Monday 15 July 2019

Dictionary of Magic & Mystery: Lammas & the Harvest

Modern pagans celebrate the harvest festival of Lammas on August 1, just a couple of weeks away, but the history of harvest festivals is a little different to common perceptions. Below is an excerpt about Lammas and the Harvest Home from The Dictionary of Magic and Mystery, by Melusine Draco.

The reference book is not just another compendium or dictionary of occultism; it is a jumping-off point for further research. Readers will find the ancient and modern interpretation for magical and mystical terms, together with explanations for the differences between the varied (and often conflicting) approaches to magic. As well as common information, the book includes regional and obscure knowledge, because even popular usage can often distill the true essence from original meaning. There are historical and archaeological references that are useful putting the past into perspective, whether that concerns witchcraft, ritual magic, or the different paths and traditions from the East.

Added to all this information are some of the sacred sites associated with our pagan past; together with thumbnail sketches of the well-known (and sometimes dubious) personalities who have been associated with the pursuit of magical knowledge throughout the centuries. This is an example of one of the mini-essays that complement the entries:

Lammas and the Harvest Home
During the autumn of 1621 the settlers at Plymouth Colony gathered to give thanks for the harvest after their first year in the New World. That was America’s first Thanksgiving, but it has grown into probably the most important family occasion of the year, where everyone gathers to enjoy a meal of roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Its roots, however, have their origin in the traditional Harvest Supper – or Harvest Home – of the English farming community.

In truth, the practice of holding a Harvest Festival service was only established in the 19th century in an attempt to control the Harvest Home celebrations, which the Church of the time considered too raucously pagan!

Harvest celebrations were some of the holiest of the pagan year. Traditionally, the harvest continued for most of August from Lammas, when bread was made from the first corn to be cut; right through to the last fruits being gathered in early September. Any housewife worth her salt would be bottling fruit, making pickles and jams, drying herbs and preparing potions from the natural harvest in the hedgerows for the months ahead when the fresh ingredients would not be available.

There has always been a spiritual quality surrounding harvest time: a celebration of the good things that have happened during the year. A perfect time to gather friends and family together for a celebratory supper in a spirit of thanksgiving, whether we are urban or rural dwellers, market trader or stockmarket trader. And although the American celebration is held on the fourth Thursday in November, a Harvest Home should be around the Harvest Moon, or Autumn Equinox.

A typical 17th century Harvest Supper would have consisted of ‘… puddings, bacon or boiled beef, flesh or apple pies, and then cream brought in platters… hot cakes and ale…’ A Witch’s Treasury for Hearth and Garden brought the menu up to date with home-made soup, honey-glazed ham, apple pie with cream and a selection of cheeses, served with celery, accompanied by good beer, cider or robust red wine. To set the atmosphere, display any freshly prepared produce for decoration as this will be your own harvest festival. If you’ve made jams or pickles, give each guest a jar as a gesture of sharing.

Should your talents lean more towards the arty, give each guest a corn dolly to take home. Corn has long been regarded as the embodiment of productivity and fruitfulness; a simple plait of corn straw tied with ribbon can be hung in the kitchen to insure a productive year to come. It would also be nice to think that the modern ‘wheel of the year’ isn’t always driven by the need to use the festivals for spellcasting. Before the end of the meal, make sure everyone has a full glass and propose a toast to your own equivalent of the ‘bounty of the harvest’, and ask your guests to join you in pouring a libation on the ground outside. Even in financially-troubled times, we still have something to be grateful for and if we can reintroduce the spirit of thanksgiving at the turning of the year, we will be reconnecting with the simple faith of our forebears.

‘Thanksgiving’ isn’t about preserving ye olde pagan ways with copious amounts of cider swilling, accompanied by endless verses of John Barleycorn, it’s about bringing together family and close friends for the purpose of celebration. An annual pilgrimage back to our pagan roots, or to wherever our pagan roots have been transplanted. We can gather around the simple kitchen table, or set the dining room glistening with starched linen, crystal and silver. There is no preset formula of observance… just the willingness to enjoy each other’s company, count our blessings and reflect on our good fortune.

You can view The Dictionary of Magic and Mystery on Amazon. It is published by Moon Books.

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1 comment:

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