Lammas, the first of August, is the beginning of Autumn on the pagan calendar and it is a season of change. And I’ve never been one to weather change well.
When you dig it down, Lammas is nothing but change. After the high stability of Summer Solstice, Lammas offers a cascade of impending difference: the ebbing of light at the shores of the day, the early-morning Fall-smell in the air, the sense of every precious summer day sliding faster and faster out from under you. After the peak at the top of the rollercoaster hill that measures from the Solstice ’til the Fourth of July, time tilts downward in a rapid descent, in ever-increasing momentum, breathless in inevitability toward harvest, toward school, toward the folds of Time, towards Winter.
When I was in grade school, the first appearance of back-to-school commercials after the Fourth of July would fill my heart with apprehension. After that, every day became as precious as gold. I could feel the death of Summer nearing, each day one less timeless afternoon at the pool, all the movies now late summer movies, so unlike the energetic movies of June, when time was an endless trust fund that I never imagined I would exhaust. I could have stayed in the amniotic blue sea of the park pool forever.
I would console myself with school supplies, especially folders with unicorns on them, but even after I was outfitted with airbrushed little-girl fantasias, I would spend the night before school sobbing. And what was amazing about that is that I liked school—I liked to learn, and I liked activities—but I still I felt like I was being ripped apart. I wept for the pain of exchanging one state for another. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, in all of its bittersweet poignancy, I felt Lammas.
“Nothing gold can stay.” ~ Robert Frost
As the first of the three pagan harvest festivals, as the grain harvest and the feast of first fruits, Lammas has as its primary imagery transformation and sacrifice.
It is still late Summer, but early Fall is steadily devouring the identity of Summer. As the bounty of farm stands and farmer’s markets attests, and the laden ears of corn standing proudly by the roadside, this is the time plants get turned into food. The old countryside ballad “John Barleycorn” tells the fate of the ripe grain as it is stripped and carted and ground and fermented. This image of sacrifice is Lammas’s central mystery, ancient as agriculture: the grain god of the fields, transformed and consumed, offered as nourishment.
Summer is youth, sexy adolescence, and young adulthood. The terror of Lammas is the terror of losing one’s youth, and the fear of giving oneself over not only to change and age, but to responsibility. In the Summer, you can leave things alone to grow. At Lammas, you have to work, at least if you do not want to starve over the Winter. Lammas is a holiday of maturity. It is the adulthood of putting others first, of manning-or-womanning up to do what is required of you. Baby Me, Little-Girl-Sobbing Me, does not like this: the part of us that fears mortality runs from adulthood and its perceived losses, from the ripeness that is finally able to offer itself as nourishment to others.
In the fairy tale ‘The Gingerbread Boy,’ as soon as the cookie gets made, he leaps off the table and runs fast away from anyone who would try to eat him: the farmer’s wife, some children, a cow, a chicken. He taunts them as he runs across the countryside, stopping only when he reaches a stream. A fox is waiting there, licking his chops, and offers to carry the gingerbread boy across. Of course when the boy accepts, the fox gets him halfway across the stream and then gobbles him up, gumdrop eyes and all.
And why would he not run? The part where you are being reaped and milled, and then chomped, is uncomfortable as hell.
It hurts, for nothing gold can stay. But do remember that it is not a loss, it is a gain.
In David Tennant’s last episode of Doctor Who as the Tenth Doctor, as he feels himself dying, he revisits each of the people that have been important to him during his time as that Doctor. His last words are “I don’t want to go.” In the process of what is ostensibly a good-bye, he only reattaches. reasserts, and reinforces his identity, which makes his regeneration so painful. Which since we (and he) know he will be regenerated, that he is not going to cease to exist but just this particularity of him, we can see his resistance very clearly as the throes of an ego in transition letting go of its attachments.
He might as well have been my childhood self, sobbing at the end of Summer, face buried in my pillows on my bed. The Doctor has to come back as the jolly Number Eleven Matt Smith; I have to go to school so that I can learn to read and make connections so that I can write this article to you; John Barleycorn has to become grain for horses and bread for humans, at the very least seed for the next generation of grain.
If we can look closely enough to see it, this hinge, that liminality, is also shot through with power and magic. We are able to witness transformation in real time, things changing from one state to another.
“If you have not been fed, be bread.” ~ Rumi
Remember, there is always a deeper mystery underneath the mystery. Lammas is not only a transformation, but a revelation. The life-cycle, of grain or of people, is a perpetual unfoldment and a deepening. One state is lost because another is pushing through. One state is lost because it has to be, because we are becoming ever more ourselves.
“I don’t want to go.” Want to go. Learn how to go willingly, with grace. To get caught, with grace. To turn into an adult, with grace. To accept the state of transformation that is coming, to become what you are becoming, which is what you already are, which is revealing itself through circumstances of time and change. Want to be what you already are.
What you are running from you are more than enough to meet. What fools you is that you think it is bigger than you. But the transformation is already in you, part of you. You are changing into nothing except what you have inside you, and you have to change or it will never come. That is where you will find your greatness. Relax and let the gold of the wheat fields arrive with its own beauty.
So man up! Gingerbread-man up! You are supported by the future and by all the powers that are encouraging you to change. The secret of sacrifice is resurrection. And regeneration.
Happy Lammas! Blessed be and love!
Editor: Kate Bartolotta