Musings from a Beach House
Halloo to summer! Wild roses and daisies festoon sandy paths that meander near the ocean’s edge and carry me down from my cottage to the beach. I want to explode in joy as I play tag with the incoming tide and watch tiny translucent beach hoppers jump about the sand and feast on disoriented gypsy moth caterpillars that have landed too near the tide. Life and death are intertwined.
Today, we shout hurrah for light in the northern hemisphere, while in the southern hemisphere, day dims to early twilight. There is no life without death. The solstice is a boundary from which life slowly recedes toward the dark, until death’s boundary says no more, and then life and light edge back to explode in heat and the passionate pounding of the surf.
One afternoon a humpback whale patrolled the waters just off our stretch of beach. All the cottagers rushed out to see and shout their approval when the whale raised its head out of the water. We land creatures were mesmerized by our mammalian cousin from the deep. Two worlds touch on this band of sand that shrinks and swells with the tide. Above, sentinel dunes rise to warn land creatures that here the sea rules.
As I sit at the kitchen table in my beach cottage looking out over a vast expanse of ocean that is in constant motion, I am reminded of my smallness. The houses atop the eroding dunes are only here on borrowed time until a fierce nor’easter gale whips in and pulls the sand out from under their moorings. I met one woman who commutes from Truro to Wellfleet to sit on her deck–all that remains of her cottage by the sea. The transient nature of reality is tangible here.
Luxuriating in my eastern view over the ocean, I stayed up to watch the moon slowly arc into fullness the first night I was there. On two following nights, I watched the ruddy rise of the moon’s narrowing lemon drop shape, but then her cycle of light no longer synced with mine. But even when invisible she remains mistress of the endless roll and suspiration of the sea.
Once, I woke up early enough for the pre-summer solstice sunrise. When I silenced my 4:55 AM alarm, birds already were atwitter and the windows light. In robe and slippers, I padded out onto the porch to be greeted by a flight of salmon clouds fanning out to the north. On the horizon, a small band of luminescent red quivered and slowly became an orb emerging from its night’s slumber—a liminal moment repeated over and over round the globe, but magical to behold.
The longer I lingered by the sea, the more my hectic city life receded. I read more, thought more, wrote more because cell service was spotty, there was no internet access, no television, and I didn’t think to bring a radio. I created my own news desert, quite a luxury in these hey days of the Trumpian circus. This is how I want to grow old, slowly reclaiming my life from the world of commitments and having more time to call my own. I long to just be. My precious life is a vanishing resource soon to be reclaimed by the sea.
I feel like a peeled orange. My thick layer is ripped off. I am more sensitive to touch, smell, sensation—a thin membrane exists between the embodied world and the realm of spirit. I feel my crone sun of inward knowing pulsing with the force of a dark inner sun at solstice. Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes in Gift from the Sea, “I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island quality” (58).
I want time to dive into the waves of my unconscious and return like a humpback whale with a mouth full of krill and plankton. I do not swallow it but spew it forth onto the deck of my conscious mind to sort. I dive again and spew, again and spew. Slowly from the sea’s detritus patterns emerge. To be my deepest, truest self, I need space and time to call my own, to open my soul and sift through its contents and shape them into my gift to the world.
Every woman, every crone, needs time in quiet, alone, to pray, contemplate, listen to music, read, study or work. “It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself,” Lindbergh writes (56). Even if our creations are washed away with the next tide, still the act of creating even simple things connects us with the inner core of our being.
Wishing you joy,
On this the longest day of the year, take an hour, or two, just for yourself alone to tap the wellsprings of your creativity. Be still within to listen for the guiding whisper of the goddess, “This way, O, my Soul.” Sing, dance, lie in the sun, walk in nature, work in your garden, paint a picture, write a poem, story or journal entry–immerse yourself in you.
Save the date:
Do you want to connect with other crones? The Crones Council is holding a gathering in Salt Lake City, Oct 4-8, 2017. https://www.cronescounsel.org/
Welcome Merry May! Juicy, open-wombed May beckons to Jack-in-the-Green, “Come hither my love.” May Eve invites us to stay awake all night to witness the first bird calls of dawn. The world is created anew, year after year, as if for the first time.
When last I wrote, the lawn beneath my window was dotted with clumps of melting snow. Today dandelions sprout there like yellow stars in a green firmament. The lusty month of May is upon us. The ancient Celts welcomed this growing season with bonfires and celebrations for the returning sun, venerated as the god Belenus, whose name is preserved in Beltane, the Gaelic word for this cross quarter holiday. Throughout Britain and Ireland even today, people build bonfires and dance around beribboned May poles to bring in the May.
One legend says that if a young woman bathes her face in the dew on May Day morning before sunrise, her beauty will never fade. I think I missed that opportunity, for I have begun to grow old. What beauty is left comes from an inner grace rather than the elasticity of youthful skin. Yet, the earth’s outpouring of new growth quickens my spirit. I begin to imagine the possibilities of the decade of my seventies, a decade that was hidden from my younger eyes. What once seemed desiccated and moldering, now seems verdant and alive.
As we welcome the merry month of May, there are questions for us crones to ponder. As the time before us shortens, what choices are ours to make? What responsibilities to ourselves and others do we still need to fulfill? Within the fertile ground of our souls, what seeds must we tend and encourage to blossom? What sweet or pungent fragrance are we called to contribute to life’s bouquet? The deeper our roots grow toward death, the sweeter the blossoms sent forth by our old branches to perfume the May.
In late April, I spent a day in retreat to commemorate my wedding anniversary. It was raining, but I set out for a walk anyway. My mind was occupied with its ordinary buzz of thoughts when from the corner of my eye, I saw the flash of a heron’s great gray wing disappearing over a pond. Ah, I thought, that is my husband’s spirit reminding me to be present in the moment.
I stand—along with a lone horse in a paddock—to bear witness with gratitude and joy to this day. I can feel the energy of the trees rising deep from within their roots and inching their branches toward heaven. Mesmerized, I watch rain drops queue up for take-off from the tips of pine needles. Overhead birds are filled with purpose. Crows are feeding their fledglings on mice, and robins feeding theirs on worms. Nearby, the bells of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey ring the call to vespers. In this moment, time is kissed by eternity.
The Maypole brings together not only earth and sky, male and female, life and death, but also the inner and outer dimensions of our being. We weave the pole as a community. Who do we include in the dance? Our ribbons are of many colors. Is that diversity reflected in the skin hues and political views of the dancers? Let us dance together, one people, our souls radiating divine love. May this love plant seeds of peace in our hearts.
Happy spring! When I look at the windswept landscape outside my window with its hillocks of dirty snow slowly melting into patches of green dotted with egg shaped pelts of ice, I see the butt end of winter. To aid my faltering imagination, I head to Trader Joe’s to buy daffodils flown over from England, to grace my dining room table and shore up my hopes of blossoms to come.
In the Near East spring equinox has been an important ceremonial time for millennia from ancient Sumeria to modern day Iran, where Nowruz the Persian New Year, a Zoroastrian celebration of the renewed power of the sun, is still celebrated today. Pagans have named this holiday, Ostara, which roughly derives from Eostre, the Anglo Saxon goddess of the dawn. The Christian period of Lent is ongoing at this time and suggests the wisdom of taking time for self-examination and reflection. Lent in fact comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten which means spring.
Equinox brings to mind a time of balance with its days of equal light and dark. If we combine the ideas of balance and self-reflection, we might ask where balance lies in our lives. Even as my days continue to be overcommitted, I dream of solitude. I retired from a full time job nine years ago, but not from working. My work life if anything has become richer with the freedom to take on various part time jobs and learn new things. But, I’m growing ill at ease with striving as I traverse the downward slope of my 60s. My soul like Whitman’s spider is launching filament after filament out of itself, gossamer threads seeking an anchor hold in eternity. I long for the spaciousness of solitude with time to listen, to clear spaces within to make room for spirit, and build a virtual altar to the goddess. I don’t want to grow old without growing wise. My aging body is a visual reminder of life’s term limits, and I don’t want to use up all my strength in work. I want to leave hours of each day open for the pursuit of joy.
Lent is a time of cleansing and purification to create space for new growth, just as spring equinox is a time to clean up the garden and remove the detritus of last year’s growing season to prepare for the planting ahead. As spring rolls around, I do not want to squander its precious life force, but use it to nurture what is most precious to me.
My intention this spring is to plant a seed of hope that my dream of solitude can manifest itself in my life in the coming year. Thomas Merton writes that the ears that can hear the words of divinity are hidden within our hearts, “and these ears do not hear anything unless they are favored with a certain solitude” (Thoughts on Solitude, xi). Goddess, lead me into the silence for a while so that I can hear your voice and dance to your rhythms.
We hold a collective yearning for rebirth, for spring. What will help each of us bring forth new life? What is now hidden beneath the surface of our psyches that is pushing its way into the light of consciousness? How can we each use this returning life force for our personal growth? And beyond that, how can we combine our efforts with those of others to face the dark, fear-mongering, rhetoric of our politicians? A political landscape that seemed solidly progressive has been shaken to its core. Daily news has become an addictive reality show that keeps us on the edge of terror.
While visiting the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, I was shown a humble well in the middle of a cow pasture. Two other women and I cleared the well which was clogged with debris, blessed the spontaneous flow of water that bubbled up from the ground, and made an offering to the goddess Brighid. No sooner had the water begun to flow again than the cows began to move toward the well, and we made a hasty retreat. Our hands had become Brighid’s hands as we made her water available to her creatures. How can our actions clear a spring from which others can drink?
We need to work together, and open our hearts to the deep transformative and regenerative energy of the goddess in both her light and dark aspects to sustain life and resist tyranny. We are each one voice in a large circle of humanity; may the song we bring to its chorus be as pure and true as the bird song that will soon rise to hail the dawn.
Take some time this day to do something that brings you joy, so that you may store up beauty to feed your soul to make it dance like Wordsworth’s daffodils and create bliss for your solitude.
Variegated daffodils for all the many colored springs that have come before and enriched our lives.
At midwinter in the northern hemisphere, hints of life appear as the frozen dark gives way to returning light. February 2 has many names. Ground Hog’s Day, Candlemas, St. Bridget’s Day, and Imbolc (IM-bulk) the ancient Celtic holiday that marked the birthing of lambs and the return of the goddess Bridget. The flower of this season is the humble snowdrop, the harbinger of the flowers of spring to come. For many of us, visions of the future are not blooming but dark. The forces of chaos seem to have been unleashed in our government. As we welcome the spirit of Bridget, we turn to her for guidance and comfort. What wise woman ways are available to help us navigate these turbulent political times?
Bridget is the goddess of healing, poetry and goldsmithing. Her wells are sources of life and renewal where people go to pray in times of sickness and turmoil. May she bring healing to us now. She imparts brilliance in those who create with words. May she inspire satirists to bring politicians to task and journalists to speak truth to power. As the keeper of the fire that transforms gold into objects of beauty, may her acts of charity and compassion become the gold standard of human behavior and her perpetual flame, tended by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare, Ireland, burn as a beacon of hope, justice and peace.
Those qualities seem in short supply in the world today. Last Sunday, I rode the commuter rail into Boston. On the train, there were many people carrying signs, some parents with young children in tow, on their way to the Anti-Hate, Pro-Immigration rally in Copley Square. While I ate lunch at Au Bon Pain in Central Square in Cambridge indications of the furor caused by Trump’s sudden immigration ban were everywhere. At a table near mine, I observed three young women, two wearing head scarves making signs one of which said, “No human being is illegal.” Standing at another tall table in the center of the room, a white, young professional couple, probably headed to the march, were carrying on an audible conversation with a middle-aged, local, white man, who was a supporter of the ban. The sign-making girls kept a wary eye on him at first. For about a quarter of an hour it was hard to tune out his somewhat heated defense of a hard-line immigration policy.
When he said America should be helping its own first, like the homeless — hard not to notice them in this neighborhood where many hang out only feet away from the restaurant — the couple asked him what he did to help. He said he volunteered to help fix dinner for the homeless once a week at a local shelter. The discussion continued, but it became harder to overhear as it grew more conversational in tone. The three people were still talking earnestly a half hour later when I left.
What strikes many of us as insanity in the White House is having one positive effect. It’s bringing people out onto the street to exercise their civil rights to protest and fostering conversations like the one I overheard. We need to keep talking, not only to make our voices heard, but to enter into dialogue with others who may view the world differently from us. We each need to find true north on our interior moral compass. We need to fight for what we believe, but also remember to honor the worth and dignity of everyone, and listen to others with respect, not contempt.
In Celtic society in times of extreme deprivation when the survival of the people was at stake, all the residents of a village and its surrounding land would build a need fire. First, every light had to be extinguished. With their hearth fires cold, every able-bodied cottager carried an unlit torch to the center of the village. There a new fire was kindled and dedicated to Bridget and other deities, in whose mercy the villagers placed themselves, for the situation was more dire than they could hope to handle alone. Every household lit a torch from this need fire and carried the new flame back to their homes where they rekindled their hearth fires.
At this turning point of winter, when we see the first signs that the earth will quicken to life again, we call out to Bridget or to the Source of all Being by whatever name moves our hearts. We seek her/his guidance and direction. May she wrap us, all together, all of her people, under the mantle of her love and protection.
Three Candles Ritual
Extinguish all the lights in your home, turn off the power strips to which all your electronic devices are connected, turn down the thermostat, unplug the refrigerator, and, turn off your phone. Sit in the silence and the dark. Allow your breath to deepen, give your soul time to call out its need, its prayer. When you are ready, strike a match and light three candles, one at a time. As you light the first candle, ask that things which have been fractured may return to wholeness. As you light the second, ask for help in creating beauty, hope, and love in the world. As you light the third, ask for help in making visible your true self which is a reflection of the Great Mystery. Be still and listen. What seeks to be born in the silence? When you are ready, rise, turn on the lights, the power strips, the appliances, and reconnect. May your dot on the grid shine a bit brighter supported by divine love.
Photo: Bridget’s flame and cross. Check out the website for the Solas Bhride Centre run by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare Town, County Kildare, Ireland. http://solasbhride.ie
The winter solstice marks the boundary of darkness. This far it may go, but no farther. This time of short days and long nights draws us indoors to be cozy and warm in our own houses, but also reminds us to lend a helping hand to those who lack the basics of food and warmth needed to survive the cold. Winter solstice, or Yule, is also a time for celebration, driven by a solar energy we seem to store within and unleash at this time of the year.
One of my most beloved winter solstice rituals is unpacking the ornaments for my Christmas tree. These small objects rekindle in me nostalgia for old certainties that next year will surely be better than this one and free from the worries that haunt me now. My own favorite ornaments are ethereal: angels, wizards, suns, moons, stars, and snowflakes. Winter solstice night is a portal to another world where the fairies dance. It is a pause for a sacred breath and a prayer that all will be well.
Although this season has its special delights for each of us, darkness weighs heavily upon the world this year. Our hearts break for the destruction of Aleppo and the brutal deaths of civilians and freedom fighters there. We collectively hold our breath to see what changes the new political administration in Washington will unleash. I recently moved to the site in Salem, MA where Parker Brothers once made board games including Monopoly. After I mastered the principles behind the game and could win, it lost its appeal for me. The new leadership in Washington doesn’t seem to share my distaste for amassing money and wielding power over others.
On the other hand, there is good news from Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota where Water Protectors have at least won a reprieve from the installation of a gas pipe line on their land. Charles Eisenstein writes that the Sioux elders have counseled a prayerful, non-violent resistance to law enforcement. While being arrested, one woman began singing a native prayer song and those around her joined in. Everyone, including the sheriff and other officers, was moved by the sacred cadences that touched some deep connection they shared with the land and each other. The arrests were made but police were made uncomfortable by their own actions. The song cut through the boundaries between good and bad, unlawful protestor and legal protector, and united everyone as human beings. Gandhi advocated non-violent protest as a way of calling forth the goodness in others and allowing them to shift out of their roles as oppressors.
As elders ourselves, perhaps we too are called to counsel prayerful and peaceful resistance to the injustices of the world and to the leaders who use hate and fear to divide people and turn them against one another. In Lt. General Michael Flynn’s book The Field of Fight, he argues that we must understand the tactics and beliefs of radical Islamists to defeat them because they are evil. Although hardly unique to Flynn, I find this point of view chilling. Good and evil live side by side in each of us. It is not possible to destroy evil with violence. White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Sioux, teaching them to teach the pathways to peace. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Let our own actions of peaceful resistance, cooperation, and solidarity be inspired by the spiritual teachings that admonish us to love one another and treat others as we want to be treated ourselves.
May the fires of love burn bright in our hearts to light our way in this season of darkness. We are all in this together for better or worse. “One planet is turning on its path around the sun” (Charlie Murphy). Let us sing carols that unite us and raise awareness of our shared humanity.
Winter Solstice Ritual
Take a walk out doors in the woods, by the sea, or in a park. Bring your full attention to the natural world through which you move. Notice how the land is preparing for winter. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the season. What wildlife do you see or hear? What wisdom seeps into your heart as you walk in silence? Return home, and if possible kindle a fire, or at least light a candle. Look into the flame and see there an image, a dream, a wish, to warm you through the cold of winter and well into the new year.
This light house on Winter Island in Salem, MA is decked out for the season.
“Scary, scary, Halloween! Am I the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?” so go the opening lines of one of my children’s favorite picture books. As a crone, I am more interested in the hallowedness of this season than its fear factor. Halloween derives from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (SOW-in), “summer’s end.” For the ancient Celts, October 31 was a day outside of ordinary time. It was the extra day built into the thirty day, twelve-month Celtic calendar and marked a pause between the end of one annual cycle and the beginning of the next. The Celts believed that on this day, the spirits of the dead could walk among the living. Sometimes these other worldly presences got up to mischief. Placing jack-o-lanterns in the window helps to discourage supernatural trickery.
At Samhain, we remember those with whom our lives have been deeply intertwined and who have died before us. As crones, we are particularly called to remember past generations and to tell their stories to the young. We are the gatekeepers of time—time remembered and time to come.
In the present-day goddess tradition, Samhain is also associated with Hekate, the Greek and Roman triple goddess of the crossroads and the new moon. Like Samhain the new moon, or dark of the moon, is a day between cycles, a pause at the end of one lunar cycle before the beginning of the next. Hekate is a goddess of liminal, or in-between spaces. She is associated with ghosts and magic. She stands between the worlds and can influence both the world within and the world outside of space and time. Offerings of food were left for her at the crossroads at the new moon. This was a gesture to ward off malign spirits and to seek her blessing during the coming cycle.
My own life is betwixt and between. I have sold my house and am living in an apartment while I determine where I will settle next. At this moment, my bed is an explosion of bubble wrap and half emptied boxes because I could not write about Samhain without my Hekate statue in view. She calls me to the crossroads of life and death. There I must leave behind the smashed crockery of my efforts to mold life into my own image of perfection and accept the sweetness of life as it is. As I said farewell to the house of my marriage and active years of motherhood, the last yellow rose was in bloom. October’s roses have the sweetest scent. They are an affirmation of life amid fallen leaves.
This year at Samhain we come to a double pause in both the lunar and solar cycles with a new moon on October 30 followed by Halloween on the 31st. We pause for a day or two between the worlds to acknowledge that life and death are equally formidable forces directing our fate. Their eternal coupledom creates the boundaries of our existence. At Samhain, the infinite expansiveness of the universe enters our hearts in the guise of our beloved dead, and we walk heart to heart with those who have passed beyond the veil.
Help us Hekate. We come to you with our failings and our longings. We bring them all to your crossroads this night. We are grateful to have arrived at this crone stage of life where we can serve as a bridge between the worlds. We know that each cycle brings us closer to our own death but are grateful for whatever suffering we can relieve, love we can share, and order and beauty we can bring into the world throughout the duration of our precious lives.
Give us the courage to take up the staff of life, our crone staff, and usher a new cycle into being as we sow seeds for tomorrow with hope and blessing. We come not only to an end this night, but also, feeling the tide of life in motion deep beneath our feet, to a new beginning.
With love and blessings,
Place pictures of your beloved departed, human and/or animal on an altar or table. Invoke the divine presence in whatever form it calls to you. Light a candle and call the names of each of your beloved dead and invite them to share some time with you on the evening of Oct 31. Remember something you love about each of them, and something they gave to you. Honor their lives and express gratitude for their love. When you are ready bid them farewell and release their spirits once again into the ether with love. Give thanks for your own life and feel the power of your connections with others both in physical form and spirit essence.
Equinox is a time of abundance and hope: harvest in one hemisphere and planting in the other. For a brief time, day and night are equal. But how quickly the balance tips. In the northern hemisphere harvest must be gathered in before the frost; in a trice autumn will pull us deep into the dark.
At harvest the continuation of life hangs in the balance. Will the bounty be enough to sustain us through the winter? In New England the land is parched by drought. Parts of Louisiana have been inundated by water. In both cases a severe imbalance hinders growth. Privation replaces abundance. Worry replaces joy. What do we need to do to bring our lives and our world into better balance?
In northern Europe farmers traditionally made corn dollies to celebrate the end of the harvest. The last sheaf of wheat was cut with ceremony to honor the life-giving force that makes the grain grow. In Peru each life-giving crop was believed to be animated by a divine being who caused growth. Maize Mother, Quinoa Mother, Coca Mother, and Potato Mother were honored with effigies made from sheaves and leaves of the harvested crop and elaborately dressed in women’s clothes. In ancient Greece, Demeter, the goddess who caused the grain to grow, initiated mortals into the secrets of immortality through the Eleusinian Mysteries. The goddess represents the life force that is far greater than our individual lives. She holds all living beings within her capacious self, nurturing them through the cycle of life and death and rebirth.
Last weekend as hordes of strangers poked and prodded their way through my house. I left it to its own devices, to choose as it would the next family to create a home within these walls, and I went for a walk in the woods. As I stood alone on a knoll overlooking a bend in the Charles River, I observed two trees. The taller one was a black oak firmly rooted and stretching almost beyond sight into the air out over the river. Nestled next to it was an ash whose lower branches were bare. They reached around the oak and seemed to me to be a spirit tree growing in tandem with the living one. As my gaze widened to take in the river, my Soul Self expanded. I felt connected to a deeper, wider, stream of Being. I was filled with Grace from a source beyond my understanding. I felt deeply loved and companioned on my journey through and beyond time as if a spirit form held me as the ash held the oak.
It is not easy to accept that one is growing old and is subject to the ravages of time and mortality. But I want to claim my role as an old woman in this cosmic dance of life. We crones play an important role in the cycle. When we honor the life force as goddess, we honor her in ourselves. Our aging bodies are beautiful. Through us younger people are connected to the past and the continuity of the generations. We see with a vision that crosses generational boundaries. We hold memories of a time when the ancestors were alive.
As a crone, with my personal life cycle well beyond its mid-point, I ask the goddess what is still within me to be harvested? What life wisdom needs to flow through me to nurture others? I want to tune my ear to a suffering world, and do what needs to be done, by me, now, before it is too late.
Honoring Loss: Grief, Healing, and the Wise Woman Path
Wednesday November 2, 2016 – 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Join two of the authors of “Becoming Women of Wisdom,” Melody Lee and Karen Edwards, for a day long retreat. The program is designed to help us cope with loss. This can be the loss of a loved one, a job, mobility, or any loss in which it feels that a part of our identity has been ripped away. We will explore the grieving process and the gradual movement toward inner growth. We will walk a labyrinth to facilitate our journey within. There are two lovely outdoor labyrinths on the grounds and also an inside labyrinth available as needed.
Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center located at 660 Great Pond Road in North Andover, MA 01845. Register online or by calling 978-682-8815. Early registration: $65, after 10/11/16: $85
Experiencing Light and Dark
Take a walk outdoors on a sunny day and feel the heat of the sun on your skin. Take time to be fully present. Open yourself to the sun, its warmth, its strength, and its glare. Notice how being outdoors in the sun makes you feel. Next, at night seek out a dark place, perhaps a room where you can extinguish all sources of light. Sit alone in the dark. Open yourself. Notice how your senses react and how you feel in the dark. Sit there long enough to allow the dark to gather into its own luminosity. Write or draw about these experiences in your journal. How often do we actually experience the dark in our 24/7 technologically connected world? How can darkness bring balance to our lives? How can acts of kindness brighten the dark of another person’s day?
Happy Lammas! August 1 marks the mid-point of the summer and the beginning of the harvest season. For the ancient Celts the holiday, called Lughnasa (loo-nə-sə), after the Celtic god, Lugh (loo) who dedicated the day to his mother Tailtiu (til-too), was the most festive celebration of the year. Fairs were held on hilltops–round like the earth mother’s belly–from which the surrounding fields bursting with grain could be seen. At these celebrations the first fruits of the harvest were blessed, bilberries picked, athletic contests held, business transactions negotiated, and marriages arranged. A couple could agree to a trial marriage for one year by joining hands through a hole in a large stone or a wall. If all went well, the bond was solemnized the next year, if not, the bond was dissolved.
Although for many of us August is a time for vacationing, for farmers and gardeners it is also the beginning of a heavy work season. In terms of the human life span, Lammas represents the energetic years of our 30s and 40s dedicated to establishing careers and families. It represents a time when we are so caught up in accomplishing tasks that there is little time for reflection. We feel the pressure of time at our backs and see little decrease in the mountain of work that lies ahead. I feel increasingly removed from those decades, which for me extended well into my 50s, but this summer as I retool an online course and prepare for a move, the frenetic pace of life is returning with a feeling of déjà vu.
How lovely it would be to wake up in a house overlooking the ocean with nothing particular to do for the day. It is important to take time for relaxation and renewal. It strikes me that as we age perhaps the hard work of life needs to shift from active striving in the world to cultivating spaciousness within our souls.
We may feel drawn to the eternal presence beyond the seasonal round—the profound unity of the One in which life and death commingle. What a lot of learning, living, joy and sorrow we have experienced to bring us to this place in our lives. Yet the way forward maybe to let go, rather than to cling to comfortable patterns of what has been. Perhaps we are called to release what no longer serves our growth and transform. Perhaps the goal of life is not only to fully live but also to fully let go.
Paradoxically the more we can accept our limitations, the more we can accept with joy all the helping hands around us and feel connected to the larger community.There is a limit to what any one of us alone can harvest. True abundance comes through sharing. What have you learned from others that you appreciate? What legacy do you hope to pass on?
Lammas Eve, is my late husband’s birthday. Our marriage contract was made long ago and weathered the ups and downs of life for almost 30 years. I still hold his hand through the hole in the stone as I reach into the Mystery. The stone is the balance point between all the years of our lives that have gone before and those still to come whose edges fade into eternity.
Relax and Renew
Choose an activity that fills you with joy. Whether it is spending time with someone you love, creating art, reading in a hammock, climbing a mountain, walking along the ocean, or soaking in a warm bath, let it be something that delights your younger self. Devote at least three or four hours one day this week to indulging yourself in this favorite pastime. Celebrate the long, warm days still remaining in summer. Take in the fragrances, textures, and sounds of the living world that surround you.
Get ready to celebrate! In 2016, the summer solstice falls on June 20th, which is also the date of the full June moon, traditionally called the Mead Moon in northern Europe. Since mead is an intoxicating beverage made from honey and June is the traditional month for weddings, the two ideas were wedded into the term honeymoon. What a luscious time to celebrate with the double intoxication of the long time sun and a full moon. The riot of bright day will give way to the pearly sheen of moonlight, and for a little while darkness will be banished from the earth.
The Summer Solstice is also known as Midsummer, for in the ancient Celtic calendar, summer begins on May 1st. Traditional festivities for Midsummer’s Eve include rolling wheels of fire down steep hills, building bonfires, fire leaping, games of strength in which the winners are crowned with garlands, and divination, especially for young women hoping to find out who they will marry. Pulling off flower petals and reciting “he loves me, he loves me not” was originally a Midsummer’s oracle. In the Christian calendar, June 24 was declared to be the feast of St. John the Baptist. The vigil and festivities for the saint took on the character of the older Midsummer celebrations.
A contemporary festival that celebrates both the solstice and St. John takes place in Penzance, a small town in southwest England in the county of Cornwall. This weeklong celebration includes a serpent dance, which probably was intended to energize the dragon or serpent energy that is perceived as a source of power within the land (John Matthews, The Summer Solstice 99), so that together earth and sun would produce a bountiful harvest. We too take vitality from the sun. The long days of midsummer give us the energy to bring projects to fruition. It is a time also to play and indulge our senses. As crones, we can delight in the sensuousness of our bodies and savor the sweetness of life all the more because we know its limitations.
The summer solstice marks the boundary of the sun’s northward arc, and the waning of the its power. Even as we embrace the lushness of the season, we also are called to honor the dark. I imagine standing on top of a hill shaped like the belly of the earth mother, throwing out my arms, and singing into the vastness of space, spinning silken threads from my soul out into eternity. Until, as Walt Whitman wrote, “the gossamer threads you fling catch somewhere, O my soul” (“The Noiseless Patient Spider”). With my voice I will build a bridge between this life and the world we cannot see, a bridge the fairies can slide across with gossamer wing, and over which the spirits of loved ones who have gone before can come to melt into our hearts with gladness as we frolic through the long day, and tend a bonfire through the moonlit night.
Ways to Celebrate
Build a Midsummer bonfire. As you light the fire, recite an invocation such as this one. “I light this fire in the spirit of all those who have lit fires on this night, and I call upon the spirits of the Solstice to be present and to bless this fire.” As the fire dies down, you may want to do some traditional fire leaping. Try formulating a question for the spirits before you jump over the fire and see what answer comes to you on the other side (Matthews 101). You can wake up the serpent energy by dancing around the fire to the chant “Snake woman shedding her skin.”
To honor the dark, go for a dip in the cool waters of a pond. The sun glints over its smooth sepia surface, but beneath lays the cool, sleek dark. It is the twin of the darkness that grows stronger within the belly of each heavy, hot summer day.
Another Midsummer tradition is making charms by tying together bundles of herbs and placing them over the doorway of your home or office for protection against unwanted influences. One of the plants gathered at this time of year for its protective power is St. John’s Wort, whose bright yellow flowers bloom around St. John’s Day. Make this herbal ally into a tincture of liquid sunlight to lift your spirits in the dark days of winter.
It’s May Day and magic is afoot. Known as Beltane in the ancient Celtic calendar, May 1, marks the beginning of summer and stands opposite October 31, Samhain (sow-en), the beginning of winter. The holiday is named after the Celtic sun god, Belenos, who was thought to pull the sun across the sky in a horse drawn chariot. Beltane is celebrated with bonfires to welcome the power of the sun, and with dances around the May Pole to celebrate the fertility of the land. This symbol of the world tree is rooted in the earth and stretches toward heaven uniting the male and female polarities into one vast swirl of energy as dancers weave ribbons around the pole connecting us to one other and the sacred continuum of life.
As the land blossoms forth, the earth goddess, in her May Day guise, wakes up the nature spirits—fairies, elves, gnomes, and other elementals—whose ethereal forms we may glimpse in the glimmer of a sun beam or a rainbow flashing in a stream. These fairy folk come among us to rejoice in the May.
As we crones bring in the May, we hold the power of Samhain within. We have experienced the full cycle of life and death. We have witnessed the growth of new generations of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as we have watched the lives of our grandparents, parents, beloved friends and siblings of our own generation, and perhaps even our own children pass beyond this life. May after May life renews itself. The chant, “the forms change, but the circle of life remains” plays itself out on the dancing grounds of our hearts.
May Day is a time for rekindling our own creative fires which may have been tamped down by the losses, conflicts, and fears that hound this world and our lives. The power of the sun calls us to stretch the bare flesh of our arms upward to feel the sun’s penetrating warmth sink into our bones. As we wriggle our fingers skyward, we reach for the wisdom to accept the shifts in our life with grace. Instead of expending energy in resisting change, we welcome transitions as new opportunities. By surrendering to the needs of the time and accepting their strictures, we experience release, freedom, and joy.
As I hold the wise blood within, I want to turn over the responsibilities of birthing and manifesting new forms into life to younger women. When I became a mother over thirty years ago, I continued to work full time. I learned to rev my engines into overdrive and to maintain them there. I am good at accomplishing more things than I realistically have time to do. This pace, however, seems at odds with my natural rhythm. For me, one of the gifts of being a crone is to get to choose the pace at which I live. I find myself drawn more to the inner life and away from striving in the world. The beauty of aging for me lies in having time to contemplate life’s mystery. Slowly, I begin to detach from the goal-oriented aspect of myself and to allow more time just to be.
As you contemplate how best to stoke your own inner fire, consider what you need to bring your life into harmony with your natural rhythms. In the spirit of fun and youth, engendered by this season, you may want to consult your inner child. One way to do this is to create your own fairy garden. This is a creative way to experience the interconnectedness between the spirit and natural worlds. You can create your fairy landscape in a portion of your existing garden, around the base of a tree, or in a flower pot. As you invite the nature spirits to play, invite your own creative self to join the game, and follow the fairy queen down the garden path to find your special treasure.
Creating a Fairy Garden
To create your garden, you need a plot of land, or a pot with soil, one or more flowering plants or bushes, moss, mulch or stones, and fairy furniture or other small accessories that appeal to the wee folk. You’ll find lots of examples online. After you have set up your garden, honor it with a blessing. Welcome the spirit of each plant by directing a flow of love from your heart down through your arm into the plant. To finish off, leave a bright shiny gift for the fairies such as a bright bead, glitter, or a quartz crystal. Invite the fairies (and any other spirit presences that gladden your heart) to come.
Here is a sample fairy garden.