There is a very powerful practice to attune to the seasons and the wheel of the year at the time of the Celtic festivals and create our own ceremonies, together or alone in the stillness of meditation. We both animate and reclaim the past wisdom of our ancestors whose very survival was bound to the seasons. They regarded the process of birth, growth, harvest and then death as a sacred and mysterious cycle entirely held within the embrace of Mother Earth.
Our reconnection to this ancient practice is a deeply grounding and reverent experience. We may no longer grow the grain of our bread or physically bury our forebears, but we still hold these energies and experiences within us. By reliving them within the symbolic landscape, we are able to reintegrate a part of our psyche that has been surrendered to post-industrial society.
Glennie Kindred writes, ‘Lammas is a celebration of the summer and the gathering in of the grain harvest… After all the hard work of getting the grain crop cut, threshed, stored and stacked, there came a time for feasting, celebration and assessment… On mounds such as Silbury Hill at Avebury fires were lit to honour the Corn Mother as she gives birth to her harvest child, the Grain. This is the seed that will bring next year’s harvest as well as sustain life throughout the winter.’
The ancient art of making corn dollies is far harder to master than you might imagine. A few years ago, with an ancient strain of wheat, I vainly tried to weave a dolly but ended up with a snake! It caused unrestrained amusement amongst my friends who competently crafted their figures but the snake enjoyed the party! On the Lammas full moon at the end of July, we climbed an ancient mount and made offerings and gave our thanks for the harvest. The night was warm and still and I felt utterly immersed and nurtured in the landscape around me. I had merged with the great body of the Mother. It was both thrilling and deeply serene.
I know this approach to every season can be as simple or complex as we like. Planning ahead, I wonder then what you would like to do at Lammas? Will you gather with friends around a fire, weave wheat straw or grasses, share food and drink, song and stories? Or will you be quiet, alone with the mystery? Whatever we choose to do at that time, I would ask you to thank Mother Earth as the bringer of fertility, growth, harvest and community.
Glennie reminds us, ‘…Demeter was the Corn Mother, and the Old Woman. Kore, Ker or Persephone was the aspect of the Triple Goddess who descended into the Underworld for renewal and was reborn in Spring.’ This is the mythology and language of rich symbolism, and another world of the imagination beyond the literal that we are so bound by today. These celebrations are our opportunity to become more connected and open.
What has grown in you this year? What do you need to store up in your inner world to nurture you during the cold and dark of the winter months? And perhaps of most significance at this time, what will you offer to balance the darkness in the world?
Mother Earth is calling us. She needs our concern and engagement. She needs to feel our acknowledgement of our profound interconnection. As Thomas Berry said, ‘The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects’ and we humans have the potential to be in communion with the Earth and the great universe.
Glennie has been an invaluable guide and friend to me and she has taught me the value of celebrating and honouring the seasons. This is so much more than a form of lip service to the ancient culture of our land. It is a reanimation of the values of reverence, integration and belonging to the Earth in a time of desperate separation when our culture is intent on objectifying and exploiting our planet at all costs. For what we revere and love we cannot consciously destroy, without destroying ourselves.
Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of Permaculture – solutions for self-reliance, an international magazine. She also co-founded Permanent Publications, award winning book publishers, and The Sustainability Centre. For more information see www.permaculture.co.uk and www.sustainability-centre.org