from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

lugh & john barleycorn

Today's the Fire Festival of Lughnasadh (July 31 eve to August 1 inclusive). In the Anglo-Saxon this is Lammas, apparently (according to Robert Graves) coming from the words 'hlaf-mass', meaning 'loafmass': this is the time in the UK when our grain-crops are harvested for breadflour, and also, in the case of barley, for ale and whisky.

Midway between the light-peak of the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere and the midpoint between dark and light at the autumn equinox, it's grain harvest time (in theory!). We're reaping some of the seeds of what was sown at or before the spring equinox, and looking forward, too, to darker nights and the fuller gathering-in of the vegetable, fruit and nut harvest later.

Lugh is one of the gods of light (Bel, or Baal, Bala, celebrated at Beltane, May 1st, is also an earlier and less-well-developed, both in terms of the year and in terms of the 'lineage', fire or sun god). He's also known as Llew Llaw Gyffes in the Welsh Mabinogi. In Eire Lugh was a chief of the Tuatha de Danaan, Children or People of Dana (Aosdana in the Scots Gaelic); Dana, the divine feminine, being the mother of the god of poetry. In some versions of the story Lugh was a triple-god (birth, death, renewal; youth, man, sage; page, prince, king – many variants), and he marries a triple goddess. This makes him a 'primary' god, so to speak.

Lugh's trace remains at places in England that begin with 'Lug' or 'Lud' – I can think of a number on and around Dartmoor.

At this time of the grain harvest, having successfully impregnated the goddess, the god-king is sacrificed. (This sees the wheel of the year, at its peak now, beginning to roll down the hill to end in the river of dissolution, before the next rebirth.) New seed has been created, and as the old harvest is reaped so the fire-god in his kingly form is sacrificed to feed and water the earth.

We remember this in the traditional folk-song of John Barleycorn (you may know the particularly poignant tune sung by – I think – Fairport Convention), 'murdered' that we all may live. Listening to that version of the song, it's impossible not to be aware of the ancient and archetypal rituals associated with harvest-time behind the surface words.

It's a time of merrymaking in the outer world: dancing, feasting, games and competition (interesting that the Olympics span this period), a time too of crafts, Lugh being an artisan-god.

At this turning point, I shall take some time today to look at the 'staple' harvests in my life: what has been safely gathered in; what harvest is still not ripe; how my inner male and female are relating (or not); what might need to be let go of, 'sacrificed', as we turn away from longer days and the peak of fire and light.

One of the compensations in the summer of and the one after my dad's stroke (coming as it did on top of my mum's diagnosis of Alzheimer's), doing the long drive I did as often as I could across Devon to help care for them, was the dusky journey back in beautiful sunsets through lanes hedged with honeysuckle and dog rose, behind which the hayfields in May and June and then the cornfields in July and August perfumed the car through the open windows and lifted my heart. (Another compensation, if I stayed over, was the early-morning walk with the dogs on the 3 miles of my childhood beach, Saunton Sands. If I managed to take the time for this I felt I could cope with the distress of the day and the situation.)
In the collective world, here in the UK, the wheat and barley are gold and nearly ready to harvest. 2012 is a 'late' year here, because of all the rain; last week's sunshine at home in Devon felt like a benediction, but everything is a long way behind in the garden, and much of it lost to slugs in the endlessly wet season we've had. In the US, we're told a huge percentage of the corn (and soybean) harvest this year has been lost. Grain is such a staple food; climate change is beginning to bite in ways we will notice, such as price increases for basics, as well as for animal feed.

Let's hope we remember never to take the gifts of the earth for granted; let's hope that collectively we shift track to work in co-operation with the earth in time.


  1. Its a benediction to read your post at this time - I'm feeling restless, unfulfilled, 'all at sea' at the moment - and then I read this - a reminder to go back to the earth, listen, observe, learn. Re-assess - as you have done...I will 'At this turning point, ...take some time today to look at the 'staple' harvests in my life: what has been safely gathered in; what harvest is still not ripe; how my inner male and female are relating (or not); what might need to be let go of, 'sacrificed', as we turn away from longer days and the peak of fire and light'

    You comment that it is interesting that the Olympics are happening at this time...I would note that for me, your announcing of the 'Women Writing the Wild' writing course next April is wonderfully synchronistic with your invitation above to re-assess and consider what I still need to harvest...nothing is accidental, is it?? xx

  2. Roz, you are one of the people whose presence in my life this year has felt affirming and generous. I so hope you might make that course - selfishly, for me, as well as because it sounds like you could do with a nourishing break. Also somehow it closes the circle between my meeting you at the LAPIDUS conference in 2007 – I think – and now. So much has happened in my life in that time. And I'm pleased we've renewed contact this year. xx


Blog Archive