I hate to think too soon about summer’s end, not while I still have beach dates planned. But while I’ve been lazing in the sand, the sun’s been plenty busy. There’s really only one reason, for us, that it shines, and it’s this: for its energy to pass to the grain.
I love the cross-quarter days, those invisible holidays that proceed in lock-step with the barely noticeable passage of time. You may not realize that this Thursday, August 1, is the Celtic (and sometimes Christian) holiday Lammas – or “loaf-mass” — the midpoint between the Summer Solstice in June and the Autumn Equinox in September.
If you don’t know this holiday, you may still have noticed that, as hot and bright as our days continue to be, the force of the sun has begun to wane. You may begin to carefully picture the arrival of fall, and if that doesn’t feel like a fun idea, it may be encouraging to imagine the long-awaited and much-enjoyed force of the sun simply moving from its lofty heights and down to where we need it, into the grain to help it ripen. Change is not loss: the “sun god” is sacrificed for our nourishment. The visible light sinks into the cell walls of the grain, making mitochondria, allowing the immortal fire to enter our very bodies as we consume the first bread of the season.
Also called the “first harvest,” Lammas is a moment to register the abundance to come, and to gently contemplate the cold months ahead. As we move into the second half of summer, energy becomes nourishment, which in its time, will transform back to energy, and just when we’re sure to need it!
Starting back at the Winter Solstice, I’ve looked forward to summer. And while it’s not yet fall or even close, Lammas acknowledges that autumn is coming. Ever since Imbolc first suggested the coming spring in early February, we’ve striven forward. Figuratively and literally, we’ve planted and grown and planned, looking ever forward as the light expanded. But now that we’ve moved beyond summer’s peak and the days creep ever shorter, we may begin to wonder what this continuous cycle is all about. There is much to be grateful for: butterflies and blackberries and melons on the vine, smiling sunflowers and carpenter bees. But what comes up short? Where are the limits?
The song of harvest and reckoning is not unpleasant if taken constructively. The days are still long, as long as mid-May, and it’s fun to consider that there is a practical purpose for all this light. The warmth continues to embrace us as we look ahead, and the solace of the season may soften our resistance to a needed direction, a warm reminder that everything circles around. While we eat our first bread, the seeds that made it return to the earth, and the death-and-rebirth cycle is a wonderful whisper of immortality.
How might you honor Lammas? (Romeo and Juliet were wed on the Lammastide, but perhaps do not take their example.) Baking bread is traditional, as well as enjoying the late summer’s offerings of potatoes and corn. Tortillas? Tamales? And beer! We’d like to raise a glass, and wish a joyful first harvest to you and yours.