A few months have passed since I last updated the blog. This year has been quite busy, even though it feels like nothing happens in this very odd situation that requires us all to simply sit back and wait for the world to start spinning again. I spent the summer months of 2020 getting settled in my new house, and feeling blissful and creative in my new garden. I am still dedicated to the spiritual journey I embarked on with this online journal (moving out of the city was, in fact, an important part of that journey) and I want to share some reflections on the two pagan festivals that mark the beginning and the height of the harvest season: Lammas and the Autumn Equinox. These posts can be read as parts of a whole, a continuous celebration of the autumn season.
We’ve all been forced to make big changes this year. The pandemic has altered our everyday life experience, and in a sense, pushed us back in time long before the birth of modern society. Back to an era when most people spent their entire lives working on their farms, never leaving or meeting anyone outside of the family, because wandering out in the unknown almost certainly meant death. For a lot of people, this has been a time of tragedy and despair, and everyone are still in a process of adapting to some form of solitude while worrying about the health of their loved ones. Celebrating the wheel of the year, or any other spiritual path that gives a sense of progression and rhythm to the passage of time, is a way to remain present and connected in these uncertain times.
The Meaning of the Myth
Lammas, or Lugnasadh, is the first of three harvest celebrations in the modern pagan wheel of the year (celebrated on August 1). The Gaelic festival Lugnasadh is named after the Celtic god Lugh and once marked the beginning of the harvest season. Lugh was a prominent deity who have been portrayed both as a solar and a harvest god, as well as a god of kings and of craftsmanship. Lugh have been compared to the Greco-Roman gods Apollo (patron of the arts, healing and light) and Mercury (god of commerce, finance and communication). Adding to the multiple layers of meaning that can be drawn from these myths, some scholars suggest that the name Lugh derives from a proto-indo-european root that means to bind by oath, which would associate this deity with truth, law and commitment. What is known about the actual pagan celebrations seem to indicate that this was indeed an important and multifaceted holiday featuring grand fairs to which people traveled from afar to enjoy trade, sports and “trial marriages” (a wedding ceremony that lasted until the next harvest fair and could then be dissolved if the couple wished).
Lammas is a similar harvest festival of English origin, which lives on through Loaf Mass Day, a Christian holiday dedicated to blessing the first fruits of the harvest. In Ancient Ways, Pauline Campanelli highlights the importance of Lammas by showing how central the first harvest is in ancient mythology. Many of the oldest deities in history were grain gods, including the Sumerian Tammuz and the Babylonian Adonis, the Greek Attis, and, even Dionysus. Even more famous are the grain goddesses such as the Greek Demeter and Norse Freya. Many of the stories about these gods center around the theme of death and resurrection. When Tammuz is slained by another god and descend into the underworld, all nature ceases to function and reproduce. It is not until he is brought back by his beloved Ishtar that life – meaning love – returns to the world. The myth of the Demeter and her daughter Persephone, tells a similar story. As Persephone is kidnapped by the love-struck lord of the underworld, her furious mother orders nature to stop bearing fruits. To please the grain goddess, Zeus allows for Persephone to return to the world of the living for eight months every year.
These myths poetically illustrate the passing of the seasons and man’s complete dependence on nature. The harvest feeds us. The grains are a promise that the universe is on our side, that by some divine grace, we are allowed to continue our existence for yet another year. The life-cycle of the male and female deity in Wicca (an abstraction of the principles of all mythology: the balance between the male and female principle) is an allegory of the turning of the seasons. The corn mother, a figurine made from a bundle of grain, is a traditional Lammas symbol showing the goddess in her maturity. The young goddess, The corn maiden, appear on pagan altars in early spring during the celebration of Imbolc.
The cycle of the year is approaching it’s halfway mark, and autumn draws near as the days become shorter. The first fruits of our spring labor is ripening and it is time to reap what we have sown, literally and proverbially. Lammas is an occasion to think about what you have been working towards this year, and to be thankful, and grateful, for the journey and the labor that is life. Feast on your first harvest and perform a ritual to renew your commitment to the path you’re on. Trust that your work will generate more fruits this fall. Commit to your life. Appreciate what you have. Trust in the future.
At the beginning of this year I vowed to force myself out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, and I did, albeit in a different and more profound way than I anticipated back in January. The pandemic has reminded us that we are not in control. It teaches us to be patient and prepared to adapt to new circumstances. If we commit to change, new possibilities will open up. Covid-19 helped me commit to a dramatic change in lifestyle by giving me the energy to follow through with a much-needed update of my living situation. For a long time I hesitated to leave the city life, even though I no longer utilized the proximity to nightlife and culture, and struggled to convert my downtown apartment into a forest cottage. We all change. We all go through phases in our lives where we long for something different and want to cultivate new aspects of ourselves.
When the lock down hit Canada I began searching for a place to live outside the city, and just days before midsummer, I moved to a house with a large overgrown yard. It was strange and a bit scary at first, but as summer went on I planted flowers, herbs and vegetables and continued to deepen my spiritual connection with nature just by spending so much time outside. I had feared restriction and isolation, but instead found a new sense of freedom and belonging. When you follow your heart and make yourself happy, that happiness quickly spreads. My cat is happier and healthier than ever now that she can run around in the grass and hunt insects. My man loves to BBQ and a whole family of bees, butterflies, birds, squirrels and wild rabbits now live and thrive in our little enchanted forest. In the past months, I have witnessed a change in seasons that I never experienced in the city. Nature is full of patterns, signs, and omens, and to live in the middle of this is incredibly meaningful.
An outdoor herbal ritual
I dedicated my Lammas ritual to staying committed to the life that I have created for myself: to house and home, to family, and to work. I prayed for healing where it’s needed and for continued abundance and prosperity in all areas of life. For me, a ritual is something spontaneous and fun , a playful experiment. The more I aim for the perfect timing, perfect setting, perfect tools etc. the less likely I am to perform the ritual. Like with every other project in life, just do it. Do it now. Don’t plan, get started and learn as you go. A ritual is playtime for the child within. It brings joy to the soul and it is a way of taking action: by performing a ritual we do something to reach our goals which encourages us to do more.
For my Lammas ritual a made a simple sachet from a piece of cotton cloth I had lying around and some natural fiber yarn. Then I collected herbs and plants from my garden that corresponded with my intentions: cedar, clover, basil, mint, thyme and lavender. I put the bag on my outdoor altar, enchanted the herbs, called the quarters and prayed an improvised prayer. Afterwards, I carried the bag to a place with soil, dug a small hole, poured the herbs into it and covered the hole again. The ritual was simply a way of “re-planting” my wishes, dreams and commitments, and encourage them to grow stronger and continue to manifest.
Pauline Campanelli: Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life (1989,2019), Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions (1991, 2019)
Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials: Lughnasadh: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Lammas (2015)