Harvest Blessings

6Blessings 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.

silbury hillSitting 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.

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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

Lughnasadh

Reblog: Lammas, Don’t Fear the Reaper

This is a reblog from my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare. To read the full article, click HERE.

The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.

Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks.

This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain. Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year. The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.

I love this time of year. The birds have fledged, and the muntjac deer are at the end of their mating season. The stag barks occasionally for his hind on the other side of the hedge, and this year’s badger family come to visit every night to eat the fallen birdseed from our table and the peanuts that we put out. The sidhe are active at their special spots, over by the burial mound as they are at each of the fire festivals. It is a time of celebration, though there is still much work to be done…

Continue to the full article HERE

Sacrifice

barley stubbleSacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.

It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?

When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.

The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.

What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?

The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.

Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.

I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.

Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?

And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.

Working with the Gods of Time

barleyDruidry is hard work. If you want to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with the land, the gods and the ancestors you have to work at it, each and every day, really walking the talk and living your religious or spiritual path. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in.

At this time of year, things can seem crazy busy, with all the plans that we dreamt up over the winter months and put into action in the spring finally coming to fruition. Working as a Druid priest, not only do I have my own personal plans to attend to, but also those of the community. July and August are heavy months in my diary, filled with handfastings and weddings mostly. In the later summer months we are inspired to a deep commitment, not only in our work but in our love lives as well. If we want our harvest to be successful, we have to work at it.

The warm months encourage us outside, even though we may have a pile of work waiting on our desk. It’s important to experience these months physically, as well as on a spiritual level, especially here in the UK where sometimes the summer can seem so short. It makes greater demands on our time, and I find that I do not get nearly as much writing done from June to October as I would like, with other duties and the hot sunshine or warm rain calling me outdoors. It’s equally important to be outside in all kinds of weather, but perhaps it is because I was born in August that this month really appeals to me, with more thunderstorms, hot sunshine, refreshing rains and muggy weather. Though autumn is my favourite season, it can often be too short, whereas summer (hopefully) lingers on in the heat of the stones and the land, the smell of the rain, the flowers and the scent of mown grass.

So even though my work goes a bit nuts at this time of year, I take time out each day to remind myself of that commitment that I made with the land. To work with her, to honour her, to be with her, to learn from her. I hear the songs of the ancestors flowing through the land. My lady Brighid sings deep within my soul, every day.

Even though I had only a small window of opportunity yesterday to get out there, still I went to the field opposite my house to be with the barley before the harvest, listening to the brilliant rustle of the drying stalks under the sun, hearing the songs of the land and the troubles with the bluebell woodland beyond. Saying my prayers and blessings over the crop and the land, connecting with the earth and her nourishment, giving of myself in return was a necessary part of the day. Like being in any long-term relationship, it requires constant presence and not taking anything for granted. This was really brought home to me when I studied with Bobcat many years ago in the beautiful setting of the Cotswolds, when we discussed with the other students the gods of time. Working with time is a great learning curve, coming to learn how to relate to the gods of time, working with deep integrity and honesty.

So you will please excuse me if there are fewer posts between now and the end of August – in the few moments of brief respite from other duties and obligations, I’m probably out in the fields or forest, heathland or seashore, spending time with the ancestors, honouring the gods of time and reminding myself to be present.

Blessings of the harvest!