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

Sunday, 31 July 2011

lughnasadh: John Barleycorn must die

... so goes the old folksong, immortalised by (was it) Fairport Convention, or Steeleye Span, or Traffic – or all three? – with its mythical rippling undercurrents of ancient vegetation rites and sacrifice. Even if you don't know what it's about there's something that catches your breath in that song.

Tonight and tomorrow see the festival of Lugh, or Llew, the god of fire/light: Lughnasadh, or Lammas; the high point of the four fire festivals of the Celtic world. (In Ireland Lughnasadh lasted the whole month.)

Polar opposite to Imbolc (see February's post) which speaks to the hearth fires and the inwardness of a 'feminine' fire festival, that of the Earth Mother/Goddess, Lughnasadh is very much a solar festival and 'masculine' in quality. It symbolises, in the harvest, the culmination of the sun's light energy focused in the ripening of grain, and also a sacrifice of the old so the new may begin. Things have come to peak fruition, and the results will be harvested between now and the autumn equinox, where day and night will again be brought into balance.

So at this peak fire festival beacons are/were lit, music and dance and merriment take place, and the death/rebirth nature of sowing, reaping, dying and being reborn are celebrated – the whole cycle of transformation represented too by the marriage of the sun god with the earth goddess.

And John Barleycorn is sacrificially cut down, that the grain may be 'reborn' as bread, or ale, to sustain new life. The first barley and wheat crops here in Devon have been cut; the lanes are scattered with the leavings of broken bales of straw where the tractors' loads have been too high to clear the trees.

In our inner lives too there are cycles, of course, of things needing to be let go of that other things may come to fruition; maybe now, microcosmically mirroring the macro-, is a good time to reap the harvest of earlier sowings. I find these turning points in the years' cycles (the fire festivals sit exactly between the astronomically-determined solstices and equinoxes) useful reminders to check in with inner processes; specifically here with what has come to its peak, and what needs to be let go of that the new may enter in. And there's the turning-towards each other of the masculine and feminine principles.

In some of the Celtic places trial weddings would take place today: a year later the couple could return and dissolve the marriage if it wasn't working!

Incidentally, British place names with 'Lug' or 'Lud' in them are dedicated to the fire god Lugh, the light-bringer.

I'm delighted to say I wasn't cut from the R4 programme. If you're interested in hearing the Poetry Workshop session I imagine it's available as a listen-again; and also will be broadcast once more next Saturday here in the UK at 11.30pm.

OK my friends: unless with my Blackberry from a medieval village house in the Lot I can find wifi, and have the energy and eyesight to post from a tiny screen, this is it from me until after August 13th. Have a creative two weeks, a good harvest and month of Lughnasadh, and please come back!

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