A Lunastal Message from the Earth
Highland woman taking part in the Lunastal harvest
August 1st 2018 is Earth Overshoot Day
I couldn't believe the irony when I came across the above post yesterday on social media, announcing Earth Overshoot Day, on the Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh (Viking festival of Lammas), a traditional celebration of the sacred 'First Harvest' of the year. In bygone eras in the districts of Scotland, this day marked the opening of the harvest season, and ceremonial displays of gratitude took place in every rural community spanning the length and breadth of the country.
Shockingly, instead of celebratory gatherings, the 2018 Lunastal focus is the sinister statistic that humans have already consumed more resources this year than the Earth can supply, and with 5 months still left till to go. Experts estimate that our current consumption rate would require 1.7 Earths to be sustainable. This is the earliest point in the year, since records began, that we have reached this point- showing that our human consumption is increasing.
Ironic, isn't it? That a day revered as the sacred ‘first harvest’ in Celtic traditions should mark the day in the year that modern humans have officially plundered more than our share.
In the Highlands, the first cutting of the crops at Lughnasadh in each rural district, involved a ceremony whereby a corn doll was created from the first sheaths cut to represent the spirit of the grain/ Earth. (This practice of worshipping corn goddesses and divas can be found across the globe in numerous cultures and indigenous traditions- see The Golden Bough, James Fraser). In the Highlands, this corn dolly spirit would be passed, over the fence, to each neighbouring field as the harvesting of one crop-field was completed. It was a race against time and neighbouring croft-dwellers to complete the harvest, as the last field waiting to be harvested would be left with the corn dolly, and the responsibility to take the spirit doll (also regarded in the highlands as the Cailleach) into the home. That person would be responsible for appeasing the Cailleach and caring for her through Winter, ensuring that all her needs were met, until Imbolg (February 1st/2nd) when the doll would be burned, or ploughed back into the Earth to release the Spirit to fertilise the Earth for a new cycle.
The Cailleach represented the Winter form of the Goddess and was often credited with storms and extreme weather, the snowfall being described as her coat/cloak, which legend will tell that she throws off in a temper if she is unhappy. (Hence, the desire to appease her wishes for the Winter!) This association led to the many Scottish mountain peaks, notorious for generating rain clouds etc to be given her name.
Come Springtime, a gentler side of the goddess re-appears, when she removes her cloak for another year and the emergence of her fairer counterpart, (the youthful maiden to her old hag), brings softness to the earth and brighter weather. This is something we see in many cultures again, (see the similarities with Eastern Europe folklore of Baba Yaga and her maiden aspect Vasilisa).
What some see in our ancestors as a superstition and childish belief system, is in fact a reverence and respect for both the benevolent and harshest ways of Nature. The people who walked these lands before us, knew only too well the devastating effects of Natural forces, and took seriously the duty to maintain a balance.
In the Anthroposcene age, it is very easy to throw away the traditions of the past and laugh at the simplistic nature of our ancestors, who worshipped the land they walked on as a living entity in its own right. It’s easy today to mock the gentle crofters of the Highlands for building cradles to nestle corn dolls over the winter and for believing that if they were to neglect their duty and responsibility that there would be serious consequences. However, our ancestors lived closely with the cycles of Nature, in a way we have forgotten. They observed the seasons and understood that there was a delicate balance to be maintained to preserve the fertility of the Earth. They divided the land in sustainable ways (until they were driven from it by powers that knew nothing of the earth and how to tend to it.) They lived this way, because their lives depended on it.
Today, when you can buy iceberg lettuce in supermarkets 365 days of the year, or watermelon 12 months of the year, because... it's always in season somewhere, right? We have all the technology to genetically engineer any produce to meet our demands and the 'world *is* getting smaller' It's no wonder that people don't realise the imminent danger we are in. As long as there are food mountains piled up outside Wallmart, then there's nothing to worry ourselves about, surely? That's the sign of an abundant planet if any?
Except it isn't. The world is too small, and that is our current problem.
We are asking too much of our planet, without offering anything in return.
When our highland ancestors were forcibly turfed off the land they were in no doubt sustained them, they took pockets full of earth with them, that they would never be separate from the Spirit of the place that nourished them. They took corn cuttings into their homes and cared for them as their own children.
If each of us held the same reverence for our patch of land and took the responsibility to live in a sustainable way, as our ancestors did, how much different the world would be? Instead, we have flushed the corn dolly down the toilet, ignored the weather warnings and forgotten the contracts that bind us to the Earth we live on.
Perhaps this Lughnasadh should be seen as a message of caution from the ancestors, as a reminder that our survival depends on a respect for the Earth that nourishes us, and that every harvest comes with the responsibility to give back to maintain a balance. To survive, we must regain the reverence our ancestors once had for Nature and live in heathy relationship with the Earth. Right now, we are holding the planet captive and are neglecting the 'corn-spirit' our lives depend on.
Time to reclaim our past wisdom and reconnect with Nature.