Blessings of autumn…

February 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm (Magic, Wheel of the Year, With thanks) (, , , )

Wishing everyone in the southern hemisphere 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, and it’s a beautiful softly grey day, with gentle rain falling on the trees outside my window – all so welcome after the fierce heat of January. I have no doubt that it will be hot again, but today I am enjoying the reprieve… Heralding the first day of autumn, Lughnasadh is the midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, and for those that measure, Lughnsasdh was calculated to fall at just before 8am this morning. It has been starting to feel a little more autumny over the last few days, the sun a little less jarring, the sunrises a little bit later – 6.15am now, which I love, since I’ve been getting up at 6 every morning to work out, and the sky is so beautiful and golden…

Traditionally this is the first harvest festival, and it remains 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 writing to drawing illustrations for my books and listening to my doubts and fears, and sharing all the beautiful moments of our life together – walking hand in hand into town, curling up on the couch for another Harry Potter marathon, gazing at the moon, laughing as everything people say reminds us of a Jillian Michaels quote, dreaming and scheming and plotting and planning to make our dreams come true, while also finding the beauty in the golden moments in between where we just are, being together, doing nothing in particular… I am grateful too for my wonderful friends, my inspiring workout buddy, my health, my determination, my day job, which is crazy-busy (a little too much at times), but pays the bills and allows me time to write… And for the turning of the seasons from summer to autumn, and the rich beauty that brings to the world…

I’ve been sponsoring a child through Plan Australia since I was a kid, donate monthly to Australia for UNHCR to assist refugees and to other causes when I can, but in the spirit of Lughnasadh, I just made four new loans through Kiva, to women in Peru, the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Cambodia, so they can develop their own businesses and become self-sufficient. The best part is, I’ve donated the money – so when they repay their loans, that money goes to fund new loans, on and on forever.

Lughnasadh is also the first sabbat that Carlie celebrates with her grandmother in my novel Into the Mists, and this festival of thanksgiving helps her see the blessings she still has in her life after all that she has lost…

Here’s a little from my book A Magical Journey: Your Diary of Inspiration, Adventure and Transformation, for anyone who wants to read more about this seasonal celebration…

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.

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