All Hallows Eve falls on the 31st of October – the night before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints Day. It’s part of the Catholic calendar. All Hallows Eve is also, in this tradition, known as All Souls Night – a time for remembering the less saintly-dead. It’s this tradition that Mexican day of the dead festivities, and pumpkin lanterns would seem to belong to.
We know that Samhain was the end of the Celtic summer. However, as with all ancient festivals, the issue of dates is a tad compromised by the problems of calendars. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar came in, adjusting the previous Julian calendar and fine tuning when leap years happen. The reason for this is that the date of Easter is calculated (because the only reference to it is the Jewish lunar calendar) in relation to the spring equinox, so calendar drift was causing the Church some headaches.
I live in an area where the winters are long. And cold. And snowy. Sometimes it seems like spring will never come again. So 5 years ago I started making corn dollies out of corn husks and cotton embroidery floss, cotton twine or jute twine. But these were not just ANY sort of corn dollies, these are SPRING corn dollies.
I know we traditionally associate Beltane with sexuality, but autumn is a lively time of year for many life forms. There are nuts dropping all over the place, the deer will be rutting soon, and the fungi are waving their genitals.
I’m late with this post. I normally aim to blog in the first two days of the month, and in truth this time I nearly forgot. The 1st brought me a handfasting, the 2nd a political launch and as I swapped hastily between celebrant and press officer hats, the Druid blogger hat didn’t get a look in. I wear a lot of hats, so this kind of thing happens now and then.
When you have one identity defined by one thing you are doing, it’s much easier to steer the course of your life and pace yourself in line with the year. The more hats you have, the harder it is to keep an overview. I frequently end up running from one kind of job to another, so busy trying to be in the right headspace for the task in hand that I don’t pay as much attention as I might to the bigger picture. So here I am wondering how it got to be September already, and nearly missing a post.
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?
When they first appeared in the fields, the lambs were small and sprightly, curious about everything. They ran and leapt about, little bundles of wild enthusiasm. There comes a point in the year – and we’re about there now – when lambs stop being little bouncy things, and start noticing that they are in fact, sheep. They fill out, getting that barrel body. They eat grass rather than relying on milk, run less, get sensible, because this is what sheep do.
Some years ago I met a guy at a badger hide, who was talking about the badger group and how one of the young badgers was totally bonkers. He hadn’t figured out what being a badger was all about, and was still running round like a mad thing. It was speculated that eventually he would get this sorted out, and grow up, and become like a regular badger.
This time of year is always a bit mad for me. My sleep patterns are light-affected, so as we race towards midsummer, I stay awake later into the evening, and surface earlier. That might not sound too insane, but I have the kind of mind that hallucinates once it gets sufficiently sleep deprived, so if around midsummer I’m exceedingly wakeful for a few days – as if often the case – my whole experience of reality gets rather interesting.
Knowing that I tend to do this, I approach the lightest days of the year with a degree of caution. Madness is really a measure of dysfunction. If you can take what you’ve got and turn it into something productive, you aren’t deranged. You’re probably an artist, an author or the like. Going out to the edges of human experience and bringing back useful and beautiful things is part of what many creative folk do.