How lucky are we when cycles overlay cycles and provide us with such unusual events to celebrate? As we consider these high holy days of summer now, the gardens are so full here in the eastern US for we have had much rain too, the fields are full of grain, and the heavy harvest season is approaching. Have you taken a moment to relax in the heat and reflect on the upcoming abundance of the rest of summer and fall months. At Lammas, sometimes called Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nahs-ah), it's time to begin reaping what we have sown throughout the past few months, make bread with a fresh new crop of grain, and recognize that the bright summer days will soon come to an end.
This Irish-Gaelic name describes the feast held to honor Lugh, Celtic God of Light and the son of the Sun. The Sun God transfers his power into the grain and is sacrificed when the grain is harvested. So there is a dying, self-sacrificing and resurrecting God of Harvest who dies for his people so that they may live. By now you must see that this same theme plays out in many ancients stories and religions from many different lands, right? But if you must remain scientific then think about the sun and how the plant does ripen from it's light and grow and make more plant material that we do eat in order to maintain our physical growth and repair. It happens because the grain must die or be replanted if we are to have anymore to eat. No matter what you believe, we are Nature. Your very body is created by such substances manufactured within plants that take up air, sun, water and nutrients from the soil, the Earth. It's a cause for celebration each year and our culture has forgotten this in some circles. This is what these festivals are all about and thankfully we are seeing many families and communities getting back to celebrating holy days such as this with feasts filled with gratitude and honoring of the forces that we depend on in order to live and survive. There are eight high holy festivals each year honored since ancient times that reflect a cyclic nature based mind-set. Works for me to have a celebration every 6 weeks! We need to give back and give thanks and let loose and enjoy at these times.
I just five months ago decided to stop eating wheat. Wheat is the one grain you will always see referred to during Lughnasadh for harvesting of grains begins around this time of year. My reasons are not because of gluten intolerance or celiac and any other reason than I am unhappy - and that is understatement - with wheat production in the US and refuse to take it into my body until farming practices improve. Since many celebrate with baking bread... my task is simple. Source ancient grains farmed well and make bread! I am.
The Oak tree is frequently honored as well for it gives extra growth now in the middle of the summer, unlike many other trees, and signifies its generous spirit with strong dense wood and abundant acorns. August 1st marks the pull of Autumn and the dimming of the light as we begin our descent into more darkness, more inward. Do you feel that coming? How would you describe it? Take some time to actually feel that shift in your body. It's subtle but there. August always feels different than July to me but it is hard to explain too.
The Full Blue Moon is upon us as well on July 31, 2015! A rare event that will not be seen again until 2018, it marks the astronomical season - in this case Summer Solstice to Fall Equinox - which has 4 full moon and it is the third Moon within that season that is called 'blue' - though it is not blue in color. It is just rare. So we have the high holy day of Lughnasadh colliding cyclically and beautifully with the Full Blue Moon. I happen to look ahead and schedule these events off from the hospital work I currently do for if you have worked in such a place, you will know the phenomena of the full moon regardless of your beliefs.
So what are your plans?
There's time still for small and even more epic gestures if you are so moved. Here are a few ideas that span a broad range of belief systems:
~Create a feast with a bon fire planned with many or few but beautiful people.
~Create and altar with bread and fruit offerings.
~Gather in circle under the full moon for your fire with, story, song, music, dance.
~Make a corn doll or wicker man or prayer ties to burn ritually and spend time releasing that which is not helping you along your way. Regrets? Farewells? What is passing or finished? What did not work?
~ Make bread and offer some to the animals that live around you, some for the altar, and some for your feast. Never made bread? Try, ask someone to teach you, or buy from someone who does it gorgeously.
~Fast for 1-2 days prior to your celebratory feast with plenty of water to help cleanse your system at this holy time. Create and take sacred space and call for visions and dreams on how you will continue this year for yourself, your family, your community, and humanity. Where are you incongruent? What needs shoring up at this time? What's working? What isn't?
~ Create special drink for your celebration. Libations! With or without alcohol. Offer some to the natural forces that feed us first by simply pouring some on the Earth with reverence.
~ Maybe you have a boat? Spend the night out on the water and bare your skin for Moon bathing and Moon gaze incessantly from a nest you made for you and your lover surrounded with platters of picky foods you love. Sort of reminds me of 'being the altar'. (nice) Of course you never need a boat to make a love nest... be creative! Move a mattress to the living room for a change.
~ The full Moon is always associated with heightened sexual experiences and desires... it's that time within the lunar cycle of great fertility and so pleasure is always heightened too. The idea is to partake. Enjoy this hard wiring that we have within these physical bodies. You're meant to.
~ Gather seeds or harvest grain. This is quite a skill and never mind that it looks easy! Seeds must be watched for the right time to harvest them, treated carefully with respect to handling, moisture and cold, and stored well with access to air. Yes, they breathe and can maintain a spark of life force for germination for a finite number of years if stored well. There are those people who are so good at this. One I know is a swordsman, martial artist, a deadly man with massive rough construction hands who is the best seed tender I know. He will come and drop the tiniest and strangest looking ones into my care with a huge grin and they always germinate well!
~ Make Jam! One of my favorites and oddly enough I understand the chemistry and so I rarely follow a recipe as it is written and still make outrageously good jams. My mother is a jam maker so lots was taught by watching and helping as a small child. As you turn the summers fruits into jams, jellies and chutneys for winter feasts, think too of that which you have gathered this year so far. How can you store this sweetly in your memory to serve you later?
Herbs for Spiritual Bathing? Why not before your fire celebration. I love Yarrow, Calendula, Basil of all varieties, Sunflowers, Elecampane, Echinacea, Strawberry Leaf, Raspberry leaf, Queen Anne's Lace, Meadowsweet, Marshmallow flowers, Comfrey, Oak Leaf, Elder Leaf. Myrtle, Aloe, Apple Leaf and Mugwort.
Stones to partner with at this time: Citrine, Clear Quartz, Rose Quatrz, Marble, Lodestone, Moonstone, Mother of Pearl, Moss agate, Golden Topaz.
Final food for thought is short - Enjoy yourself wise one. If you do not carve this way for yourself then who will? I will be enjoying a stellar hobbit house style sauna and stream swimming and feasting around a fire after ritual fasting with Mugwort among a gorgeous group of friends and yes, I will definitely laugh loud, tell stories, and be sending out prayers. We have a second celebration the next night too. Why not? Enjoy!!
Much love - Jen Costa, ElderMoon School
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine