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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.