August is nearly here, a month of cricket-song and warm, hazy nights. Yet, just as summer is at its richest, we sense the shadows of autumn falling over the golden meadows. The winds begin to change, just slightly, and the sun disappears a little earlier each day. The harvest season is here; soon the corn and squash that grew tall and ripe in the summer sun will be piled high in the market. I'm already thinking of the wild grapes at the edge of the forest, soon to be ready, glossy black gems under green leaves.
My ancestors celebrated this subtle turning of the seasons with a feast, a fire festival called Lughnasadh, so named after Lugh, an ancient king of legend who was worshipped as a god of warriors, artists, craftsmen, and of the sun and the harvest. There are so many traditions to choose from, ways to mark this celebration. Rituals to perform, lore to commit to memory.
But what, really, is the heart of Lughnasadh?
This celebration, this marking of time, is the acknowledgement that the growing season will come to an end, and that, as part of the spiral-dance of life, things must die to be reborn. This is a time to pause and take stock, to understand that without death, life is not possible.
Grain, cut down and harvested, is reborn as flour, and made into bread to nourish us through the winter. The fruits must be harvested, their seeds stored for the next year. The summer ends to become fall, to become winter, to be reborn as spring.
All things become something else. It's a very bittersweet thing, to need and want change but mourn what must be lost when it comes.
As a herbalist, the month of August marks the beginning of the end of my harvest season. Goldenrod is often one of last things I harvest and make medicine with. When I see the sun-yellow flowers lining the roadsides and filling the meadows, it signals to me that soon the leaves will fall, and that we are standing at a turning point in the year.
I mark this time in my own way by thinking back over the past few months. What seeds, literally and figuratively, have I planted, and how well are they growing? I also take the time to think back on the beautiful plants I've seen and harvested and made medicine with; the nettles, clover, creamy-white elderflowers, nodding heads of purple sweet leaf and bright sunbursts of st. john's wort. The heal-all, growing low in the grass, tiny flowers a carpet of purple, and how I sat on the hillside in the evening with them.
Gratitude, gratitude, even as I let those things go.
What has happened for you, in these past months?
What are you harvesting now?
What are you thankful for?
What did you love?
What can you let go?
What do you want the future to bring, and how can you accept the changes that must come?