Lughnasadh: A MODERN TAKE
I went in search of something fresh about Lughnasadh, the holiday Wiccans north of the Equator are celebrating in early August, some on the first, some on the second, some on the astrological cross-quarter date, which I believe is the 6th this year, and some for the entire first week of the month! But I kept finding the same old, same old stuff, so I meditated and got some fresh ideas.
The first harvest
The cutting of the season’s first grains has been seen as a reflection of the god’s “sacrifice” and death, as he was symbolically cut down too. However, the Charge of the Goddess decrees, “Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” And since we know there is no death, the whole “god who died for me” thing is kind of irrelevant. Nobody dies. There is no death. Leaving physical existence is not a sacrifice, it’s a release and it is natural, inevitable, and an integral part of the cycle.
In Celtic mythology, the god journeys into the underworld and begins a new journey there before being reborn again in the spring. Corn dollies, fresh-baked breads and buns, even some shaped like little men (probably the origin of gingerbread men) are baked, given as offerings to nature and to the gods, and eaten as we take the energies of them into ourselves.
The dying god who rises again is a common motif throughout many religions, and traces back to humans' observation of nature, as everything does. The sun is weaker in winter, so the god attributed to the sun, ages, dies, is reborn on the winter solstice, and begins the cycle again. It’s all about crops, farming, planting and harvesting — things key to survival!
That’s no longer the case
Today, most of us are not dependent upon the success of our backyard veggie garden for our survival. We’re not going to starve over the winter if our tomatoes don’t bear fruit. We’re going to the grocery store, in person or online, to get what we need.
So a lot of the old stuff doesn’t seem very relatable today. I mean, yeah, a bountiful harvest is great. But our life doesn’t depend on it. Unless we back up a little to get the broader picture.
What is the modern equivalent of the harvest?
What part of our modern lives provide us the means to continue living in the style we prefer? Income. And what creates our income? Usually, the stuff we do that we refer to as "work." So if we think of our work as our garden, and our paycheck as our harvest, we can begin to feel a little more of a personal connection to the holiday of Lughnasadh.
Work in the western world, especially here in the US where I live, is undergoing a radical rebirth, and I like to think of this sea-change as a type of first harvest. Greater changes are to come.
The pandemic has helped generate new ideas about employment. Companies in the US and EU are experimenting with a four-day work week. Working from home is no longer only for the self-employed, and hybrid office/home hybrid positions are everywhere. People are drawing firm lines between work time and home time, leaving their job at the office and turning off the phone in their off hours. Unions are gaining popularity again. Being a Starbucks barista might become a real option as it should be. If you love this occupation and are wonderful at it, why shouldn't you be able to earn a decent living doing it?
Likewise, workers are changing jobs in droves. And most are changing them for jobs that pay more and offer better conditions. Many are changing their old job for a different path altogether, starting their own businesses, taking the leap of faith to do what they love best and trust that the money will follow.
Work is becoming better for those who can see. The options are wider than they have been in my memory. With the advent of the Internet, those with access can make a living in a million different ways from the comfort of their own homes.
Here's where I'm working today
I make a living writing novels. I’ve been doing it for a long time. But in recent years I’ve added channeled readings, an out-of-print bookshop, an editing service, and an online magic shop to my revenue stream.
My husband has been a roof-and-siding guy and a welder. But this year he has took the leap to do something he really loves instead — building backyard water features. He spent months in professional courses offered by the top waterscape company in the US. With his creativity and vision and the know-how he's acquired, he’s filling a void in our area. There is no one near us who knows how to do this well, but lots of people with waterfeatures that don’t work because the person who installed them didn’t know how. Bonus for me: whenever hubs isn't busy building one for someone else, he uses our home as his testing ground. He just finished phase one of the gorgeous area, where I am writing right now. It’s close enough to the house to pick up the wireless for internet. (We’re out of cell range.) Better yet, close enough so the sound of the water reaches me in every west-facing room, apropos, since, in the Craft of the Wise, the element of water is generally attributed to the west.
Relating this to our own harvests
One modern take on Lughnasadh is this: we are beginning to see the results of the work we’ve done over the recent growing season, from Ostara to Beltane to Litha. At Lughnasadh, the energy of nature (in the northern hemisphere) is aligned with manifestation. The things we’ve been working toward begin to show up. We achieve some of the goals we set for ourselves. We receive some of the blessings we’ve asked for.
This energy of manifestation is strongest during the harvest festivals. Lughnasadh is the first of three. Whatever is still in progress still has powerful becoming-force behind it all throughout the harvest season, from Lughnasadah to Mabon (the autumnal equinox) to Samhain.
Rethink your work
It's a great time to take a look at what you have created in your life, particularly as it relates to work. Does what you do for a living fulfill you? Are you enjoying it? Is the reward worth it? Does it allow you to use the gifts and talents you were born with? Do you love your job or resent it?
Sit with that and mull on it. Allow deep self-exploration and what you discover there to be your first harvest. Just knowing what you don’t want can chase the clouds away and let the sunlight illuminate what you do what. Possessing that knowledge is everything.
Take it with you as you move through this harvest period. Become aware that we harvest only what we plant, and try to find all the good you have created in your life and home and work this year. Try to focus on appreciation for what is, give thanks for what is good. No life is without goodness.
Take this knowledge of what you now want with you into the dark half of the year. The winter is the incubator of such knowledge. It’s where self-knowledge grows and develops into a new plan of action that will emerge from winter’s cocoon, fully developed and ready to fly in the spring, when nature's energy matches rebirth, renewal, and putting new plans into motion.
A Lughnasadh Ritual
Many small pieces of paper. (1" by 3" strips or so)
A pen or pencil
A cauldron or other flame-proof container for burning.
A grain-based offering
A slice of fresh baked bread, bun, or roll, or a handful of grain.
The altar is in the North.
Read the entire ritual through before performing.
Decorate the altar with yellows, golds and deeps reds--the colors of latest summer as it unfurls into fall. Place an offering plate or bowl on the altar.
Cast your circle, call the quarters, and invoke the gods of the harvest.
Sit quietly for a few moments within it. Breathe deeply, meditate, rock, do whatever puts you into the state of mind for magic. A few minutes of meditation before the rite would do that beautifully.
Take a piece of paper and write down something about what you do to earn your living that you no longer want. It’s okay to think about the down sides for a little while -- you’re not being negative, you’re making way for clarity and transmuting the energy. Knowing what you don’t want tells you what you do want.
For each grievance you have about your current job, take a strip of paper and write it down. As you fill each strip, lay it aside, slightly to your left. Do this until you have covered everything you do not want about the current job.
Take a break. Take a few more deep breaths. Meditate for another minute. Listen to a Lughnasadh song. Dance around the room, speak to the Gods.
Then resume your position. This time, you are going look at each grievance you have written, read it aloud, and drop it into the cauldron. Then take a fresh strip of paper, write what you would prefer instead.
So if what you don’t want is “The boss treats me badly,” the new strip would say, “A boss and coworkers who treat me with kindness, courtesy, and respect.”
Go through the entire list of grievances, and write what you want instead on a fresh strip.
As you do this, your mind will start generating ideas of what you want that don’t have any correspondence to a grievance. That’s okay, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Write those ideas down too. You can use as many strips of paper as you want.
Now rise. Go to the altar. Look at the pile of papers in the cauldron, knowing that you are releasing the things they represent. The grain god will carry them with him into the land of transformation, where their energy will be cleansed and transmuted into something new for you to reclaim at Imbolc.
Light the papers in the cauldron on fire.
As you watch them burn, chant the popular Wiccan song:
“Hoof and horn, hoof and horn,
All that dies shall be reborn
Corn and grain, corn and grain
All that falls shall rise again.”
Let it burn until it goes out. As the smoke wafts, say:
“Take with you into the underworld, oh dancing god of the grain all these things that no longer serve me. And with them my thanks, which I give with this offering.”
Place your offering on the offering plate or into the bowl.
Pick up the cauldron and carry it widdershins (counterclockwise) around the circle, showing it to the elemental energies you have called in, to the water in the west, to the fire in the south, to the air in the east, and finally to the earth in the north.
At each quarter, hold it up and say, “Behold, it is gone! For only I ever held it, and now I have released it.”
If you are outside, toss the ashes into the wind. If inside, you scatter them out an open window, or last resort, pour the ash into any container and set it aside to be taken outside and released to the elements later, after the ritual is done.
Return the empty cauldron to the altar.
Take the remaining strips with the things you do want, the things you have written down that would be better. Carry them to the altar, and hold them up.
Say or sing:
“Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
All that dies shall be reborn.
Corn and grain, corn and grain
All that falls shall rise again.”
“These are the ingredients I pour into the cauldron of creation.”
Now, read each strip aloud and drop it into the cauldron. Do not light them yet. First, carry the cauldron around the circle deosil (clockwise,) to the air/east, then fire/south, then water/west, then earth/north. At each station say: “These are the ingredients of my creation. Bless them with the powers of…” (air/fire/water/earth.) "So mote it be."
Back at the north, place the cauldron on the altar. “Powers of fire transform and fire create, and my will becomes my fate.” Light them up.
As they burn, watch the smoke carry all your desires forward to combine with others you’ve launched and will launch going forward. These desires will become a new income-producing activity aka "job" that you love and that is fulfilling.
Give thanks and release the deities, close the quarters, and take up the circle.
Ground and center.
Eat a grain-based snack.
Take any leftover ashes outside and release them to the winds of change.
Take the offering outside, and release it to your fellow earthlings -- be they birds, squirrels, chiponks, mice or fish.
It is done.