Monday, September 08, 2008

Happy Lammas, Y'all

In honor of today being the euro-pagan day of Lammas (well, it was when I wrote this, some five-weeks ago,on Aug 1st), I am going to focus on the wheel of the year, and what this time of year means to many of us. Watching the earth through the pagan year's holy days is one way to see ourselves connected to a recurrent cycle of birth, growth, diminishment, death, rest and rebirth. Today is Lammas, which is the half-way point between Beltaine and Samhain. This is the first celebration after the summer solstice, when the year is at its peak of solar energy-- the god at his zenith of power. This marks the god's
aging, and as John Barleycorn, he is cut down in the gathering of the grains.

Let's pause for a moment and look at this in context-- how the year's cycle and changing of the seasons can be told in one story or myth:

Lammas is celebrated August 1st. It is the festival of the first harvests. It is a very opportune time to assess what you are manifesting, how is it coming in? What do you need to prune, adjust, reshape? This is the time that the god grows older, waning in energy,
while the goddess as mother harvests the seeds and nurtures the god growing within her, awaiting his re-birth.

The next turning point is Mabon, or Fall Equinox, a time to celebrate balance. Projects and goals that were dreamed in the winter and started in the spring come to fruition. It is a time to give thanks for what has come into your life and to prepare for the more introspective times ahead. The god, old now, rests after harvest-- preparing for his death.

The last turn of the year is Samhain, better known in this country as Halloween. This is a time of dreaming, of communion with the dead, and those spiritual allies that are not incarnate. The veil separating this physical world from the land of the dead and the faery grows the
thinnest at this time of year, making it a great time to gain advice and contemplate visions to guide you through this dark and introspective time. The god dies on this day, and old year passes
away. The world lies fallow, resting until the god's rebirth.

And the re-birth happens at the Winter Solstice. The new year, full of hope and potential as it stretches out ahead of us. It is time to do deep introspective work to make clear your own intentions and goals to your own self. As the new sun grows in strength, what aspirations
do we want to grow into reality? What can we do to give strength to that new world that has justice, love and laughter at its core?

Next comes Imbolc. Traditionally, this involves a feast dedicated to Brigid, on February 1st or 2nd. This is the beginning of spring, as the lambs are born, and signs of life begin to appear in earnest, giving hope that the greening of the year is getting under way. This
is a time of beginnings, and initiation. The god is still in infancy, but gaining strength, the goddess rests after birth, readying herself for the Rites of Spring, celebrated at the next turning point.

Ostara, aka the Spring Equinox—the Rites of Spring. This is a time to celebrate the fertility of the goddess in her Maiden role, and the god grows well into his youth. This is a time to nurture and feed what we have started, and see what else needs to be manifested in our lives.
This is the time of the planting—laying tangible foundations for your ideas and projects.

Beltaine is a celebration of sexuality, and the year turns to early summer. Traditionally celebrated by erecting a Maypole, and dancing during the day, giving way to bonfires and sex at night. This is the time that the god becomes a man through his union with the goddess.
As the poem goes: "Hooray! Hooray! for the 1st of May, Outdoor fucking begins today!"
Alright, it's probably not an ancient poem, but I have to say, I like the sentiment.

Then we move into Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, which was the last holy day before today. This is the time of the god enjoying the apex of his power. A time of great expansive energy and celebration. This is the time to focus your power to give your dreams "lift off". Play
hard. Think of the energy as a drum circle reaches that fevered frenzied climax. Manifest!!!

Which brings us back to today.

I thought it important to look at the full year, as often people ask me how they can strengthen their connection with the earth, how can they feel more like they are a part of that big cycle. To me, one of the best ways to do this is to go out into a place during each of these turning points and to observe the changes, season by season. It doesn't matter if that spot is in a forest, a park, or your yard-- what matters is that you spend a little time, at least every six weeks, getting to know it. Watching how the plants change, which birds are there-- how the place sounds and smells, what the vibe is, through out the year, and how those changes relate to your own life.

So a little more about Lammas. As I mentioned, it is the celebration of the first harvests – the cutting of the grains and the corn. This is a holy day of transformation, for after the grains are cut, they are milled into flour and turned into bread to give us all sustenance. In a more mythic take, the god's sacrifice is seen through the personification of the grain into John Barleycorn, and his sacrifice. Another way to see it is that the bounty of solar energy is embodied in the grains now ripe for harvest, and it is time to prepare for the leaner months, which lie just ahead.

For people interested in holding a simple ceremony to mark this day, a great way to do it is to bake bread. While you are kneeding the dough you can focus on the connections within your community/ friends and family-- those with whom you will be eating the bread with later. Kneed thanks into the bread for the harvests, for sustenance, and for the love and connections in your life.

Invite loved ones over to eat this bread with you-- reflect on how much you have accomplished this year, and what more you need to do to feel satisfied. It is the holiday to assess how you can best adopt, adapt and improve your plans. While sharing the bread, don't forget to toss a chunk out for spirit-- making offerings is another way to experience deeper connections.

You can decorate your table with stalks of grains, and ask yourself and others what you need and how to support one another through the coming winter. Are there sacrifices that you need to make now to be reaped in the future?

You can braid those stalks of grains and keep them through the winter to keep the spirit of the harvest present until the next growing season.

So I want to hear how your year is going-- what are you harvesting, and what do you want from your community? What are you giving to your community? I am also interested in hearing about your celebrations-- what traditions do you keep?

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