Lammas arrives on 1st August and heralds the slow fading of summer. This is the beginning of the end for the sun, when the first hints of autumn are in the air. But on this Lammas Day, you would never imagine that autumn would ever come. This has been the hottest July for seven years in the UK and, as August arrives, we are still in the sticky centre of a heat wave. The summer flowers have been vibrant, the air busy with insects and for many, the heat is welcome after the cold, slow spring. But for a nation that loves to talk about the weather, we’re ill-prepared to deal with its caprices. The humidity has been relentless, stopping thinking, cultivating ill-temper and indolence. The shops have run out of fans and huge sums of money are changing hands by those desperate to conquer the heat. On the evening of Lammas Day, I’m travelling south. Two hundred miles and still in the north, but when we get out of the car at the services the air is so humid and thick, it’s as though we’ve stepped off a plane into a hot country.
Lammas is sometimes known as the harvest of the first fruits and is the time when the wheat is harvested. If it has been a good year, it is a time of abundance, when summer is still in full bloom and the gathering of the first harvest is celebrated. But it is also a time of sacrifice. The corn must be cut down to feed us. The spirit of the corn, which is really the essence of the summer sun, retreats to the last few stalks of corn and is cut down by the crone goddess with her sickle. Traditionally, the last stalks of corn were woven into a corn dolly, to provide a refuge for the spirit of the corn during the darkness of winter, until it was released once more over the fields at spring time. The dolly is decorated with red ribbon to represent the sacrificial blood of the corn spirit. Travelling south on Lammas, I observed the harvest in various stages: the wheat still slightly green further north, combine harvesters in mid-harvest to the south, and cylinders of hay dotting the fields. The corn dolly I have made is a simple one, representing the power of the sun and the lessons I learned about my creativity at the summer solstice. It will hang above the hearth – the heart of the home – throughout the winter, as a reminder.
But the harvest of the wheat brings transformation as well as sacrifice. It is cut down and ground into flour, to be transformed into bread and other baked goods. The sacrifice is worth it, for the alchemy it brings. This is a hopeful time: a premonition of the bounty of the September harvest to come. It’s a time to be thankful for what we have harvested thus far, to recognise and celebrate the hard work that has led to these first fruits of our labour. If, like me, you used the time around Imbolc to plan your new creative goals and re-dedicate yourself to your creative path, what first fruits of that creativity have you been able to harvest? Have you recognised the sacrifices of time and effort you have made to reach this first harvest, or have you not sacrificed enough for it to have borne fruit? Lammas is another pause in the year when we can consider where we have come from and what we still need to do to achieve our goals. What do you need to do to ensure your creative harvest for the year is an abundant one?
My first intimation of autumn comes a week after Lammas. Taking the dog for his early morning walk, I notice the dew thick on the grass. From a distance, it looks like frost and I feel the relief of the autumn to come. The air is becoming cooler and over the next few days, I have to wear an extra layer in the mornings for warmth. I see the first blackberries and haws in the hedgerows, still small and green but already promising their autumn harvest. The lavender still buzzes with bees, but the flowers are fading and its summer vibrancy has passed.
I’m fortunate that I no longer need to rely on the harvest in the way that my ancestors did. If the harvest fails, I will still have the sustenance I need to live through the winter. So this is also a time to think of those who don’t have what they need to see them through and to consider what you can do to help. This may be practical help, such as donating food to those who need it. But in addition to this, perhaps we can use our creativity to help those who may have enough in the way of food and shelter, but need some kind of mental or spiritual sustenance to make it through the darkest months.
If you live in the Southern hemisphere, you may want to read Quickening, written at Imbolc, which will be more relevant to the energies in your area at this time of year.