National Book Lovers’ Day!

 

Are you a reader? Are you an obsessive reader?  Do you become enmeshed in the other worlds of fantasy, futuristic sci-fi or dystopian societies? Do you like heady romances, frightening horror, or historical recreations? Perhaps you like thought provoking non-fiction, or the vicarious thrill of a good biography.  If so, you are in luck. Today, August 9th, is National Book Lovers Day!

While the nay-sayers keep trying to convince us that the art of reading is dead, book publishing and its various forms continue to thrive. And why wouldn’t it? Ever since the dawn of time, humankind has loved story.

The Need to Read 

Storytelling has always been a part of human culture. Some scientists believe as far as 60,000 years ago our ancestors, the Neanderthals, were making their own crude attempts at it.

Cave painting was perhaps the first form of story telling. It can be dated back to around 40, 000 years ago.  The oldest known cave painting is that of a bull in  Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Was there a tale that went along with the bull? Most likely.  “Once upon a time, Jack took his cow to the market in search of some magic beans…”

For thousands of years, oral tradition has existed among the ancients. Eventually they developed the tools to keep the stories in print.  In around 3000 BC, the people of  Mesopotamia developed round cylinder seals for rolling images onto clay tablets.  Societies in China and Egypt also created small stamps that were used to print on cloth. In around  the second century A.D., a Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun is credited for first inventing paper.

The oldest European book in existence was taken from the grave of Saint Cuthbert in the year 1104. The book contains the Gospel of John in Latin. It is believed that the book was buried with Cuthbert in around the seventh century. This leather bound gem is in excellent shape, considering its age!

Throughout the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century, woodcuts were used for printing in Europe and Asia. Reproduction was a tedious and laborious task taken on by scribes. But in 1440, a miracle happened. A man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printing press was the first device which used movable type to produce books. It revolutionized publishing.

The press was vastly modernized over the next few hundred years, creating news print, typewriters and eventually the keyboards we have today. Nonetheless, if you are a book lover, you have Gutenberg to thank for the printed word as we know it.

Great Books

Reading frees the mind,  reels the senses and opens doors to the imagination.  What is your favorite book? Perhaps you have several. Here’s my short list, in no particular order:

** Dracula by Bram Stoker. Oh you have never known horror and apprehension until you have read it! Enter the dark abyss of Castle Dracul where the infamous Count lives among his howling wolves and coffins.

** The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Travel down to New Orleans and become acquainted with the creepy Mayfair sisters. Dark and diabolical things have long occurred in their mansion home, not the least of which are murder and ghost sightings.

** The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Enter the ritzy world of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in 1920’s New York. Daisy keeps a passionate secret regarding neighbor Jay Gatsby, with whom she once had a doomed love affair. Can she rekindle it, now that Jay has amassed a fortune and is on a level playing field with the Buchanans?

** On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Hit the highway with Sal Paradise as he travels the road of America in tears, all the way to Frisco to hang out with some hip cats, perhaps better known as Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.

** Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The moors are alive with haunting and torment, as Heathcliff, who was once a nice little orphan, turns into an abusive tyrant who can never reconcile his lost love.

** Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  On the cliffs of Cornwall, the newly married narrator is inundated with memories of her  husband’s first wife Rebecca, who died in a mysterious boating accident. Or did she? The creepy housekeeper will do her best to drive our heroine insane.

** Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  It’s not just for children! Travel down the rabbit hole with Alice, a girl to be reckoned with.  She comes of age, questions authority and learns to stand up for herself. Among the mad tea parties, faux beheadings and painted roses there lurks political satire, as well as cutting commentary about human nature.

My list could go on and on. What about you? Let me know your favorites in the comments! And whatever you do, take some time out today to enjoy a book 🙂

 

 

The First Harvest: Lughnasadh or Lammas?

 

Happy August! As the golden sun winds down and the days ever so slightly grow shorter, we find ourselves in the midst of the first harvest feast also known as Lughnasadh or Lammas. This is a cross quarter festival which falls midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere.

Some folks call this holiday “Lughnasadh.” Most folks call it “Lammas.” That is probably because Lughnasadh is a mouthful to pronounce. Plus it has a weird spelling. Most people are intimidated by the very sight of the word. Some folks might remember the old movie with Meryl Streep called “Dancing at Lughnasa” and they try to pronounce it.

Be not afraid.

Lughnasadh (also spelled Lughnasa) is pronounced LOO – NAH -SAH. Lammas is pronounced LAH-MIS. The two festivals are similar, and although they are celebrated on the same day, they are not exactly the same.

Lughnasadh & The Sun King

Lughnasadh dates back to prehistoric times. The name “Lughnasadh” is derived from the Celtic sun god Lugh. (Pronounced LOO.)  The name Lugh literally means “The Shining One”. As the sun god, Lugh’s special mission was to make sure the sun stayed under control and did not burn us up. Hence, this time of year, with the sun’s first fading, is associated with him.

But Lugh was more than a mere sun god.  He was also the patron of all craftspeople, including metalworkers, musicians, magicians, healers, and warriors.

As a Jack of All Trades, Lugh covered a lot of territory and was an extremely popular god. He was the elected King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the tribe of Fair Folk.  Lugh was a master builder, harpist, poet, warrior, sorcerer, metalworker, and physician. He was also extremely beautiful and eternally youthful.  It’s easy to see why he was worshiped and loved throughout the Celtic world.

Lugh has an interesting history which is necessary to tell in order to fully understand how Lughnasadh came to be.

Forbidden Birth, Unlikely Death

Although Lugh was obviously a golden child, the circumstances of his birth were weird. His father was Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and his mother was Ethlin, daughter of Balor, of the Fomorians. It should have been a great match, uniting the two tribes. However, there was one severe problem; Ethlin was forbidden, by her father Balor, to ever  have children. This was because Balor had once been given a prophecy from a sorcerer that his own grandson would kill him.

Balor’s solution? Simply lock his daughter in a tower and keep her away from all men.

Needless to say, it did not work. Ethlin had already fallen in love with the powerful and dashing Cian. He, using sneaky Rapunzel tactics, found ways to get into that tower.

When Ethlin became pregnant, the Tuatha Dé Danann knew there would be trouble. Balor would seek to kill the baby.  And so, Cian and Ethlin were whisked away to a nearby island. When Lugh was born, he was given to the harvest goddess Tailtiu (pronounced TAL-TU.)  It was she who raised the baby Lugh, and turned him into the fine young man he became.

Alas, poor Tailtiu! She had a lot of work to do. As grain goddess, she had to clear all the fields of Ireland for planting, then reap the harvest. As she grew older the burden became too much. One morning on the first of August, the poor goddess collapsed from exhaustion and died.

Lugh wanted to honor his foster mother. She had requested that only celebrations, with happiness and no grieving, should commemorate her death. And so Lugh held a great harvest feast. There were games, drinking and merry-making. (Arguably this could have been the first Irish wake. These wakes were known to last days on end, mired in celebration.)

Perhaps this festival should have been called “Tailtiuanasadh.” (That would have been an ever bigger tongue twister!) But instead it was named after Lugh, the beloved god who threw the party. It is always associated with the harvest, as Tailtiu was a grain goddess and Lugh was the god of the waning sun.

Lammas — All About the Bread

Some time in the 4th century AD, the Emperor Constantine advanced Christianity in Roman dominated Europe and the British Isles. A lot of Pagan practices, as followed by the Celts and other tribes, were outlawed. The festival of Lughnasadh was probably forbidden, or at least it went underground. However, the first harvest morphed into a new holiday called Lammas.

The word Lammas literally means “loaf mass”. This made sense because, as wheat was harvested in late July and early August, a lot of bread baking took place.  Lammas-tide was not just a one day festival, but was considered more of a baking season. It began on August 1st and lasted for a few weeks.

What’s In a Name? 

Lammas also has an interesting history and entomology. In medieval times the feast was sometimes known in England and Scotland as the “Gule of August”.  The true meaning of “gule” is unknown, but in Welsh there is a term Gŵyl Awst which means “feast of August”. Gule may have just been an alternate spelling. The word gule is also associated with “gullet”. This also makes sense, as all that bread goes into the gullet!

In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after the Midsummer Solstice.  At the end of hay-making the tradition was to release one sheep into the meadow. (A rarity because this was not lambing season.)  Anyone who could catch the sheep could keep it. This leads to the suggestion that “Lammas” could also have been derived from “lamb mass”, an additional celebration at the harvest.

Shakespeare famously mentioned Lammas, as Juliet’s birthday in Romeo and Juliet.

“Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.”

Thus, the festival of Lammas was well known and would have been easily recognizable to Elizabethan audiences.

Regardless of how the words and legends came to be and to be remembered, one thing is certain: Lugnasadh/ Lammas is a great time of year to celebrate!

In Modern Times

We may not all be farmers, and we do not live as close to the land as our ancestors did, but there are still many ways to honor the harvest.  Even the modern day city dweller can hit the local farmers market for some corn on the cob, or the local bakery for a fresh loaf of bread. (Or if you are skilled in the kitchen, bake your own!)

Have some fun today, and also over the next few weeks as “tide” sets in. Thank the earth for her abundance. Thank the overlooked goddess Tailtiu for her hard work and sacrifice. Create an altar dedicated to Lugh, Tailtiu, or Mother Earth.  Offerings could include corn, tomatoes and berries. Candles could be yellow and orange, the colors of the sun. Carnelian, amber, citrine and other yellow crystals are great decorations. Sunflowers are always perfect, as are marigolds and daisies.

Whatever you do to celebrate, have a safe, happy and healthy Lunasadh/ Lammas-tide! Blessed be.