Blessings of the first harvest!
Blessings of the first harvest!
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.
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.
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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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
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.
Blessings of the harvest to you all. x
Painting by Wendy Andrews: http://www.paintingdreams.co.uk
Here is my latest post for SageWoman Magazine’s blog channel at Witches and Pagans…
Every day at this time of year, either morning or evening, I do some gardening, keeping back the riotous growth that excels in this season. If I didn’t, many plants would simply take over the garden, crowding out some other favourite plants. Though these crowders may be near the end of their cycle, in their death they will still smother those that have great potential, as their time is arriving. It’s a hard time of year to keep on top of things, as the sun is so hot in our south-facing garden, and time is limited to mornings and evenings when we won’t burn to a crisp or keel over from heat exhaustion. Jack in the Green is running riot, uncaring, reaching for the sun, drinking in the rain.
Yet if I want my irises and lilies to survive, I must release them from the choking hold of ground creepers/covers that threatens their existence. I must carefully weed out and try to keep under control those plants whose vigorous growth would otherwise overwhelm others. In this, I feel a kinship to my ancestors, not only my recent ancestors whose work with plants runs in my blood, but also ancestors of this land who depended upon agriculture to survive. Both physically and metaphorically, this is the ideal time to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Even as I hear the tractors and combine harvesters rumbling in the fields on the other side of the street, so too do I look both within and without to see what needs harvesting, and if the harvest has been good. Getting out in the garden brings it all home, showing that if you take on the responsibility of growing things, of nourishing them, then you must do your job well in order for your harvest to be good. Walking out in the fields after supper, running my hands over the tops of the wheat and barley that grow around here, I make my prayers for the harvest to go well, for the people to be nourished and for the land to be treated well. The time nears for when we give back in great gratitude as Lammas, Lughnasadh, Harvest-time arrives…
To read the full article, click HERE.