Tag Archives: Lughnasadh

First Harvest

This is not, I think, what the ancestors intended.

Just sitting in my backyard, drinking a glass of lemonade, on the first reasonably cool morning I’ve seen in a while, and simply watching the world go by, is not exactly what I think of when the celtic festival of Lughnasadh comes to mind.

I’ve always thought of it as more of a “working holiday”, with everyone busting ass to bring in the first grains of the season, performing all the mechanical alchemy that turns raw grain into flour, and then the truly ‘High Magic’ that renders freshly baked bread unto a formerly barren world.  Meanwhile, those not otherwise engaged in the sacred rites of food preparation begin to gather in the newly clear fields, to compete with each other in contests of strength, endurance and athletic finesse.

To be fair though, my particular ancestors never had to deal with Texas heat.

And they knew what they were contributing to their community, they could see, touch, feel and even taste the things they produced.  A celebration of the first harvest was a culmination of their own efforts and the benevolence of the land upon which they worked their lives.

For many of us, in this age, the day to day yield of our efforts is a little more difficult to see.

First Harvest?

We can sit on a cool morning under the shade of the oaks, looking through the blooming echinacea, out over the cats playing in the grass and the birds taking turns at the feeder, past the workshop which is nearing completion and out to the stands of honeysuckle which are consuming the white trellis I built for them.  The bushes in the back need trimming (again) and the mosquitoes are buzzing, but there’s always something needs doing and there are always those moments, however brief, when we can choose to let those chores and distractions go for a while, and just savor the moment for what it is.

A celebration of everything that brought you this far.

I wish a joyous Lughnasadh to you all.

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First Harvest

When they chose the site for their new home, they were careful to pick a lot that sat on the edge of the development.  They didn’t want to be completely surrounded by a sea of homes that all looked like a variation on their own.  In mornings to come, they would look out from their second floor bedroom windows, out over the privacy fence that bordered the backyard and the swimming pool, and they would see tractors working the earth in the farmers fields that lie just beyond.

And for a time, they did just that.  Waking to a view of golden fields stretching out before them to meet the shadow of the distant trees which rose up on the horizon.

A year passed…, perhaps two.

The tractors came less frequently.

The once carefully tilled rows lay fallow.

And then the earth-moving equipment arrived and the fields were consumed by streets and yards and houses that all looked very much like their own.

And the young couple lamented the passing of something beautiful, and they thought to themselves, “maybe someday we’ll move to the country.”

Do you know this couple?

You must.

Because I’ve known at least a dozen of them, and all with the same story.

And it’s a story that I’ve heard told by others, about people I’ve never known, living through the same cliché.  There are so many of them out there, and I wonder if, when they all wake up each morning, do they pull back the curtains of their bedroom window and look out over row upon row of nearly identical rooftops, shingles glowing gold in the morning sun?

Farmland Under Threat

My family moved into the country when I was still in the Fourth Grade.  The house they built, on a Farm-to-Market road, west of Waxahachie Texas, sat upon a five-acre plot of land which was bordered on three sides by a cattle ranch and farmers fields.

I spent hours roaming those fields as a boy.

There were hills, and rocky ledges, and creeks that seemed to spit up fossil choked clumps of limestone at every twist and turn.  There was a giant fallen tree, which had been hollowed out by a swarm of bees and transformed into the largest natural hive I have ever seen.  There were snakes (rattlers and copperheads, along with many harmless species), skunks, opossums, armadillos, and at least one wandering bobcat who made random nighttime appearances.

Sometimes, in the earliest part of the morning, you could see deer moving silently by in the mist.

It only took a few weeks living there before the cries of the coyotes became a sound of comfort, rather than trepidation.

My parents were great travelers, and by the time we moved into the country, I had already visited many of the most spectacular natural environments in North America.  They taught me, early on, to love the natural world.

But it was living there, on a little patch of land surrounded by ranch and farm and wild, that I first began to learn about the cycles of birth and death and rebirth that are the heart of the human relationship with nature, and the thread upon which our survival rests.  And it was there that I first began to hear the spirits that lived and moved within the land.

And what other harvest could we have hoped for, from a five-acre plot of land?

We raised chickens, who produced enough eggs to keep us in omelets.  There were a few rabbits, who quickly became pets.  A couple goats, who quickly became pets.  A pair of sheep…, pets.  And occasionally a garden – tomatoes, okra, string beans, radishes, pumpkins, and a few stalks of corn, on a plot maybe 30ft square.

Oh and we had a pear tree which produced more fruit than we could eat, and an apple, that never produced any.

Meanwhile the rest of the acreage was dedicated to a yearly crop of prairie grass, bluebonnets, and chiggers.

Our land had no other purpose, than to be a place where we lived, a refuge away from the city.

If our only purpose in living in a place, is to avoid living in another place, what kind of relationship can we hope to have with the land?  As individuals?  As a people?

Country Dawn

Today, I live in an old house, on a small lot, in a neighborhood that has been around since the early days of the 1950’s.  There are beautiful trees, and gardens, and the houses all have character to them, and no two of them look exactly alike.  The elderly lady next door grows a few vegetables in her little backyard garden, and the people at the end of the block have chickens – but it’s too bright here, and the roosters crow through the whole night.

I chose this area specifically, because even though it’s a little rough around the edges, it’s an older, very lived-in community, and still just a 10-minute drive from a thriving downtown.

I do miss the country, sometimes.  I miss the clear night skies and the nearby sounds of wildlife.

Occasionally, I imagine myself living in some rustic mountain cabin.

Or maybe I could find some rough and tumble little patch in the west of Ireland…,

…someplace to set down roots, at last.

The days are slipping by quickly now, and Lughnasadh is upon me again.

The ancient Irish Festival of the First Harvest is a remembrance of a time when people lived their lives in preparation for that first harvest.  This holy day must seem like a relic, in a time when every crop is available, year round, in the local grocery, and the land has become this thing we live on but never speak to.

We need a better harvest.

We need a generation of people who will listen to the voices in the earth.

We need to discover our purpose in the land.

I need to discover its purpose in me.

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Sacred Space: Back to the Altar

Altar Cup and Book

The Sun rises, its light breaking through the naked trees and piercing the heavy bedroom curtains I have drawn against the dawn.  The patterns of branches in a golden glow sway against the cloth, inviting me to step out into the morning, promising warmth and comfort in the dawning of a new day.

These are lies.

Yes, the lizard on his rock would tell you that the Sun’s rays are all the warmth one could ever need, if that is, he were not frozen to that rock in the 20°F air.

It’s cold out there folks!

It’s winter in Texas, and while we may not have to deal with snowplows and the like, it is too damned cold to be doing much of anything outside this morning.  And this from someone who likes the cold, and abhors the sweltering heat of Summer that all my friends and neighbors are already crying out for the return of.

The winter chill, drives us indoors and away from any outdoor project that is not of critical importance.  And so, by necessity, my backyard temple/shrine project has been very much on the back-burner these past several weeks.

AltarCandle

Oh sure, there are things I could be doing – out there.  But I want this project to be a ‘labor of love’ and quite honestly, I find no benevolent inspiration in the numbing of my fingers.

Also, there is the small matter of a recently cracked rib.  Which is, itself, another story and entirely beside the point I was trying to make.

It is enough to say that the cold weather does exactly what it is supposed to do.  It drives us home, and to the sacred hearth, if we have one.

If my small house had a fireplace, it would be dressed as the primary place of worship – the very heart of the home.

Altar Cernunnos

Lacking that, I have instead, a small altar – the expression of Sacred Space within my home.

It is spare, at the moment, in reflection of the Winter season.

It changes in design and content with the passing of each Celtic feast day.

The altar will begin to bloom again with the coming of Imbolc.  It will grow wild and chaotic in Beltane’s passing, and will take on rich, golden hues when Lughnasadh holds sway.

Altar Base

With Samhain, comes the season of closure, of sleep, and of the sacred balance between the light of life and warmth, and the darkness and the cold that lie just beyond.

There is no particular arrangement to my altar.  The sacred geometry of that space reveals itself to me each season, as I dress it anew.  Next winter, it will doubtless look very different, than it does today.

Altar Morrigan

There are some constants of course…,

There are the images of the primary gods and goddesses of my worship…,

There is the great book, where I will record the myths and traditions that shape my belief…,

A cup, for libations and sacrifice…,

A candle against the darkness…,

A sphere of gold-sheen obsidian, to represent the blackest night, and the promise of light that hides even there…,

And, of course, there is the sickle, Druids’ blade and harvest tool, its razor crescent turned outward in warning, because the harvest is done, and this is the season when the Earth bites back!

Altar Geometry

All this, and more, set upon a heavy wooden frame.  Totem and tool, symbol and sacrifice, a physical expression of the sacred, as warming to me as a roaring fire.

It is a place to go, when driven inward by the cold.

The deceitful Sun is moving higher into the air now, and I have much yet to do, this day.  Some of those errands will drive me out into that hard, bright chill, and I will bring the warmth of the gods with me into the day, and then back again.

Back to the altar.

****

This is the sixth post in a series following my progress (or often, lack thereof) in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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And with the rain…,

Lughnasadh dawned cool and cloudy here in north Texas.  I didn’t feel any raindrops fall, but the leaves on the trees were wet and it smelled like rain nonetheless.

If you read my post from last week, then you know that it was exactly the sort of morning I had wished for.  And Lughnasadh, one of the four great festivals in the Celtic calendar, is a day for wishing.

We look forward to these days and we hope for good fortune.

We step out into the morning, look up at the glowering clouds, and sniff the air.

All the signs are there; the rain is coming.

And with the rain, as always, comes change.

Because that’s what these days are about, yes?

Holidays, Holy Days and Festivals of all description, we tell ourselves that we hold to them because they are things of tradition.  The regularity with which they come is a comfort to us.  We carry these rituals forward from those who came before us.  We pass them along to our children and grandchildren, hoping to preserve something of ourselves in the face of a world that changes around us every second.

And we get it wrong.

Because the purpose of these days is not to forestall change, but to highlight it, to mark its passing and celebrate each new beginning.  Our ancestors knew this, but we are sometimes very poor students.  So many of us become depressed as the holidays approach, and often these feelings are a reaction to change.  We want everything to be just as it was in years past, but that sameness was never the intent of these celebrations.

Change is the constant.

The world moves beneath us, rotating, revolving, cooling and warming.

Life evolves over millions of years and culture in the blink of an eye.

We change and grow as individuals, our needs and hopes shifting day by day.

And our relationships with each other are transformed along the way.

The sun rises and sets for all things.

Raindrops

We are not the same people we were yesterday.

And a year ago, or ten, who were we then?

They are ghosts now, those earlier versions of ourselves.

And although we still feel them out there, living their own lives in a time we can no longer touch, we do ourselves no favors by trying to live through them still.  We must focus instead on the hear and the now.

We have been living in the past, she and I, holding on to our particular traditions and routines in the hope that we could preserve something precious against a world of change.

But life doesn’t work that way.

Change must come and we must choose to either celebrate it, or fight against it and ultimately lose all that which we worked so hard to protect.

And so we will embrace the changes that have wrought us, changes which bring us to this time and and this place in our lives.  We will walk forward as friends, once lovers, always family, and we will never fear what comes with the rain.

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When it rains at Lughnasadh

We have come to that time of year when I would usually avoid even thinking about the weather forecast.  It’s the height of Summer in Texas and that usually means a long blistering stretch of 100° days.  I find that looking at “cheery” graphics of big yellow suns and triple digit numbers spilling out into the foreseeable future, is an exhausting exercise and should be avoided.

Texas Summer Forecast

And yet, so far, this summer has been refreshingly mild, with some days in the upper 80’s and lower 90’s breaking up the usual summer tedium.  And so, I have been a bit more willing to look at those 10-day weather forecasts, than is my habit.

And that’s how I came to see this…,

Lughnasadh Forcast

 

Oh, sweet mercy, the weather people are calling for cooling temperatures and a reasonable chance of showers at the turn of the month.  There could actually be rain at Lughnasadh!

Okay, I’m not going to hold my breath – it’s a 10-day forecast in Texas where you are lucky to be able to predict what the weather will be like minutes, much less days ahead of time.

But still, just that slim chance has given me something to look forward to.

I am NOT a Summer person.  At least, not the way we do summers around here.

I don’t like the heat.

I don’t like the glare of that wretched fireball hovering in a cloudless sky.

For all my love of the natural world, this time of year usually makes me want to shut myself away someplace cool and dark.  My door is closed, the window shades are drawn down.  If possible, I’ll avoid going outside, or even looking outside, until the sun has dipped below the horizon.

It’s not a very Pagan attitude, I know.  It’s not “nature friendly”.

-shrug-

At this time of year I don’t feel that ‘nature’ is very friendly towards me.

I need a place that is both natural and sheltered from the Texas heat.

Maybe a cave!

Caves are natural, and dark, and usually cool, and always great fun to explore.

We need more caves in North Texas.

I seem to recall reading about a few caves in Ireland that are important during the Lughnasadh season…, but I can’t seem to find the references I was looking for.

Hmmmm…,

What I do know is that rain on Lughnasadh, the ancient Irish celebration of the first harvest, is considered a good omen.

Maybe this is true, simply because drought seldom leads to bountiful harvests, and a little rain suggests that our crops will not “die on the vine”.

Or perhaps it is because Lugh (for whom the day is named), while often considered a solar deity, was likewise associated with storms, his “flashing light” being the variety that comes before the thunder.  As always, attempting to pigeonhole the Celtic gods into particular roles, is a dangerous business.

Whatever his nature, I am hopeful for a bit of rain, a freshening breeze, and a reprieve from the oppressive heat of the season.

Lughnasadh has always been that one holy day on the calendar that is most difficult for me to celebrate.  Everyone seems to be doing something else, and I don’t want to do anything at all.  It comes around again and again, like a spiritual flat spot in the great wheel of the year, a sudden jolt, shaking both my focus and dedication.

It is difficult even for me to write about.

I feel, at these times, as if I am incomplete.

Yet I love three out of the four seasons, is that not enough?!

Lugh,
If you hear me,
I seek no portents of gain.

Lugh,
Simply bless me,
And let me walk in the rain.

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Lugh: A Prelude

Lughnasadh, the Celtic celebration of the first harvest, arrives this week, and I could not be more busy.  It’s my own fault, after a fashion.  I requested a couple days off from work this week, to celebrate the holiday, but I didn’t want to sacrifice any of my vacation time in the process, and as a result my work schedule has been unforgiving.

I had intended to post a retelling of one of my favorite stories from Irish mythology, “Lugh at the Gate” in which the god is kept waiting outside the gates of Tara while the Tuatha dé Danann consider the finer point of his résumé.  Time, however, has not been on my side, and the story, told from the perspective of a curious bird who watches the proceedings, is still happily rewriting itself in my brain.

And so, all I have to share with you this week, is this:

Lugh: Pen & Ink

This (not quite finished) illustration, in ink on paper, is of the god Lugh.  It’s a little rough, but it’s been a while since I worked in this medium, and I’ve never done so using a quill-pen, which I insist on doing when working in my codex.

What goes on the rest of the page, and the pages around it?  Perhaps the same story I had hoped to post here.  Or maybe something else.

In the back of my mind I hear a ritual chant growing, a celebration of the talents of the “Many Skilled God.”

The spirit is there and the inkwell is full.  I need only the time.

A blessed Lughnasadh to you all!

 

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Lughnasadh and the Games of Summer

There are those who absolutely live for Summer.  They thrive in the long sunny days, shedding as much of their clothing as modesty (or the law) will allow, to bask more fully in the solar radiance that dominates this time of year.

I am NOT one of them.

I do not like the heat and I never have.  I am a creature born for cooler climates.  This particular turning of the yearly solar cycle weighs upon me like a penance, a nearly endless stretch of long sweaty days, standing resolute between me and the cooling relief of Autumn.

Perhaps this is why I have always had difficulty putting as much enthusiasm into my celebrations of Lughnasadh as I do the other holy days of the Celtic ritual calendar.

Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-NAH-sa and meaning Feast of Lugh) is the Celtic celebration of the ripening of the first fruits of the harvest season.  Traditionally, the celebration begins at sundown on the evening of July 31st with a bonfire and sacrificial feast after which would come days spent berry-picking on hilltops, visiting holy wells and general merrymaking.

All of which sounds wonderful in a temperate climate like the one that Ireland enjoys.  Here in Texas the high temperature today is expected to be around 106° F.  Sorry, but berry picking and bonfires are the last things on my mind just now.

Happily, there is one tradition associated with Lughnasadh that does have me excited this year.  The Summer Olympics have returned to us after four long years!  And how, you may ask, can I possibly find an association between the Olympic Games and a little known Irish harvest festival?

To answer that I must briefly recount the origins of the Feast of Lugh.

Áenach Tailteann

In the ancient days before mortal men came to Ireland there were two great races of beings which vied for control of that land.  These were the Firbolg who had settled Ireland in an earlier age and the Tuatha De Danann who arrived in a shadowy mist and made war upon the FirBolg.  Eventually, all but a few of the Firbolg were driven away to the rocky shores and islands of the western sea.

Of those who remained, Tailtiu was among the most beloved.  She had been a great queen among her people and still held sway over the wild forests and valleys of Ireland.  It is said that she was asked by the Ever-Living Ones to clear away the forests so that the fields could be used as farmland to support the people.  Through her effort the wilds were cleared away and made ready for the plow but doing so broke her heart and brought her to her deathbed.

In this way, it is said that Tailtiu, a goddess of the untamed nature and wilderness of Ireland, became the foster mother of mighty Lugh, a hero and king among the Tuatha De Danann and a god of agriculture.  As she lay dying, Tailtiu bid her foster son to hold ceremonial games on the newly cleared ground so that her immortal sacrifice might be remembered for all time.

And so it was that Lugh declared that, on the anniversary of the first harvest, people of every tribe and nation would be welcome to gather at the place of her power in what is now County Meath, for the Áenach Tailteann (Taillten Fair).  For the span of the celebration neither war nor bloodshed would be tolerated.  Instead, friendly competition in feats of strength, martial arts and Horse Racing would accompany the religious rites which honor the turning of the wheel from the growing season to harvest.

When mortal men displaced the Tuatha De Danann as masters of Ireland the Taillten Fair continued and the day of the first harvest was made holy to Lugh who’s memorial to Tailtiu is remembered even to this day.

Now it shouldn’t be very difficult to see the many parallels between the games of the Taillten Fair and the Olympics of ancient Greece.

Both games were celebrated at the bidding of the gods.  It was the Greek demigod Heracles who is said to have decreed that on every fourth year a contest of strength and skill should be held among men as a tribute to his father Zeus looking down from high Olympus.  While many of the polytheistic associations in the modern Olympic Games have been scrubbed away in deference to the squeamish monotheist sensibilities of Christian and Muslim participants, the pagan origins of the Games are hard to ignore.

Now THIS is what I call a ritual flame!

Historically, we know that the Taillten Fairs continued from at least the 6th century BCE until the 12th century of the common era when the Norman invasion put a stop to them.  The Olympics of Greece are believed to have had their start in 776 BCE and continued until 393 CE when they were discontinued under Christian influence.  Both the Olympics and the Taillten Fair have seen many modern attempts to recapture their former glory, but the modern Olympic Movement (beginning with the 1896 games in Athens, Greece) has seen the most profound success.

Both games featured a mandatory truce of war in favor of friendly athletic competition between tribes/states that may otherwise have been blood rivals.  Participants in the games of the Taillten Fair were judged as much on their sportsmanship as they were their physical skill and accomplishment.  That ethic of good sportsmanship is continued in the Modern Olympics although it is sad to say that some always seem to fall short of the ideals express in the Olympic Oath.

The Taillten Fair as it was, is lost to us, possibly forever.  But I feel that the spirit of those games and the promise made by Lugh continues today.  The ideals of the Olympic Games, so similar in spirit and purpose to the Áenach Tailteann, live on in the hearts of those who love them.

And I count myself among their number.

I have watched the games since I was a child and have always felt a deep enthusiasm upon their return.

I am always curious to see what the host nation will do during the opening ceremonies.    Although I have a special affection for the Athens Games with their attention to the Olympian pantheon, I must say that London did not disappoint in spectacle.  During the Parade of Nations I was particularly moved to see the flags of the many participating nations planted in a replica of Glastonbury Tor (which the Celts of Britain once called the Isle of Glass).

National Flags on the Glastonbury Tor

On Tuesday as the Sun sets, Lughnasadh begins.  I will clean and redress my altar and make proper sacrifice to the gods.  I will eat a light meal (the heat always makes me peckish at this time of year) and light a candle in their honor.

Look for me on Wednesday and you will find me glued to the television watching as much Olympics coverage as I can handle.  In the days to come I will root for Team U.S.A. and the small team from Ireland as well as underdogs from countries where sponsors and training facilities are few.  They are all Olympians who carry on an ancient and sacred tradition.  They each deserve their chance to bask in the glory of victory and to thrive in the Sun.

In that spirit I wish a safe and joyous Lughnasadh to you all.

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