Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve; Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
Refrain: Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves; Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows, Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze; By and by the harvest, and the labor ended, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
If we leave off the final verse of Knowles Shaw’s 1874 hymn, it is perfectly workable for a Pagan harvest festival. We can feel the secondary and tertiary meanings, too, just like the intended Christian audience.
Lughnasadh. Lammas. First Harvest. Depending on the spiritual trad you follow, you may call this holy day by one of those names—or by another. Many Pagans conflate the first two but they are very different celebrations of the First Harvest. One is Irish and one is Christianed Saxon. One is games and homecoming. One is bread and the in-gathering of grains.
Every year, long about mid-July, there are Pagan folk in the Northern Hemisphere who start to complain about and boycott this holy day. They’re not farmers, they write, they are urban people who don’t get this whole harvest business. Or the weather where they live doesn’t feel like early autumn. Or they don’t practice a “Celtic” spirituality. Fair enough. Since we have not yet convened the Neo-Pagan Council at Nicaea nor pay fealty to a Pagan Pope, you are pretty free to celebrate this sweet cross-quarter day as you choose. I’m not sure why they can’t celebrate the abundance that fills the shelves of their local Whole Foods or treat the whole harvest idea as metaphor, as in “time to consider what I’ve ‘seeded’ this year and whether that has come to fruition” sort of thing.
But again…no Pope. No Council.
I personally love this holiday and have since the days of Notre Dame de l’Herbe Mouillee, that marvelous coven of memory. We often celebrated Lughnasadh by having a talent show, what is now referred to as a “bardic circle.” We weren’t so fancy in those days. Coven members showed off some skill or art. Kate and Geneva sang Sweet Georgia Brown in Polish. I played Danny Boy on the fiddle. Teleri belly danced. The W-J children made beautiful drawings.
The sun has set now and I have spent hours on the phone and on Messenger today, listening, talking, grieving the place so many stand right now. Fear and fury walk hand-in–-hand as we step into this festival. Is this the harvest we want? The harvest we expect in these Tower Times? Did we even plant these seeds, in the long ago springtime?
But my house is quiet now, at last. I can hear night insects in their chanting and I am drawn at once to my altar, to do my own soft prayers. And I repeat the circle cast I wrote so many years ago, when the directions were all honored with paeans of grain:
North: I remember how the seed-heads, tanned from the sun, stand in the wide fields near the river. I remember the threshing of the grain and the stretching stomachs it fills. I remember the bowl, with butter and sugar, and a man dressed as a Friend. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and the Guardians of the North with the strength of oats! You are welcome at our table! have them repeat this
East: I have planted the flat kernels in mounds the width of my hand. I have seen the shocking green of the stalks as they rise. The oldest peoples put a fishes head in the mound to feed the proud green spears. Tall spears to hold the other Sister. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and Guardians of the East with the bright yellow kernels of corn! You are welcome at our table!
South: I sing now of the loaf, of the fire of the sun made edible through the flailing of the grain. I sing now of the bright fire of food that is enduring, of food that is beautiful to see. I sing of grains that feed the people and straw that makes the bricks. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and Guardians of the South with the banked fire of wheat! You are welcome at our table!
West: I create a necklace of the pearls of barley. I create soup from the waters of the sea and the tears of my kindred, who passed into the West. I create the living vision of a shining new world. I create a passageway for my Descendents to greet my Ancestors. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and Guardians of the West with the perfect jewels of barley! You are welcome at our table!
And now the opening, as we open to this bountiful, troubling, problematic season:
West–Sweet pearls, rich grain. Barley of my people. Though our circle be open, we honor the West!
South–Bread-maker, brick-maker: wheat of the plains. Though our circle be open, we honor the South!
East–The tall sister, the one who stands: silk and husk of corn. Though our circle be open, we honor the East!
North-Tanned for the harvest, sweet beyond measure. Oats for our bellies. Though our circle be open, we honor the North!
The circle is open but never again broken. May the Goddess fill all hearts as the grains of Autumn come to harvest. Merry meet and merry part! And merry meet again!
However you choose to honor or not honor this time, let it be rich for you, and deep, and filled with meaning. For there is no time now for fads and faithlessness. May you make room for life and for joy.
Blessed Lughnasadh! Let the games commence!