Of Lughnasadh and solidarity

Over a plastic table at the university grill I laid out my case to two prominent members of the student government counsel about why we should show solidarity with low-income students as drastic cuts in federal financial aid were proposed. 

"That's exactly the problem!" one of the young men glaring at me across the table snapped. "That word."

Solidarity and harvest meme.jpg

What word? I combed back through my carefully prepared argument, trying to figure out what faux pas I might have committed in word choice. 

The other young man must have believed my expression of blank confusion. "Solidarity," he said. "That word makes you sound like a communist."

That was more than twenty years ago and it was the first time I heard that "solidarity" is considered a bad word. Unfortunately, that has not changed over the decades. 
 
Even today as progressives are making the word “socialism” halfway respectable, I still don’t hear this more personal term.
 
Solidarity isn’t charity and it isn’t socialism. It is much closer to the Pagan concept of hospitality. It means aid and comfort offered to the cold, the hungry, the wounded, the outcast and those whose harvest was poor last year or for many years, not out of pity but out of a deep understanding of our interconnection.
 
We are always saying that earth-centered spirituality is a big tent and we have very little if any common ground to base any solidarity on. And yet we all recognize "Paganism" when we see it, so there must be something that binds us.
 
Is it our acknowledgement of multiple gods of many different names and conceived of in as many different ways but still with suspiciously similar attributes across the world? Is it our yearning for something authentic, ancestral and rooted? Is it our understanding that the earth, not some man on a cloud, is the true giver of our daily bread?
 
Many of us with European roots wish to be acknowledged as a tradition en par with Native American, African or Hindu traditions that share these bits of common ground with us. But at the same time so many Pagans insist that politics and with it all social justice concerns have no place in our faith.
 
How so? What of that hospitality you speak so highly of? What of gratitude for your metaphorical harvest? What of your desire for native peoples around the world to acknowledge you as honorably seeking out your own ancestral connection?
 
What could the values of Lammas and Lughnasadh, the gratitude and the hospitality toward others possibly mean in today’s world that has been divorced from the land and agriculture, if not solidarity with those who have had hard luck, whether that meant being born in a war-torn and impoverished country or having less opportunity to obtain a secure living in our own country? What could it mean if not sharing what we have to ensure that the earth survives for another cycle of time?
 
You can claim with truth that we Pagans all believe different things. We do. We are vastly different. The words, the traditions and even our core beliefs diverge.

But if you hold some tradition of Lughnasadh or Lammas or even one comparable under some other name, then it is time to match your deeds to  your prayers and libations. Paganism is either real beyond your ritual circle or it is merely the teenage game some have accused us of.

I offer a poem for Lughnasadh and Lammas on the subject of solidarity:

Not to bow to sloth and greed
Nor to build walls of hate
Did Lugh ensure the seed
Or the Norns weave our fate.
You who claim the gods of old,
Who were silenced by crime,
Can least afford to turn cold
To those outcast in our time.
Honor you call for the great,
The ancestors of your blood,
And yet will you rise too late
To stand for right and good?
Odin wandered as it's told
In the guise of hard luck.
And Brigid of flame and gold
Always for justice struck.
Maybe tales are just that,
No more firm than mist.
Old warriors grow fat
And children are mere grist.
But if you call them sacred
And mean your oaths sworn,
It is time to battle hatred
And face the coming storm.
Hospitality for those in need.
Solidarity for those who fight.
The call of the heart’s creed
Is ringing in the night.

What is a meaningful harvest in the age of over-consumption

Six years ago, I decided I wanted to mark the beginning of the harvest season in a specific and flexible way In the middle of the summer, we are rarely home on a predictable date and we have a hard time keeping any sort of routine, so any family tradition in this season has to be portable and simple. 

My solution? I found a durable  table cloth and each year on August 1 or 2, the Celtic feast of the first harvest, I ask everyone who happens to share a major meal with my family, to sign the table cloth. We all sign as well. Then in odd moments over the winter, I embroider all the signatures onto the cloth. 

I'm not an expert at embroidery, so some parts are a bit clumsy, but it is a meditation in gratitude for me. Every year, that meal has been a special one, serendipitously surrounded by good friends or supportive and lovely strangers. As I embroider my gratitude is as much for the community and friendship of those brief summer moments, as it is for our physical harvest.

The harvest feast and the sense of relief and gratitude for winter's security that went along with it was a crucial part of human experience for millennia.  Today we have kitschy phrases for affirmations of gratitude, which we tend to force on people who are surviving the hardest moments of their lives--telling those fighting cancer or grieving the loss of a loved one to focus on "gratitude."

It isn't working.

Our society is increasingly disconnected from thankfulness and moreover we almost never feel that relief and satiation, the knowledge that our families are secure for the upcoming season.

Our economic ideology is one of constant "demand." We are encouraged to feel--even manipulated into believing--that our livelihood is insecure and we need more. "Employee insecurity" is a prized goal in business circles--keeping professional staff on their toes in a scary marketplace.

And the modern world really does require an awful lot of expensive stuff, if you want to have a career and not live on the margin of society growing herbs, like... ahem, some people you know. 

The reason I want to mark the harvest season isn't just because we have a garden and actually get some small harvest at this time. It has more to do with things everyone today can relate to. After all those thousands of years, humans still need a moment of relief. We don't do well in a constant state of need, anxiety and uncertainty. 

Harvest isn't just about gratitude. It is also about securing the hatches and experiencing a moment of safety. 

Gratitude is good. If you can truly feel thankful for what you have and know you have made it, marking the harvest season may come naturally. But if you are really struggling, either materially or emotionally, as so many people are today, being told that you should focus on what you are thankful for at any time of the year is not likely to help.

Instead, especially at this time when the harvest season is just beginning, there is also a need to find a moment of relief. Whatever it is that troubles your life, what would let you know that you can get through the next few months? Can you reach for something now that will give you at least a brief sense of security and stability?

Whether that's taking a much needed break and going on a well-earned vacation or reaching out to supportive friends at whatever distance, this is the modern spirit of the harvest feast.

Our modern harvest may not be an annual event, timed to the growing season. It may not even involve food or material things at all. But the biological rhythm of our bodies needs this sense of relief and security periodically. And this is a time when we are naturally yearning for it.  

In the age of too much consumption, a celebration of bounty and prosperity may not make the most sense. Instead it may help to take this time to reevaluate what we truly need, to gain a sense of fullness, so that we can let go of over-abundance and clutter. 

Our greatest need today often isn't material but rather social and emotional. What about instead of celebrating matieral bounty, celebrating the family, friends and community we have, be it small or large? What about looking at the emotional strength and balance you have built up--even if it still isn't perfect--as a harvest after hard work?

Gratitude is important. In fact, it is probably the most necessary  prerequisite for happiness. But I don't believe in feigned or forced gratitude. If you don't really feel thankful that you are not hungry, then there is little point on trying to make yourself feel it.

Looking at those things that are hard-won in your life, whatever your important milestones are--gaining confidence at work, finally starting that creative project you've dreamed of, growing a family or network of friends and so forth--may be more useful. And sharing whatever you have in over-abundance, whether it is time, knowledge or material goods, with those who have needs in that area is the best way I know of to foster your own gratitude. 

Once harvest celebrations were about amassing enough food to tide us through the lean times. Today we can adapt this concept even if you live in a city without so much as a house plant. Harvest is whatever you build up to tide you through hard times. That can be emotional, financial, social or life energy based. 

Now is the time to fill the reserves, to figure out what it is that will tide you over. You have the strength for it now. 

The women's wheel of the world

Celebrating of the rhythms of the earth through the goddesses of many cultures

Today many of us wish to connect to the cycles of nature. In our houses, jobs and schools, it can be difficult to feel a purpose in life. We lose touch, lose connection, and find ourselves drowning in everyday apathy or anxiety. 

There is an antidote in marking the rhythms of nature and feeling closer to the earth and the seasons of the sun. 

Beltane maiden.jpg

It isn’t just a nostalgic hippie concept. It’s a spiritual practice and a way to explore the huge questions in life in a way that doesn’t contradict science. For those of us who think too much, there is often a tension between the need for a spiritual sense of meaning and our logical insistence that what you see is what you get. 

The turning of the earth and the moon, the tilt of the earth and the seasons brought by sunlight—these are things science has well in hand. We know the sun will rise, just as we know bad days have only twenty-four hours. We know winter will come, just as we know that each of us has to get old someday. 

The rhythms of nature are simple and scientific. And at the same time they are profound and at the root of the greatest philosophical and spiritual traditions of humanity. The cycle of life is much larger than the circle of a year, but the whole is too vast—and frankly too harsh—to explain to children or even to contemplate directly as an adult. But we don't take in the circle of a year all at once. We come to it bit by bit. And we don’t have to contemplate it with the mind only. We use all of our senses, our body, heart and soul to perceive natural rhythms and the Wheel of the Year gives us the understanding we cannot gain through force of will.

The sacred sun days

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of flickr.com

As the earth tilts toward and away from the sun, we experience seasons. At the point when our part of the earth is tilted furthest toward the sun, we have the Summer Solstice--the time of greatest light. And when our part is tilted away we have the Winter Solstice. After each solstice we start to lean the other way. From light to darkness. And from darkness to light.

In the ancient tradition of the Celtic-Germanic-Slavic land I live on these solstices can be called Litha (for the Summer Solstice) and Yule (for the Winter Solstice). These are the best modern terms we have, originating from ancient European languages. Other cultures may have other terms for the solstices and the other sacred days of the wheel. My goal is to include the whole world and other terms are welcome.

Between these special days of the sun, there are the days when the light and dark are in perfect balance—the equinoxes. In the fall we call the equinox Mabon. In the spring we call the day of balance Ostara. 

If you make a cross and put the solstices opposite one another at the ends of one line and the equinoxes on the other axis, you have an ancient symbol of the sun. And if you make an X inside the cross, you then have a star with eight points or a wheel, the base of a mandala pattern. The four new points are for the days halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. Beltane on the first of May in the northern hemisphere (November in the south), Lammas at the cusp of August in the north (February in the south), Samhain on the first of November in the north (May in the south), and Imbolc in the earliest days of February in the north (August in the south). And that is what is called the Wheel of the Year.

It is a way of celebrating the rhythm of life and it starts as a recognition that there is darkness, release, relief, creation, expression, harvest, destruction, transformation—in natural and perpetual turning. When you mark the seasons of the year as sacred, your body, mind and soul reclaim their own rhythms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t suffer from life. But it connects you to the good in each season.

The Sacred Women from Around the World

There are many ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. We often cook special foods and exchange gifts. There are fun traditions for the whole family to enjoy and quiet observances for those who seek spiritual sustenance. One way to mark the sun days is to connect to the diverse spiritual teachings of our world through the myths of sacred women—the Goddess—and the many names for goddess in different tongues.

Marking the holy days with goddesses can be part of an active and vibrant family celebration or it can be a simple and quiet moment of meditation for an individual. The goddesses chosen for a sacred day should reflect the spirit of the season in their stories. Here I will suggest three goddesses for each of the solar holidays. As in many parts of the world, you can see goddesses as maidens, mothers and crones. There is a Maiden Goddess, a goddess full of independence and youth; a Mother Goddess, a nurturer and life-giver; and a Crone Goddess, a wise woman of healing and transformation--for each station of the sun.

Imbolc

My year begins in mid-winter because of importance of the alternating rhythm of the growing season and the time of greater contemplation and inner work. I also wish to start the year with the goddess I am closest with—Brigid. Our family Imbolc celebration usually includes a small, child-friendly ritual, sweet dumplings made with milk curd, seed cakes, many lit candles and candle making, candle-shaped cookies, Tarot and i-Ching readings, putting wishes for the year into a jar, hanging new Brigid’s crosses and waking up the Brigid doll sleeping in a basket by the fire on the morning of Imbolc. It may also include a trip to a spring or old well if we can manage it.

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Brigid is the maiden of Imbolc and though she is also mother and wise woman in other aspects (Weber 2015),  I can add mother and crone goddesses to this day as well. 

Saulė is the Latvian “dear little white sun,” (Motz 1997) and a good mother goddess for the cold day of Imbolc. She also shares the care of orphans with Brigid, who is often called “foster mother” either of Christ when she is portrayed as a Christian saint or of the one offering prayers in Pagan prayer. (Daimler 2016) Because my husband and I are adoptive parents, this has particular meaning in our family. We could easily incorporate an offering of endearments to Saulė. And given that we don’t do Valentine’s Day here and my children often wonder what their American cousins are talking about, we could include making heart shaped endearments for one another, as words of endearment are special to Saulė. (Motz 1997)

Elli is my crone of Imbolc. She is the goddess of old age and wisdom and yet I find the story of her beating Thor in a wrestling match (Auset 2009) to be wonderfully light-hearted. She reminds me of an old granny sitting by the Imbolc fire and laughing over her exploits and the folly of head-strong young people who think they will never be old. A symbol of her might be a shawl spread over the rocking chair by the fire and a story read from the children’s book of Grandmother Tales that portray old women as smart and capable. 

I can envision these three—Brigid, Saulė and Elli—discussing the needs of family and kin, planning fo the year ahead and tempering one another with their complimentary energies of fire, compassion and wisdom.

Ostara

Our Ostara tradition is usually fairly simple. We color eggs, decorate and make egg and bunny shaped cookies. Then the children hunt for eggs on the morning of the equinox. In local tradition, we decorate a leafless tree in the front yard with colored eggs and ribbons. We may read rabbit stories or other stories relating to Ostara. We’ll usually have a special lunch or dinner consisting of lots of eggs, such as quiche.

The name of the day Ostara comes from a maiden goddess. Ostara or Ostre is the the Saxon goddess of youth, fertility and beauty, who is accompanied by a hare. (Sass 2003) Her symbols are eggs and the hare which are already well incorporated into our traditions, although it is good to remember her with words at this time and consciously honor her through these symbols.

Anna Perenna is my Mother Goddess for Ostara. She is the enduring year, the goddess of the promise of a new cycle. (Monagham 2014)  We honor her at Ostara to give thanks for the promised return of spring, which is in our part of the world very heartfelt for everyone, and also to remember that the year will turn again, inexorably and always. We can make our quiche or other dishes this day round in honor of her. And because she is considered a trickster as well, we can plan April Fools pranks. 

The crone of Ostara is the Cailleach, the Celtic lady of chaos, harsh winds and primordial forces. (Greenfield 2014) We often have snow on Ostara, a last blast of winter coating our Ostara tree in white. The threat of weather disasters for our tiny seedlings is far from over and still keep them indoors at this season. The Cailleach is fearsome and a reminder that chaos can come despite Anna Perenna’s turning of the wheel. But she also lends us inner strength, a vitality and perseverance that is often lacking in the modern, overly convenienced world. She is also the Celtic equivalent of the crone of the cold season that our local legend bids a raucous farewell at Beltane, so it is fitting to have her in mind beforehand. We can honor the Cailleach by making a wind chime of feathers and metal objects that will bring her voice to the wind.

Beltane

Our Beltane celebration has been in my husband’s home village for many years now. The village has a huge bonfire and a fifty-food maypole. This tends to overshadow anything I try to do. However, I always get together some sort of flower-shaped sweets and May baskets for us to give to neighbors and cousins during the festivities. We sometimes go out to greet the beautiful Beltane morning and place offerings at the base of the maypole. Otherwise it is a community event involving cooking whatever will feed the most people.

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of Flickr.com

Ilankaka is the Nkondo maiden goddess for our Beltane. She is both creative and loving, but she also reminds us of the struggles of relationships, because she is captured by a man against her will and suffers great sorrow. (Monagham 1997) Beltane is a time of celebrating relationships and also making them better. The Maiden gives us the will to stand strong in ourselves as well and Ilankaka’s story is pertinent.

Panchamama is a delightful Incan mother goddess, honored in an unbroken line by tribes in the Andes and is still going strong today. She is an earth mother, a garden goddess and a “special companion” for women. (Leeming and Page 1994) May is they primary gardening month in our climate, when everything is planted and weeds grow desperately to beat the short growing season. It is a month when my life is very domestic and I love the idea of honoring Panchamama at this time.

The crone for Beltane might be Changing Woman. Her name in the Navajo language is Asdzan Nadleehe and she carries our ability to change within our lifetime, to be transformed and renewed at every age. (Loar (2008) There is a strong sense that Beltane is a time of when transformation is more possible, closer to the surface and a time to embrace the lessons of Changing Woman.

One of the ways I would recognize these goddesses is to put small offerings symbolic of their traditions in the earth at the base of the Maypole. We could leave a bright stone of polished marble (symbolic of Ilankaka’s brigtht radiance), some colored wooden beads like those often used in the Andes (as a symbol of Panchamama) and either a feather or a piece of snake skin (as symbols of Changing Woman). I would ask for the blessings of these goddesses on Beltane morning—the strength and independence to be a strong and healthy partner with the energy of the maiden Ilankaka still vibrant in my married life, the deep earth connection of Panchamama (and her help with my garden), and the ability to transform beautifully as does Changing Woman. 

Litha

The Summer Solstice is the solar holiday we have the least tradition for in our family. We often do little more than have a nice meal and try yet again to explain to the children about solstices from a scientific perspective. I try to have a bonfire but it isn’t always possible, sometimes due to lots of rain. This year for the first time, we will go to a local Pagan event that is appropriate for children. I am still searching for traditions for this time. If I could choose it would be playing music and drumming around a fire or some other activity involving expression and creativity.

Amaterasu is my Maiden Goddess for this time. She is often honored  in June in Japan. (Monagham, P. (2014) To me her seeming narcissism is a reminder of the necessity of putting ourselves out into the world, particularly women and especially when we are young. Today’s world is not kind to those who remain too passive. For better or for worse, we need goals and pride in our identity if we are to find a material life and work which brings us joy and fulfillment. Placing a small mirror on a flat stone or sundial to reflect a bit of the sun back into the sky, may be integrated into a ritual for Amaterasu.

Beiwe, the Arctic sun goddess, is the mother for this time. While the sun may seem too hot in many climates it is worth remembering that the northern climates need her warmth and life-giving energy. We are far enough north that even in the temporary heat, we have reason to see the sun as a nurturing mother. She can be honored by making “sun circles” out of leafing branches, (Monagham, P. (2014) and these could be placed around Amaterasu’s mirror.

Al-Lat is the ancient Middle Eastern sun goddess to provide a crone for this height of the sun’s power. She may be integrated into the ritual with a black stone or an eye drawn onto the mirror. 

Lammas

Lammas usually involves a camping trip or bonfire with friends, many of whom don’t share goddess spirituality, so my ritual celebration of the day is often quite simple. I like to make bread in interesting shapes and an outdoor altar if possible. I have a special tablecloth that everyone signs as a symbol of community and the feast.

White Buffalo Woman is my Maiden goddess for this time. She is both warrior and generous benefactor. She supports the community and brings the deeper meaning to community festivities that I long for. Her lessons involve respect for ecology and the earth, honoring warriors and defenders of the clan, as well as the desire to give back whatever it is that fills us with abundance. (Greenfield 2014) A perfect symbol of White Buffalo Woman is a picture or figure of a white cow, calf or horse.

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

 Saraswati is the Mother Goddess for this time, sharing her knowledge as a teacher. The earth is abundant at this time, but the wisdom to use the gifts of plenty wisely is crucial. Saraswati is not only a mother of abundance but also a mother of wise counsel, teaching and learning. A good symbol to bring her blessings to the day is a book.

Macha is the crone for this time of community and sharing. While White Buffalo Woman brings gentle gifts and fierce courage to the community and Saraswati brings the knowledge needed to nurture community, Macha embodies the energy of the activist for environmental and social justice, which is another important aspect of this day. Her energy be brought with a banner or sign with messages of the justice needed at the time. 

These symbols—a white animal, a book and a sign or banner—can be used to decorate the home or gathering of friends. This is a way to bring the healthy and beneficial energy of community together. 

Mabon

At Mabon we gather our family and sometimes close friends for a meal of thanksgiving. We visit or send gifts to older people. We also give gifts to or do kind things for animals. In my family the primary focus of Mabon is giving thanks and recognizing those who have given to us—for example our elders through all the struggles they have been through to bring us to this time and the animals that provide us with food, clothing, comfort, friendship and a healthy ecosystem to live in. 

Tabiti is a maiden goddess of hearth, family loyalty, harmony in the home and the protection of animals. (Auset 2009) She is also associated with the chieftains of family and clan and with oath giving. MacLeod 1960). Coals from the hearth make a good symbol for her and reiterating the oaths of family bonds and other commitments is a good way to honor her. New oaths may be given at Mabon feasts as well.

White Shell Woman is the Mother Goddess for Mabon. She watches over the crops and gardens that most directly sustain the family. She is a goddess of thanksgiving and the promise of light. (Hunt 2001) Both shells and corn are symbols of White Shell Woman. The best way to honor her is to give thanks for the many blessings we have, both material and immaterial. Even if we may still feel the lack of something, there is much to be thankful for, and gratitude brings many rewards.

Asase Yaa is the crone for this time. A Ghanian old woman of the land, she reminds us of the hard work needed to get nourishment from the earth. We must honor the work of those who labor hard so that we might eat as well as the sacrifices of previous generations. (Auset 2009) A symbol for Asase Yaa might well be a shovel or other tool of toil. To honor elders and those who have worked hard is to honor her.

One way to bring these energies together might be to allow each person in the gathering to say what they have to be thankful for in their lives. Each may throw corn or corn meal onto the fire as they finish speaking. Then each person could speak briefly of someone who they wish to honor, an elder or someone who has worked hard, and use a metal shovel to scoop out a bit of the embers of the fire. When the embers cool to ash, each person may state their oaths of family and community commitment, wet their hand with a little water and press it into the ash and then print their hand against a stone or wood surface prepared for this. These hand prints will then remain as reminders of the commitments made.

Samhain

With all the activities of Halloween going on, it can be difficult to get the family to focus for a moment on the spiritual side of Samhain. When my children were toddlers, they put out offerings for “Grandfather deer” and received small presents in the morning. We gave them candy and tried not to scold them for their many misdeeds on the basis of the concept that small children are “close to the ancestors.” Now as they grow older it is their turn to learn to give back and to honor ancestors as well.

My Maiden Goddess for Samhain is the Norse sun goddess Sunna. She is connected to spiritual magic and the symbol of a sun cross. (Woodfield 2014) This would be an excellent time to make bind-runes to put on talismans (a bag, shirt, doorway plaque or jewelry) for whatever magical energies you want to attract. Both bind runes and rune divination would be a way to connect with Sunna. 

Creative Commons image by Lisby of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Lisby of Flickr.com

Oya is the mother of nine children and my Mother Goddess for Samhain. She is a bit dark compared to most mother goddesses. Her connection to hurricanes, the transformative number nine and strong emotions of rage or fear may be frightening to some but I quickly connected with this goddess. While it is not comfortable to face these emotions, allowing them to be expressed can bring healing. I don’t necessarily want to go through hard times again, but I know that Oya can also play a part in healing from traumatic experiences, ecological devastation and social injustice. (Caputi 2004) A wild wind on a dark Samhain night is the time for Oya. Dressing up in ways that express dark and powerful emotion may be perfect way to honor her.

Baba Yaga is my Samhain crone. The contemporary stories that include her are scary enough to satisfy even secular concepts of Halloween. She is death, destruction and power, but she also grants wishes and punishes the unjust, the lazy and the apathetic bystander who tolerates injustice. (Greenfield (2014) To honor her we may make sacrifices in our lifestyle that help to redress imbalance or injustice or make commitments (Samhain resolutions of a sort) to work actively for justice and earth protection. 

Yule

Yule is already a very busy holiday for us. We have several cultures and an extended family to deal with. There are presents, big meals and various traditions happening every which way. Add to that the fact that we’ve been on a different continent away from home for two years but now we’ll be home, trying to reconstruct our home traditions. It is easy for the spiritual aspect to be overshadowed and almost impossible to hold any sort of small family ritual. The one thing we do always have is a Yule tree with decorations and usually a small scene of figures under it. This is one place where we can bring in the Goddess. 

I try to hold a brief dawn greeting of the sun with my husband and children on the morning of the Solstice. We usually also pull off a candlelight dinner the evening before with expressions of what we are thankful for and Solstice Tarot readings for the adults. 

It is into this part of the Yule celebration that I would like to bring some celebration of the Goddess. Usha, the Indian goddess of dawn, is my Maiden Goddess for Yule. Her twin sister is Night and they share the nursing of a child. They walk the same path, each in her own particular way. (Agrawala 1984).Her symbols might be a figure of an infant that is both dark and light or an infant wrapped in silk cloth with Indian designs. 

Ekhi, the Basque sun goddess (Sykes 2002) and motherly protector of humanity, is my Mother Goddess for Yule. She assures her children of hope and the eternal return of morning. She is a mother but is also born from the “reddish seas.” She reminds us of the need to stay a while in darkness in order to regenerate creative energy. She can be symbolized by a mother figure dressed in red or carrying a torch.

 Hekate is the Crone Goddess for Yule. She is a goddess of time, fate, solitude and witches, a mistress of the dead and “Keeper of the Keys to the Cosmos.” (Moss 2015) She can be symbolized by the figure of an old woman with a lantern or a key. 

Figures for these goddesses can be made out of clay or other materials and placed under the Yule tree. We can honor Ekhi at the candlelight feast on the eve of the Winter Solstice with poems of hope and thanksgiving for the promise of hope in difficult times. We can honor Hekate during the late night ritual of Solstice Tarot readings, lighting a candle in a small lantern. We can honor Usha at dawn when the sun returns.

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Lughnasadh: A time for community and craft

Lughnasadh or Lammas is stands out for our family from the other Pagan holidays. Most holidays we spend with family and the focus is on special meals, crafts, songs and kid-friendly rituals. But this holiday at the very beginning of August is different by its very nature. This is the season to focus on the harvest, community as well as work, skilled crafts and mentors or teaching. It's an outwardly focused time, the polar opposite of Imbolc's introspection. 

Creative Commons image by Amber Fray

Creative Commons image by Amber Fray

Many Pagan communities choose to hold their large community gatherings at this time of year. The weather is most likely to be good and the energy is community oriented. As a result many families have very simple and flexible traditions attached to this season.

This year for the first time, we have a local Pagan event for Lughnasadh that is appropriate for families with children. That's because we're hosting it in our back yard. We're gathering Pagan families to do a simple ritual and hold a community feast. But given that this is the first year we've done this, it isn't a tradition yet.

Helping with this sort of gathering is a great way to combine the themes of this time. If your local community does organize Pagan events, consider asking what you can do to help, clean up the area after the event, arrive early to help set things up or take on one of the many small roles that are needed to make a gathering work. This is the day of giving back. 

Even if your community doesn't have Pagan events and you can't make one happen yourself, there are other ways to contribute to your community. Many years we have found some way to volunteer. We plan to volunteer as ESL teachers at a summer camp for disadvantaged children when our kids are old enough. And we always have litter-clean-up expeditions at this time of year. 

Even so, it's a challenge to do a big community project right in the middle of the harvest. If you grow a big garden like we do, this is a busy time of the year.  The garden still needs tending and canning, freezing and drying food are now taking up a lot of time. Part of my craft is making herbal medicines for my extended family and friends. That is also one way I contribute to the community because I give my medicinals freely rather than selling them. That means that even when I don't pull off a community project at this time, I'm still putting energy into community with the herbs I'm gathering. 

And yet, as always I want my children to have a tradition to anchor them in the energy of the season. So, we still have a few things we do as a family that will always tie the holiday together. They are simpler than usual and can be done anywhere, because we may not be home.

Crafts and Ritual

We sometimes do a ritual giving thanks for our harvest and blessing our garden. This is always outdoors at this time of year and often a bit informal. In our climate the corn on the cob isn't ready yet but it is tall and looking like it will be ready soon. The kids are eagerly waiting for it to get ripe.

So, this is a good time to use cornmeal as an offering to scatter outside. If you grow a different staple crop, you might want to use something related to that crop. 

Because the kids are so active outside these days and more likely to be half naked and wet than not, it's a good time for crafts like face painting and tie-dye. But the primary craft of the season is a craft for me rather than for the children. And it's also our most important Lughnasadh family tradition.

Lughnasadh cloth - Creative Commons image by Arie Farnam

Lughnasadh cloth - Creative Commons image by Arie Farnam

A few years ago, my mother gave me a special table cloth that I remembered from my childhood and this became our special Lughnasadh cloth. Whatever gathering of friends, family and community we attend at Lughnasadh, we take the table cloth with us, even if it is an outside event. I encourage everyone to sign the table cloth.  Then I carry the cloth around with me most of the winter. And in those idle moments when I am waiting for kids at music classes or when there is a quiet evening, I embroider the names on the signed cloth in a color specific to that year. Last year our Lughnasadh event was a camping trip that included a bunch of Ukrainian friends of friends, so I spent the winter embroidering beautiful Cyrillic letters. 

The result is a beautiful cloth full of incredible memories. I'm not particularly skilled with a needle but that doesn't matter much after the project gets going. It is still quite beautiful and it carries the sense of community that is perfect for Lughnasadh.

You can duplicate this tradition by choosing a sturdy table cloth and starting with whatever gathering you attend this year. White isn't mandatory and orange or light brown would absorb stains better than mine and be wonderful for the season. You could use permanent markers instead of embroidery for an easier but no-less-meaningful version. Just remember to use just one color per year and mark the year in the same color in the corner of the cloth. In a few years the cloth will be colorful and you will be able to look back and recall the gatherings of past years based on the colors of the names of those who were there. 

Cooking

The best food of Lughnasadh is the fresh produce of a garden. Ripe tomatoes, corn on the cob, salad greens, carrots and herbs. We eat big salads or put the veggies into no-cook spring rolls.  Lughnasadh is also the known as the grain harvest so bread or pasta salad are big favorites and it's handy that they are easy to carry because unless we're working in the garden, we're unlikely to be home at all. 

Bohemian fruit pizza

Another way to both use your local fruit harvest and make bread at the same time is to make Bohemian fruit pizza. It is technically called pie in the Czech Republic but it resembles pizza more than anything else to foreigners. This is a pretty healthy recipe and can be eaten for breakfast and snacks, not just for desert. This is also a handy finger food to bring to community feasts.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1/4 cup butter 
  • 2 smallish eggs (or 4 egg yolks)
  • 1 tablespoon Yeast
  • 1/4 cup slightly warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Several cups of flour depending on consistency
  • Fruit (such as plums, apples, blackberries, pitted cherries, blueberries or huckleberries)
  • 1/2 cup Powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour (half and half whole grain if you want to be really healthy about it)
  • 1/3 cup cold butter

Directions:

  1. Peel and chop 1/2 pound of potatoes. Place in a small pan with one cup of water and half a teaspoon of salt. Cook until very soft and don't strain the water off.
  2. Mash up the potatoes and add half a stick (1/4 cup) of butter and mash that in to the hot potatoes as well. 
  3. Start yeast off to the side. Mix tablespoon of dry yeast, 1/4 cup slightly warm water and one tablespoon of sugar in a separate container. Let it sit while your potatoes cool off.
  4. When the potatoes have cooled off a bit add your eggs. You can use just egg yolks instead. This is an old grandmother's trick from Bohemia that is supposed to make the cake even better. Mix it in and make the potato mixture into a smooth mass.
  5. Add a cup of flour to your potato mixture and stir well.
  6. Once it is cool enough that it is around body temperature, add the yeast mixture and stir well.
  7. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and add more flower until the dough is kneadable. You'll need several more cups of flour.
  8. Let the dough rise for an hour under a warm damp cloth.
  9. Spread flour on your work surface. Knead your dough again and then roll it out into roughly the shape of your baking tray. Then carefully roll the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it to the greased baking sheet. Gently pull at the corners and sides to shape the dough to fit the pan and stick it slightly to the sides. 
  10. Spread thinly sliced fruit over the dough. Try to cover as much of the dough as possible but don't overlap into too thick a layer.  
  11. In a separate bowl tweak together 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/3 cup cold butter to make a crumbly mixture. 
  12. Scatter the crumbly mixture over your cake. 
  13. Let the cake rise for another half an hour or hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (180 C) fifteen minutes before you want to put it in.
  14. Back for 30 to 45 minutes. 

Spring rolls with fresh seasonal greens

1. Prepare:

  • Thin sheets of rice paper
  • Cooked fine rice noodles
  • Small pieces of cooked, lightly salted meat or egg
  • A bunch of salad greens an herbs cut up fine
  • Thinly sliced strips of red pepper (optional)
  • Thinly sliced boiled eggs (optional)

2. Fill a low pan with hot water and place it on a table with all your supplies.

3. Lay a sheet of rice paper into the pan of hot water, covering the sheet entirely and then carefully lift it out and put the wet sheet on a plate.

4. Put the most colorful bits of prepared food on first (usually eggs, peppers and dark greens or herbs). Place them in a line across the middle of the rice paper. Then add greens, meat or tofu and noodles. (You only really need a little of each thing for one sheet of rice paper. Keep them small and rolling will be easier.)

5. Carefully fold a bit of rice paper over the ends of the line and then roll the rice paper around the line of food.  The rice paper will stick to itself, so that the roll won't come open once you've rolled it up.

6. Set your spring roll on a plate and repeat the process until you have enough (An adult in our household usually eats 5 or 6 spring rolls for a meal.)

7. Serve the spring rolls with small bowls of spicy dressing for dipping. To make easy Vietnamese sauce for fresh spring rolls mix these ingredients roughly in this order:

  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon very hot garlic chili sauce
  • 4 teaspoons fish sauce (nuk mam) 

Joyous Lughnasadh and Lammas to you and yours. May your harvest in all areas of life be blessed. 

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