The Importance of Lammas/Lughnasadh

P1050820 (3)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 Awen (Part Two)

This is a continuation from my previous post on the awen, which you can read HERE.

So where does the flowing inspiration of modern Druidry come from then? And what is the difference between awen and the energy that is in all life?

In Welsh, we can trace it back to the 19th century, where aw means flowing or fluidity, and wen is spirit, or a being. We can more easily trace the concept and word back to medieval texts retelling the tale of Ceridwen and Taliesin.

The goddess Ceridwen was brewing a special potion for her son, Afagddu, tended by Gwion Bach. Some of the brew bubbled over and three drops scalded Gwion as he stirred the pot, and he put his thumb into his mouth to ease the soreness, taking in the magic of the brew meant for Afagddu. Ceridwen was enraged, and chased him, eventually eating him and then giving birth to him again. After she gives birth to him, she sets him on a boat and he was discovered alive and well later, and renamed Taliesin for his radiant brow. He becomes the most famous Bard of Britain.

The awen can be seen as being achieved through a deep connection to every aspect of the land, in whatever shape or form.  We can undergo a kind of initiation into the awen much as Gwion Bach did, through the goddess Ceridwen and her special brew. We can drink from the cauldron of inspiration, but with that comes great trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with awareness and enlightenment.

The awen is also related to water and rivers, and not just the liquid brewed in Ceridwen’s cauldron. In the medieval poem “Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, it states:

“The Awen I sing,

From the deep I bring it,

A river while it flows,

I know its extent;

I know when it disappears;

I know when it fills;

I know when it overflows;

I know when it shrinks;

I know what base

There is beneath the sea. [1]

The awen relates to water on so many levels. The flowing spirit of water and the flowing spirit of awen share many similarities. Both are fluid, able to be contained and yet have their own freedom in their inherent sense of being. They follow their own currents, and can be beneficial when used with respect. When we follow the currents of life, the inter-connectedness of all things, we share that flow of awen and then come to know the fathomless depths that it can bring.

We also have the shamanic diviners in the Welsh tradition known as Awenyddion.  There is also awen involved in divination and the quest for relationship with the divine.  The awen is a vast subject that requires much study, but more to the point is requires experience. We can research the similarities between awen and the Hindu aspects of shakti, for example, or the Dao in Chinese philosophy. But we must feel the awen with every atom of our being in order the truly understand it.

But what is the difference between awen and the energy of life, or the life force? I would say that awen is the thread that connects us to that life force. When we connect in good relationship to the world around us, those threads shimmer with awen, with inspiration. We know that we are a part of the web, wholly and utterly connected. When we feel that connection with other beings, soul to soul, and our sense of self lessens, we are inspired by that connection. We then think of ourselves less, and our perception opens out to a wider perspective on the world, one that is more inclusive rather than just our own self-centred point of view. We become a thread in the web.

Awen helps us to see beyond ourselves, and perhaps paradoxically to allow us to see ourselves in everything. The poet Amergin described this beautifully what is now known as the “Song of Amergin”.  When we see that we are a part of a whole, then we are inspired. When we lessen the sense of self, we are able to perceive so much more. When we have expanded our worlds to include everything within it, we become the awen.

I am the wind on the sea;

I am the wave of the sea;

I am the bull of seven battles;

I am the eagle on the rock

I am a flash from the sun;

I am the most beautiful of plants;

I am a strong wild boar;

I am a salmon in the water;

I am a lake in the plain;

I am the word of knowledge;

I am the head of the spear in battle;

I am the god that puts fire in the head;

Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?

Who can tell the ages of the moon?

Who can tell the place where the sun rests?”[2]

Many Druid rituals begin or end with singing or chanting the awen. When doing so, the word is stretched to three syllables, sounding like ah-oo-wen.  It is a lovely sound, which opens up the heart and soul. Sung/chanted together, or in rounds, it simply flows, as its namesake determines.  Our hearts can open if we let them when chanting or singing the awen.

Yet I am sure that the awen is different for each and every Druid.  The connection, and the resulting expression of that connection, the Druid’s own creativity, can be so vast and diverse.  It is what is so delicious about it; we inhale the awen and exhale our own creativity in song, in dance, in books, in protest marches. The possibilities are endless, as is the awen itself.

We are never born, and we can never die: we are simply manifest for a while in one form, and then we manifest again in another when the conditions are right. For me, this represents reincarnation, the nitty gritty basics of it and the science behind reincarnation. The threads that bind this together are the awen.

[1] Mary Jones, “The Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, The Celtic Literature Collective, accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t07.html

[2] Lady Gregory, The Essential Lady Gregory Collection, Google Books, accessed January 13, 2018.  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fx0tOGYDZXQC&dq

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

The Queen of the May

 

She calls

And now you know you must answer

Softly at first

At Spring Equinox

She was all innocence

All light-voiced song

And you know She calls

The Queen of the May

The virgin voice now lusty and deep

Full in the belly and full in the throat

Her song caresses you

Like her fingertips caress the belly of Experience

And you answer her call

 

She calls

And you are faery-led

Into the wild haunts

To lay yourself down

As sacrifice

Upon the altar of ecstasy

To dance free around the faery tree

To let your heart be filled

With the songs of sparrows

And swifts

As they scream overhead

To touch the grace of the deer in the shadows

To feel the heartbeat of the earth

Pulsing beneath your feet

As you set you roots down

Even as you reach towards the skies

The Beltane time is nigh

 

You hear a cry

And it is your own soulsong

Escaping your cherry-red lips

Filled with laughter

And grief

Freedom

 

You dance the circle round

Whispering secrets to the trees

The eyes of the hidden folk following

You know who you are

You know who you were meant to be

And in your breathless dance

You sweat your prayers

 

And She hears them

And with crystalline clarity you know

In the blood that runs through your veins

And the thoughts that course through your mind

In the lives and loves of your ancestors

You know you are not the only one

 

And you revel in your witchdom

 

The music slows

The eyes of the does drop to the ground

As they lower their heads in reverence

For here She comes

Sovereignty

And you look into Her in the eyes

And you see the May Queen

 

You see all that you were

And all that has been

And you nod and you smile

She takes your hand

She knows every crack in your heart

She knows your inner land

 

And as the bright sun fades

And the stars begin to shine

You honour your past

Your future is bright

And the magic never ends

As day turns into night

She blesses you

With your own inner sight

There is starshine in your hair

There is elphame in your soul

 

And you remember

All you have been

All you have seen and been told

And you have come home

 

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(Photo by Graham Haynes)

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Spring Equinox – Riding the Energies

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere, the time when the days become longer than the nights, when the sun crosses the celestial equator. It’s a tipping point in the cycle, where new energies come into play. This crossover, this shifting of energies happens over and over again, in a never-ending cycle of the seasons, the play and dance of the sun across our planet’s sphere. How do we work with these energies?

Right now our world is in imbalance, and we see that reflected in everything around us. It can be devastating when one follows an earth-based tradition. The rampant destruction of nature, our capitalistic, over-consumption culture and the degradation of cohesive and compassionate communities is at an all-time high. We are seeing the effects each and every day, on the news and social media, an influx of information 24/7 that our brains aren’t wired to handle, which only leads to more stress and fear.

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As followers of an earth-based tradition, how do we cope with all this? We watch our consumption, we give back, we do the ecologically and socially responsible things. But we still have to cope with the stress, the fear, the despair sometimes. When it all gets too much, what can we do? For me, there are two answers. Watching funny David Bowie interviews (really, that man was not only a genius, but exceptionally funny!) and getting out in nature.

Getting outdoors is perhaps the best medicine we have, if we are able to get outside into the fresh air and sunlight, feeling the wind on our faces or looking at the vast expanse of stars overhead. For those who are not mobile, I know that this can present a problem, and we have to work with this as best we can, even if it is to sit by an open window for five minutes (close the doors to the room so you don’t lose all the heat in your home). If you live in a city, try to get out to a park (if you aren’t in quarantine). Any way you can, try to commune with nature, to refresh those bonds in our hearts and minds, to remind us of the beauty, power and strength that lies all around us, all the time. If you’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, so much the better.

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We can also work for ourselves, to strengthen our hearts and bodies, to connect with nature, our gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place, the fey folk. We can use the inspiration of nature. There is magic all around us, in the water that comes from our taps, in the air that we breathe, in the candle’s flame and in the earth beneath our feet. We can work with these energies to help us physically, mentally and spiritually. We are a creative bunch. There are no limits for the work that we can do with nature all around us. If we use the energies of the Spring Equinox on top of all these other energies, we are making good use of the time and tides of our lives.

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Tap into the energies of the growing light if you live in the northern hemisphere (or the energies of the growing darkness in the southern hemisphere) for your work. Pray, do magic, meditate, commune, establish your own personal connection to these energies. Work with the flow, not against it. Listen to the voices of the gods and goddesses, the ancestors, the Fair Folk. What do they have to tell you about right now? What advice can they give, and what can you do, for yourself and the world around you, to make it a better place? How can you be a better functioning part of your ecosystem? How can you ride the tide of this very special time, to do the work that you need to do?

As a suggestion, in the northern hemisphere, at the equinox we can do work to increase health, compassion, love, holistic living,  and peace using these energies. In the southern hemisphere, we can work with the energies to decrease panic, war, anger, ill-health and so on. It can be difficult to ride these incredible waves of energy at this time of year. Everything is thrown up in the air, and it only settles come the next holiday, whether that be Beltane or Samhain, depending on where you live. That is the time when we begin to see the manifestation of the energies, the reality of the situation. At the equinoxes, the energy is ethereal and wild, like the wind. But we can harness that energy, with a little imagination, courage and determination. We are the practitioners of the magical arts. We are the Dreamweavers and the Shamans, the Druids, the Witches, the Wiccans and everything else. We are the earth itself, she is us and we are Her. We only have to remember that, in order to live in balance and right relationship.

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Let’s use our hearts, our minds, our imagination. Let’s work for the benefit of all. Let’s take care of each other, and be the example that we want to see in the world. Things are difficult for most, yes, but we can help each other. We are not alone, we live with everything else on this planet. Our interconnectedness is what makes us strong, and our forgetfulness of this relationship is our downfall. Do what you can to make your environment strong and healthy, for everyone concerned, human and hon-human. Work your magic, pray by the moon, use the energies of the equinox to bring about change. Remember the Old Ways and the Old Ones, use the brilliance of current technology combined with the magic of herbs and stones. Use the gifts that lie all around us, and give back to the earth and each other. Take great care of each other.

Blessings of the equinox to you all.

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