Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories
When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.
The grain harvest
Lugnasadh, or Lammas, marks the end of the grain harvest, the time for celebration as all the crops are in. Yesterday, I walked in the Cotswolds, and I saw a great many ripe but un-harvested fields. In other years, I’ve seen it all come in well before Lugnasadh, and I’ve also seen the harvest fall much later. In wet summers, the crops can fail, and there is nothing of the grain to celebrate.
For me, this highlights an issue of Pagan disconnection from the Wheel of the Year. We celebrate the grain harvest at Lammas (the name means ‘loaf mass’) but most of us will not have been involved with the harvest, or even have an inkling as to when it happened in our locality. Not all areas are grain growing either. Does it even make sense to celebrate this festival if you live in an upland area that grows sheep, not corn?
For our ancestors, the grain harvest was a big part of the agricultural year, and everyone worked. Well, everyone who wasn’t very wealthy. Pre-industrialisation, most people worked on the land. If you were a strapping bloke, you’d be out reaping. The less able would be out there bundling up sheaves, ferrying food and drink to the reapers, and generally helping out with the process. After the harvest, poor women and children in a parish were able to come in and glean the leavings. Those gleaned grains were critical to the survival of poorer households.
In a context like that, you know exactly when the grain harvest comes in – no calendar date needs setting, it happens when it happens and the whole community is involved. As we moderns don’t have that direct connection to the grain, all too often, that leaves us with the possibility of honouring this as an ancestral date, or trying to forge a more immediate relationship with what’s in the fields.
In many ways what Lugnasadh marks is the start of harvest season – soft fruit will come in over the end of summer, apples and nuts come later in the year through to the final, bloody harvest of Samhain when livestock were traditionally slaughtered. The exact process of your harvesting will vary depending on landscape, climate, that year’s weather, traditions and so forth. It is in many ways the unpredictable nature of harvest that underpins the earth based religions. We do not know what we will get from one year to the next and can only hope the gods will be kind to us.
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