Here is my latest painting of the Irish god Lugh for the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, which is celebrated on August 1. It is Watercolor, 12" x 16." The original is available for sale, just shoot me an email.
The Irish holiday Lugnasadh traditionally takes place on August 1 and is attributed to the Irish god Lugh. It also celebrates the harvesting of the first fruits of the year, often corn and potatoes. It is the custom to talk of sacrifice at this time of year, as heard in the folk song of John Barleycorn.
When I was a young lass in college, one of my classmates was a huge fan of the band Traffic, who released the album “John Barleycorn Must Die” in 1970. This was the early 80s, and all good Fine Art students were eschewing the Reagonomics of the day to become self-styled hippies. As I toiled in the printmaking and painting studios, the minor chords and melancholy harmonies of Steve Winwood’s version of the song pealed through the halls and permanently imprinted in my brain. To this day, I can’t run a printing press without thinking of that album.
Many years later, I learned of the song’s attachment to the harvest holidays of the British Isles. The song tells of the sacrifice of John Barleycorn to create home brewed ale. Poor John Barleycorn goes through many indignities (if you listen to the song at the link below you will know what I mean) in order to become the ale enjoyed by everyone. Another story of sacrifice attached to this holiday is that of the god Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, who dies clearing the fields of Ireland. Lugh created a feast day and a day of athletic competitions to honor his mother and her sacrifice. These stories together syncretically make up this holiday still celebrated by many, although it now goes by other names such as Lammas and Loafmas. The grains sacrificed for these holidays are the ones that make bread.
Thinking about sacrifice also makes me think about loss. Sometimes it can be hard for me to separate the two – a feeling of “Why me?” when things go awry. Friends of mine and I were recently discussing Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh – the friend who always says, “oh why bother, why is it worth it?” A very big loss can make one feel very hopeless and if somehow we were forced to sacrifice something.
As I write this blog today, it feels as though the past several months have seen much loss of many good compatriots and friends. The passing of Margot Adler on July 28 is particularly poignant. As the author of Drawing Down the Moon, she brought so many people together who would not have otherwise found one another. On May 13, 2014, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart of the Church of All Worlds died of cancer. Several months earlier, on March 20, we lost Judy Harrow of Covenant of the Goddess, Cherry Hill Seminary and a number of other important groups and accomplishments, and on February 6, the Philadelphia community lost Fran Toscani, former owner of Morgan’s Cauldron, once the best esoteric shop in all of Philly.
I mention these things because I think it is important to take time to honor those we have lost and things that we ourselves may have lost over the past year. The pain of losing friends can feel like a sacrifice, because it cuts us right to the core. I know so many people right now without jobs, people who have had hard economic times due to circumstances beyond their control. I do not view the world in a Pollyanna way, however, I do believe in opportunities arising from loss and crisis.
I feel strongly that the lesson we can learn from Lughnasadh is that sometimes sacrifice is good for the benefit of all, which also plays out in my Tarot card “Sacrifice,” (which in traditional decks is The Hanged Man). Lugh’s foster mother died so the fields of Ireland would be cleared. As we begin to lose our Elders, the lessons they left behind become more precious. The time we have together on this Earth is limited. Let us remember to be kind to one another. Let us remember we may not know what others have sacrificed so that we may have better lives.