‘Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.’ Jeremiah 6:16
As we find ourselves in the harvest season I want to explore the ‘old ways’ of celebrating which would have begun on 1st August with Lughnassa. This is the last of the fire festivals in the celtic year and it is the time when the sun begins to weaken as it makes its way towards the equinox in September.
The festival is a celebration of the grain harvest. It is the time when the first corn would be harvested, during the waning moon, and the first loaf would be baked and offered to the deity in thanksgiving.
This would have been a time when the whole community would engage in the activities of harvest and these would last right up until Samhain on 31st October which was the eve of the celtic new year.
The survival of the community depended upon their intimate knowledge of nature and her cycles for ploughing, sowing, reaping and resting. At harvest time they would need to ensure there was enough produce to see them through the winter months and so the activities of gathering, preparing, curing animal meats and storing was a vital work but even more important was the thanksgiving and the celebration as this lifting up their gratitude to the deity would ensure that whole cycle would continue year after year.
As the Christianity came to the British Isles, these pagan festivals were assimilated into the new religion. Lughnassa became Lammas (loaf mass), and the offering of a loaf, made from the first harvest continued; but now the loaf was offered in church and the congregation would sing their thanksgiving to God the Lord of the harvest.
The tradition gradually died out and now harvest festival is celebrated in the church much later in the quarter. The traditional harvest worship that we are familiar with today was first established by Reverend R S Hawker in Morwenstow, Cornwall in 1843. Church goers of today know and love those victorian harvest hymns which originated at time.
But today’s harvest celebrations are nothing like those very early festivals. We have lost touch with the ‘old ways’. The community has become disconnected from the land. We no longer have to think about winter storage. We no longer all get involved with the gathering in, indeed we are probably not even aware of where most of the food we consume was produced in the first place. Unfortunately we have long since lost our intuitive relationship with nature and knowledge of seasonal produce and lunar cycles. The community celebrations if they are held at all are usually a token gesture may be a supper in the village hall or maybe lunch following the harvest service at church but is it rarely a whole community event.
So, not only has our relationship with nature been compromised, our understanding of God’s provision and our and for it has also been greatly diminished.
Is it really any wonder then that we are facing environmental catastrophe? Those early pagan rites were about ensuring the health and wellbeing of nature as much as the community and for the modern pagan today, rekindling and re-establishing communion with nature is a vital part of the work.
And for us all, we should understand that repairing the damage to our ravaged earth is so much more than sorting out our waste and recycling our plastics… That is just the practical level. Re-enlivening the spirit of community as well as developing a close understanding of nature and its cycles, our wildlife, and its needs are vitally important.
Perhaps above all though we must remember the importance of celebration and thanksgiving, for this is to do with humility. It is to do with letting go of our egocentricity and rediscovering our relationship and interdependence with all creation and tour total dependence on the one through whom all things came into being.