Battling

This is the moment when the year turns to gold.  It is the first harvest.  When the spirit of the corn retreats before the blades into the last sheaves of wheat.  The essence of the sun, the spirit of summer, the promise of spring.  All of these nestle within grain and husk, slumbering through the winter.   It seems an eternity since the last harvest, and yet here we are again.  I see the gold settling over the land and my soul longs for autumn.

It is one of the hottest days of the year and we drive past molten fields.  Past verges stippled purple and yellow with flowers.  Hay pressed into cylinders.  Fields brown with ploughing and still green with crops.  Sheep gather together in the meagre shadow of trees.  It is Winston’s first hydrotherapy session since lockdown.  We can’t enter the building so we wait in the car park for his hydrotherapist to collect him.  A family is saying a final goodbye to their dog and we cry with them as they let him go.  We wander the nearby lane while we wait for Winston.  Sheep trot away as we approach.  A hare bounds across a field of golden stubble.  Winston returns to us tired but with a good report.

In the dene, the landscape is straggly and overgrown.  Unmolested, wildflowers have grown into giants.  Rowans flame with berries.  The burn is virtually dry, flanked by monster willowherbs, dock and bulrushes.  Raspberries droop from the foliage.  There are rustlings in the undergrowth, among seed heads and thistledown.  Butterflies spiral and meander, mostly whites and speckled woods.  The occasional quick whirr of wings and soft tinkling calls are the only things that give the hidden songbirds away.

It has been a battle to get here, to walk along this familiar path.  This time last year I was travelling to a writing conference.  This time last year I had just given my first public reading as a writer.  But that was an eternity ago.  Now I battle ennui.  It is a struggle to get up each morning.  A struggle to stray beyond the end of the street.  Work feels hard.  Creation is even harder.  But I am fighting.  Battling my way out of limbo.

I sit by the pond.  A woodpigeon fusses in the willow above my head.  Two gulls glide in circles as though they own the water.  One of them chases away a youngster that gets too close.  Some years the harvest is meagre and hard won.  This year there will be a harvest but it won’t be a harvest anyone could have expected.   The seeds of early spring have led us into a new way of being in the world.  We are uncertain.  We know there may be more battles ahead  But the seasons still turn.  The land still turns to gold and the spirit of the sun is safe for another year to come.

 

The spirit of the corn

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.