New video now up on my YouTube channel 🙂
Capturing the moments…
I’ve spent this last week getting some footage and trying to capture the moments of early August in the rural Suffolk countryside, so that I could share them with you all. Blessings of the harvest season!
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The Importance of Lammas/Lughnasadh
I recently read something in a new Wiccan book release that made me sad and a little frustrated. In this work, the author stated that Lammas/Lughnasadh celebrations on the Wheel of the Year in Modern Paganism can feel like an outlier, a festival that for many people is hard to connect to, understand or celebrate. If you do not live in a rural area, why celebrate this festival at all? As such an important festival to our ancestors, we have to realise the importance of this festival not only in this context, but also in the modern day.
Historically, Lammas/Lughnasadh is the celebration of the first harvest, or games/festivals occurring just before the first harvest. It was an opportunity for people in a rural setting to meet others from the surrounding countryside, often from many miles away, in order to make trade deals, marriages and also enjoy games of competition. When your world is quite small as you live and breathe your farm/village life, the chance to get out and meet others is so very important, as I’m sure we all have experienced during the various lockdowns since the COVID pandemic. Imagine if that was your world all year round, and this was your only chance to see people outside of your village.
As well, the taking in of the first crops is something that should be celebrated in any nature-based tradition. Whether you live in an urban setting or not, what happens to the harvest in or near where you live, or in your own country on a wider scale does affect you, even if you are in the heart of a downtown metropolis. If the wheat harvest is bad, you will find bread and other wheat-based products go up. Same for any crop, whether that is apples, onions, potatoes, carrots – you get the idea. Not only does this affect you financially, but it can also affect you physically. If you are not supporting organic and locally produced crops as much as is possible within your capability, then you are effectively saying that nature doesn’t matter, and how we get our food is more important than the overall effect on the environment itself. This sort of thinking has led to genetically modified food, the long-term consumption of which we will only begin to notice in the coming years. The vast industry of monoculture crops requires much more pesticides and fungicides than a diverse or organic crop, as permaculture has shown us time and again. There is strength in diversity, and great weakness in monocultures. This applies not only to agriculture, but to all culture.
Everything is connected. Everything is related. To think that you are separate from something is mere illusion. Just because you might not live in a rural setting, doesn’t mean that what happens there has no effect on your life. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and how we treat our environment all affects us every second of every day.
Let’s remember this when it comes to Lammas/Lughnasadh; let us remember the interconnectedness of all things, and the sacredness of all things. Let us remember how important this time was for our ancestors, and how important it is still, today, wherever we live. It’s not an abstract concept, especially if we follow a nature-based tradition. It is a real, living, breathing, contributing part of our world, and should be one of the most important festivals in the Wheel of the Year.
To find out more about Lammas/Lughnasadh, I have written about it and the other festivals celebrated in Druidry and much of Modern Paganism in my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.
The Importance of Home
The first harvest is mostly in for my part of the world, in Suffolk, East Anglia. There are still a few fields of wheat or barley that are waiting either for the rental of the combine harvester to come through or for a clear, sunny day when it can be gathered in dry. It’s been a good year so far for all the crops, and it beckons me to see what the first of the harvests gathered is like within my own life, and how I can work with that for the rest of the harvest tide.
My new book came out on Lammas here in the UK, which I think is an auspicious time. I’ve had really good feedback so far, and it’s a work that I am very proud of; it’s my best book yet. But thoughts are now turning once again to the simpler things, the quiet things, time out of the limelight. Even as the nights begin to draw in, and the leaves lose their green vibrancy settling into dark shades and some even beginning to turn in their autumnal splendour, I think of the coming months and the safety, security and sanctuary that is home.
For me, my home has always been split between two continents. My family home in Canada, and my adopted home here in the UK. I love both landscapes; I love the history and the spirits of place. While politically the UK seems to be going down the rabbit hole while Canada is holding its own with integrity, still it’s the land that I keep coming back to. My own little patch, where I live and work and love and play is so very important to me, and has always been. It’s been instilled in me, from a young age from my wonderful parents, just how much a home can take care of you, if you take care of it. We never had much money growing up, but it was the little things that made home so very special. Making home a safe space, a space where you could grow but still retreat when needed, a place to find companionship and also experience the solace of being alone. The vibrancy and comradery of the dining table in full swing, or the quiet solitary walks through the woods. It was all good.
My home here in the UK is a haven of quiet, peace and often solitude, working as I do from home with my two cats for company. We have lovely neighbours all around us, and this time of year I will often answer the door to find fruit and veg presented and offered in friendship, which I gladly receive! Zero food miles, for starters, and there is nothing like eating a meal with food that fresh. In return I offer the bounty of my garden: apples as well as seedlings from the many and varied plants (and my latest book, for those who are interested). It’s got a feel of a small community; we look out for each other, and we’ve got each others’ backs. My neighbours bring in my dustbins when they do their own, and I’ll do the same if I’m the first out there. It’s a feeling of togetherness, which is something that I’ve never really had elsewhere. Perhaps it’s living in the countryside that does it – or maybe it’s just luck of the draw when it comes to your neighbours.
But the home is all important. Keeping it looking and feeling lovely, maintaining that balance between tidy and relaxed. I love my home and have always made anywhere I live a home. Surrounding myself with the things I love, as well as the gifts from others who remind me of the deep bonds of friendship. I’m so grateful to my parents for having instilled in me this sense of the home being a sanctuary, and that has allowed to me to live thousands of miles away for the last twenty years in relative peace (while still missing them incredibly).
Soon, I will be flying back home for a visit, as it’s been over a year since I’ve been back. I’ve calculated this into my carbon allowance for the year. I Skype with my mother and father every week, and occasionally if she’s online my sister will join in. It’s lovely to be able to see their faces through the miracle of technology, and it’s even better that the computer they use is in my old bedroom. I really feel like I’m back home when I get to talk to my mom this way, and it gives me a sense of connection even when the miles are so numerous between us. But there’s nothing like actually physically being there, enjoying the sights and smells and engaging all the senses in the concept of home, as well as the memories. Just sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea with my mom makes me smile with warmth and anticipation. Watching my young nephew run around, or listening to his older sibling play guitar. Cycling with my sister, going to my brother’s cabin. Reminiscing and walking through all the memories, and letting the future take care of itself. Swimming in the lake, having a beer outside in the evening. It’s the little things that matter.
And so, as I ponder the rest of the harvest, I wish you all a wonderful harvest tide. May you enjoy it with those you love, and may the peace and sanctuary of home be with you in your hearts, even if you have to create that anew. Find that place, and let it settle in your soul. It’s the perfect spot to reflect and plan for many future harvests to come.
The Wisdom of Barley
As I relaxed in my new hammock the other night (very comfy!) with my cat on my lap I could hear the slow rumble of the combine harvester in a nearby field. This is early, I thought. Last year the wheat crop came in early because of the nearly two-month drought and extensive heat wave, which meant the stalks stopped growing at the beginning of June and just dried out early. But this year we’ve had just a little less than average rainfall, mostly in the evenings, and everything is looking really good. But some crops are still ready early, and this wheat field was no exception. Perhaps due to climate change, farmers in my area can get their crops in earlier, to reap earlier. It’s a bit risky, but when you need to rent that combine harvester, you won’t have to be fighting all the other farmers who also want to get their crops in, if you’re a couple of weeks early!
And so today I went for a walk, to look at the harvested field. The low grey clouds scudded the brow of the hill, and poppies and other wildflowers lined the footpath that divided the large field area into sections. Walking past the growing onions on either side, when I reached the top of the hill there, on the left-hand side, was the section of the field now bare of its golden treasure. There’s a certain feel and smell just after a harvest; a good smell and also a kind of empty smell, if that makes any sense. What was there was no longer there, and the scent left in its wake will soon also just be a memory.
I always feel happy and melancholy when I look out over the harvested fields. I love this time of year, when summer truly has settled in, and the warmth really kicks in; the flowers are at their peak, the young birds are on the wing. It’s a joyous time, when the thick, lush green canopy of the trees hangs heavy, the air warm and sometimes humid. And yet, when you stand on the edge of a cut field, you feel all this amidst a sort of sadness that flows from the heart, because you know that the height of summer has passed, and the harvest has begun. I can be both joyous during harvest time, and also sad, for soon it will all end.
I suppose it’s a lesson in mindfulness, to be present in the moment. If I’m too sad about the turning of the seasons, I’ll miss the joy right now. And if I don’t honour the poignant time of the beginning of the harvest and simply ignore it, then I will be missing the important time of the turning tide of the seasons, and also the lesson of impermanence.
So I will visit the fields in turn, and listen out for the big machinery. Walking home past a field of barley, I could sense it would be a couple of weeks yet, but it was coming. But the barley whispered to me, “Don’t be sad now, for the sun is shining and we are ripening. Turn your face to the sun, and allow it to bring to fruition that which you dreamt of when you were just planting the seeds of your intention. And when the times comes, and it will, you can reap the harvest of what you have sown with joy and compassion.”
Barley is very wise.
Harvest for the Soul and Coming Home
It’s good to be home. After a couple of weeks visiting my family back in Canada, with yet another heat wave (40C with the humidity!) I can honestly say that I’m grateful to be back in Suffolk. It feels like autumn has arrived here, as it has back in Canada (the day after I left, it turned to a lovely 21C and the leaves beginning their autumnal splendour) and the change in the air is most welcome.
As always, going back to visit my family brings up contemplations of just what “home” really is. I realised that in 3.5 years, I will have lived in the UK for as long as I have lived in Canada. Over twenty years of eating food grown in this land, drinking water from local bore holes and reservoirs, breathing in the air and connecting with the different flora and fauna relative to this place and this time. It really has shaped me, alongside the people I’ve met and the experiences I have had, and I am both grateful and a touch melancholic when reminiscing about all that I have done and gone through in moving to this new land all those years ago.
This is where I made my lifelong dream come true, to be an author. Never did I ever dream about establishing a Druid College, or a belly dance company, or a host of many other turns my life has taken. It’s been a challenge and a blessing, the twists and turns my life has taken, and for which I am both proud and humbled to have come out the other side. England is not the land of Madam George and roses, as Sinead O’Connor once sang, but it is the place that captured my heart, alongside Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
So I return to my home with a renewed sense of place, of home and indeed, of belonging. Even though I will always carry a thread of being an outsider, with my accent alerting people to the fact that I was not born here, still I feel like this place is home. An immigrant to this country, coming from a long line of immigrants to various countries, I feel a shared connection both to my ancestors as well as to the ancestors of place, which here in the UK are so varied from before history even began. I have a few months now to breathe deeply, to take the time to reconnect, now that my new book for Llewellyn has been sent off and revised. For the rest of the year, I will be taking information in, taking in the sensual and the ecstatic, allowing the awen to flow into me after many long months of being on the other end. Allowing myself to reap the harvest sown earlier on. And so the cycle continues, in and out, flowing and ebbing, as I gather my resources ready for a new round of work come the new year. For the next three months, I will be listening to the words and voices of others, allowing their inspiration to fill me, and see where that takes me.
And in the meantime, I shall walk this land, the sandy soil of heath and woodland beneath my feet, the wind blowing in from the sea and scenting the air, the hearthfires burning both in the little village around me and within my soul.
P.S. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover of my new book, coming out next summer!
Blessings of Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst to you. May your harvest be abundant and rewarding, and may we learn from our experience to carry knowledge forward into wisdom.
I have just come back from a four day road-trip with two of my best friends into the heart of the Wiltshire landscape, poking our noses in Somerset to visit Glastonbury and participate in a workshop run by author and activist Starhawk on Sunday as part of the Goddess Conference’s fringe events. To say I am shattered is an understatement; my body has shut down completely, and I am now suffering from a cold as well as my monthly moon-time a week early. When will I ever learn??? Easy does it!
At any rate, it was a magical time, with perhaps the most transformative event being a quiet meditation upon West Kennet Long Barrow. The harvest was in full swing in the landscape all around. Where we came from in Suffolk, the harvest began in early July, as we hadn’t had rain for two months. They were a bit more fortunate down in the south-west, and the harvest timing was more in tune with the Wheel of the Year than over in the East, where everything seems rather disjointed this year.
Sitting on top of the barrow, I could feel the energy of the land around me, as well as the energy of the ancestors and the barrow itself beneath me. The land’s energy was golden like the sun, flowing and bright. It was a stark contrast to the energy of the barrow, which was dark, cool and quiet. In the landscape, looking out over at Silbury Hill, I could feel the richness of this time of year, and see the ancient priests of the land atop the platform of that great hill, directing the ritual observances for honouring the harvest and the land, beginning at The Sanctuary and flowing all throughout that wonderful temple radiating outwards from Avebury’s henge and circle. Everything was in motion, everything was in full swing.
But beneath me was the silence of death, of deep stillness and quiet. Despite the bus load of tourists that had come and gone while I was meditating, I could still feel that deep sense of rest beneath me. I made my way down and into the barrow itself, stopping at the entrance to honour the ancestors. Deep within the barrow, in the furthest accessible chamber, I stood, honouring the silence of death.
But then the sounds of life came from the entrance, as baby birds chirped in their nest upon the arrival of their parents. Two families of swallows were nesting just above the entrance-way to the tomb, and the cycle of life and death seemed complete, and ever entwined, like beautiful Celtic knotwork or the spirals of the triskele seen upon so many of the neolithic and megalithic structures that abound in these British Isles.
We had just come from Swallowhead Spring, where it was a trickle in the dry landscape. Watercress choked the river Kennet, and the spring itself was dry.
We later moved to The Sanctuary, to experience this wonderful temple. It was like travelling back in time. We also visited the so-called “Moon Temple” that has been discussed in recent editions of Pagan Dawn magazine by geomancer Terence Mead. Sadly, we were unable to actually get close to the temple, as the farmer has moved all his cows, calves and a great big bull into that square kilometre where much of the temple lies. Shame, as we had walked miles and miles to get to it!
At Avebury we planned to hold a small ritual, just the three of us, during the lunar eclipse. We found a quiet corner, well, quiet for a minute or two before an old man tottered towards us as we had begun! It was all very odd, as he came near and then rolled out a blanket to sit upon, and made as if he was going to have a little nap. He stayed for a few minutes, then packed up again and made his way back the way that he had come. All very odd! We wondered if he was really real, and perhaps was, in fact, a spirit of place come to visit…
The eclipse was hidden behind fast moving clouds, and it seemed like the Wild Hunt was out riding early. The main part of the circle and henge had an air of a festival about it, so we kept to the quiet fringes and away from any crowds. As the wind picked up and our tired limbs grew heavy and cold, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.
All in all, it was an interesting trip, deep in the heart of such a sacred landscape. But is has also made me very aware of my own landscape, and how sacred it is to me personally. I won’t be heading back that way for some time now, for I found myself missing my land, my locality, more and more as each day passed. The long six-hour drive home was taxing, and I am so grateful now just to be home, still buzzing from the experience at West Kennet, but rooting my feet firmly into the sandy heathland soil of home.
The birds have gone…
It is a melancholy time of year. Most of the fields are now lying still, shorn and with the stubbly remains jutting defiantly into the last of the summer sunshine. The house martins departed over the weekend; I had spent much of last week watching the elders teach the young ones how to glide and ride the air currents in preparation for their long trek to their winter homes. The sky is so silent and still without them, and there is a small space in my heart that is sad to have said goodbye to them. Good luck on your journey, little ones. May you be as safe as can be, and I hope to see you again next summer, when you herald in the start of the season of warmth and sunlight once again, alongside the calls of the cuckoo.
The full moon makes sleep difficult; dreams are seemingly random and exhausting, and will only have meaning when the actual events happen. My skills in divination and the sight are through dreams more than anything, but right now I’m so tired that I’ll be lucky to remember anything upon waking. It’s only in the actual doing or being somewhere that I’ll remember that I dreamt it, like on Saturday when I signed a new contract, and remembered writing an email with a query regarding it. In the dream, I had no idea who I was writing to or why; now it all makes perfect sense.
It is a time when we are seeing the fruits of our labour. But it is also a time when we cannot yet rest or lay down our tools, for there is still much to be done. There are many other harvests that await. I have had a good crop of raspberries this summer, and another one on the way. The first apple harvest was abundant, and the second looks to be even better from my three little trees. I have just released my seventh book, with another written and in production, and a whole new one to work on. Druid College’s next Year 1 session begins in October, but we have our first session of our Year 3 apprentices beforehand to journey with on pilgrimage to Glastonbury in September. There is still much to be done.
The leaves are beginning to change, and a soft sadness tinged with relief lies within my breast. It feels like I’ve cried a long time, and am releasing that juddery sigh that often follows a good sob. New things await, but the old ones are being put to bed first. Everything in its own time. Nature does not hurry, and yet everything gets done.
So this evening I will be honouring the full moon and the Lammastide, with ritual in the company of a couple of lovely ladies. As the combine harvesters grumble relentlessly in the background, we shall sing to the moon, and share in the bounty that we have received with the spirits of place, the ancestors and the gods. Bread that I will bake this afternoon will be our offering, as well as words and vows of the work to come.
The times of sadness and stillness are required, just as the times of light and laughter. For we cannot have one without the other. They are not opposites, but simply on different places in the spectrum of human emotion. We ride the currents in keeping with the tides and seasons, and work towards integration and harmony.
May we be the awen.
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Blessings of the First Harvest
As Lugh pledged to honour his foster-mother, Tailtu with games in her honour every year, what pledge will you make to the land? Let this vow strengthen your resolve through the cycles of the seasons. Lammas/Lughnasadh blessings to you all. x
Reblog: Lughnasadh and the State of Grace
Here is a reblog of my post on SageWoman’s channel at Pagan Square. Blessings of the first harvest to you all! (To see the full original post, click HERE.)
Lughnasadh is upon us, and the farmers are anxiously looking to the skies for a few clear hours when they can harvest their crops of wheat in my area. It has been a hot, dry summer, and of course, just when the harvest is due to come in we get changeable weather with rain showers every day; not ideal when you need to gather in a crop like wheat totally dry, or else it will rot. So just like our ancestors, we look up and hope and pray for some dry weather, and for the farmers, that they’ve rented the combine harvesters on the best day for it, and not when it’s going to dump it down halfway through their work.
Things are unpredictable in life. It’s just something that we have to accept. With a little grace, we can face the problems and triumphs, the highs and the lows with equanimity. Grace is a word that is little used today, but one which I think is important, and one that I’ve been trying to live each and every day.
It’s not easy, to live with grace. Acceptance does not come easily when things don’t go your way, or when people don’t behave the way you think they should, or the weather turns unexpectedly, or you suddenly find out that you need a root canal, but hey, that’s a good thing, at least they can save the tooth and not have to extract it. (Yes, I’m undergoing quite a bit of dentistry this past month, having cracked a tooth at Gatwick airport on my way to a three-week visit to my family in Canada last month. Not ideal.)
So how do we deal with life’s upsets with grace? By being open to change, to what comes, and not to dwell too much on how we think things should be. Because however much we think we know what’s best, or that we have total control over a situation, the simple fact is that we just don’t; we are viewing life through a single lens of perception, and we have absolutely no control over external influences in our lives. Living as we do alongside myriad other beings, we have some control (I would hope) over ourselves and our reactions and intentions, but very little when it comes to others. And this is a good thing.
Grace is all about working with the concept of freedom and acceptance.
People are free to do what they will, so long as they are not breaking laws or harming others. Live and let live. We as individuals fall into that category, and when we can allow others to be themselves, whether they’re rude and obnoxious, lovely and charming, or everything in between then we are living with grace. We focus on our own self, but without becoming self-obsessed. We are awake and aware to all aspects of ourselves, from the light and the shadow, from the conscious and what lies hidden beneath layers and layers of past experience and trauma.
Grace is often equated with beauty and elegance of form, and when we decide to allow life to happen as it happens, we find that we actually do move through it with less struggle, with less flailing. That doesn’t mean that we will suffer any less, but that we deal with the suffering and the struggle in a manner that is calm, peaceful and accepting. This isn’t easy to do in the slightest. It takes a lot of practice, and is not something that happens overnight. Grace is also synonymous with favour, and we may just find that when we are more accepting of what life throws our way, our luck may change, or at least our perception of it, and we are able to move through the currents with more ease. We are going with the flow of the tide, not against it.
So this harvest season, I am going to remind myself (often) of that single word: grace. When I am flailing, when I am struggling, when I am angry or upset, when I am in the dentist’s chair again next week, I am going to stop, take a moment, see the beauty, feel the pain, and accept. And then I am going to work if I can to change it, and if I can’t then so be it. Just as the wheat in the field awaits a dry, sunny day for harvesting, so too can I work with patience and the tides and times of life, for nature is not in any hurry, and yet all things get done.