Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are approaching the first harvest. The festival of Lughnasadh, or Lammas is raising its head and peering over the horizon. It’s a bitter-sweet time for me on my yearly journey through the seasons. I’ve watched as the grey has turned to green. The bare fields have filled with life, the bone branches of Winter blessed by the touch of the Lady have brought forth leaves of verdant green, that are now settled in and turning a darker hue. And in those fields the short grass of the Equinox has grown. The tall stalks and green wheat that has stood tall and defiant in youth are now slowly bowing their heads, and turning from green to gold – a bearded man, with a crooked cane – not quite there yet, but age is showing, and it won’t be long before John Barleycorn is ‘cut down to the scythe’, or more than likely the mechanical combine.
For some this is the first sign of Autumn. To me though it is the height of Summer. The falling of John Barleycorn, his sacrifice, brings with it the hottest time of year, as the Zenith of light of the Solstice finally catches up with the heat of Summer. But that Solstice Zenith is also, after Lughnasadh, showing an obvious wane, as the arc of the Sun shallows, heralding the march of Autumn and then Winter.
I’ve read that some Pagans don’t get Lughnasadh. To me it’s the culmination of what it’s all about. Maybe that’s because I came to Paganism when The Golden Bough, with it’s dying and resurrecting vegetation God, was at its height, and was still recommended reading. Some people might have moved away from that belief somewhat, but for me it’s still relevant. John Barleycorn’s sacrifice is in my house right now. In the bread I eat every day, in the beer I drink, and so many more things I love and help me stay alive. Along with the blessings of Brighid at Imbolc I also know this as the final time of planting, and John Barleycorn’s life journey is one of the ways I anchor my own journey through the seasons.
The date we have for Lughnasadh is the 31st July/1st August. An arbitrary date really, like the other three fixed dates we have for the Fire Festivals. To me it’s Lughnasadh when the fields are being harvested. Personally, one field in particular. When the field of wheat just below the Long Man of Wilmington is being harvested. Of all the fields here in Sussex it’s probably the field I feel most connected with, being there for all of the 8 festivals, rain, snow or sunshine, seeing it change. When that is falling I know that the God of the Corn is dying, offering his life as sacrifice so that we can have our bread. And as the neck is taken, so the great doors to the halls of the Otherworld open, and an old and weary man steps through, footsteps echoing, as he takes his throne, and awaits his Lady to join him once more, at Samhain.