Lughnasadh blessings…

February 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm (Wheel of the Year) (, , , , , )

Wishing everyone a magical Lughnasadh, and to those in the north, an enchanting and blessed Imbolc… May the dance of the seasons fill you with love, joy and passion.

Today is Lughnasadh – in the southern hemisphere anyway – the first day of autumn and the first harvest festival, a day of celebrating the things we have metaphorically harvested, the things we’ve achieved, the gifts we’ve received, the experiences we’ve had, the talents we’ve developed and the things we’ve learned…
I am so grateful for all the many blessings in my life. For my beautiful husband, who supports me and encourages me and helps me so much, from making me endless cups of tea when I’m working to drawing illustrations for my books, and sharing all the beautiful moments of our life together – feeding the ducks in our favourite park, cuddling up on the couch and sharing our days, walking hand in hand into town, gazing at the moon, striving to make our dreams come true and helping each other more than anyone has before, for either of us… I am grateful too for my wonderful friends, for my health, and for the turning of the autumn leaves after summer…

Lughnasadh : First Day of Autumn : Gratitude
Lughnasadh, the cross-quarter day which marks the beginning of autumn, falls in the first week of February in the southern hemisphere, and the first week of August in the northern hemisphere. It’s the first harvest festival, a time of feasting, celebration and thanksgiving for the life-giving properties of the grain.
Mythologically, this was the time of the waning god, as the solar deity who had peaked at the summer solstice began to lose his power and strength. In some traditions he was cut down by the goddess, along with the harvest, in order to fertilise the land and ensure abundance for the coming year. He was the sacrificial god, a theme echoed in religions around the world, tied to the forces of nature and the cycle of death and rebirth. And the goddess was the bountiful mother as well as the wielder of the scythe, and continued her pregnancy alone, knowing her companion would be reborn at Yule.
Astronomically, this cross-quarter day falls midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. In the southern hemisphere, it occurs when the sun is halfway between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator, on its way back north, in the same position as it was at Beltane as it headed south towards summer.
Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas, First Harvest, Bread Harvest, Tailtiu’s Feast and Festival of First Fruits, signifies the end of summer and the first day of autumn. The earth still throbs with life and energy, but it’s mature, fully ripened, almost over-abundant energy. It’s often still hot at this time of year, especially in Australia, but the strength of the sun is beginning to wane, and cooling breezes and crisp air start to temper the warmth of the days, particularly in the enchanted twilight hours. The trees begin to turn red-gold-orange-rust, the night comes a little earlier, and the first crops are ready to harvest.
Another name for this festival is Lammas, from the Old English hlaf, meaning loaf, and maesse, meaning feast, because traditionally it was on this day that the first loaf of bread was baked from the first harvest. In medieval England this was transformed into a Christian festival of thanksgiving, although it was still steeped in pagan traditions such as sharing nature’s bounty with the poor and sacrificing the first fruits in honour of the god or goddess, adding to the sacrificial symbolism of this festival. As the first harvest was brought in, people took a few days off to rest, relax and celebrate, and honour the earth mother for the food that would keep them going through the winter months. Soldiers would return from war to help bring in the harvest, so it was also a time of reunions with family and loved ones.
While Litha was a celebration of the strength of the god, Lughnasadh honoured the goddess and her abundance, represented by the grains that kept people alive. Along with bread, corn dollies were made from the husks of the first cereals to be harvested, symbolising the deification of the crops and the importance of the harvest. These “dollies” were an embodiment of the goddess, and were kept in the home until spring, when they were ploughed back into the earth with the first seeds to increase fertility, thus continuing the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Ways to celebrate
The beginning of autumn has long been a time of thanksgiving and revelry in appreciation of nature’s bounty. In Ancient Rome they honoured Saturn, the god of agriculture and the harvest, while in Greece it was Demeter, the goddess of the grain. In Ghana in West Africa they celebrate the harvest festival of Homowo, which means hooting at hunger. It commemorates a devastating famine and the agricultural methods they developed to prevent future ones, and is celebrated with feasting, music and ritual. In China during Chung Yuan, the Hungry Ghost Festival, food is left out to appease the spirits who return at this time, while in the Aztec lands the harvest festival of Tlacaxipehualiztli honoured Xipe Totec, god of vegetation and renewal.
Across the British Isles this first harvest festival was celebrated with feasting, craft fairs, horse markets, games and contests, many in honour of Lugh, the Celtic sun god. Handfastings also took place at these fairs, with people being bound in marriage for a year and a day, and wooden cart wheels were dipped in tar then set alight and ceremonially rolled down a hill to signify the waning of the sun’s – and the sun god’s – power as summer came to an end. He was seen as a sacrifice, going down into the underworld until his resurrection.
In his honour people sacrificed the first sheaf of corn, the first wheat stalk, the first fruits, the first loaf of bread, back to the land and to the earth mother. A libation of mead and an offering of food was part of all their rituals, but at this time of year it became a major part of the proceedings. There are even legends of human sacrifice and death, of kings offering their life in order to return power to the land as it began to waste away and enter the fallow winter period.
Today, the beginning of autumn is still a time of first harvests. Fruit picking is a popular job for many travellers, with farms all over the country taking on seasonal workers. The grape harvesting and wine making begins, and golden wheat fields cover the paddocks. You can create your own little ceremony by going to a farm and enjoying the first fruits of the season fresh from the vine, absorbing the energy of the earth and the life force that flows through the planet.
But this festival is also about harvesting the fruits of your labours, and acknowledging your successes and what you’ve achieved in the past year. It’s a time to celebrate the goals you’ve reached and have your own festival of gratitude, in whatever form that takes. Toast your success, throw a party, reward yourself for your hard work with a gift you’ve long wanted, some time off to rest and chill out, or even a trip away to mark the occasion. Invite your friends over and bake bread or muffins, infusing them with gratitude for the plentiful food we enjoy, and feast on fresh organic produce.
Then, out of gratitude and in the spirit of the ancestors who shared the bounty of their harvest with those less well off, pass on some of your good fortune. Make a donation to a local charity, support World Vision or another group giving aid to feed people in impoverished nations, lend money to women setting up a business in the developing world through Kiva.org or give some time to help a friend or family member, ensuring the energy of abundance continues and is strengthened. Give out of grace and for joy, without any expectation of receiving anything in return. Such small sacrifices reflect the essence of Lughnasadh, and help create future abundance and prosperity.
Long ago, people used this time to prepare for the coming winter by storing food, making jams, sorting out their possessions, fixing leaking roofs and mending tools and fences. You can also plan ahead, setting things in motion now that will pay off later. Learn a skill you might need, research the next step in your project, or work on letting go of a fear that has been holding you back. Even as the harvest is brought in, the seeds to be sown next year are gathered and stored, in a continual dance of planting, growing and culmination.

In your journal
As well as a time of feasting and thanksgiving for the harvesting of the crops, and recognition of the eternal cycle of sowing and reaping, Lughnasadh is also about the symbolic things you grow and create in your life. It’s a day to harvest what you planted earlier in the year and celebrate your successes. Make a list of all the things you’ve gained – the goals you reached, the gifts you’ve been given, the new talents you’ve developed, the friends you’ve made, the experiences you’ve had, the healings you’ve received, the opportunities you’ve pursued – and how you have developed and changed as a result of them.
Create a ritual of appreciation that is meaningful for you. You may want to journal about it, exploring in depth the things you’ve learned and the ways in which you’ve grown, send thank you cards to people who have helped you work towards your goals, start a gratitude diary or write a poem that outlines all that you’re grateful for. We may no longer be so connected to the production of our food, as in days gone by, or believe that our prayers or sacrifices influence the success of a crop, but appreciating what we have and giving thanks for it is still a beautiful way to live, and can increase our own attitude of abundance.
Also acknowledge all the things you’ve achieved so you can share your successes with others. Don’t be modest or downplay how far you’ve come, because you’ll inspire other people with stories of your breakthroughs, your dedication and details of how you overcame the obstacles you faced. Your successes will help them realise they can also pursue their dreams, and will hopefully give them the motivation they need to get started on their own journey.
Don’t ever diminish yourself or your achievements, or let anyone else do so. Be proud of your light, your talents and all your accomplishments, and always allow yourself to shine brightly and illuminate the darkness for others. As American author Marianne Williamson says: “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, and as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same.”
Around Lughnasadh, as the energy begins to subtly slow and the tides of the earth start to ebb, it’s also a time to be patient and to trust that everything is as it should be, because there are still harvests to come. Not everything has to be achieved right now – some things take longer to manifest. The lesson of the Wheel of the Year is that everything continues, everything happens when it should and everything is eternal. This can be hard to accept when you’re desperate to fulfil a dream (believe me, I know, I’m totally impatient!), but often waiting for more information, or taking the time to plan fully rather than rushing into a project and starting before you have everything you need, is more efficient in the long run and will help you reach your goal quicker.
Also consider whether there are any things you regret. Did you aim for something that didn’t pan out, or become involved in a painful situation? Write about them, pouring out your heart, and your pain, your regrets and your bitterness. Then let them go. Regret and bitterness are the most destructive of emotions, and they’ll hold you back and poison all your good intentions.
If you want to do a ritual, pour all of your troubles into a stone, a piece of paper, a corn husk or a pine cone, either by holding the object and using the power of intention to transfer your emotions into it, employing a shamanic technique to physically blow your pain into it, or sleeping with it under your pillow so it can absorb everything you want to let go of. Then throw it into a river or a fire, and feel yourself lightening up as you release the burdens you’ve held on to.
Lughnasadh is the festival of symbolic harvesting, contemplation and emotional cleansing. At the cross-quarter days the veil between the worlds is considered to be thinner than at other times, and at this one you can connect with your own higher self and do inner work. Let go of the things that are holding you back so you can lay the foundation for future harvests and move forward into the light.

From A Magical Journey: Your Diary of Inspiration, Adventure and Transformation.

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And to my friends in the north… An enchanted Imbolc…

February 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm (Wheel of the Year) (, , , , , , , )

And to my friends in the north, may the first day of spring bring much love, joy and inspiration…

Imbolc : First day of Spring : Purification and Renewal 
Imbolc, the festival that marks the beginning of spring, falls in the first week of August in the southern hemisphere, and the first week of February in the northern. It celebrates the fact that the days are lengthening and the light is returning, illuminating the land and our own hearts.
Mythologically, this was when the goddess transformed into the maiden and waiting bride, signified by the new blossoms and the quickening energy within the earth, and the infant god continued to grow in power, represented by the longer days and increasing strength of the sun.
Astronomically, the cross-quarter day of Imbolc falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In the southern hemisphere the sun is in the middle of its journey back from the lowest latitudes to the equator, and rises in the same position as it did at Samhain, when it was heading south from the equator towards its Midwinter point.
Imbolc, also known as Candlemas, Oimelc, the Snowdrop Festival, Lupercus, Gwyl Fair, the Feast of Pan, Bridie’s Day and Brigantia (“the Festival of Brigid”), is the first day of spring. Signs of winter’s end appear – the first tentative flowers bloom, ice and snow melts and the sun strengthens, symbolising the return and renewal of the life force of the land and its people. It was the first of three fertility festivals on the agricultural calendar, and the name is believed to come from the Irish word for “in the womb”, because sheep were pregnant and swelling with new life at this time. It can also be linked to the word oimelc, or “ewe’s milk”, and others claim the name comes from a similar word that meant purification, which all fit in with the seasonal energy of budding new life that this day celebrates.
Energetically it’s a time of awakening, renewal and re-emergence, as nature fills with life force and begins to quiver with the energy to grow again, and we too start to emerge from the chill of winter, shaking off our inertia and lack of motivation and beginning to re-engage with the world. It’s also a time of purification and cleansing after the long dark of the winter months, of stripping away the old so the new can emerge. Imbolc is one of the four fire festivals of the year, and great bonfires would be lit not only in celebration but also for purification, so cleansing has always been an important aspect of the day.
People would ritually purify themselves to let go of the darkness and sluggishness of the hibernation of winter, making it a time of spiritual renewal. They would also clean their home, physically and energetically, to assist their inner purification – the modern tradition of spring cleaning on the first day of spring reflects this ancient practice. It’s a good time to clean out your home, office and wardrobe, and energetically clear your space, sweeping out old energy – and old thoughts – so the new can thrive. And if you want to begin a new spiritual practise, be it meditation, automatic writing, chanting or whatever, the energy of this time will aid you.
Imbolc is a festival of light, celebrating the return of the sun and its life-giving warmth. It is dedicated to Bridie, the maiden fire goddess, whose transformative flames help purify and burn away doubt and pain. Bridie was associated with inspiration and creativity, making it a great day to express your inner muse. She was also linked with intuition, and because the ancients believed that the veil between the worlds was thinner on the cross-quarter days, she was invoked for assistance with divination rituals and prophecy at this time, including weather prognostication. The Celts watched the native wildlife for signs that winter was over – it was believed that if creatures such as badgers and serpents popped their heads out of their barrow at Imbolc and saw their shadow, which would startle them and send them back underground, spring was still a way off, but if they popped up and it was overcast, so there was no shadow and they stayed outside, it signified that winter was over. Groundhog Day, which is celebrated at Imbolc in North America, is based on this old pagan tradition.

Ways to celebrate
Imbolc remains a day to honour the fertility of the land and our own selves. As the first signs of spring start to manifest, and the earth quickens with an energy that can be tangibly felt, it’s a powerful time to do healing work of any kind, and send energy to friends around the world. You can also increase your knowledge in an area you’re interested in, expand your creativity and tend to activities that are overlooked in the busy months of summer – making candles, sewing dream pillows, grinding herbs and blessing the seeds you’ll plant in spring.
All over the world the coming of spring is celebrated as a time of hope, renewal and fresh starts after winter’s slowness. In Japan, the Shinto spring festival of Setsubun is celebrated on the first day of spring, on February 3, so special purification rituals are performed to cleanse away the negativity of the old year and allow the new to blossom into life. Chinese New Year, which is celebrated by many people around the globe, is also a spring festival that ushers in new energy and transformation. Spring clean your home, and ritually cleanse yourself in a river, the ocean or just your shower. If you feel the need, burn sage sticks or perform a house blessing ritual to clear any negative energies that have settled inside during winter, and drink cleansing herb teas and plenty of water with a squeeze of lemon to detoxify yourself.
Make a wreath of primroses, dandelions and other spring blooms to wear, or plant these flowers in your garden to call on the energy and life force of the season. Make Bridie Crosses with stalks of wheat or pipe cleaners to hang around the house as symbols of the goddess and of protection. Light candles and set them in all your windows and throughout the house, then burn white or pale blue candles for your ritual – or simply for your dinner table – to embody the innocence and purity of the day, and represent the purifying power of the element of fire.
For thousands of years, rituals involving the lighting of candles and fires to represent the return of the warmth and light, and the slowly increasing power of the sun, have marked Imbolc. To absorb this fire energy, perform some candle magic. Light a white or gold candle and stare into the flame as you concentrate on what you want, then blow it out, sending your desire out to the universe. Making a wish as you blow out the candles on your birthday cake is a magic that has survived from pagan times, and is a potent way to manifest your dreams into reality, whatever day it is.
If you want to hold a simple ritual with friends, sit in a circle, each with a small tealight candle. The first person lights their candle as they make a wish or a statement of intent, then the next person lights theirs from the one that is already lit, going around the circle in a deosil (with the sun) direction, which is anti-clockwise in the southern hemisphere, until you have a vibrant ring of fire. The last person should light a large central candle with their tealight, which will absorb and hold the magic of the group and can be lit whenever you are together again.
You can also have a candle-making party, infusing each waxwork creation with your personal energy, or give everyone a floating candle, light them and set them adrift on a pond or pool, or even just in a bowl of water, sending your intentions out into the universe and calling on the magic of all the elements to help you make it come true. Bridie is also associated with sacred wells, so combining the elements of fire and water in this way will allow you to further absorb her archetypal energy.
Like most pagan festivals, the Church superimposed its own holiday over Imbolc. It turned the festival of the goddess Bridie into the feast day of Saint Bridget, a figure also associated with the sacred flame. To temper the significance of the pagan candle ceremonies, they declared the next day Candlemas, the day the priests bless the church candles. And in the Roman Empire, where candlelight processions in honour of Juno, the goddess of marriage, were held on this day, the pope created a holy day, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, marked with a candle ceremony, to honour the day Mary became “clean” again 40 days after giving birth. Each of these new celebrations still incorporated the old traditions of purification, cleansing and fire, so the seasonal associations remained, hidden within the new religion.

For your journal
Imbolc is a time of young, innocent love, so try to see yourself, and the world, through the pure eyes of a child, or a child-like heart, with joy and hope. It is a festival of spiritual renewal and inspiration, so it’s a good time to write about your beliefs and examine how you feel about your spiritual path, exploring the reasons you think the way you do and perhaps questioning if there are other viewpoints you might also embrace. It’s also about new beginnings, and in some magical traditions it is the day chosen for initiations and rededications, so if you want to make a pledge to a new path or a new goal, or a personal vow of any kind, you will be supported by the energy of the season.
Another major theme is purification, so after cleaning your home physically, start to focus on the concept of emotional clearing. Shrug off any old energies and old ideas that are holding you back. If a person or situation is bothering you, write about it, purging yourself of all the “negative” emotions you’re holding within your body, which can affect you physically if you suppress them. If you can’t release them, write a few words or draw a symbol that represents the issue and leave it in the freezer. This will put your angst on ice, so to speak, and stop the problem bothering you. It won’t alter what is going on or affect anyone else involved, or their actions, but it will change the way you feel about it and prevent it from affecting you. You could also put the piece of paper in an ice cube tray, fill it with water and add a little honey to sweeten the situation, a drop of rose water to bring love to all the parties involved, a drop of orange oil for happiness, or a sprig of basil to improve communication.
Most importantly, this is the festival of Bridie, the goddess of healing and inspiration, so it is the perfect day to unleash your inner muse. Talk to Bridie – or Saint Bridget, or the higher self aspect of yourself – or write a letter, and express all the things you want to create in the next 12 months. Write down any answers you receive or any impressions that flood your mind. Meditate on these goals and record what comes up for you. Don’t worry about how to achieve them, as that will be revealed later as flashes of inspiration, guidance or outside help. Just write your truths and your inner feelings, channelling the inspiration that fills you, without editing or controlling what you reveal to yourself. Take special note of your dreams too, and add them to your journal so you can see any patterns and identify the deeper meanings. Bridie was also the patron of poetry, so express yourself in verse too, letting your subconscious thoughts bubble to the surface and your inspiration run wild. This is a time of affirmation and manifestion, so make sure every thought you have and every word you write is positive and full of love for yourself and the universe.

From A Magical Journey: Your Diary of Inspiration, Adventure and Transformation.

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