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, or LUKGH rolling the G in the back of your throat.)  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 obvious Rapunzel style 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.

 

 

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Mermaid Mentors

 

“I must be a mermaid… I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
― Anais Nin

“The mermaid is an archetypal image that represents a woman who is at ease in the great waters of life.” — Anita Johnson

“Mermaids don’t drown.” ― Suzanne Palmieri

The mermaid represents a woman’s physical and emotional depths. The Siren’s song, in mythology, was typically a thing to be feared, for sailors who followed it often ended up in a shipwreck. And yet, without these mesmerizing mythical creatures, our seas would be sadly lacking.

Mermaids not only weather the storm, they welcome it. Mermaids live in duality, embodying humanness along with a wild, animalistic and instinctual side. They are as changeable as the water itself, and yet they are ancient, a thing of complete and utter permanence.

How long have mermaids been around? Forever! Which is one reason why we should heed the wisdom of these divas from the deep.

The archetype of the mermaid has appeared in the folklore of every culture and people. They have popped up in the South Seas, the Greek Islands, the tundras of Siberia, the coasts of Africa and sun worshipping Scandinavia.

In Brazil, tribute is paid to the water goddess Yemoja. From Syrian legend came the Dea Syria, mother of all mermaids.  Slavic cultures have tales of the Rusalka, water nymphs that can both harm and help humankind. Lithuanian folklore tells of  Jurate, who lived in an amber palace beneath the Baltic Sea.

The far east also has no lack of mermaids. Korean mythology tells of Princess Hwang-Ok from an undersea kingdom of mermaids known as Naranda. There is also the tale of Kim Dam Ryeong, the Korean mayor of a seaside town, who once saved four hundred mermaids from being captured by fishermen. Chinese literature dating as far back as 4 B.C. speaks of mermaids who “wept tears that turned into pearls.”

Folklore from the British Isles is peppered with tales of mermaids. The Norman chapel of  Durham Castle, built by Saxons, contains an artistic depiction of a mermaid that dates back to 1078. (One must wonder why busy Saxon masons would bother to etch a mermaid into the wall. They had cathedrals to build!)

In Cornwall, there is a legend of a mermaid who came to the village of Zenmor.  There, she listened to the singing of a chorister named Matthew Trewhella. The two fell in love, and Matthew went with the mermaid to her home at Pendour Cove. Needless to say, he was never seen again.  On summer nights, it is said the lovers can be heard singing together.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids near the Dominican Republic.  Henry Hudson (of Hudson River fame)  recorded in his captain’s log in 1608  that his crewmen had spotted  a mermaid in the river. The sailors claimed that from the navel up “her back and breasts were like a woman’s” but when she dove under the water “they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise.”

In 1614, Captain John Smith (of Jamestown Colony and Pocahontas  fame) recorded a mermaid sighting in his captain’s log. While sailing near the coast of Newfoundland, Smith wrote that he saw a woman “swimming with all possible grace.” He stated: “Her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.” (Green hair!)  He also claimed “from below the stomach the woman gave way to the fish.”

Are mermaids real? Would these prominent men lie, and risk looking ridiculous in their logs?

A more recent mermaid sighting occurred in 2009.  In the seaside town of Kiryat Yam, Israel, dozens of other people reported seeing the same astonishing sight: a mermaid frolicking in the waves near the shore.

A mermaid’s endeavors are not to be taken on by the shallow of heart. She moves in synchronicity with the ocean’s tides, rides the waves, rules the waters.   The mermaid is passionate and generous, sometimes even granting wishes.  Just don’t cross her; she can be deadly.

I hope summer finds you near an ocean, lake, pond or pool. (And if you happen to see one of these watery women, approach with caution.)

These beautiful portraits were done by contemporary Russian artist Victor Nizovtsev. Have a lovely, magical and mer-aculous day!

 

 

Happy Fourth of July!

 

“In a chariot of light,

from the region of the day,

the Goddess of Liberty came.

She brought in her hand,

as a gift of her love,

the plant she named Liberty Tree.”

— Thomas Paine, American patriot and Founding Father of the United States

“Give me liberty,

or give me death.” — Thomas Paine

Have a  safe, happy, healthy and blessed Fourth of July! 🙂

 

Hekate’s Night

 

She is our chaperone to the Underworld, the keeper of the keys, a deity of dream states and liminal spaces. Hekate is one of the most powerful dark goddesses, with ancient roots tracing to Greece, Egypt and Asia Minor. She is the patron of witches, mothers, fishermen, soldiers, sailors, virgins and the restless dead. She presides over crossroads, entrance-ways and turning points in life.

November 16 marks her feast night. It is a perfect time to honor her!

Who is Hekate? 

This goddess has a complicated history, and a job description that is equal to no other!  In brief, she is generally thought of as a goddess of the Greek/ Roman pantheon. There are, however,  conflicting stories about her origin.

Some legends say Hekate was the daughter of the Titans Asteria (Goddess of the Stars) and Perses (God of Destruction.)  She is therefore considered a direct descendant of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Nyx (Goddess of Night.)  She appears in Homer’s Hymn to Demeter, and in Hesiod’s Theogony where she is promoted strongly as a great goddess.  There is also evidence that she had popular followings in ancient Thrace, which includes what is now Bulgaria and Turkey.

When Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her to the Underworld, her mother Demeter went searching for her, and it was Hekate who led the way with her torches. Hekate has always been a helper, a guide and a teacher.

She was important enough to have her face on coins! This one dates back to 30 BC. It is part of the Vatican collection and is described as:  “Bust of Hekate, with crescent on forehead”.

Hecate was one of the main deities worshiped in Athenian households as a protective goddess and one who bestowed prosperity and daily blessings on the family.  In the “Chaldean Oracles” — a  group of spiritual writings dated from the 3rd century, Hekate is regarded as a powerful deity with a hand in ruling  over the earth, sea and sky as well as the nether worlds. She was greatly favored by Zeus, who reportedly bestowed her with some of his holdings…  One story claims that Hekate supported the Olympians in a battle against the Titans (thus “switching sides”) and gained favor with Zeus. When helping us with practical problems, Hekate is known to switch sides in order to see every aspect and help us reach a decision.

She is most often depicted in triple form, to represent the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Her vision is all encompassing. The triplicity she embodies is also her ability to see the past, present and future all at once.

Hekate is, by nature, a Jill-of-all-trades.  She doesn’t fit neatly into one pantheon, and for this reason many eclectics have come to regard her as a “go to” goddess. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary: “she is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition.”

Hekate’s Animals

Hekate is associated with all wild animals, but her favorites are dogs, snakes, crows, lions, horses, bears, wolves and frogs.

Frogs:  In ancient Egypt, the frog represented fertility.  There was a powerful midwife called Hekit (a prototype of Hekate) who aided in the birth of the gods. Frog amulets were used to ensure a safe birth. Frog amulets were also used in death.  People placed them on mummies in the belief that this would help guide them in the afterlife.  Hekit had one such amulet which bore the words “I am the Resurrection.”

Snakes: Snakes shed their skin, which is also a physical representation of rebirth. Hekate is often pictured with a snake entwined around her neck or arm.

Dogs:  It is believed that women were the first to domesticate dogs, because dogs were companions of the Goddess in many cultures. As nurturers and keepers of the hearth, women saw the potential of a new best friend, and took the animals in.  Dogs always accompanied Hecate. Some people believe that dogs are able to see the dead (ghosts) and other spirits. The ancients were also very impressed with canine keenness of other senses, particularly the sense of smell. Hekate is often pictured with the three-headed Cerberus (another Triplicity!) the dog who guarded the gates of the Underworld.

If Hekate is calling you, it is said that a black dog may cross your path, so be on the lookout!

Other Symbols:

Plants associated with Hekate are roses, poppies, garlic, mandrake, saffron, yew, and willow.

Gemstones are onyx, hematite, lapiz lazuli, moonstone and topaz.

Her colors are black, orange, red, silver and gold.

Her foods are apples, raisins, currants, dates, figs, cheese, wine, bread and cake.

She is associated with knives, swords and daggers (possibly because as a Goddess of change, she is known to “cut” unwanted things from our lives.)

She is pictured often with torches, presumably to help guide in dark spaces and navigate the Underworld.

She carries keys, a symbolic representation of entering new phases.

She is often found at the crossroads – a symbolic place of choice, decision and change, as well as the gateway to the other world, other dimensional realities, dream states and liminal spaces.

How can you honor Hekate?

At sundown on November 16, devotions to Hekate can begin.  (Other days to worship Hekate are at the new and full moons, August 13, November 1, and the 29th day of each month.)

The ancient Greeks made offerings of food and wine to Hekate. They would take their gifts to the crossroads, say a prayer or invocation, and leave them there for her.  In modern times we can do something similar. Create an altar to Hekate. Decorate it with her favorite colors and stones. Leave gifts of apples, raisin bread, wine, cheese, cake or anything you think would appeal to her. Like dark chocolates! 🙂

If you are ambitious, and happen to have a good crossroads in your neighborhood, you may even want to leave the offerings outside.  It is believed that if a homeless person, or an animal eats the offerings, they are also under Hekate’s protection. She will be pleased and bestow many blessings upon you!

Have a beautiful and blessed Hekate’s Night!

 

 

 

 

Of Astronauts and Goddesses — Happy Moon Day!

 

Who doesn’t love the moon? She is our silver lady, a bright beacon in the dark night, the everlasting subject of mythos and folklore. She is the ruler of romance, fate, madness and lunacy. Mythology of every culture has at least one moon goddess.

The moon has always had a powerful effect on the Earth and its inhabitants. The phases of the moon, from wax to wane, take place within a 28 day cycle. These phases are believed to influence human and animal behavior. A woman’s menstrual cycle matches the 28 day moon phases.

The moon affects the oceans, the tides, and water retention in the human body.  There are, statistically, more trauma and emergency room visits during the full moon, for humans as well as pets! Police departments report higher crime rates. Lions hunt more, sea creatures have exotic mating rituals, and scorpions are known to literally turn blue in the moonlight!

In spiritual and metaphysical terms, every Monday is really the moon’s day.  Consider the etymology of the word ‘moon’ – Germanic Mond, and Latin luna.  Hence, the word ‘Monday’ in most languages is some derivative of this — German, Montag, Danish Mandag, Swedish Måndag , Italian Lunedi,  Spanish Lunes, and Welsh dydd Llun.  The list goes on…

The moon is, no doubt, a very special planet, and today, July 20th, we have a national holiday to honor the moon!  Or, more specifically, to commemorate the first walk on the moon.

On July 20, 1969, NASA spacecraft Apollo 11 landed the first humans, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the moon.  Six hours after landing, Neil Armstrong left the craft and stepped onto the lunar surface, forever changing our perceptions and notions of what was humanly possible in space exploration.  He famously called his walk “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong was later joined by Buzz Aldrin. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, served as pilot, remaining at the wheel of the spacecraft while the other two explored.  Together, Armstrong and Aldrin spent about five hours on the moon. They collected 47.5 pounds of lunar material to bring back to Earth.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Americans were glued to their TV’s watching the live broadcast.

The moon landing was a huge achievement, the cumulation of the program initiated by President John F. Kennedy years before. It was also a milestone in the “space race” – the competition between the US and the Soviet Union to see who could get there first.

Reaching the moon placed the United States in a leadership role, with a duty to explore farther and deeper into the reach of the universe. In the years that followed, NASA and the Soviets both stepped up their game, continuing to fiercely compete for claims in space.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon proclaimed ‘National Moon Landing Day’ on July 20 to commemorate the mission. However, it seems the administration dropped the ball, never issuing  a proclamation to follow.

A man named Richard Christmas, a Michigan native, took it upon himself to make the holiday official. He began what he called the “Christmas Card” campaign –  tirelessly writing to congressmen and senators in all fifty states, urging them to create National Moon Day. By July of 1975, twelve states had sponsored bills observing Moon Day. Although Moon Day never became an official Federal Holiday (the kind we get a day off work for) many proponents continue to advocate for it, arguing that if we have a Christopher Columbus Day, we should have a Moon Landing Day as well.

Curiously, and suspiciously, after 1972 NASA stopped all missions to the moon. The supposed reason was because the undertakings were too expensive. However, some conspiracy theorists have other ideas. They believe NASA’s abrupt stop in moon exploration may actually be a cover up for the fact that they have made contact with Extra-terrestrials!

This theory is not so far-fetched as one might think. If NASA had made contact, the government, of course, would not want us to know. (Kind of like Roswell.)  Some folks even believe that NASA has established secret space stations for further alien contact.

These stations would be on the “dark side” of the moon – that is, the side that never faces Earth, so nobody can know what is going on there.

Regardless of what we believe about Extra-terrestrial contact, today is a great day to celebrate all aspects of the moon! Here are some fun things you can do:

  • Conduct a ritual for the goddess of your choice. Light a silver candle, go outside and observe the moon. Meditate, pray, commune with nature. Be grateful for the vastness of our universe.

  • Take a moonlight  bath!  Throw in some traditional flowers of the moon, such as lily, lilac, violet or jasmine.  Astrologically, the sun is now in the water sign of Cancer, the moon’s own home, so this is perfect. (Coincidence that the moon landing occurred in the sign of Cancer? I think not. )

  • If you happen to have a telescope, do some moon-gazin’!

  • Watch the movie “A Walk on the Moon”. This little gem stars Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen in the story of a summer romance set against the backdrop of the 1969 moon landing and all the frenzy it created.

  • Channel you inner Michael Jackson! Challenge your dancing skills with the famous ‘moon walk’.

Whatever you do, keep in mind the great beauty and mystery of this celestial body. Have a fantastic and not too loony Moon Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Equinox and the Goddess

 

autumn 1

Today we see an equality of day and night, yet soon the darkness will overtake us.

The earth tilts. Persephone descends to the underworld once again, leaving dead crops and barren fields. This is the time of the dark goddess. Call her Morrigan, Hekate, Hel, Mab, Cerridwen, Lilith.  She rules all things subconscious.  She is neither mother nor maiden.  She is the mighty huntress, the warrior, the crone, the sibyl, the healer, the high priestess.  Her wisdom is deep. She invites us to go  within, explore shadows, face personal darkness as the long nights scare and tempt us.

“Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the wayside,
Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of her tresses!
Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the meadows. When she had passed, it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

persephone-2-pd

Autumn’s equinox is the perfect time to begin ritual with the dark goddess.  You may find her in the stillness of the forest, in the fading summer twilight or in the harvest moon.  She is mysterious, unpredictable. She bids, she beckons, but most of all she haunts. This is the season of death, and in all death lies transformation. For those who dare to explore the dark side, magnanimous gifts await. The dark goddess helps us break through fears, anxieties, phobias.

Breathe deep. Take in the essence of autumn — ripe fruits, acorns, crackling fires, candlelight.  Meet the Morrigan on a raven’s wing or journey with Persephone across the River Styx. Energy is transformed in the scarlet  hues of falling leaves as they crumble and return to the earth.  Energy is transformed in the foods we eat at harvest. Our bodies regenerate in the long winter’s sleep. Meditate with the goddess and allow her to help transform negative energy for positive purposes. Our doubts and fears can become confidence and strength.

pre raph

Relish the golden days of autumn.

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.”

— William Shakespeare

Have a Blessed Autumn Equinox!

 

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