Lessons Learned During the Pandemic: Simplicity

Today, on the eve of the celebration of Lammas/Lughnasadh, I spent the day in the garden and in the kitchen. I harvested herbs, flowers and fruit which where then prepared for drying or infused in oil/alcohol on their way to becoming ingredients for homemade soap or tinctures. I also brewed a batch of blackberry elderberry mead which is now happily bubbling on my kitchen counter (a sign that formation is, indeed, taking place).

During this time I left social media behind and was fully focused on the tasks at hand. By the time I sat down to eat supper, I felt so relaxed and content. This reminded me that one of the lessons I learned during the pandemic was the power of choosing to live a simpler life than I did before the coronavirus forced us to “shelter in place.”

Last summer, while on lockdown, my husband and I tore up part of our front lawn and built a raised bed for vegetables. It was an experiment in urban farming and we quickly learned what grew well in that spot (green beans) and what did not (cucumbers). We also grew lots of tomatoes in big pots that we placed in a sunny spot near the garage. Much to our surprise and delight, we had a good harvest and enjoyed our “yard to table” lifestyle.

This year, we increased what we planted and applied the lessons we learned last year. Not surprisingly, we had an even bigger yield which we transformed into sweet pickles, spaghetti sauce, fried green tomatoes and lots of pots of beans for supper. I have no doubt this is the “new normal” for both of us. We’ve found great joy in a simpler lifestyle that includes less eating out and more eating in. I don’t think this would have happened without the pandemic. It is one of the hidden blessings that has come out of this difficult time in the life of our planet.

Blessed Lammas! David T

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Harvest Festivals

HARVEST FESTIVALS
Compiled by Tree Higgins and David Taliesin

Harvest festivals have been with us since the earliest of times. The basic theme for these festivals is 1) giving thanks and 2) reflecting on the sacrifices necessary for us to survive the coming winter months.

In modern times, the first harvest festival is Lammas or Lughnasadh. Contrary to what you’ve read on the internet, they are NOT the same festival.

Lammas is the English harvest festival which occurs on the same day. The word is Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass” and was celebrated by Pagans and Christians alike. It celebrates the first fruits of corn, wheat and barley. The main food for this festival is bread in one form or another.

Lughnasadh is Gaelic for the modern Irish word “Lunasa,” meaning August. In ancient times the Sun God Lugh was honored.

Green Corn Festival is an annual ceremony practiced among various Native American peoples including the Cherokee. It is associated with the beginning of the yearly corn harvest. Historically, it involved a first fruits rite in which the community would sacrifice the first of the green corn to ensure the rest of the crop would be successful. The Green Corn Ceremony typically occurs in late July–August, determined locally by the ripening of the corn crops.

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The second harvest festival is known in modern times as Mabon. In early times it was simply referred to as the Fall or Autumnal Equinox. It is the day when light and darkness are in balance with one another.

Mabon is a modern term coined by Aiden Kelly. It’s a reconstructed celebration that incorporates many of the old ways of celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.

Michaelmas was first celebrated in 1011. Named for the archangel Michael (protector), Sept 29, became a harvest festival and a time of taking stock, hiring help an settling debts. Around Michaelmas families decided which animals to keep through the winter and how many to sell or slaughter. Intended to replace Harvest Home, Michaelmas marked the point near the end of the reaping season and concluded with a dinner for landowners and tenants. These dinners gave landlords an opportunity to collect their seasonal rents.

Harvest Home is the English name for the harvest festival that occurred near the Fall Equinox throughout Europe. Some ancient Pagans also referred to this time as the Ingathering. Many of these traditions came from old Pagan fertility rituals; over time the ruling church dedicated the rituals to Christian saints instead of the original Pagan gods.
Other adaptations of the Harvest Festival are Oktoberfest in Germany and Rally Day in Southern Christian churches. You will see elements of the old celebrations reflected in each.

The Christian hymn known as “Harvest Home” or “Come, You Thankful People, Come” reflects the themes of the harvest in a way that may sound surprisingly Pagan! Here are the first two verses:

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come; raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field, fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

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The third harvest festival is Samhain, which also includes other elements such as divination and communication with the other side. Christians adapted this festival and transformed it into All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day.

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Harvest Festival Symbols

Corn dollies—The word “corn” in Europe referred to all kinds of grain, not just the maize crops familiar to North America. Because of this, the term “corn dolly,” meant a figure fashioned form grain—usually wheat, but rye, millet, oats, and even maize also suited the purpose. There is evidence that this tradition does not originate in Europe, but came from ancient Egypt.

Cornucopia/Horn of Plenty—In classical antiquity, the cornucopia was a symbol of abundance and nourishment, commonly a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers or nuts. he cornucopia became the attribute of several Greek and Roman deities, particularly those associated with the harvest, prosperity, or spiritual abundance. In modern times it is associated with Thanksgiving and harvest.

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Lughnasadh/Lammas: August 1st

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August has a rhythm all it’s own, especially in the South. These hot, humid days force us to slow down our pace a bit, and why not? The soil has been tilled. Gardens have been planted. Many vegetables have already been harvested and more are on the way. The only thing left to do is pray for rain and wait until everything is ripe and ready. In the meantime, we can escape the sweltering heat of the day by “sitting a spell” on the porch with friends, sipping glasses of sweet tea and eating a freshly baked peach cobbler! That’s how we roll in North Carolina and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

The first of August is known by several names: 1) Lughnasadh, which is Gaelic for the modern Irish word “Lunasa,” meaning August. In ancient times the Sun God Lugh was honored. 2) Lammas is the English harvest festival which occurs on the same day. The word is Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass” and was celebrated by Pagans and Christians alike. 3) Festival of Green Corn, which is the name Native Americans attach to this harvest festival, and 4) Feast of St. Peter in Chains, which is an odd ancient Christian observance that has been removed from the liturgical calendar.

Basically, Lammas is the first of three harvest Sabbats or festivals.  This particular one celebrates the first fruits of corn, wheat and barley. Needless to say, this is something to be thankful for, especially in ancient times. A successful harvest meant there would be plenty of grain to last through the cold winter months. The main food for this festival is bread in one form or another. Bread has always been universally symbolic of life, Mother Earth, home, hearth, harvest and vitality. Because of this, ritual bread appears in every religious tradition I can think of.

For early Christians “Loaf Mass” was an adaptation of the Pagan Lammas. In both traditions, bread was baked and presented as an offering to the Divine in thanksgiving for a successful harvest. Here is an ancient Christian prayer that was used on Loaf Mass:

Holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, graciously deign,
to bless this bread with Thy spiritual benediction
that all who eat it may have health of body and soul
and that they may be protected against all sickness
and against all the snares of the enemy.  Amen.

Some of the bread in the Christian tradition was used to celebrate the Eucharist (Holy Communion) on Lammas. The rest of it was blessed and taken home for the Lammas Day feast. I also discovered that in Anglo-Saxon England this blessed bread was used by some to work magic! According to a book of Anglo-Saxon charms, a Lammas loaf was broken into four bits, which were placed in the four corners of the barn in order to protect the gathered grain.

In modern times, we can celebrate Lughnasadh/Lammas not only by giving thanks to the Divine for a successful harvest, it can also be a day to support local farmers. Let’s face it, they work their tails off to grow the food that appears on our tables. Perhaps we can use this holy day to commit ourselves to buying as much locally grown food as possible. I make a weekly trip to a tailgate market that is less than a mile from my house. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us urban dwellers to connect with our agrarian brothers and sisters. I always have wonderful conversations with the vendors there and I’ve learned a lot about how to cook the fruits and vegetables that are grown by them.

As a final note, my Cherokee brothers and sisters still celebrate the Festival of Green Corn. There is always dancing, singing, drumming and the eating of corn in a number of forms. You can Google the topic for more information.

So I wish everyone a most blessed Lughnasadh/Lammas celebration. If you’re ever in North Carolina I have a glass of sweet tea and a peach cobbler waiting for you!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Honoring a Dead Hawk

Some Native Americans call this majestic bird Cetan-luta. Us Anglos who live in the Appalachian mountains call them red-tailed hawks. We had one who was the spiritual guardian of our church. I would sometimes see him perching on top of the cross on the spire of our building, or flying from treetop to treetop among the poplars and pines that grow on the mountain behind our church. Today, we lost our friend.

After worship this morning, one of my parishioners pulled me aside and quietly guided me to what was left of the body of a red-tailed hawk. He/she had obviously been eaten by a predator, but there is no way to tell whether he/she died first or was somehow caught by the predator. At least his/her body fed another living animal so it did not go to waste.

I had to leave church quickly but as I was driving away I thought about how I could honor our fallen comrade. In the midst of a number of options that ran through my head, a single, clear voice asked me “What would you do for a human who died?” The answer was obvious. I would bury this beautiful creature and say some prayers honoring his/her life. It was clear the Spirit has given me the direction I sought.

So this afternoon I donned some plastic disposable gloves, grabbed a shovel and carried the bird to the top of the hill that overlooks our church building. I let the Spirit guide me to the perfect spot and found some nice level ground that was nestled between a few trees. I dug a hole and buried our friend, placing a log I found nearby on top of his/her grave. I said my prayers of thanks as I lit a little homegrown sage and covered the grave with sacred smoke.

Then I went back to the church and circled it with the same same sacred smoke, saying the following prayer repeatedly, “Thank you for being our guardian. May you rest in peace.”
As I write this blog there are tears welling up in my eyes. My grief is deep. Red-tailed hawks have always been one of my favorite birds, along with crows. I feel a connection to these majestic creatures that is unexplainable but nonetheless real. I don’t know if we’ll have another guardian as beautiful as our Cetan-luta. But, today, I honored the gift that was given to our faith community in the presence of this hawk.

(In case you’re wondering I DID NOT take any of this bird’s feathers with me. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to possess them. Plus it simply didn’t feel right to do such a thing to our guardian and friend.)

Blessings, David T

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Lavender: The Great Nard Controversy

lavenderIt is common knowledge that lavender is an herb which promotes relaxation, emotional balance and serenity. But things start to get heated when the question is asked as to whether lavender is the same thing as “spikenard” or “nard” that is found in the Bible. I believe they are two different herbs. Here’s why:

Lavender (genus Lavandula) is named from the Latin “lavare,” which means “to wash.” Ancient Romans used lavender in their famous baths as a perfume. People knew you were clean because you smelled of it afterward! The confusion begins to arise because the Greeks called lavender “nardus,” referring to the city Naarda, where lavender was often sold. Many simply called the plant “nard.” However, the Romans called lavender “asarum,” because they believed the poisonous asp viper lived among lavender bushes.

Spikenard (nardostachys jatamansi) is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China and India. It is the more valuable of the two because lavender (lavandula stoechas which we now call French or Spanish lavender) was grown locally as well as regionally. Spikenard had to be imported from a great distance, hence its value. All of the scientific and biological resources I checked all agree these are two different herbs. The confusion probably comes from the Greek’s calling lavender “nardus.”

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s all inhale a little lavender oil and relax! This noble herb has been used for over 2,500 years, starting with the ancient Egyptians who used it as a part of the mummification process and also as a perfume. It’s use was also widespread among the Arabs, Romans and Greeks. Modern Wiccans believe its magical properties include sleep, long life, peace, wishes, protection, love, purification, visions and clarity of thought. Christians of earlier times regarded lavender as a safeguard against evil, and hung a cross of lavender over their door for protection.

The most beautiful and holy use of lavender I’ve encountered is at one of our local hospice centers who bathes its dying patients with lavender-scented water. It relaxes the patient as well as their family! What a lovely gift to both!

Copyright © 2021 by sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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June Full Moon: Strawberry Moon

strawberry-moon-squareAccording to the Farmer’s Almanac, the June full moon, which occurs this coming Monday, June 24, is known as the Strawberry Moon. (Other names for this moon include the Rose Moon and Hot Moon.) The Algonquin tribes knew this Moon as a time to gather ripening strawberries. Since strawberries are such a sensual fruit perhaps we can use this full moon to do a little self-care. Keep the night simple. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage or decadent dessert. Sit under the full moon in a comfortable chair and soak up her powerful energy. Spend time grounding and letting go of any anxieties and worries you are carrying. When you feel like you’re in a place of complete calm, have that lovely glass of wine or hard cider you brought with you and savor every sip. Eat a piece of pie or cake but do it slowly and appreciate each sensuous bite. We all need time to rest and recharge our spiritual batteries. Take good care of yourselves, friends so that we may be the warriors of justice and compassion our world needs us to be! Blessed be!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Calendula: Solstice Flowers on Steroids

calendula-illustrationG/P/E Masculine, Sun, Fire

Even if you don’t have a particularly green thumb, you can grow calendula in your garden. They love lots of sun and produce prolific amounts of beautiful yellow and orange blossoms that can be used for magical, medicinal and culinary uses. They also grow well in pots if you live in an apartment or condo. The trick to getting lots of blossoms is to keep harvesting/ deadheading them as they flower. In the hottest part of the summer they may stop producing flowers but don’t give up on them. When the temperature drops a bit they will start blooming again and, depending on where you live, can produce flowers well into the fall. They can reseed themselves with little effort on your part but you can also save the seeds from the dried involucres (green base of the flower head). This is also where the highest concentration of medicinal resinous oils are found.

Medicinally, calendula has lots of healing properties. A salve made from the whole blossoms is very nourishing to the skin and can help with all manner of cuts, bruises, rashes, burns, insect bites, etc. Tea made from the dried blossoms is also a great way to beat the winter blahs. I combine it with other herbs to promote a sense of well-being and happiness.

As a culinary ingredient, calendula petals can be eaten raw and add beautiful color to fresh garden salads. Dried petals have also been used in place of saffron as a colorant and flavor ingredient.

Magically, calendula is an overlooked and underappreciated herb. Scott Cunningham says that calendula flowers gladden and strengthen the heart. Garlands of calendula strung on doorposts stop evil from entering the house, and placed under a bed will protect you while you sleep. I find that their energy is joyful and vibrant and can be used in any ritual where sun/fire energy is called for. Even a small vase of calendula placed on my home altar feels empowering and inspiring.

Paul Beyerl in his excellent book “A Compendium of Herbal Magic” says that the dried petals can be used alone or mixed with a dry incense to consecrate tools of divination, and the petals may also be macerated in sunflower oil to make an oil of consecration. It’s sunny color and fire energy are also good for clearing negative energy.

As a side note, the common name “marigold” refers to the Virgin Mary and may have previous associations with a nature goddess. If anyone has any historical info on this, let me know. The more common variety of marigold that most people are familiar with is also used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations. It is placed on altars and graveside to honor the dead. Given that calendula can flower into the fall in some climates, it may also be used for this purpose.

So, what are you waiting for? Make plans to add calendula to your garden next year. You will love the many uses for this versatile flower.

Copyright, ©2021 by David Taleisin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Litha (Summer Solstice) For Introverts

shy-speaker

Litha, or Summer Solstice, is the longest day of the year. This year it occurs on Sunday, June 20th. It’s the day of the year when the sun is at its full life-giving power. Many feel vibrant and alive this time of year. I’m not one of them! 90 degrees is not my anointed temperature. I sweat like crazy and have to slow down my activities quite a bit. My brain also feels a little foggy. Therefore when the sun is at its full power, I am not. I’m one of those weird people who feels more alive and creative in January than I do in July. Perhaps that’s because I’m an introvert and January is definitely a more introverted month than July.

If you’re like me and don’t feel like lots of merriment this Litha, it’s a good time to reflect on the significance of this turning point in the wheel of the year. Wait for the cool of the evening if that’s possible. Light some candles. Pick an incense with a floral or citrus scent. Have a nice glass of wine or other relaxing beverage. Then take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished since Yule. Have the seeds of ideas and projects you planted during the first part of the year been able to grow? If not, is there anything you can do to help them germinate during this time of the year that is focused on the greening of the earth?

The second part of your reflection should include the observation that June 21st begins the “long dying of the year” as each day gets shorter and shorter. It’s the time to begin thinking of the things you need to let go of: emotional weights that are preventing you from moving forward, project that just aren’t going to happen, etc. For me, this is not a morose activity.  t is very life-giving as we lighten our load so we can move more joyfully and freely in the world.

So, that’s my Litha celebration for introverts. I’m looking forward to a quiet evening and if that’s your thing as well, I wish you a calm and cool evening!  Blessed be!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Summer Solstice: Let Your Light Shine

summersolsticeLitha or Summer Solstice (June 20) contains powerful themes that are of interest to Christians and Pagans alike. In fact, I suspect this powerful day in the Northern Hemisphere has been revered ever since human beings began noticing the cycles of nature around them. The term Litha comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase Aerra Litha, which means “before Midsummer.” For many Pagans it is a day with the themes of fertility and fire, since the Goddess is fully pregnant with child and the Sun God is at the height of his power. In earlier times Europeans farmers lit bonfires to mark this day and then spread the ashes over their fields to insure fertility of their crops.

Not surprisingly, the Christian Church appropriated this celebration (If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!). They set aside June 24th to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist, calling it St. John’s Day. It is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian Church, dating back to 506 CE. It’s tie-in to the theme of fire can be found in the gospel of John 1:6-9 which talks about the relationship between John and Jesus: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” The light, in this passage, is Jesus who takes the place of the Sun God as the light who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)

For both Pagans and Christians this is the perfect time of year to celebrate the gift of life with bonfires, which for any of us have become charcoal and gas grills and fire pits! This weekend is also Father’s Day which means it’s a great day for family get-togethers and picnics. This is definitely resonates with the spirit of Litha.

From a spiritual perspective, the Solstice it’s a good time to meditate on the fertility of body, mind and spirit. It’s a time to capitalize on our strong points and use the gifts and talents the Divine has given each of us to help give birth to a greener, healthier and more peaceful world. The Bible passage that keeps coming to mind when I think about Litha is Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Drying Yarrow: Urban Farmer Method

What practitioner of magic does not desire to live out in the country with plenty of land to plant magical herbs and a forest nearby where we can go wildcrafting? Yet, I have the suspicion that many of us are city dwellers who often practice our magic indoors and have little or no land at our disposal. This does not mean we cannot connect with our Earth Mother in meaningful ways.

yarrow01
Yarrow and bee balm in the corner of my yard.

The front yard of my house is the only place that gets enough sunlight to grow things besides ferns and other shade plants. It’s very small but I grow a number of medicinal herbs and bee friendly flowers. If you have no yard whatsoever, you can also plant many of these plants in container gardens.

Yarrow is one of my favorites, no only because it has a long bloom season, it also dries easily and is one of my go-to plants for magic spells. Yarrow is also a perennial so it keeps coming back and multiplying year after year. I only harvest what I need and never gather more than 1/4 of the stems that germinate and grow. It’s amazing how much dried yarrow a few stems produces so harvest it cautiously.

Drying yarrow by the “urban farming” method is easy! First cut the flowers off the stem by pushing your kitchen shears as close to the bud as you can get them.

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Take all the leaves off the stems as well. Return the stems to the earth for composting.

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Next, place the buds and leaves (I do them separately) in a large plastic or metal container that is lined with a paper towel. Place the container in the rear window of your car and keep it there until the buds and stems are dry which only takes a few days.

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Another method is to place them on a brown paper bag from the grocery store instead of a plastic oe metal container. Who needs an expensive dehydrator? This does the job quickly and inexpensively!

The finished product is gorgeous. When the buds are dried they can be easily separated into individual pieces. The leaves can either be crumbled by hand or placed in a food processor until they reach the desired consistency. I use this method of drying for most of my herbs and it’s as easy as it gets! Give it a try!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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