July 30, 2012 in Sage & Scourge
It’s funny; for all that my significant other and I are getting close to going into being together for our third year, I’ve never gotten to celebrate a Litha or Lughnasadh with him. He leaves for his summer tour right after Beltane and gets back around Mabon. Our coven jokes about the fact that we have no idea what our tradition does during these holidays because he’s never here to do them with us (He is the only actual initiate that we have). So, for these holidays, I usually have to pull out the old pirate flair to celebrate the turning of the wheel, which will involve things like making little household spells for the coming months, celebrating the Wren, decorating the house with flowers and attempting to make corn dollies and Brigid’s crosses (my attempts are hilariously bad at these sorts of things). I will bake a lot of bread and make stews for people to eat. If nothing else, we will pull out beer and celebrate the harvest in it’s simplest forms.
I grew up in an area where there was a great deal of farming and dependance on livestock. My own family were poor Southern Ohio farmers and Kentucky hill folk (when one of my coven sisters and my significant other saw pictures of one of my grandmothers for the first time, both asked confusedly if my family was Amish) . My mother was the first person in her family to go to college, and she went for music, which was even more shocking and scandalous at the time. My father’s family had a longer tradition of college degrees, but all of them went out and got their degree and returned to the land they loved. The town we lived in still bears the name of my family on its hills and roads and ridges.
While I myself did not grow up on the farm, I grew up with stories of the farm and that way of life. For me, the idea of dependence on the land was a very visceral one. My father reminisces about both the good times and the lean times and always reminds me that if we lose civilization, the land would still be there to nourish us. He has told me many stories about him not getting to eat because he was unable to hunt enough for the entire family. As the youngest male, they thought that he could deal without a meal or two if he wasn’t skilled enough to bring home enough. While hunting, I’ve watched my father take three squirrels at once. Think that’s impossible? Go track down any sort of backwoods squirrel hunter and ask to go with them sometime…
These are the things I think about during Lughnasadh. While I live in a large city, it is also a very damaged city. New Orleans is only just now recovering from Hurricane Katrina. We will be seeing the seventh year anniversary of Katrina in little over a week. The storm came and destroyed both the New Orleans infrastructure and it’s belief in security and the protection of the outside world. FEMA is just starting to rebuild our schools and there are still many empty buildings and houses. New Orleans itself has seen a resurgence in people keeping chickens and in home gardening. It’s the way many of us get to eat.
While the storm itself bears many terrible stories of tragedy, it also brings us stories of people who came together in this community and helped others through it. And while we are approaching this very upsetting anniversary, we are also flying directly into the bad hurricane months and have to deal with the thought that another one could happen at any time. When I first moved here, people told me to put anything precious that I owned in one place, so that if I had to leave, I could grab it and go immediately. This is a very different way of thinking than anywhere else I have ever been.
I think a lot of people these days have trouble remembering why harvest festivals like Lughnasadh are so important. We go to the grocery store and buy our food without even thinking about it. And while many people watch the debate over genetically modified foods, most people don’t think about how they can supplement their diet by gardening their own foods. These holidays are still just as vitally important today as they were in the pre-industrial age.
I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday night and one of the images that struck me the most was when the Industrial Revolution “happened” and the land was so obviously stripped and destroyed. While the announcers went on to discuss that the Industrial Revolution was one of the biggest moments of positive change the world has ever seen, all I could think about was how much it took away from us. It disconnected us from our land and, in many ways, from the communities that we had always known.
While I can’t necessarily tell you exactly how the tradition I’m currently studying celebrates this holiday, I know that I will still celebrate it with all of the contents of my bag-of-tricks. I will think about the things that I can start to put away for the winter months, even if these things are metaphorical and spiritual in nature. I will take a moment to appreciate the food on my table and acknowledge that I would not be doing very well if the grocery store on my corner were to suddenly disappear tomorrow. I will bake a ginger bread man and acknowledge the gods and the earth around me that enable me to have such bounty and I will remind myself that there are many places still in the world, where people are not as lucky as I am to have all the wonderful things that we, here in the states, have. While my city continues to regrow itself into what it used to be (and don’t think there was an element of necessary destruction in Katrina to bring this vital city back to what it was), I will keep in mind all the gifts that this time of year has to offer and all the things we could lose once again so very easily.
And when I go outside on Wednesday evening and look up at the night sky, even down here, in the very heart of the South, I will feel a nip of chill in the air and smell the possibility of the coming winter months and I will appreciate the warm climate that I live in much more than I usually do.
Blessed Lughnasadh a little early, everyone!
A Quick and Easy Lughnasadh Sweet/Savory Bread Recipe a la my friend Elena: