the form of much higher prices.
I thank many different Gods and Goddesses during my Hloaf festival ritual. Odin for giving us the breath of life, and making Midgard from the body of Ymir. Mother Earth Jord without whom we could not survive, let alone grow food. Sunna for providing the wonderful sunlight that provides our plants with the ability to use photosynthesis to grow. Freyr for providing the rains that nourish our crops. Freyja whose " magic " sees our crops through to maturity. Sif our wonderful Harvest Queen, and Thor the great protector of crops, and friend to the common farmer, are also very important to honor. I also praise my ancestors, many of whom were farmers right up until modern times.
Last year I baked a loaf of bread, which came out a little funny, though it tasted pretty good. This year I am going to bake something a little easier. I bought some of those easy bake rolls that you put in the oven for fifteen minutes or so. What you bake is not as important as the symbolism of baking something made of wheat flour so that you can break the bread before the Gods in their honor. This is the only feast where I do not eat any meat at all. I eat only grown items such as bread, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. Nuts would be fine as well, but I am not allowed to have them.
Before I eat I hold the ritual outside in my backyard. I ceremonially break the bread into small pieces, and spread them over the ground as an offering to Mother Earth Jord. Much in the same way as the Christians gave the first loaf to their priest, I give my first baked bread to Mother Jord. For me it is my way of giving a gift for a gift. Jord gives us the wonderful grain to make flour, and bread from, and I give her the first loaf of the new harvest. I then use my Thor's hammer to bless a pitcher of water, which I pour over the bread to represent the life giving rains which are all important for our crops. This year I will include a special blessing for the farmers in the midwest, and ask the Gods to look after their lands, and to bring back the rains. I also like to ask the local land wights to look after our crops here in New Jersey. We are called the Garden State, and there are still a lot of farms here in New Jersey.
For most of us who have forgotten what hunger, and famine, can do to a community of like folk, I ask you to read what happened to the Vikings who tried to make their settlement work in Greenland during some of the worst winters on record. Unfortunately no one on the Island survived, and all that is left are the remains of the buildings that they once inhabited. More recently you could read about those who died during the potato famine in Ireland, or the famines in Africa. We should thank the Gods with all our hearts and souls that we live in such a time of plenty. Remember that when you take each bite of food during your Hloaf festival.
I hope you all enjoy your Hloaf festival feast ! And to those who celebrate it as Lammas, may you be blessed this day as well !