Stealing invisibly forward, the Holly King vanquishes the waxing year. With a sigh and no further resistance, the growing year takes the path to ground.
I write this article on the summer solstice, near a full moon and the height of the seasonís fragrance. Yet growing closer now by the day is Lughnasadh on August 1, the first day of autumn and the traditional beginning of the harvest.
To most Lughnasadh is a vestige, a sentimental splinter of Celtic life, one of the great fire festivals for which the Celts are famous. Images of haycocks, wheat sheaves and people dancing at the crossroads give the festival a proper rustic feel.
Lughnasadh itself is shrouded in time and history. Originally the festival was a funeral ceremony for the primitive underworld grain goddess Tailtu. It was Tailtu who cleared the land for agriculture, gave birth to bright stalks of wheat and died from her labours in autumn -- always to return in spring.
While the early indigenous people of Ireland mourned the passing of the fructuous year, they celebrated her gift. The harvest feast was vital, a rite of seasonal passage for young and old to insure the success of the harvest and survival to the time when, after decay, the wheat sprouts would once again appear above ground --"as it is, so shall it be."
Centuries passed, the tide of history shifted and gods roamed the sacred precincts once occupied by the Goddess. Dark Tailtu had a foster-son, Lugh, the Bright One, who took his foster-motherís shining wheat tips as his arrows. Tailtuís funerary festival evolved into a fair for the sacrificial corn-king, the god who was raised in her house, Lugh. It was now Lughís death at Lugnasadh that guaranteed the cycles of life and time. And so it has stood, its course altered now and then in practice by prevailing influences, be they pagan or Christian.
So what can Lughnasadh be to us? We do not spend the summer season toiling and waiting for the harvest. These are not hungry months; there are picnics, water sports and the business of life. Hungry? Get a burger.
But what if we are hungry? What if we are starving for what our forebears worked out in their deprivation, their sweat and their festivals?
Lughnasadh is a celebration, a rite that assures us that death must precede life. Generally our culture is devoid of customs and traditions that intrinsically teach us faith in the cycles of life that buffet us so. We oftentimes simply do not know how to deal with life.
Fear and pain, though utterly native to the human experience are commonly avoided in our society. When faced with discomfort, we attempt to bend it to our will, get rid of it, sue it, medicate it or failing all else, ignore it completely.
When hungry for that which can feed our souls, we consume -- food, products, sex, land -- anything with which we can assert mastery over our need.
To experience the birth of something life-giving, something else must pass away. One cannot have it all. There must be death for there to be life. To travel our unique paths we must metaphorically experience death -- an anguish, a fear, a pain or boredom so intense it feels like death.
Tragically, there are those among us who reach that place of anguish and darkness and mistake the life that resides in their own flesh as the life that must be sacrificed. Unable to endure the pain of this existence, they take their lives - their souls fleeing the pain of this world for divine sanctuary.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote "no creature can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist." Ceasing to exist. That to which we desperately cling must be that which we let go of.
Like Tailtu, we must labour and die. Like Lugh, we must sacrifice to live again. And like Tailtu and Lugh, we are renewed, born again, finding with amazement that it was a cycle through which we had to pass, a cycle we will experience again and again throughout the seasons of life. In accepting the end that precedes the beginning, one finds there is no fear -- survival is assured. Though it feels of death, like the goddesses and gods before you, you will rise to grow again, to ripen in the days of summer and life.
Such is the message that an ancient Celtic festival brings to our modern day and age. May abundance be yours, happy Lughnasadh.