Scarcity and Abundance at Lammas
Lammas or Lughnasadh? I must admit I use the names quite interchangeably – although ‘Lammas’ is easier to both pronounce and spell!. ‘Lughnasadh’ is the name of the Celtic festival marking the death of the golden God Lugh meaning literally ‘The Wake of Lugh’. Lammas is the Saxon name for the festival marking the beginning of the grain harvest and means ‘Loaf Mass’, i.e. the celebration of the first loaves produced from this year’s harvest. Celts and Saxons alike held celebratory festivities in gratitude for the beginning of harvest, but it is also a time tinged with a little sadness, for without cutting down the crop (symbolically sacrificing the Corn King), the tribe could not be fed in the coming months.
Our modern estrangement from the natural world insulates us to an extent from worries about the harvest that must have plagued our ancestors. The uncertainties posed by weather extremes, flood, drought, pests and diseases would have made the months leading up to harvest an anxious time. No wonder they were so keen to offer thanks and celebration once the process was under way and their food stores were assured for the coming months. Nowadays a cold spring or a hot dry summer may affect crops, but though food prices may increase, there will still be plenty to choose from at the local supermarket, greengrocer or market stall. We are so lucky in the Western world, and we so often take that for granted.
I grow some of my own fruit, vegetables and herbs, and this year’s harvest looks like being mixed. The vegetable patch has been somewhat neglected as I no longer have as much time to devote to it, though I have planted potatoes and tomatoes. The cold spring and late frosts we had took its toll on the fruit blossom and negatively affected pollination rates as it was too cold for bees to venture out, so I think we will have a sparse harvest of damsons, apples and plums. On the other hand my fig tree is loaded with figs, and many of the later-blossoming hedgerow crops – such as elderberries, roses (for hips) and blackberries – seem likely to produce in abundance.
But we do not exist in isolation, we are part of our human communities. That means we are lucky enough to have the wonderful human spirit of altruism, generosity and the instinct to share in times of plenty – in times of scarcity, too. In times past, this spirit of generosity and sharing would have helped ensure the survival of the clan. These days the sharing continues in all kinds of ways, and is the glue that binds us together.
Just this week I have been gifted with a potted coriander plant, some free firewood, a big fragrant bunch of wild-flowers, a pretty scarf and a bottle of home-made elderflower cordial by different people. In the last year I have been given garden plants, vouchers, magazines, a wardrobe, a futon, a chest of drawers, items of clothing and had a surprise birthday party thrown for me by friends, family and neighbours; they have also gifted me freely with advice, expertise and various skills that I lack when I’ve needed help. I have been taught how to weave small baskets, how to make a Brigid’s cross and a plaster-cast mask of my face. My partner has helped me decorate the house, and he, my brother-in-law and a friend’s husband have between them built a new porch for me. In my turn, I have passed on books, surplus eggs, incense, toiletries, magazines, craft supplies and home-made jam and marmalade. I have borrowed a wall-paper steamer/stripper, a router, a tile-cutter, a mitre saw, and have lent out DVDs, books, my carpet cleaner, my pressure-washer. I have done lots of lift-sharing, run errands, washed an elderly neighbour’s hair for her when she injured her arm and helped a friend move house!
My job is not a well-paying one, and in these difficult times, money is a constant issue. As we find ourselves in the middle of a recession with no end in sight – no matter what the politicians say – the cost of living increases almost daily. Money – or lack of it – is now a permanent worry at the back of my mind.
But at this time of first harvest, as the balance tips between abundance and scarcity, I breathe and choose to remember that it is true that the best things in life are free. I choose to remember that I am part of a community of friends, family and neighbours who look out for each other, share what they have and help when they can, just because that’s what we humans do for each other. I choose to remember that co-operation is as or more important than competition. I choose to remember that abundance and money are not the same thing. And most of all I choose to give thanks for the harvest of my many blessings, which are priceless.