Monday, 1 August 2011

Lammas? Lughnasadh? Yeah. That.

My local Pagan network and I went up a big hill to a stone circle for a ritual yesterday. A very big hill indeed. Despite what I said on Inciting a Riot the other week (!), I was really keen to join the group for this trip - mainly because the group leader was absolutely lovely, and consulted me about whether I'd be able to come before she advertised the trip. This is actually one of the more easily-accessible sites in the Peak District, the exceptionally hilly, very beautiful stretch of countryside near where I live. The rest of the group went on to an even more demanding site later!

The ritual itself was short but lovely. I called a corner, which was terrifying for my first group ritual (but I'm practising doing things I find scary. So there). It turned out to be a bit of a Lammas ritual. Some delicious cider was shared! I really enjoyed it, but it got me thinking. I understand that a lot of English Pagans are keen on using Anglo-Saxon names for the sabbats. For me, though, the trouble is not just that we don't have any evidence that these names were used pre-Christianity, but also that I simply can't relate to the English myths around the sabbats, at least not at the moment. Oak kings and holly kings, and John Barleycorn cut down so he can be reborn, is all lovely imagery, but for some reason is nothing that I can personally connect with. The ambiguity of the paradoxical Welsh and Irish myths that hearken to lost pre-history and ancient beliefs and customs, though - that works for me. I love how Lugh Lamfada can be seen as a sun or a grain god but is also not nearly that simple or easily reduced. Maybe that works for me because, in a belief system based on ancient Pagan customs that developed thousands of miles away from Ireland, another sun god is just as paradoxical in his is-he-isn't-he symbolism. (Like Lleu Llaw Gyffes, he too will die and be reborn as the wheel turns, albeit in a less intuitive order - Yeshua is born at Midwinter, then dies and rises in the Spring.) But maybe it also works for me for ancestral reasons, or maybe it's just because I'm a big one for stories and paradoxes as doorways to the mystical. Over at Pantheon, a devotee of Lugh tells us more about his myth and family. The richness of that myth is incredible, with generations and shifting ways of life encapsulated in a deceptively simple tale of sacrifice and plenty, death and rebirth.

So when I hear English Pagans talking about how we've inherited all the lore/terminology we need from the Anglo-Saxons, probably in reaction against an American fondness for all things Celtic, I also wonder whether reclaiming our own ancient roots and ancient terminology isn't also part of what makes Paganism the wonderful mix of traditions it is. My mother's family only left Ireland a generation ago, but that's not really the point. There's increasing archeological and even genetic evidence that Irish and British people are essentially one race, with far more intermixing between Celts and Anglo-Saxons than we once thought. And it's all about spiritual ancestry anyway - and mine is a mixed bag! So I'll go with Lughnasadh (or Gwyl Awst when I'm celebrating my Welsh side), in preference to Lammas. But I wish you a happy first summer harvest festival, whichever expression of the season you celebrate. Personally, I'm also celebrating the Christian season of Trinity at the moment. Now there's a confusing mix of personal traditions. :)

Oh, and as a result of my trip up the hill, I am now extremely sunburnt. Summer has finally realised it was due. My very Anglo-Irish skin tones were not expecting this.


  1. "So when I hear English Pagans talking about how we've inherited all the lore/terminology we need from the Anglo-Saxons, probably in reaction against an American fondness for all things Celtic". There is one? As an American witch, I am amused and interested. There's always some sort or rebellion to practice.

  2. Sylvanna: Hah. It may be a British mis-conception. We're all so good at creating stereotypes of others :D If it's a mis-conception, I apologise on behalf of my fellow-Brits! I certainly have a fondness for all things Celtic, thanks to my Irish mother's love of her ancestral land (which I've inherited) and a feeling of kinship with my father's Welsh roots (which he doesn't really share). So I'm sure I'm as guilty as anyone else of romanticising the Celts. But I think throwing the Celtic/ancient British baby out with the romantic bathwater would be a mistake. Um, if any of that rambling makes any sense!