For many pagans, the harvest season which starts at Lughnasa is the most evocative and powerful time of the year. This is the time when thoughts turn towards the culmination of a year’s work; for our ancestors it represented the culmination of the year’s endeavours in ensuring that they could look forward to enough food to see through the winter – the grain which would provide the following year’s bread and beer, the fruit and meat were laid down and stored for the coming months of scarcity. Today few of us will actually rely on what we grow for ourselves and we are more likely feel satisfaction on a practical level when we see the tangible results of the year’s endeavours in the form of projects coming to fruition – exams passed, for example.
Today we tend to celebrate according to a fixed calendar. The calendar on the wall tells us that such a date is 1st August and the pagan calendar tells us that that date is the beginning of the harvest.
Margaret Killip points out that in the Isle of Man the harvest has always been unpredictable and that it was particularly dependent upon the weather. Many was the time, she suggests, when farmers sat in the pews in church listening to a sermon on the harvest being safely gathered in when the reality of a wet and cold summer meant that the grain crop was still standing, unripened, in the fields weeks after the harvest should have officially begun. It is, perhaps, a measure of just how remote most of us are from the changing seasons that we celebrate the seasons and our harvest when our diaries tell us to and not when the grain is clearly ready for cutting or the apples are ready for picking.
What we seem to have lost is the senstitivity to listen to what the landscape is telling us and the flexibility to actually work with the seasons. If so, we have lost more than we can know.
The rest of this article by Rowan, which was published in White Dragon at Lughnasa 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Capturing the Harvest Spirit
THE OAK (QUERCUS ROBOR) is deeply connected in our hearts as representing the very essence of England, and especially the power of the High King and his ancient and spiritual link to the land. It would be hard not to think of this tree as a masculine energy – mighty, strong, enduring and steadfast. The images we have of the Oak are buried deep in in our national psyche. Indeed, it is one of our longest-living trees, spanning generations upon generations. For this reason, old oaks were veneraged and used by the Druids, Ovates and Bards, and later by the Kings and the Church, for important meetings and ceremonies. They were planted to mark boundaries because of their longevity and strength to endure for hundreds of years.
The Oak Tree
The Oak will take 70 – 80 years before it begins to produce acorns. By then the trunk will be about 20 inches in diameter, but this will still be a young tree in the life of an Oak. After it has reached 100 years, it will only increase its girth by about one inch (2.5cms) a year, but this extremely hard dense wood is highly prized as a building material and firewood. Until men devised iron cutting tools, the Oak resisted all attempts to fell it. After this, ironically, Oak became the main wood for making the charcoal needed for the furnaces which separated iron from its ore. It later became the main construction material for houses, churches and ships as it was strong and durable and its twisted branches provided the right shapes needed. In Elizabethan times, a law had to be passed, protecting the Oak, to give the tree a chance to re-establish itself as so much of the great oak forests had been felled for building materials and fuel. After that, many oaks were coppiced to give a re-newable resource. The Oak woods we have now are a legacy from these times.
The rest of this article by Glennie Kindred, which was published in White Dragon at Beltane 1998, can be read on the White Dragon website.
The Oak Tree – King of the Greenwood