I don’t remember seeing the land so brown. England’s green and pleasant land seems to be pleading with the passing clouds for rain, but the clouds keep their promises for other lands and pass by. John Barleycorn is pale and wan, an old man with a crooked cane, awaiting the blades of the combine. As I look to my right I see a huge field where the falling has already taken place. Circular hay bales stand in regimented rows waiting to be piled onto trailers and stored. But in the two fields beneath the Long Man of Wilmington, John still stands. I smile because I know where that crop will go – over the other side of the Downs to the Long Man Brewery to make their delicious ale. They only found out, in the last couple of years, that their crop was being honoured by Druids just before the first harvest. They joked when I told them that they should put Blessed by Druids on their bottles. But of course, it wasn’t the beer we were connecting with – that has to wait until after the transformation – no, it was with the Spirit of the Fields.
Lammas, Calan Awst, Lughnasadh is an emotional time of year for me. I’ve heard some Pagans say that it’s not one of their favourite festivals. It’s not mine either, but it is one of the most potent. I remember talking to a Witch when I was first exploring Paganism many years ago and she said that Lammas was the most powerful of all of the 8 festivals of the Wheel of the Year. She said it had to be, because that moment, the moment of sacrifice when the Spirit of the Fields falls to the blade, is what it’s all about. Everything leads to that moment. I’m lucky enough to live in the South of England, where the turning of the modern Wheel of the Year makes total sense when it comes to the land around me. She had been a Sussex Witch, so it made sense to her too. I can’t speak for other lands or places but, yes, right here it does feel like everything leads to that moment. The moment of harvest. The Wheel continues, of course, but the corn fields will lay bare until the newly sown seeds throw up their heads and amaze us all again, and the Wheel turns.
Our circle is cast. We gather under the Long Man’s gaze and the Ancestors on the hill above his head to honour what sustains us. The Earth, the Sun, the Elements. They have heard the music of the spheres and danced together. Seeds planted in the spring have grown, and the birds sing with our chanted Awen. The Herald reminds us that we are utterly dependent on the harvest, even though it may feel separate from us life cannot live without the fertility of the land. Gratitude. Love. The Land hears voices that express that love, that recognises the relationship between life and death and rebirth. John Barleycorn appears in our circle. Grown from seed and now ready to fall. Life fulfilled.
Arms outstretched, the scythe cuts, hands open, and seeds fall to the waiting Earth.
A basket, covered. The Mystery.
Then bread is revealed.
The transformation complete.
Offered to the Four Directions with gratitude.
Drink and freshly-baked biscuits are shared.
“There were three men, came out of the west their fortunes for to try…”
A fallen seed slips quietly into the Earth, into the darkness.
“Not yet Dear One. Sleep until the approaching cold has gone…”