Gathering in the Harvest, Practicing the Skills

Lunasa_journal_cool sea sere grass

Here again at the turn of the wheel, as summer turns quietly toward fall, I consider the many kinds of harvest.

There is some murmuring online about the difference between the names Lunasa, or Lughnasadh, and Lammas, both names for this time of the year. The first is an old Celtic cross-quarter day, named for Lugh and celebrated by the practicing and showing off of skills. The second is English in origin, in Anglo-Saxon chronicles called Hlaefmass, or Loafmass, and was a celebration of the first harvest of the grain. Loaves of bread were brought to the church altars and blessed as the sacred food they were.

Lunasa_beet harvest I veer between both understandings of the sabbat. In times past, this  one was always the hardest for me to grasp. The change is subtle and there is no great event to notice. It is simply the passing away of summer, the first intimations of the dying year. I usually feel it sometime in late July, as the first coolness in the early morning or evening, a hint of autumn coming, here in middle California. And just about now the garden is bountiful, such as these lovely beets. It is a bit hard to keep up with since I am intent on saving some of it for the coming cold season. I have been slicing and freezing and pickling and tincturing and steeping the many kinds of plant matter that are coming my way. Later today I will go out and gather the bestubbed salvia apiana branches, to save the seed for friends who have asked for some to try and grow this endangered California species.

Lunasa_at the seasideI move between kitchen and garden, computer and page, camera and inks, to practice the different skills that give me such pleasure. And from time to time, I steal away for a visit with a friend. A visit to the seaside in late July brought me such pleasure, to breathe the salty air and to, literally, get my feet wet. I can never resist collecting a few treasures.Lunasa_beach rock stories This time the rocks I brought home affforded me a calming meditation, to arrange them as if they were telling a story, a rock tale of sharp edges being smoothed by waves, revealing the layers of time. And I even found a hag stone, a holey stone.

An evening walk at July new moon time yielded another treasure. I had looked back over my shoulder and knew the magic show was about to begin, but in only moments, the sky lit up. Without having reached the place of open sky I was heading for, I caught it instead between the trees. And looking at it later, saw it as a kind of portal. The magic was strong that night; I made my usual circuit of the two bridges, all the while speaking aloud a walking spell for a dear one in distress, with each step asking for protection from the sky and wind and Divines who might be listening in to my chant. Lunasa_sunset portalI am deep in the writing of a closely-held family story these days, immersing myself in the past to shine a light on events that have resonated down through the generations. It is not easy work, but I have made a promise, many times over, to tell it, and now that time has come. It is still too tender to share with the world. But I am calling on all my skills: of writing, of remembering, of alchemizing what I know with what I don’t know but can imagine, with secrets kept and those revealed, with understanding and confusion. And I take openings where I can find them, even in a bright sunset, for my foremothers also loved beauty and stopped to see it, yearning for the sea or for love or for a child.

Lunasa_yellow roses August is not an easy month for flowers so I indulged myself with a bought bouquet of yellow roses to bring in Lunasa. My mother liked to call me a yellow rose of Texas, and this bouquet made me fairly swoon. I put these bright roses right in water, to cool that fiery energy. California is on fire again. Summer is being especially hard on some of us this year. However you celebrate, whatever your harvest, may it bring you joy and peace, safety and shelter, insight and understanding.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Jane Brenner 08/01/2018, 5:18 pm

    As always, I enjoy your writing and marvel at your thoughts which are always worth reading!

    • Cari 08/01/2018, 5:19 pm

      Thank you, sweet Jane. You are one of my most faithful readers, and I surely do appreciate you! Sorry I did not see you at the Kalligraphia reception in June.

  • Sarah 08/01/2018, 7:42 pm

    Wonderful as always, Cari. I had never heard of those stones (with holes) being described that way: hag stones. Interesting!

  • Jacqueline Quinn 08/01/2018, 10:42 pm

    Beautiful..thank you.

    • Cari 08/04/2018, 4:21 pm

      Thank you, Jacqueline, and for being a faithful reader.

  • Lorita 08/02/2018, 1:35 am

    Such a wonderful telling about the subtleties of this first harvest time. While the transition is often barely perceptible, I find myself sensing it quite acutely. Your writing is always soul-stirring, Cari!

    • Cari 08/04/2018, 4:21 pm

      What a kind thing to say, Lorita!

  • Carol Pallesen 08/02/2018, 10:29 am

    I love beets and stones too.
    Beets are delicious and the greens are my favorite!
    When I used to pick up stones on the Oregon Coast, I’d ponder on their course of tumbling for thousands…perhaps tens of thousands of years…in and out, back and forth.
    Good luck with your family story writing.

    • Cari 08/04/2018, 4:25 pm

      It’s nice we share a love of stones, Carol. A friend just mentioned that she felt the finding of the hag stone was significant to the family story I am telling. It is true that I have more skill to tell it now than I did when I began writing it many years ago as a young woman. Funny how we can tell ourselves even more stories with talismans of nature than the ones they are already telling us.

  • Nancy Karr 08/04/2018, 4:16 pm

    This quarterday is more subtle, but easier to be felt in the northern climes, as to me it is a more rapid changing of daylight each day. Change of daylight is quick now, where the change between May 1st and August 1st, is slow and steady. I think that is why it was so much more noticeable and celebrated in the north, Scandinavia, the British Isles. Before I was aware of this, I always wondered why I was more sad at this part of summer, when it was the hottest, the middle part of our western summer months. Now I know it is just my response to the seasons and day/night changes.

    • Cari 08/04/2018, 4:27 pm

      Thanks for this insight, Nancy. I too used to wonder at the melancholy feelings I experience this time of year. And I agree that this would be more keenly felt in the north, where you and I both have ancestors. It’s a very old celebration, the coming and leaving of the light in the darker lands.

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