The Pagan Wheel of the Year is turning, it is Lammas, and the harvest is here. Time for reaping what you sowed, and for building up your stores to see you through the dark of the year.
But is it?
Is it really time to harvest?
As we meander through the seasons, as we tread the compass of the year, I’m reflecting on my experience of the land in which I live and how it maps to the Wheel of the Year. And whilst this wheel tells me that it is time for the first harvest, for Lammas, my observations are telling me a slightly different story.
The term Lammas – or Lammastide as some in the traditional community call it – derives from old English, from Hlafmaesse, Loaf-mass. And as such it is firmly set in an agricultural context of the wheat and grain harvest.
The name Lammas is linked to the tradition of saying a mass over the bread baked from the first wheat of the harvest. The bread was then used magically to protect the rest of the harvest stored on the farm. In many areas of Britain this gives an incredibly strong connection to this festival.
The old pagan customs of offering or sacrificing the first of any harvest to the gods or the higher powers are still marked. There are many traditions across the country of what to do with the first sheaf of wheat – and the last. And of course the craft and magic of corn dollies is well known. (If you have not seen the amazing art work of Victoria Musson you have to check it out.
And it is from these traditions – of sharing the first crops to protect the harvest and to ensure the remaining bounty – that the theme of sacrifice has permeated this festival.
Britain is full of sacrificed god mythology, and you can loose yourself in research for weeks, which I highly recommend. Of particular interest for me in Wales is the lore and stories of Celtic severed heads. From the stories of St David and St Winifred in Wales, to the burial of Bran’s Head at the tower of London there is much to be found.
It is easy to transpose these agricultural traditions and themes of sacrifice into more general concepts for an age which is not as intimately involved in the agricultural community. Literally harvesting the wheat becomes the symbolic harvesting of the fruits of your own labours. This is what Lammas is about for a large part of the pagan community.
But not for me. In my very local area I do not come across wheat and grain farming. That’s not to say its not done in my region – but my local witchcraft is VERY local.
Its not south wales based. It’s the witchcraft of my street. Of my river. The hill behind my house where sheep and cattle are raised. It’s the spirit of my woodland and forest.
A few miles to the west and I know there are wheat fields. But that’s not my local land.
So I struggle to connect to this festival. To the concept and symbolisms of Lammas.
The land around me is a few weeks away from being ready to harvest its particular bounties.
The tide has not yet turned.
Of course I know the folklore and the history associated with the Lammas period. I know how this has morphed into modern pagan traditions – but I don’t feel them deep in my bones. And that’s OK!
The modern Wheel of the Year celebrates 3 different harvests – so the harvest season is a long one. It starts with the grain harvest, then comes the fruit harvest (mmmmm blackberries!) and finally the meat harvest. But thats not how I personally experience the harvest where I live. For me the fruit harvest will be the centre point of this period – the point at which I will mark the energies of reaping what is sown and the ripening of the year.
What do I see in my local land?
The relentless forward grow of summer has abated. But the fruits are not yet ripe.
There has been a change in the energies of the land over the last week or so. A softening. A slowing down, a slight clipped edge to the intensities. The energies have switched from fast moving expansion towards a concentration upon a point. The energies are beginning to focus on ripening – the intensities becoming more localised. Moving from expansion to contraction and pressure. A pressure that will need release.
And the physical nature of the land is changing too.
The wild green growth in the woodland is starting to curl at the edges. The greens are less vibrant, the leaves drooping ever so slightly towards the undergrowth. The canopy slightly less dense. But only when you look really closely.
As I drive along country roads the wild abundance of yellow is giving ways to purple and pinks. With the exception perhaps of ubiquitous ragwort. But even that shines slightly less brightly, becoming a more regal golden from its earlier sun bright yellows. But the hedgerow still teams with life and vibrance.
And as my eyes fall to the floor on my walks the unmistakable signs of an approaching autumn tide are starting to peak through.
The occasional early fungi here and there.
And the Lords and Ladies have turned from the beautiful lilly like white flowers and green leaves to upright clusters of green berries tinged orange.
I am seeing rowan trees EVERYWHERE! With bright orange berries, not yet pulsing with that blood red energy that offers such excellent material for protective charms in the early winter period.
And the pressure building is briefly exploding in storms and flashes of changeable weather.
So I reflect this magical and physical shift in my magic.
Its time to stop spreading myself so thinly.
The unbounded energies of summer, where anything and everything was possible, have gone. And now is the time to chose one or two areas to focus upon to bring to completion. To perfect. To prepare for the harvest.
I’ve started the pruning process in the house – Autumn is always a bit of a clear out time for me. And several boxes of stuff found their way to new homes last weekend. The air feels lighter and more productive. I have space to concentrate the energies I have.
Over the next month or so I will focus on 2 big projects and I will throw them and myself into the ripening autumn tide! Remember the most powerful magic is the one which flows with the energies around us and doe not fight them or swim against the tide.
It isn’t the time to start new projects. But its not time to wrap up the old ones yet either!
Because summer is over, its in its final days, but Autumn has not yet really bitten.
So we find ourselves in something of a seasonal liminal space. An opportunity to move between the worlds and align ourselves ready for the change that is inevitable.
And I will start to reap the benefits as the tide quickens and starts to propel us towards the season of endings, and death and all the fun still to come!