Lughnasadh: Harmonizing with Mother ll Rev. Mary Coday Edwards

August 1, 2018
Lughnasadh: Harmonizing with Mother
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

“Where are all the elephant carcasses?” wondered mystified conservationists managing Sri Lanka’s coastal wildlife preserves.

The 9.1 magnitude undersea earthquake of December 26, 2004, set off a series of tsunamis along the coasts of countries bordering the Indian Ocean. About 280,000 people died or went missing in 14 countries, and waves up to 100 feet high swamped coastal communities. Indonesia was hit the hardest, following by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia, at the time, along with my husband and 15-year-old son. The epicenter was off the coast of Aceh, Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, located 1,500 miles northwest of Jakarta. It’s estimated that up to 220,000 Indonesians lost their lives or went missing.

Like the seas, my soul roiled in anger at this revelation of fleeing animals: Anger at how clouded humanity’s mind has become. Anger at how we’ve bathed ourselves in hubris, so confident in humanity’s ability to rise above nature, to conquer it, to force it to our will. Anger for all the tied up and penned in domesticated animals who panicked with fear and couldn’t flee. Anger at our leaders: the scientists, monotheistic religious leaders, economists, politicians, and educators who shame indigenous groups who practice a different form of spirituality, those who still have eyes to see Divinity in nature (note 1).

And anger at how we talk about “dumb animals”, meaning of course, anything who isn’t of the human species. But yet who went running out into the receding seas, gathering up “God’s abundance” in the millions of stranded and flopping fish, only to then be swept out to their watery graves by the next 50-foot wave? It wasn’t the flamingos, they had long ago flew the coop to higher trees.

It was humanity.

Not the smartest beasts in the room

Survivors spoke of how their dogs refused their routine morning walks on the beach, and how elephants trumpeted in fear when their handlers pushed them toward the dangerous beaches.

The tsunamis hit after the earthquake. In Aceh, humans had 15-20 minutes to grow in awareness. The “dumb animals” sensed the change and responded. And, OK, so we’ve lost our sense of interconnection with our planet and its energies, but at least we could have recognized we weren’t the smartest beasts in the room.

Fortunately, lone human voices still cry out in the wilderness, brave souls willing to buck the status quo. Sensitive to their own needs for interconnection with forces greater than our accepted religious, cultural, and political institutions, these creative and courageous individuals still cry out, “Wait! The Emperor has no clothes on!”

Terryl Warnock joins those voices in her book, Miracle du jour, inspiring her readers to become a part of the enchanted world rather than a part from it (note 2).

Lughnasadh: It’s all about the light

The Northern Hemisphere harvest calendar traditionally places Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sa) on August 1 or 2. But Terryl, grown sensitive to the energies present in nature around her, celebrates the sacred day by an easily missed and subtle seasonal change.

“Lugh is the god of light, skilled in all the arts, and taken as sacred from ancient Celtic religious traditions by contemporary pagans. It’s all about the light,” she says.

Terryl, a contemporary, solitary pagan/witch, celebrates “Lughnasadh when the light of the high summer sun—acute, blue-white, and unforgiving—first blunts itself, ever so slightly, against the oncoming fall season. The light of day begins to soften. The punishing Summer Solstice warrior sun begins to age and mellow a little. The Great Goddess, His mate, is heavy and gravid, brought to term and ready to be delivered of Her abundance. The goldening of the light brings with it feelings of plenty and satisfaction.

“Lughnasadh is the first of three autumn harvest festivals for pagan folk. It tends to be a particularly light-hearted celebration, even by the standards of today’s conspicuously light-hearted pagan religious observances. It is harvest, but it is first harvest, skimming the cream and taking the first cutting.

“Lughnasadh feels like the last, sacred summer weekend to goof off. The capital-H Harvest draws nigh and as the days get shorter and the light more golden, the heavier work of Harvest approaches. Although few of us now live in cadence with the agricultural cycle, fall is still a busy time of year for most: the kids have to get back to school, houses and vehicles must be winterized, there’s canning and filling the freezer to be done and, of course, the holiday season is now unavoidably out there on the horizon. It’s time to start getting in and putting by for winter but, for this blessed moment of first awareness it’s still summer, and still too hot to work very hard. In ancient times people harvested the first cutting at this time and baked special braided loaves of bread with it to celebrate. In this spirit Lughnasadh is also known as Lammas, festival of loaves, and witches more poetic than I have called this sacred time ‘yeasty’ (note 3).

“But I am yeast-impaired in this lifetime. You could build a house with my loaves. So the ritual meal for my Lughnasadh celebration is a stew of freshly-harvested and roasted green chili with homemade tortillas.

“Traditional Lughnasadh celebrations also involve weaving corn and wheat into Goddess symbols, such as dollies, little corn dolls made out of husks and tied with wheat stalks. It is also a time to be exuberantly physical. We can feel the arc of the zenith. We are ‘unbearably animated’ in our bodies as in our lives, as we hike a mountain or take a nice, long bike ride (note 4). The funereal aspect of Lughnasadh is the knowledge, for certain now, that these glorious long summer days are numbered as the sun god marches inexorably to His inevitable winter death and resurrection.

“My father, who was more pagan than he knew, always started saying ‘we’d best get to work on our wood pile for the winter’ at about this time of year. It was too hot to do the seriously heavy work of wood gathering, though, so we’d take a family picnic to go scouting, as he called it. We’d break a couple of hatchet handles trying to throw them and stick them in stumps, plink a few tin cans with the .22 (cleaning up the woods scrounging trash for our targets), and see who could get to the top of the ridge first to get the best vantage. As a token effort, we’d chunk a piece of firewood or three in the bed of the truck. We were out there to play and to enjoy life for its own sake.

“Harvest, even detached from agricultural cycles, offers all of us the opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty in our lives. It is a time to feel our riches, to enjoy them, to celebrate where and how our lives are whole, to look at what we have, rather than to yearn after what we lack,” concluded Terryl.

The stream of life that dances in rhythmic measures

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and
of death, in ebb and flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this morning (note 5).

These days, I’m not near so angry, but sorrowful. I mourn the loss of species, fauna and flora, as well as humanity’s loss of intuitive ecological interconnectedness. We’re reaping what we’ve sown. We pump a stream of violence into our culture as we poison our land, our waterways, and our air. Our bodies then carry this violence within them as we commit violence against each other.

But we can return. Mindfulness practices can move us into an awareness of that stream of life surging through Mother Nature. We become conscious of the rhythms of life, of that powerful energy that drove the elephants up to the hills.

This Lughnasadh, watch for that “subtle change in light.”

And to my friends in the Southern Hemisphere—Happy Imbolc!

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Notes & Sources:

1.) I am simplistically dividing spirituality into two groups: those whose view of god emphasizes the immanence of divinity—the closeness of divinity that is within creation—vs. the transcendent idea, which emphasizes divinity outside of humanity, watching over us. Again, our cultural institutions push us into an untenable either/or position, when in reality, it’s and/both. For example, I feel a deep, intuitive connection with the natural world. This same energy/spirit flows through the universe, and so I intuit my connection with all that is and I know that at a deep level within my soul.

2.) Terryl Warnock, author of The Miracle du jour, MoonLit Press, LLC. Published Summer Solstice 2017. For more on Terryl, see my June blog

3.) https://marcietelander.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/celebrating-the-very-first-harvest-and-lughnasad/

4.) Spirits of the Sacred Grove: The World of a Druid Priestess. Emma Restall Orr writes that the Summer Solstice has deepened our understanding of power and how we might access it. The cross-quarter day of Lughnasadh, between high summer and the red skies of autumn, asks what we will do with it.

5.) Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, No. 69

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth