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.