• Tag Archives Lughnasa
  • A Season Bent Toward Darkness and Cold

    Lughnasa                                                                Waxing Honey Extraction Room

    Since March I’ve driven home at 8 pm, each Sunday, from Tai Chi at the corner of Hennepin and Franklin.  As March receded and April arrived, then May and June, the evening drive had light, then light in abundance, with the sun setting well after I got home.  Now we are in Lughnasa, a full six weeks past the Summer Solstice.  This last Sunday night the sun had begun to fall behind the trees as I headed toward Highway 252.  The long downward slide toward the Winter Solstice is well underway, the days growing shorter and the nights longer.

    This is my time, now, the season bent toward darkness and cold even while the heat of summer continues to swell the fruits of the garden.  I can already feel the movement inward and down, the contemplative months reaching out from the future, beckoning my soul.

    Once the harvest begins in earnest, which it did here in July with the garlic crop, the gardening year moves toward senescence, ripening proceeds the coming of brown withered stalks and leaves turning already to dust.  Nature puts the bounty just before the fallow time.  It is the fallow time though, the time after the sensuality of seed fertility has yielded to summer and produced crops, crops that finish the plants purpose for that season at least, in many cases forever, that leaves room for the imagination, writing its dreams on stubbled fields, carving its fantasies in clouds pushed down from the north, opening the heart to its own rhythm.

    (Allison found this Van Gogh drawing.  It even has the hint of melancholy the season brings in its train.)

  • Lughnasa 2011

    Lughnasa                                                          Waxing Honey Flow Moon

    The third cross-quarter holiday in the Celtic calendar, Lughnasa follows Beltain and proceeds Samhain, thus it cuts the once much longer Beltain season, essentially the growing and harvesting season, in half.  It marks the first fruits of the harvest, a time of gathering in and being nourished by the summer’s heat, the plants’ flourishing.  Lughnasa apparently celebrates the god Lugh, a sun-god, though the relation between him and this festival is uncertain.  The Catholics honor this pagan tradition through the feastday, Lammas, when parishioners bring in bread from the first grains harvested.

    In the old days these festivals lasted a week or more, with farmers coming into the village from the countryside or meeting at a customary spot to set up a market.  Feasting, drinking, games, searching for a mate or for work blended with the serious task of laying up sufficient stores to survive the winter, foreshadowed now by the earlier setting of the sun.

    A remnant of these market fairs continues on in county fairs and state fairs where feasting, drinking, games, searching for a mate or work blends with honoring those who still provide our food.  Yes, we have the grocery store now and no we don’t wonder about surviving the winter, at least many of us don’t, but the old need to come together and crown a Princess Kay of the Milky Way, to sculpt her in butter lingers.

    Lughnasa here at Artemis Hives will find the honey harvest joining the tomatoes, the potatoes, beets, carrots, beans and onions.  It also finds us reaping the harvest of new learning:  Latin, Tai Chi, quilting techniques, potting and celebrating family.  The dogs have become a calmer pack thanks to an investment of time over the last few months.  Mark has made some progress towards a job and a healthier future.

    Celebrate your harvest, too.  Raise a glass of wine or water, eat a meal with friends and loved ones.  Wear a flower garland and go the state fair or the farmer’s market.  Why?  Because these are things we humans have done for centuries, for millennia, they keep us alive and healthy.

  • Following the Old Religion

    Lughnasa                                            Full Back To School Moon

    Summer has three endings:  Labor Day which marks the end of summer vacation for many school children; and, for many adults like myself, kicks us into serious mode as all those years of conditioning continue to affect our attitude;  Mabon, or the Fall Equinox, which comes tomorrow, that point when day and night balance each other, neither claiming dominance, though the trend matters and at this equinox, the balance tips toward night as the darkness increases, pulling us toward the longest night, the Winter Solstice on December 22nd and Samhain, or Summer’s End according to the old Celtic calendar which divided the year in half, Beltane-Samhain or the growing season, and Samhain-Beltane or the fallow season.  Samhain comes on October 31st and, like all Celtic holidays lasts a week.

    The growing season has this triple farewell reflected too in the holidays of Lughnasa, the festival of first fruits, Mabon, the peak of the harvest and harvest home, and Samhain, the end of the harvest season and the end of the growing season.  No matter how you notice or celebrate it these real changes in the agricultural year still happen, they still have critical importance for our human community, and they still deserve our attention.  Why?  Because our ages old relationship with agriculture is what separates us from the hunter-gatherers.  Agriculture allows us to live in villages, towns and cities by producing surplus food on farms in much the same way that the honeybee produces surplus honey while still making enough for the colony to survive on throughout the winter.

    Without those who farm, there would be no surplus food.  With no surplus food we would have to revert to subsistence agriculture, growing what we needed every year or hunting and gathering.  This would prove daunting since most of us have forgotten or never been taught how to grow food, how to hunt, how to identify edible plants.

    This is the great hidden reality for many, if not most, urban dwellers, who make up, since 2008, over half of the world’s population, a projected 5 billion people by 2030.  Without  a healthy eco-system, one that can support intense tillage, that is, sustainable tillage, the world’s urban dwellers will be bereft of something they cannot do without:  food.  Add to that the pressure on the world’s fresh water supply and two fundamental sustainers:  food and water are at peril.

    Granted following the holidays of the Great Wheel will not work magic–sorry to all my Wiccan friends–but it would remind us all, 8 times a year, of the source of our sustenance.  That would help.  Naming our days after these holidays (I do it in the upper left of each post) keeps that reminder fresh.  Our sustainers, mother earth and father sun, do not require us, do not need anything from us, yet they will support us if we live within their limits.  These holidays began when our ancestors realized the need to remind themselves of the delicate, fragile harmony required for human life to flourish.

    Over the course of the years and centuries and millennia since, hubris has lead us further and further away from the old religion; we have replaced it with  idols, fetishes, really.  We will, at some point, pay the price for our blasphemy as we upset that harmony, creating an environment that will no longer sustain human life.  Only if we step back from our profligacy can we ensure our survival.

    Knowing the rhythms of the natural world, of the agriculture that feeds us, of the systems that keep water fresh and available, is our only chance to avoid apocalypse.  Will we do it?  I don’t know.

  • Lughnasa: A First Fruits Festival and Beginning of the Harvest Cycle

    Lughnasa                                                       Waning Grandchildren Moon

    Turning round the star wheel we have come again to the first day of the month named after Augustus Caesar, First Citizen of Rome.  In Celtic lands this month was:  Welsh–Awst, Scots Gaelic–an Lunasdal and in Irish:  Lughnasadh.

    Though the coming of Autumn is not visible, the wind tells us it has come.   Fujiwara no Toshiyuki

    The Japanese word risshu means the first day of Autumn.  By solar equinox reckoning we are a good 8 weeks away from that day, yet Toshiyuki’s poem suggests another way to look for the fall of the year.  Are there signals in the air, in the plant world, among the animals?  Yes, there are. Lughnasa, a cross-quarter holiday in the Celtic calendar, marks the half-way point of the changes from the summer solstice to the fall equinox.

    The bees have put away honey all July and August is the month when their honey production wanes.  Many flowers and vegetables have already grown, flowered and fruited:  iris, daffodil, tulip, lily, dicentra, coral bells, hosta and phlox.  The long grasses have seeded as have many of the tall weeds, including the hemp that grows here in abundance.  There are stalks, brown stalks, in the garden, the signs of a more general senescence that will over take all the flowers and vegetables as August continues and becomes September.  Animal babies have begun to mature, witness the opossum pictured here a few weeks ago.

    The main signal of seasonal change though, for me, is the change in the angle of the sun light.  By August 20th, the sun’s angle of declination at its highest point in the sky, noon, will be 12 degrees less than the 69 degrees it achieved on June 20th, the summer solstice and the sun’s highest angle at our 45th degree of latitude.  This changed angle, subtle at first, becomes obvious as August moves on and creates the tone of seasonal change in advance of temperature and other meteorological signals. We now journey toward the sun’s lowest angle of declination here, 22 degrees, reached at the Winter Solstice on December 21st.

    In many webpages you will find confident reference to Lugh as the Celtic sun-god and to Lughnasa as his festival.  Maybe.  Celtic lore has a number of obstacles to clear understanding.  The most difficult obstacles lie in the sources of information that we have for ancient Celtic life.  Whatever written information, if any, the Celts left behind have been lost in the wake of the Roman invasions that began in 55 BC with the arrival of Julius Caesar.  As a result we always look at the Celts through the eyes of their conquerors.  Tacitus, for example, records the story of the Druids and their last stand across the Menai Straits in northwestern Wales.  It is Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars (Celtic Wars) that gives us much of the scanty information we have about Celtic religious life.

    The next main source of information about the Celts comes from the Roman Catholic Church that overtook and weeded out both the ancient faery faith and the peculiar and attractive version of Christianity that evolved on its own before the Roman Church came.  This Celtic Christianity emphasized a close relationship with the natural world and retained practices resonant with the Celtic faery faith.

    Nowadays a different, but no less problematic type of interpretation occurs when the neo-pagan community takes up these holidays and puts into them the mythological narratives that appeal most to their sensibility.   They can do this, of course, and, in fact, they do, but it does not mean that the interpretation they place on the sacred days have much, if any, congruence with the practices and beliefs of the ancient Celts.

    Thus, the Celts and their ancient life exist behind by shrouds of interpretation motivated by ancient political exigency, motivated by medieval religious arrogance and now motivated by contemporary irrational adoration.

    Lugh, in other words, is a name put on a Celtic deity by the Romans, who tended to associate the gods of conquered tribes with gods of their own.  Lugh came to be equated with Hermes, Mercury to the Romans.  We have very little direct information about the Celtic pantheon, though there is some.

    What we do know for certain is that on and around August 1, for centuries, Celtic and English peoples celebrated the first fruits of the harvest on a day called Lughnasa.  Brian Friel’s wonderful play, Dancing at Lughnasa, gives an excellent account of the holiday as it was still practiced in the early part of the 20th century.  As the Burns poem below* attests, part of its celebration included going out into the fields of barley or wheat or rye or whatever, to practice human fertility rites.

    Like the rest of the Celtic holidays, Lughnasa involved a week of fairs and markets, a time of celebrations, gatherings of people from various rural areas.

    These holidays were and are significant in the daily lives of rural folks in the Celtic Countries and England.  The Lammas Meadows are an example.  Lugg Meadows in Herefordshire, England are the largest and best preserved of 20 Lammas Meadows in England today, some of which still follow the medieval land tenure system that created them in the first place.

    In this system the lord of the manor, who owned the fields, would rent the prime bottom land to those who could afford the rent.  Bottom land was the most valuable land in the middle ages because it often had a sandy or rocky bottom with layers of fertile silt on top, creating a well-drained and rich field for growing hay.  Hay was critical for it fed the many animals used in farming and in the other work of the manor through the winter.

    The fee-holders would mark their holdings with ‘dole stones’, the holding being irregular strips of the bottom land on which they purchased the right to harvest hay.  From Candlemas (the Catholic holiday laid over the Celtic celebration of Brigid, the triple Goddess, Imbolc) to Lammas (the Catholic holiday laid over the Celtic Lughnasa) the fee-holders and the Lord kept the Lammas Meadows ‘shut for hay.’  Over this time only the Lord and the fee-holders could enter the land.  On Lammas Day, however, the fields would open to the commoner–the person who used the common land–who could browse his animals in them until Candlemas, February 1st of the next year.

    The farmer making hay from the Lammas Meadows (see pic) has an interesting graphic about his concept of sustainability.  It involves a triple bottom line:  social, environmental and economic.   Here it is:

    from a fascinating website:  Wilson’s Almanac

    *It was on a Lammas night,
    When corn rigs are bonnie,
    Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
    I held away to Annie:
    The time flew by, wi tentless heed,
    Till ‘tween the late and early;
    Wi’ sma’ persuasion she agreed
    To see me thro’ the barley.

    The sky was blue, the wind was still,
    The moon was shining clearly;
    I set her down, wi’ right good will,
    Amang the rigs o’barley
    I ken’t her heart was a’ my ain;
    I lov’d her most sincerely;
    I kissed her owre and owre again,
    Among the rig o’ barley.

    I locked her in my fond embrace;
    Her heart was beating rarely:
    My blessings on that happy place,
    Amang the rigs o’barley.
    But by the moon and stars so bright,
    That shone that hour so clearly!
    She ay shall bless that happy night,
    Amang the rigs o’barley.

    I hae been blythe wi’ comrades dear;
    I hae been merry drinking;
    I hae been joyfu’ gath’rin gear;
    I hae been happy thinking:
    But a’ the pleasures e’er I saw,
    Tho three times doubl’d fairley
    That happy night was worth then a’.
    Among the rig’s o’ barley.


    Corn rigs, an’ barley rigs,
    An’ corn rigs are bonnie:
    I’ll ne’er forget that happy night,
    Among the rigs wi’ Annie.

    Robert Burns

  • Primal Eating

    71  bar rises 29.87 0mph NE dew-point 58  sunrise 6:00  sunset 8:38 Lughnasa

    New (Corn) Moon

    A vegetarian meal  tonight.  Spaghetti squash, golden beets, cucumber tomato and onion salad and cooked whole onion.  Colorful and healthy.  All but the tomatoes were from our garden, including the garlic and cilantro sauteed in olive oil as a dressing for the squash.  After the OMG tomatoes the plants have settled into production with many fruits, but none mature right now.

    I know some perhaps many of you who read this cook things straight out of your garden or meat from your stock, but I haven’t done it much.  Flowers and shade plants, shrubs and trees have occupied my time.  I love them and will always tend them but the vegetables now have my attention.

    Primal eating happens when you go pluck five beets out of the earth, take them into the sink and wash them off, trim the leaves and roots away, then slice these hardy roots into smaller pieces, add tarragon and balsamic vinegar, some salt, cook and eat them.  The same tonight with the spaghetti squash, the cucumber, the onion, both in the salad and the one I cooked whole.   I knew these plants when they were tiny seeds, barely bigger than the lead in a pencil or when they were small potted specimens.  The onions and the garlic went into the ground as what they would become, only larger.  In each case though the same hands that harvested them prepared for eating.

    10,000 years ago some hunters and gatherers first planted seeds and tended crops.  The effect on human culture still gathers momentum even today.  Nomadic life began to disappear for those people.  Settled villages sprang up around the fields.   The keeping of animals for food was more predictable than the hunt.  In both cases though our ancestors had to give up the moving from place to place depending on season and game patterns.  Our bodies, developed in the paleolithic to survive predators and hunt for prey, found themselves out of place.

    They still do.  So, while gathering and cooking goes far back in our history, it does not go all the way back to that earlier phase of the moveable feast.  This fall, however, when Kate and I pick wild grapes that grow in our woods and turn them into jam we will travel back to those ancient times, the ancient trail of seeking food where it decides to be rather than where we care for it.

    This meal tonight was a Lughnasa meal, a meal of first fruits, the harvest we do not plan to store either through drying or canning.  As a Lughnasa meal, it put us in contact with those early Celts whose gardens might spell the difference between survival and starvation.  We live in a wealthier time, but not in one any less dependent on the gifts of mother earth.

  • Spaghetti Squash and a Scimitar Cucumber

    81  bar steady 29.93 1mph NE  dew-point 51  sunrise 5:59  sunset 8:38

    New (Corn) Moon

    Tao is the way without a way;
    It is the path with no tracks.
    You start walking the way of Tao when you erase anything – good or bad – you learned about Tao.

    “If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.” – Wilson Mizner

    This quote from Mizner amuses me since I’ve just read many authors to tease out the history of Unitarian and Universalist churches in Minnesota.  Research, not plagiarism.   I put down Freedom Moves West this morning after read it, mostly, from beginning to end.  It is rare when researching a topic as outside the mainstream as this one to find a whole book exactly on point by Freedom Moves West is such a book.  It offers up the history of the Western Unitarian Conference from 1852 to 1952, the period when Minnesota churches came into being and the context nationally and regionally that surrounded their creation.

    Of course, such a lot of material on point requires a good deal of sifting and weighing, matching with other sources, like church histories written by individual congregation, still it provides an overall narrative that makes the whole task better.

    After my nap, I plan to sit down and organize my notes and thoughts on Heresy Moves West (yes, I sort of borrowed the notion from the book).  If I can, I hope to get to writing.  If not, tomorrow.  That will feel good.

    Last night I harvested a spaghetti squash and a long, scimitar shaped cucumber.  This morning I pulled golden beets and Nante carrots.  Later on I’ll pluck one of the drying onions off the screen and a head of garlic to use in cooking supper.  This will be a vegetarian meal, one made in  honor and celebration of Lughnasa.  Celtic holy days lasted a week or more, occasioned as they usually were by markets, dances, rituals and general collectivity.

    A lovely, blue sky day with reasonable dew-point and temperature.  Good deal.

  • The Beginning of Summer’s End

    77  bar rises 29.83 3mpn NNW dew-point 61  sunrise 5:58  sunset 8:39  Lughnasa

    New (Corn) Moon

    As I note in the Lughnasa entry now posted on the Great Wheel page, we have come to the beginning of summer’s end.  The Celtic word for summer’s end is Samhain, also the name for the last of the harvest festivals celebrated on October 31st.  August 1st finds those of us with gardens and farms involved in some manner or another with our early harvests.  The first tomatoes, the garlic already in here, beans, beets, carrots and onions.  This is a time of thanksgiving, a day of gratefulness for the earth and for the plant life which offers itself to us and to our fellow creatures so that we might live.

    A dish of green beans, onions in a salad perhaps garnished with tomatoes, garlic used to flavor a sautee all remind us that food does not emerge from the ether, rather it grows with care and attention, care and attention meted out over a growing season, not all at once.  It is not a matter of a moment to grow food.  Vegetables only reward those willing to practice attentiveness, to stay in the now.  The plant needs what it needs today, not tomorrow.  The pests that infest today will become worse tomorrow.  Act now.

    Today is an all Heresy Moves West day.   The story of Unitarians and Universalist as they follow the frontier, especially the pioneers from New England, makes an American saga.  America’s exceptionalism often takes the form of manifest destiny, our version of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden, but a truer idiosyncrasy of this country lies in our embrace of religious freedom.  We take it for granted, imagine that if it’s not the case in another place, they just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but in fact we are very much the outlier when it comes to the firewall between the state and religious institutions/faith traditions.

    That a peculiar brand of new thought that changed the flow of a millennia old faith tradition–the Judaeo-Christian–could not only flourish but spread as the country grew, that the new thought itself would become fractious and splinter along unpredictable lines, and that it would find its most radical expression in the Midwest rather than its place of origin in Boston and surrounds could only happen here.   The chance to tell this story makes me glad, for it is a story of vision, of unfettered thought, of reaching beyond the boundaries of the mind, a story that transcends its makers by breaking open new sources of authority for those searching for a place in this vast universe of ours.

  • Radical Expectations

    86  bar falls 29.66 3mph N  dew-point 59  sunrise 5:56 sunset 8:42 Summer

    Waning Crescent of the Thunder Moon

    Lughnasa, August 1st, comes on a new moon night.  This means the first harvest festival of the Celtic year (it ends just before the last harvest festival on October 31st, Samhain.) will coincide with the dark moon.  In some pagan systems the new moon, the dark moon, is a time for introspection, for reflection.  It is a time to consider your life, to meditate and consider new beginnings.  This convergence of Lughnasa and the new moon may make for an interesting holiday.  Look to the Great Wheel posting on August 1st for some thoughts and a description of our celebration in the garden here at home.

    Tonight is the second Sierra Club political committee meeting.  More endorsement work and consideration of targets for the up coming election.  I can’t talk about the details, but the political work makes a certain part of me thrum.

    Speaking of cycles and elections the fall campaign has begun already.  Obama visited Europe and the Middle East.  McCain visited a German restaurant.   No kidding.  Look it up.  While my broad political sympathies lie with the Obama camp, my particular politics seem distant from the tug and pull of rhetoric which focuses on tax cuts and forcing people to buy medical insurance.  Where are the poor?  The disadvantaged?  The environment does seem to have traction in this race, part of the reason I decided to go with the Sierra Club work, but even there the radical, cut to the true bottom of an issue and deal with that, hears only faint echoes of itself.

    Of course, expecting radical solutions from a political/economic system devoted to moderate policy initiatives, policy initiatives often vetted by the very industries and political interests targeted by them, remains, as it always has, an exercise in futility.  I know that.  I see it.  I feel it in my gut.

    Which begs the question, why work within it?  Unlike those long ago days of movement politics drugs sex and rock and roll I sense no significant political minority roused.  The environmental advocates, who, if any, should be advancing with some power right now, seem fragmented.  In a moment without a vanguard and in a moment without a popular, even if disorganized, front clambering for change the politics of most use happen within the messy gears of our quasi-democratic process.

  • Onions on a Screen

    80  bar steady 29.71  2mph W dew-point 61  sunrise 5:56  sunset 8:42 Summer

    Waning Crescent of the Thunder Moon

    Heaved sand out of the to be fire pit.  Still a lotta roots even after the stump grinder.  Sigh.  It will get finished, and before 8/18 as a birthday present for Kate and as a Woolly place.  Gotta get up earlier to make this happen however.

    Pulled onions, put down an old sliding door screen over the raised bed and put them on it to dry.  We have red and yellow, no white.  Seeing them out there, all next to each other, soaking up the rays like California girls makes an aging horticulturist proud.  All the allium crops are out of the ground now.  The garlic hangs in the utililty room in the basement and the onions will go in the garage either in burlap or slotted crates.

    With tomatoes coming and the bean plants producing we are well into the first harvest cycle.  We will celebrate this on August 1st with some kind of ceremony in the garden.  We also plan to invite the neighbors on August 2nd.