Here we are again on the first day of August and the morning of Lugnasadh (or Lammas), the timeless agricultural festival celebrating summer, the cultivation of grain since early times and the abundance of the harvest. Seasonal rhythms of sowing, tending and gathering grain are almost as old as humanity itself, and sheaves of grain, grinding stones and mill wheels have been around for so many centuries that we can't even begin to count them.
This day is sacred to harvest (or "dying and rising") gods like Lugh, Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis and Attis. Most of all, there is Dionysus (or Bacchus) whose magical tavern with its ever turning mill wheel and rapture inducing brews is the stuff of legend - it can be entered from any street in the great wide world if one is in just the right frame of mind. The day is also sacred to harvest goddesses and female grain deities like Demeter, Persephone, Ceres, Bridget, the Cailleach, Tailtiu, Selu, Nokomis, the Corn Mother and Freya, who is also known as the Lady of the Loaf.
A book that always come to mind around this time of the year is The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers, a novel chock full of mythic metaphors related to grain harvesting and beer brewing, and it's a rollicking good read. The central characters are King Arthur (reincarnated as an aging Irish mercenary named Brian Duffy), a sorcerer calling himself Aurelius Aurelianus (the legendary Merlin himself), and the Fisher King. Dionysus and his magical tavern put in an appearance, and they're in good company - the woodland god Pan, Gambrinus, Finn MacCool, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Odin, Thor and Hercules also show up. There's a shipload of Vikings sworn to defend the mythic Herzwesten brewery at the heart of the story and stave off Ragnarok, and there are fabulous creatures too numerous to mention. I've been through several paperback copies of the novel and wish the the book had been published in hardcover.
We've come a long way come from our ancestral roots, but traces of old rites can be found here and there. When I came to Lanark County years ago, I was delighted to learn that "First Harvest" celebrations are alive and well in the highlands of eastern Ontario. The doings are called céilidhs or "field parties", and the attendees are often unaware of the ancient origins of their cavorting, but all the local trappings of the observance are there; corn on the grill and fresh baked bread, wine and beer and other potent brews, music and dancing and storytelling. Corn dolls are crafted and grain is woven into arty shapes. There are games and all sorts of merrymaking, sometimes even a ritual of sorts.
Happy August, happy Lugnasadh. Blessings of the harvest to you and your clan!