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. Some 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 ©2019 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 © 2019 by sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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July Full Moon: Buck Moon

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Native Americans call July 16th’s full moon the Buck Moon because in North America bucks (male deers) are beginning to sprout their antlers. Symbolically this ties in with the first harvest theme of Lughnasadh which we will celebrate in a few weeks on August 1st. A good reflection question to ask ourselves during this month’s full moon is “What do we want to harvest in our lives? What do we want to manifest in our world?”

These days there is a lot to be fearful about and we can choose to give into that fear and manifest anxiety and worry. OR we can draw our strength from nature and the Divine and harvest a new crop of love, compassion, reconciliation, hope, etc. May we use tomorrow tonight’s full moon to ground and center ourselves so we will remain strong in these trying times. Blessed be!

Copyright ©2019 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, ©2019 by David Taleisin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Summer Solstice: Let Your Light Shine

summersolsticeLitha or Summer Solstice 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 ©2019 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Litha (Summer Solstice) For Introverts

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Litha, or Summer Solstice, is the longest day of the year. This year it occurs on Friday, June 21st. 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 ©2019 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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The Wand of Moses?

moseswand

Moses getting water from a rock. Duomo Cathedral, Milan ©2019 by David Taliesin

While I was in Milan, a panel on the outside of the Duomo caught my eye. It looked as if the person in the picture was wielding a wand. I captured the image and did some research when I returned home. It is, indeed, the story of Moses striking a rock in the desert from which water miraculously began to flow. This is mentioned in the Torah in Exodus 1:1-7 and Numbers 20:9-11:

So Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. [NRSV]

Now realize the English translation above says it was a “staff.” It’s the same staff that Moses used to perform other miracles while the Israelites were in Egypt. However, the Hebrew word used here can also be understood as a “rod” used for chastising, a “scepter” used by a king or queen, a “lance” that is thrown, or a walking “staff.” It would appear the length varies. Some are short, some are long.

The use of a shorter staff or wand by Moses is not only seen on the Duomo, it appears in other images of Moses as well such as the photo below from the Catacomb of St. Callixtus, Rome:

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This looks more like an elongated wand due to the way he holds it. One would probably wield a staff differently.

Not surprisingly, the wand also appears in ancient Egyptian art as well. We see examples of this in the Tomb of Sennefer in Luxor:

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Priest holding a scepter, Tomb of Sennefer, Luxor

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Priests holding serpent staffs. Tomb of Sennufer. © Scott Noegel

Acts 7:22 says that “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.” [NRSV] Perhaps we can infer from this that Moses was taught the spiritual/magical practices of the Egyptian priests. Therefore, a shorter staff is not out of the question.

Now, I know there are some of you out there who probably think I’m crazy for even proposing this idea. But Google “Christ the Magician” and you will see similar wands in the hands of both Jesus and Peter! Early Christians seemed to have no problem with this portrayal of their Biblical heroes. Then why should we?

In my own spiritual practice I don’t often use a wand. But when I do, I understand it to be a focusing device, an extension of my arm through which power flows. I do not believe it has any power on it’s own (forget all the Harry Potter BS you’ve seen in the movies). It is a conduit through which I can direct both Divine and Earth energy toward it’s intended purposes. I can do the same thing with my hands or a crystal but, sometimes, it just feels like the wand is the right tool to get the job done.

So, I have no problem with the notion of Moses using a shorter wand instead of a staff. Some early Christians had no problem with it either. The Torah tells us that Moses understood his staff/wand to be an instrument through which the power of YHWH could be directed. It had no super powers in and of itself, and that really resonates with my understand of this tool’s function.

If your beliefs are different from what I’ve posted, I totally respect that. If you need Moses to yield a staff like Charlton Heston, I’m good with that, too. I share this information as a way to connect some dots that I don’t see to many other people connecting. But that’s my job with Sabbats and Sabbaths, as I explore the connections between Pagan and Judeo-Christian spirituality.

Copyright ©2019 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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