Tag Archives: Summer

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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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Nature, The Gods, Traditions

Beyond “the Pail”

I must beg the indulgence the grammarians and the history buffs among my readers.  I know very well that the proper term is “Beyond the Pale”.

A “pail” is a metal bucket.  “The Pale” is something else entirely.

The roots of the term go back at least as far as the 14th Century.  In those times a “pale” was what we would think of now as a “fence post” or even a “picket”.  Essentially, a pale was a white stake, driven into the ground to form a border.  Over time, that definition grew and “pale” went from meaning a single post, to an entire fence, and then finally it came to encompass the area contained within that fence.

Ireland Beyond The PaleSpecifically, “Beyond the Pale” refers to that area outside of the city of Dublin, during the English occupation.  The area “Within the Pale” was considered to be cultured and respectable.  English society dominated, and the people behaved appropriately, following the rules of polite society like good little citizens.

In other words: everyone did what they were told.

Beyond the Pale and outside the range of the Crown’s ready authority, things were not always quite so ordered.  Folks might act against the agreed upon societal norms.  People from Beyond the Pale were seen as little more than simple bumpkins, too uneducated to understand the many personal benefits of upright, civil society.

So why then, did I entitle this piece, “Beyond the Pail”?

Because, after a sting of miserably hot days, I woke up this Sunday morning to a beautiful light rain and temperatures that were flirting with the upper 60’s F.  Having the day off from work, I felt compelled to skip my normal, hurried breakfast, and embarked instead, on a pleasant stroll through my neighborhood.

A refreshing breeze, a glowering sky, and the feel of cool raindrops on my brow, have been known to inspire strange and sometimes rebellious thoughts in my mind.

On this morning, as I wandered through the gentle patter of an unexpected summer shower, the thought that came to me was this…,

———

Imagine that as a child, you were given a bucket.  At first, the bucket was empty and you carried it around with you at ease, hardly remembering that you had it at all.  Over time, however, you started to add to it.  Your tiny hands grasp at a favorite new toy and a single drop of water plinks down against the dry metal bottom of the pail.  Your new clothes, your games, your books, your friends…,

Plink.

Plink.

Plonk.

Splash!

Now we have a layer of water at the bottom.  We can hear it sloshing around when we move, and our elders warn us, ever so gently, to be careful.  We wouldn’t want any spill over the sides.  The water is precious and should never go to waste!

And so we hold our buckets a little more tightly, and we go on about out lives.

We grow up.  We become serious.  We learn the rules.

Along the way we will go to school, get a job, buy some stuff, land a better job, buy yet more stuff, and eventually find a mate, because that is what we are supposed to do.

And still —trickle-trickle-trickle— we are always adding to that bucket.

Now it has become heavy, the strain of it, a constant burden.  The handle bites deeply into the flesh of our hands and our arms begin to ache with the weight of it.  Yet, we couldn’t think of setting it down, even for a moment.  We’ve gathered too much to risk spilling any of it now!  Desperate, we clutch the bucket to ourselves, holding it against our chests with our arms wrapped around its cold, tin shell.

Eventually, the bucket is filled nearly to the brim and we must take every step with great care.  We nearly stumble and grit our teeth in frustration as precious water sloshes over the rim.  The uncomfortable damp of loss spreads downward through our clothes, mixing with the sweat of our labor.

We glance upward for a moment, to see if the others have noticed our slip.

Until now, most of our attention has been focused downward, upon our own wavering reflection and the ever decreasing distance between the waters edge and the curled metal lip which retains it.

And now?  Looking up, beyond the pail, we see everyone else, our neighbors, our friends and family, all of them struggling with their own buckets, desperate to not lose a single drop of what belongs to them.

———

We live in an age where the greatest focus is on the self.

We work as many hours as possible so that we can afford our creature comforts, which mostly sit unused while we work to afford still more.  When we have finished our eating and our buying and find that we have money left over we deem it “disposable income” and spend it on the things that we don’t really need, but want anyway.

Old Tin BucketWe fill our buckets while others go thirsty, while the world burns down around us, and we excuse our own greed by saying that “those people” should have worked harder.  We could point them out, easily enough, the lazy ones, and the unlucky, who want little more than to take what is ours.

No, that would be impolite.

Also, these buckets are quite heavy and we need both hands to carry them.

Or maybe we could do something different, something unexpected.

Perhaps, just for a change, we could put our buckets down and rest our weary backs for a moment.  It might actually do us some good to get away from our own reflections for a while, to actually look at the people and the world around us.

Would it hurt to think a little less about what we “want” as opposed to what others “need”?

Does anyone have a dipper for these buckets?
Did they hand those out as well and we just forgot about them?

What if we shared what we have collected with our brothers and sisters and what if they shared with us; would we even need the damn buckets anymore?

Can you imagine, just for a moment, what would happen if we just heaved all of it into the air (the water – not the buckets), just gave it all back and let it rain down, watering the Earth around us?  I wonder what miracles we could grow?

———

These are the thoughts I entertain, while walking in the rain on a cool summer morning.

I only wish I hadn’t been alone out there.

The streets I walked were deserted.

I suppose my neighbors were taking an easy morning in the comfort of their homes, or attending their various Sunday morning services.

I can’t help but think that we might all be better off if more of them had been out on the street, sharing the simple joy of a rainy morning and the view of the world outside the rim of their buckets and beyond the pale.

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Filed under Culture, Ireland, Modern Life, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

Seeking my inner patriot.

Perhaps you have heard of “Christmas Depression”.

It’s a fairly well known condition that seems to be caused by a combination of lowering winter daylight levels and increased social pressures associated with the holiday season.  In other words: you already feel miserable and everyone’s expectation that you should feel “jolly” only manages to make things worse.

I’ve seen polls that show almost half of the population has experienced these “holiday doldrums” to some degree.

Typically, as the holiday season recedes, and the days grow longer through the seasonal shift from winter to spring to summer, the depression also dulls, replaced by a happier attitude.

In rare cases, this cycle seems to be reversed and longer days bring darker moods.

So here it is…,

I have a hard time with Independence Day.

There, I admitted it, and it’s not an easy admission to make.

There are so many pressures to get out there and furiously wave our little flags and declare for all to hear our unabashed love of country.

Are you not grateful for the many freedoms you possess?

Have you no honor for the thousands who have died to defend your liberty?

Have you no national pride?

And I do feel some measure of pride to be sure, but it is a pride more focused on the individual than on the institution.  I am proud of those who have, over the years, stood up and fought against a system that seems hell-bent on denying liberty and equal-rights to all.  Yet, for every measure of pride I feel, there is a much greater quantity of sorrow and shame that these battles must be fought at all.

And then fought again, and again, and again.

As I sit up through the late hours of the evening to watch a woman filibuster the Texas legislature, whatever pride I feel in her efforts is overwhelmed by disgust as I watch lawmakers breaking their own rules and then falsifying their own records in an attempt to ram through a law that their constituents never asked for and which is itself, a lie of the worst order.

When, on the following morning, I hear the happy news that DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court, my pleasure is tempered as scores of religious demagogues begin to shout and bluster that the end-times must truly be upon us.

Sorry folks, the combination of dirty, religion soaked politics and blistering Texas heat, do not put me in the mood for a heaping slice of apple pie.

And yet, I know that my spirits should be lifted in these days.

The forces arrayed against us may curse and cheat and wave their flags in our faces until the fabric begins to shred, but the smell coming off of them in these hot Summer days is not one of conviction.

It is the stink of fear.

As they begin to see more clearly that the tides turned are against them, that fear will only grow, and like our friends in Austin, they will do all they can to turn back the clock.

July 4th Parade

And so I say to all those who love the Summer sun, and who are roused by parades and picnics and the red, the white, and the blue, to you I wish a happy and peaceful Independence Day.

I will keep to myself in a nice shady spot, away from the crowds and the bluster.  Perhaps I will watch the fireworks from a distance, (it’s the one tradition associated with this time of year that I have always enjoyed) and I will do my best not to rain on anyone’s parade.

Oh, but gods, what I wouldn’t give for a nice refreshing rain, just about now!

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Filed under Holidays, Modern Life, Politics

…and the rent is due.

The Dingle Coast

I would bring him bundles of rushes from the waters edge.
Carry them by hand to the high place, stony Barrule, overlooking the sea.
For Midsummer Eve has come and Manannán awaits his payment.

Only, I am far from those shores.
Arid winds bend prairie grass like waves on an earthen sea,
I am stranded here, landlocked — and the rent is due.

Cliffs at Loop Head

Standing on the very brink of thundering wave and stone,
I have opened my arms, buoyed by winds sweeping from far Emain Ablach.
Lifted a moment, from the rocky cliff, like the Heron King taking flight.

I cling to memories of a rugged coast,
As I choke on the fumes of engines going nowhere.
I am stranded here, landlocked — and the rent is due.

The Tides of Kilkee

As the rising tide sends plumes of white foam into the air,
The sea god’s wife approaches, her soothing kiss, lingering upon my cheek.
They call her Fand, which means “teardrop”, and she tastes like the sea.

We carry the ocean, like a memory, flowing within us.
Weeping, we give it back again, carried home on the Summer breeze.
I am stranded here, landlocked — and the rent is due.

Nothing makes me yearn for the coasts and mountains of Ireland, quite so much as Summer in Texas.  Although this weeks solstice marks the longest day of the year, we know all too well that the hottest days are yet to come.

There has been a tradition on the Isle of Man (that small Celtic nation nestled almost exactly between Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales) that each year, on Midsummer Eve, the Manx would pay their rent (a token sacrifice of rushes or sweet grass) to Manannán mac Lir, the ancient Celtic god of the seas, to whom the island belongs.  I am told that this tradition survived well into the 19th century, if it is not still practiced by a few today.

I hope, one day soon, to make that pilgrimage myself.  I have languished for too long, allowing material limitations and self-imposed obligations to strand me, landlocked, in this spiritually parched domain.  I need only a strong current, a sturdy sail, and the blessings of the ocean god.

Let the tides take me where they will.

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Filed under Holidays, Ireland, Mythology, Photography, Poetry, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Traditions

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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Filed under Modern Life, Mythology, Religion, Sports, The Gods, Traditions