Danu's Cauldron: Wisewoman's Ways, and Wild Fey Magic

Living in a sacred landscape, walking between the worlds in the veil of Avalon Glastonbury. Where the old gods roam the hills, and the sidhe dance beneath the moon...wander into the mists with me and let us see what we may find...

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Light and darkness at Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh, the first of the harvest festivals is traditionally held on the 1st of August. Lughnasadh/ Lúnasa, now the modern Irish name for the month of August means 'the commemoration of Lugh'. Lugh, or Lugus, is a god of law and skill, who in the Irish tales gained the knowledge of agriculture from the tyrant Bres. Lugh is commonly associated with the sun and Lugh is often thought to mean 'bright' in Proto-Indo-European, although it may also be related to 'leug' meaning 'to swear an oath' and even 'leug' meaning black. There are none the less other pointers to his solar nature, at least in Britain and Ireland, such as in his Welsh version Lleu Llaw Gyffes, meaning 'bright one with the strong hand' and the fact that his most famous possession in the Irish lore is a fiery solar spear. That said, connections may also be made between Lugh and the often forgotten Irish god Crom Cruach / Crom Dubh, whose name 'crooked head ' or 'dark crooked one' is also connected to the bowing grain and is remembered at this time on Crom Dubh Sunday, the first Sunday in August. Lugh has traces across Britain and Europe, with several inscriptions to him found in the Iberian peninsula. Depictions of him in Europe are often tripartite, or triple headed, suggesting a triple nature, so this is a god that is hard to get to grips with if we take the original evidence into account, and it may be that this dichotomy between the light and the dark is part of his nature.

In the Irish tales Lughnasadh marks the funerary games of Lugh's foster- mother, Tailtiu, who died clearing the land for fields. It is said that so long as she is remembered, 'there would be milk and grain in every house.'- that is, the land would be fertile so long as we honour her. Another name for this time, 'Brón Trogain' refers to the pains or sorrowing of the earth and reminds us that this time of abundance is due to sacrifice, of the wild earth and also of our own labours, so at this time of summery celebration there are traces of something more sober afoot. After all, solstice is passed, and the days will be darkening all too soon. It's later name, Lammas from the Anglo-Saxon 'hlaef mass', or loaf mass, shifts the focus from the wild earth to the gifts of agriculture, and the sacrifice of the grain spirit.

Seasonal festivals in Britain and Ireland have a patchy history, pagan traditions of diverse tribes and their practices blurring into Christian times and merging with varying degrees of success. Not all 'Celtic' areas honoured the wheel of the year as it's known today in it's entirety, and attitudes towards the harvest and the earth vary widely over time and place, but there is a common thread of marking this time in some way, and that the grain and the harvest need to be honoured and respected, maybe even feared. Scholars today dismiss the idea that there was ever a pan Celtic belief in a grain spirit, but I'm not so sure. It's easy to dismiss ideas like that from an urban armchair, or by weighing up written evidence but that is never the whole story.

Have you ever walked through a field of grain in the quiet of a hot afternoon, or at dusk, as the wind soughs through its golden heads and they bow and dance and swirl, with a sound of soft rattling, a susurrus like the breathy voices of spirits just out of sight? Have you ever walked along, arms outstretched palms smoothing over them on either side. Close your eyes in such a moment and you will feel how we as humans have always felt in such a place- surrounded by a multitude, by an abundance of life, brief and bright and soon to pass. Let your mind wander, back through the history of the fields, back when harvesters used scythes to reap, and further back, when the land was wild, when a huge forest stood here perhaps, trees taller than we ever see towering overhead, and weaving through the light and shade at the forests edge, hunters and gatherers, living dependent purely on nature herself, and never taking more than they need. Breathe and be still, be quiet...can you imagine how the forest felt? The atmosphere in such a place? Time passes, and the forest is cleared, the great trees bred out of existence leaving only their smaller kin, culled for dug- out canoes and the roof beams of round houses, and later ships, and long houses, and cathedrals...the wild animals gone and the wild hunters now farmers no longer follow the deer trods and the boar tracks, the land is cleared and open to the sky. There is abundance, mounds of grain in the barn, but a sacrifice has indeed been made.

So at this golden time, there is also a little darkness. I honour Tailtiu and Lugh, whose hard work filled our cupboards and in the hope that the fertility of this good earth will continue despite our disrespects. I mourn a little for the wild earth which is no more in our tiny island, clinging only to the edges now, a memory of past magnificence. And I honour the grain spirit, regardless of scholars, rising up to the sun, and cut in its prime, so that I may bake my bread with gratitude. 








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Danu Forest is a wisewoman in the Celtic Bean Feasa tradition of her Irish ancestors. You could call her many things- witch, seer, walker between the worlds, healer, druid, priestess, teacher, writer, gardener, herbwife, stargazer, faery friend, tree planter, poet, and wild woman. Danu lives in a cottage near Glastonbury Tor in the midst of the Avalon lakes, in the southwest of England. Exploring the Celtic mysteries for over 25 years, and noted for her quality research, practical experience, as well as her deep love of the land, Danu writes for numerous national and international magazines and is the author of several books including Wild Magic, The Druid Shaman, Celtic Tree Magic, Gwyn ap Nudd and The Magical Year'. She teaches regular workshops and online courses and is available for consultations, including healings readings and other ceremonies.


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