Monday, 30 July 2018

Lammas or Lughnasadh?

Lammas or Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nah-sah) is generally celebrated by Pagans on 1st August, a date pretty much midway between the Summer Solstice (aka Litha) and the Autumn Equinox (aka Mabon). Many of us use the terms 'Lammas' and 'Lughnasadh' interchangeably (I am guilty of this myself). So what exactly is the difference between the two?

In many ways they are the same festival. Lughnasadh is the Gaelic name for this date, and literally means 'Lugh's Gathering'. Some people have interpreted the nature of the Gathering as a wake for the God Lugh, in his role as a sun deity - the summer sun now beginning to wane as the days begin to shorten as we move further away from the Summer Solstice when the sun's influence was at its peak - and others as a celebration of His wedding. What is certain is that Lughnasadh was marked by great gatherings of people (often high on hills or mountains or at holy wells), celebrating the harvest of the 'first fruits', feasting, matchmaking and athletic competitions. 

Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon name for the festival and is a contraction of the words 'Loaf Mass' and also celebrates the harvest of 'first fruits', in this case specifically the beginning of the grain harvest. The first loaves baked from the new crop of wheat, barley or rye would be taken to church to be blessed.

Lughnasadh has more obviously ancient roots and may therefore appeal more to purists, Lammas has the advantage of being easier to spell and pronounce! Or there's the Welsh name for the festival, Gŵyl Awst, (pronounced Gool OWst) meaning 'August Festival'. Either way I think in this case unless you are following a specific Tradition whichever name you use is fine, rather like Samhain/Hallowe'en. Yes, they do have different overtones but as long as people get the general gist of what is being spoken about it probably doesn't matter too much to most of us.

What does matter is the meaning of the festival. It is a time for celebration - community gatherings, reaping the results of hard work, the beginning of (hopefully) a time of plenty for all. But interestingly it is tinged with sadness too. The sun is beginning to wane, the end of the summer (though still at a distance) is beginning to be glimpsed. The God of the Grain, in order to feed His people must be sacrificed. Just around the corner is winter - will it be harsh? Will there be enough of a harvest to ensure the community can get through the long, dark days? No wonder our Ancestors gathered together to celebrate while they could, to give thanks for the harvest gathered in. 

Nowadays most of us are lucky enough to have food security, yet it is still a good time to pause and count our blessings. One way our local Pagan community has often celebrated this is with a 'Basket of Abundance' at our Lammas ritual. Everyone brings a small, wrapped gift (or gifts) to put into the basket and during the ritual it is passed round for everyone to draw something out (it's a bit like a Pagan 'Secret Santa'!). If you don't have a group to celebrate with you could still have fun giving out little token gifts to your friends and family. If you're a gardener and have excess fruit and veggies, or flowers and herbs, you could take some round to your neighbours. Or a lovely idea would be to donate food to your local Food Bank, or a few hours of your time volunteering at a homeless shelter. Or you could give unwanted items to your favourite Charity Shop, or tins of dog/cat food and old blankets to an animal shelter. In these times of (relative) plenty and security, let's share our abundance with those who need it.

Blessings of the harvest to you!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Blessed by Bees

The walls of the house here at Halfway Up A Hill are about 18" thick, the construction of local stone and slate. The house was built in the 1930's but its traditional style makes it look older.

In one corner of the kitchen is a cupboard, recessed into the wall adjacent to the chimney breast. Here the walls are even thicker because of the chimney. I assume the cupboard was used as a primitive fridge, as there's a vent to the outside that allows the circulation of fresh air. In winter it's quite effective, and we have used it to store excess fruit and vegetables when our own fridge has been struggling to cope (although mostly it has cookware and crockery in it).

A couple of weeks ago I returned home from work to find the kitchen full of honeybees. They were entering through the vent in the cupboard - a swarm had found the vent and decided it looked like the perfect place to set up their new colony. By opening the windows and blocking the vent where it opened into the cupboard I managed to vacate the kitchen of bees. I imagined that with the vent blocked inside, there wouldn't be enough room for the new hive and the colony would vacate. But there must be more space in the walls than I imagined as they have stuck around, and can be seen industriously zooming in and out of the vent in the outer wall by the patio at the side of the house. It's just above head height, so the bees and I don't bother each other in our comings and goings. I decided I rather liked having them there, it feels like a blessing on the house. 

This morning I discovered something even more wondrous: when I open the cupboard I can faintly hear the humming of the hive, hundreds of bees gently buzzing as they go about their work building and tending their home. It sounds like some kind of distant choir. It's the kind of soothing sound that could lull you to sleep, like distant gulls and gentle waves on the shore or the soft patter of rain on leaves. 

I imagine the orderly world taking shape within the walls of the house, and the sweetness being created there. My house is truly blessed by bees.