So Lammas/Lugnasadh is upon us… The wheel turns and the Harvest is here:
We have ploughed, we have sowed,
We have reaped, we have mowed,
We have brought home every load,
Hip, hip, hip, Harvest Home!
Now Lammas comes in, our harvest begin,
We have done our endeavours to get the corn in;
We reap and we mow
And we stoutly blow
And cut down the corn
That did sweetly grow …
A nice harvest of articles, poetry and links. A new poem from Laura Pendell…
On The Menu:
Nightmare – Laura Pendell
LAMMAS: The First Harvest
Harvest: Poetry for Lammas/Lugnasadh…
This is not about the nightmare you know it
the one you wake up from. Shaking, maybe screaming.
This is not about finding yourself in the middle
of a sidewalk without your clothes on.
About finding yourself on a ladder
falling over backwards into an abyss.
Or running down a street because something
is chasing you and no matter where you turn it’s still there.
And then you wake up.
This is about the children of south Lebanon.
The children of Qana, Tyre, Gemmayzeh, Beirut.
About two families who took shelter
in an abandoned building on a hillside above Qana.
They did not have money to hire a car to take them north.
This is about two Israeli air strikes an hour after midnight.
It’s about cement and sand and how it filled the mouths
of 37 children and 15 adults
pulled from the wreckage dead
where they had sought safety for the night.
This is about children who now live, if they’re lucky,
in underground garages turned into shelters.
Or in abandoned buildings, if they’re not.
Some sprawled half asleep on pieces of foam.
A curly-headed toddler still in diapers, sucking her thumb,
her mattress covered with blue flannel sheets
printed in yellow with the sun, the stars and the moon.
The ones I see in Kids’ Catalogs that flood my mailbox.
Bush, Blair, Ehud Olmert,
Nasrallah of the Hezbollah.
What do they dream?
I dream of the eyes of Lebanon’s children
who are living a nightmare from which there is no waking.
A little boy staring out at a world of broken buildings.
I don’t even know if he has parents anymore.
We are awake together.
-For the children of Lebanon-
– Laura Pendell
LAMMAS: The First Harvest
by Mike Nichols
It was upon a Lammas Night
When corn rigs are bonny,
Beneath the Moon’s unclouded light,
I held awhile to Annie…
Although in the heat of a Mid-western summer it might be difficult to discern, the festival of Lammas (Aug 1st) marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. The days now grow visibly shorter and by the time we’ve reached autumn’s end (Oct 31st), we will have run the gammut of temperature from the heat of August to the cold and (sometimes) snow of November. And in the midst of it, a perfect Mid-western autumn.
The history of Lammas is as convoluted as all the rest of the old folk holidays. It is of course a cross-quarter day, one of the four High Holidays or Greater Sabbats of Witchcraft, occuring 1/4 of a year after Beltane. It’s true astrological point is 15 degrees Leo, but tradition has set August 1st as the day Lammas is typically celebrated. The celebration proper would begin on sundown of the previous evening, our July 31st, since the Celts reckon their days from sundown to sundown.
However, British Witches often refer to the astrological date of Aug 6th as Old Lammas, and folklorists call it Lammas O.S. (‘Old Style’). This date has long been considered a ‘power point’ of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the Lion, one of the ‘tetramorph’ figures found on the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune (the other three figures being the Bull, the Eagle, and the Spirit). Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four ‘fixed’ signs of the Zodiac, and these naturally allign with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.
‘Lammas’ was the medieval Christian name for the holiday and it means ‘loaf-mass’, for this was the day on which loaves of bread were baked from the first grain harvest and laid on the church altars as offerings. It was a day representative of ‘first fruits’ and early harvest.
In Irish Gaelic, the feast was referred to as ‘Lugnasadh’, a feast to commemorate the funeral games of the Irish sun-god Lugh. However, there is some confusion on this point. Although at first glance, it may seem that we are celebrating the death of Lugh, the god of light does not really die (mythically) until the autumnal equinox. And indeed, if we read the Irish myths closer, we discover that it is not Lugh’s death that is being celebrated, but the funeral games which Lugh hosted to commemorate the death of his foster-mother, Taillte. That is why the Lugnasadh celebrations in Ireland are often called the ‘Tailltean Games’.
The time went by with careless heed
Between the late and early,
With small persuasion she agreed
To see me through the barley…
One common feature of the Games were the ‘Tailltean marriages’, a rather informal marriage that lasted for only ‘a year and a day’ or until next Lammas. At that time, the couple could decide to continue the arrangement if it pleased them, or to stand back to back and walk away from one another, thus bringing the Tailltean marriage to a formal close. Such trial marriages (obviously related to the Wiccan ‘Handfasting’) were quite common even into the 1500′s, although it was something one ‘didn’t bother the parish priest about’. Indeed, such ceremonies were usually solemnized by a poet, bard, or shanachie (or, it may be guessed, by a priest or priestess of the Old Religion).
Lammastide was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and themselves in bright colors and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange, ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers. The atmosphere must have been quite similar to our modern-day Renaissance Festivals, such as the one celebrated in near-by Bonner Springs, Kansas, each fall.
A ceremonial highlight of such festivals was the ‘Catherine wheel’. Although the Roman Church moved St. Catherine’s feast day all around the calender with bewildering frequency, it’s most popular date was Lammas. (They also kept trying to expel this much-loved saint from the ranks of the blessed because she was mythical rather than historical, and because her worship gave rise to the heretical sect known as the Cathari.) At any rate, a large wagon wheel was taken to the top of a near-by hill, covered with tar, set aflame, and ceremoniously rolled down the hill. Some mythologists see in this ritual the remnants of a Pagan rite symbolizing the end of summer, the flaming disk representing the sun-god in his decline. And just as the sun king has now reached the autumn of his years, his rival or dark self has just reached puberty.
Many comentators have bewailed the fact that traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Books of Shadows say very little about the holiday of Lammas, stating only that poles should be ridden and a circle dance performed. This seems strange, for Lammas is a holiday of rich mythic and cultural associations, providing endless resources for liturgical celebration.
Corn rigs and barley rigs,
Corn rigs are bonny!
I’ll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie!
[Verse quotations by Robert Burns, as handed down through several Books of Shadows.]
Harvest: Poetry for Lammas/Lugnasadh…
The Harvest Bow
As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.
Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,
And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall–
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,
Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.
The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser–
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.
It was on a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
I held away to Annie:
The time flew by, wi tentless heed,
Till ‘tween the late and early;
Wi’ sma’ persuasion she agreed
To see me thro’ the barley.
The sky was blue, the wind was still,
The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down, wi’ right good will,
Amang the rigs o’barley
I ken’t her heart was a’ my ain;
I lov’d her most sincerely;
I kissed her owre and owre again,
Among the rig o’ barley.
I locked her in my fond embrace;
Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
Amang the rigs o’barley.
But by the moon and stars so bright,
That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night,
Amang the rigs o’barley.
I hae been blythe wi’ Comrades dear;
I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu’ gath’rin gear;
I hae been happy thinking:
But a’ the pleasures e’er I saw,
Tho three times doubl’d fairley
That happy night was worth then a’.
Among the rig’s o’ barley.
Corn rigs, an’ barley rigs,
An’ corn rigs are bonie:
I’ll ne’er forget that happy night,
Among the rigs wi’ Annie.
The Lammas Hireling
After the fair, I’d still a light heart
and a heavy purse, he struck so cheap.
And cattle doted on him: in his time
mine only dropped heifers, fat as cream.
Yields doubled. I grew fond of company
that knew when to shut up. Then one night,
disturbed from dreams of my dear late wife,
I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form.
Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
stark-naked but for one bloody boot of fox-trap,
I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.
To go into the hare gets you muckle sorrow,
the wisdom runs, muckle care. I levelled
and blew the small hour through his heart.
The moon came out. By its yellow witness
I saw him fur over like a stone mossing.
His lovely head thinned. His top lip gathered.
His eyes rose like bread. I carried him
in a sack that grew lighter at every step
and dropped him from a bridge. There was no
splash. Now my herd’s elf-shot. I don’t dream
but spend my nights casting ball from half-crowns
and my days here. Bless me Father for I have sinned.
It has been an hour since my last confession.
Watch her as she moves through golden waves
Where ears ripen beneath the summer sun
Now reapers move across the field, leaving swathes
Binders follow making sheaves; a harvest won
From the soil we have tilled.
Grain that in winter can be milled.
There’s a gentle swish of sickles through the stalk
John Barleycorn is falling to the ground
The rig moves on; girls exchanging daily talk
As carefully they bind each sheaf around
Sweating children work to stook
Where mothers have no time to look.
At eventide the sun falls below the dripping brow
Ceres’ row still stands against the blackthorn hedge
Her spirit to be beaten back where the oxen plough
When winter’s solstice comes they’ll make a pledge
Now its time for sing of joy and mirth
Celebrate the bounteous Mother Earth
Though the bedstraw beckons weary bairns for sleep
And dreams of bitter ales beckon to parched lips
At the centre of the field there’s still a sheaf to reap
The reapers face the stand with hands on hips
Each takes his turn to throw
His sickle at this final row.
To reap the clyack sheaf as custom now demands
Each man in turn the blindfold takes
Thrice times three is turned around by other hands
The sickle then cast forth to the fates
The victor knows from others’ cheer
He shall claim the flowing jug of beer
Rituals that have been passed down to us from ancient times
As these last stalks are gathered up with care
Straw woven with skilled hands to once forgotten rhymes
A neck dolly crafted by young Cerys the fair
‘Could this be Cybele, mother of gods ?’
Her grandmother raises her eyes and nods.
Neck dollies, drop dollies, Brigit’s and kirn child
Some dressed in gay ribbons, others in white
Thin bodies, full bodies, some pagan and wild
Carried home on the last of the wagons tonight
Tokens to hang on each farmhouse wall
To be raised in the spring, a spirit to call.
Under late summer sun sheaves are ripened and dried
The wagons are loaded until Baba remains
Rigs of reapers make circles whilst she is untied
Each takes a step forward and ears are claimed
There’s a bow to the centre from all around
Each reaper touching an ear to the ground.
When all have departed two strangers enter the field
Oat man and oat woman with a dance to perform
Beneath long purple cloaks their dolls are concealed
A grim reaper beheaded, a spirit to enter the corn
The rite of an old Phrygian sacrifice
Crying the neck to bring next year’s life.