First Harvest of Many Names

Sunflowers in my yard

This has been an extremely hot summer for me in Southern California, relieved only through a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where it rained and had moderate temperatures for the duration of my visit. I stopped for two nights in Sedona, Arizona, where the day temperatures reflected home, reaching 106° on Thursday. And as I crossed the desert between Phoenix and home yesterday, my car recorded temperatures above 125° in some places. Summer nights are majickal for me, but the triple digit heat of the day can be oppressive. On the rare, cooler days, I wonder at the colors in my garden and celebrate its abundance, marveling at the sunflowers that planted themselves and have taken over a corner of the yard.

Most people think of this as the middle of summer, counting the season as starting with the Solstice in June. In the Pagan Wheel of the Year, today is the first day of Autumn. No matter which perspective I take, I am happy that we are experiencing shorter days and are moving, however slowly, toward cooler temperatures.

Today marks the traditional Celtic holiday of Lughnasadh, or in some traditions, Tailtiúnasa or Lammas, which is celebrated near sunset on August 1 or 2.  It is a festival associated with the first harvest. I don’t know about my readers, but I have never seen wheat harvested. In fact, I am not sure I have seen it growing. I have seen fields of corn, having lived in Indiana one hot humid summer. The closest thing I have seen that looks like a harvest is a Farmer’s Market. I think we all can relate to that.

Those who call it Lughnasadh (generally pronounced “loonsaw,” and loosely translated, “the assembly of Lugh”) are celebrating the god Lugh. The holiday is mentioned in early Irish literature dating back to 7th century CE. During the middle ages, a truce was declared on this holiday, which included athletic contests, matchmaking, food markets, livestock sales, horse races, music, storytelling, settling of disputes, and of course, feasting.

Others say that the celebration represents a funeral rite Lugh held for his mother or stepmother Tailtiú. Tailtiú is said to have prepared the Irish plains for planting but died of exhaustion. Dianic witches celebrate this day it with the name Tailtiúnasa in memory of her. And “Lammas” is said to be a corruption of “loaf mass,” a church tradition associated with this summer time  in which farmers would bake bread, take it to the church to be blessed, then divide into four pieces to be placed in the corners of a barn to guard against pests. As with Christmas and Easter, pagan celebrations found their way into the Christian church.

I prefer to call today the Harvest of Gaia, because she is the personification of the earth and because all life comes from the Great Mother. Goddesses typically associated with this day include Demeter, Ceres, and Persephone. Interestingly, these are all Greek goddesses. In Celtic mythology, Aine is associated with summer, Anu is a goddess of the earth, and Macha is associated with the land and fertility; none, however, gave their name to this day.

Whatever you wish to call it, today is for celebrating. Were we not in the middle of this pandemic, I would be setting out a feast for family and friends. I would play lively music for people to dance to, and there would be games to play. I would ask each person to bring a token of their profession or vocation to brag a little about what they do and to be blessed in doing it well in the future. We would make corn dollies to thank Gaia for the harvest as well as to bring us health and good luck. I would have each person express their gratitude for things that had happened this year and their hopes for the remainder.

The food table would be decorated with corn and wheat and sunflowers, and my statue of Gaia would grace a central place on it. A boline knife, which is shaped like a scythe, would be a reminder of the harvest season. There would be candles in the harvest colors of red, orange, yellow, green, brown, and gold. There would be freshly baked breadstuffs, fruits and vegetables from the garden, and honey wine. In a way, it would be like a Thanksgiving meal without the turkey stupor and football.

Tonight, as I celebrate this holiday with my witchy friends, my altar will reflect many of the things my table would were I with my family and friends. I will wear a crown of sunflowers and the colors of summer. We will welcome Gaia using this invocation:

Great Goddess of the Earth, Mother of all that we are
Gaia be honored and welcomed to this circle
Bless our time together
Let our celebration reflect all the wonders that you are
We are grateful for the harvest and for the gifts of your body
You nourish us
You replenish us
You sustain us
We cherish this earth you have given us
We are saddened by those who would abuse you
Grant us courage to be protectors of you as you are of us
Gracious Gaia, empower us
As we work our will

Since sunflowers are associated with summer and harvest, providing both beauty and food, working a spell with them is timely. Sunflowers are associated with loyalty (because they are believed to face the sun all day), facing the light, happiness, prosperity, and good luck. Some believe that if you place a sunflower under a pillow you will dream of the future. Others believe if you make a wish at sunset while cutting a sunflower in half, your wish will come true before the next sunset. I think it best to focus happiness and facing the light, particularly now when things seem bleak and even hopeless. This is my spell using a sunflower:

Flower of beauty that faces the light
Flower with petals so yellow and bright
Let me be one that emulates you
Grounded and rooted, glistening with dew
Let my face be turned to happy things
And to these let my soul cling
Though life may challenge and the path bend
You remind me that in time all things will mend
Like you I will turn my face toward the light
And remember in time all things will be bright

Summer is (theoretically) waning and the news is not particularly encouraging, but the fields are ripe with their crops, and the bread made from fresh grains is delicious. Eat, drink, and be as happy as you are able. Blessed be!

Mabon: A Time of Balance

The opening image is a 1902 painting by H. A. Brendekilde called A Wooded Path in Autumn. Public Domain,

Autumn Equinox arrives Monday. It is the official start of my favorite season. I love autumn. I love the changing of colors (mostly viewed in pictures), the crispness in the air (it will get here, I keep telling myself), the scents, pumpkins, Halloween decorations coming out… there’s not anything I can think of that I don’t like about this season. The image that I’ve used for this post is a perfect place—I would love to be on that path, dressed in clothes from another century, breathing the air filled with the scent of dying leaves trodden underfoot.

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Lughnasadh: The First Harvest

Imagine walking down a street in your neighborhood on an early August evening. For some reason, you’ve never been on this road before. Up ahead, you hear music and laughter. Walking on, you come to a dwelling that can only be called a cottage. The brick chimney is a little crooked, the slate shingles seem to undulate across the roof, and a blue door is open to admit visitors. Intrigued, you walk up an old brick path, lined by sunflowers, admiring those as well as the brilliant red geraniums that stand like sentinels beside the door. Wind chimes move in a gentle breeze to create soft whispers of music. As you approach, someone comes skipping out, saying “Welcome! Join us in a dance for Lughnasadh!” Intrigued, you decide to enter and discover more.

You travel through a cozy home marked by light and light breezes to a large yard where others have gathered. Soft green grass beckons you to remove your shoes as the others have done. It feels lovely on your feet, stalks emerging from between your toes. Musicians play a dancing tune, and a table groans under the weight of a feast, decorated by wheat stalks, corn, and fruits. Candles burn around the space, reflecting their orange, green, and brown wax. An altar is set up with different depictions of goddesses and gods, and small offerings of food and drink. And it looks as though there are things representing different kinds of work on the altar—a pad of paper with a pen, a stethoscope, a small shovel, a replica of a musical instrument, and so on. Another person greets you with a smile saying “Happy Lughnasadh!” After replying “And to you,” you find a chair and surrender yourself to this sacred moment.

Lughnasadh, or in some traditions, Tailtiúnasa or Lammas, is celebrated near sunset on August 1 or 2.  Those who call it Lughnasadh (loosely translated, the assembly of Lugh) are celebrating the Celtic god Lugh. Some say it commemorates Lugh’s wedding. Others say that the celebration represents a funeral rite Lugh held for his stepmother Tailtiú, who died of exhaustion after clearing Ireland’s fields so they could be planted. Dianic witches honor it with the name Tailtiúnasa in memory of the stepmother. “Lammas” is said to be a corruption of “loaf mass,” a church tradition associated with this summer time  in which farmers would bake bread, take it to the church to be blessed, then divide into four pieces to be placed in the corners of a barn to guard against pests.

Whatever you call it, on this holiday we celebrate the first harvest of wheat, corn, and other grains. Lugh was also said to be a many-skilled god, and so it is also a day to take note of your skills and applaud them. This is a cheerful, happy holiday, where people dance and sing even in the face of shorter days as the sun moves toward Autumn Equinox.

Falling approximately halfway between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox, this holiday is one of the cross-quarter holidays in the Pagan Wheel of the Year. The quarter holidays are associated with changes in the amount of daylight, and are Summer Solstice (Litha), Autumn Equinox (Mabon), Winter Solstice (Yule), and Spring Equinox (Ostara). The cross-quarter holidays fall at the approximate middle between the quarters. The other cross-quarter holidays are Samhain (October 31), Imbolc (February 2), and Beltane (May 1). At Awen’s Cauldron, we use the traditional words to describe pagan holidays as they are more readily recognizable.

Celebrate this holiday by gathering wheat sheaves, corn, and sunflowers to decorate your altar. A small bolline knife (shaped like a scythe) reminds you of the harvest season. Put figurines of your favorite sun deities on it. You can always draw from other traditions if you aren’t comfortable with the Celtic ones: Demeter (the Greek goddess of agriculture), Anuket (the Egyptian goddess of the Nile) are appropriate, as well as any representation of a goddess or god associated with the sun or skills. Take some time to bake bread or muffins from scratch to honor the harvest, and then place your baked goods on the altar. Make a corn dolly to represent the day (you can find a video on how to do that here: Use candles in gold, green and brown to represent the sun and earth. And be sure to put something on your altar that represents your skill. This is a time to brag a little about what you have harvested in yourself.

Summer is waning, but the sun still shines, the fields are ripe with their crops, and the bread made from fresh grains is delicious. Eat, drink, and be happy. Blessed be!