Although the faculty and their spouses from my former husband's department were a far cry from a bunch of wild Pagans, they were accustomed to my unconventional celebrations.
They dutifully brought items with bread or corn, as instructed by me, for a Lammas gathering (see below the row of corn for more information about this holiday) on August 1, 2009at a sunny beach on the shores of Lake Michigan.
This crew did not always play happily in their sandbox at school together (many minor kerfuffles), so coming together in celebrations created a more friendly playground.
I had been inviting the faculty to occasional holiday celebrations or small dinners with menus and/or rituals reflecting obscure holidays from around the world for a decade. My ten year wedding anniversary was two days after this event on August 3.
None of us knew it, but this gathering was to be the last time that we would be together.
I still have friends from that era, and hear tidbits about their lives, but it was strange to have a bunch of people I cared about gone from my world without a good-bye.
Had I known that I would never see them again, the day would have been much different.
The thing is, we never know when it will be the last time we see anyone. Life is full of sudden surprises. Creating celebrations and enjoying whatever time we have together deepens our appreciation of each other and of life. Also, whether our inevitable endings are planned or not and whether they are fairly insignificant or devastating; honoring terminations helps them become as beneficial to our evolution as possible.
I am grateful that I have the memory of those unlikely Pagans laughing on that warm summer day at the beach, as we awkwardly ripped our loaves of bread apart, sharing our offerings, with the crumbs trailing between us into the sand.
Lammas falls on a New Moon this year. I will be traveling, so I am just offering you the above vignette and the below post from last August. The New Moon is on Tuesday.
Originally my blog was a story from my life offered on the new Moon and my full moon offering was a newsletter, but the full moon posts has morphed into more of a blog. Since the full moon posts are not on my website or on Google but only go out to my Sparks and Leaps list, this may be new to some of my readers. And some may have missed it the first time around. But even if it's a repeat, for some of you, I think it's worth a reread.
Correction, that is "Happy Lammas" (or Lughnasad - pronounced Loo nah sah).
Lammas (meaning loaf-mass) is a holiday that begins at sunset on 8/1 and goes until sunset 8/2. It is shared by Christians and Pagans and marks the beginning of the harvest season. It is traditionally celebrated with community gatherings, family reunions, blessing the fields, bonfires, dancing - and bread.
Keep this cheerful theme in mind - we will get back to it!
There are an abundance of celebrations and myths around the world that center around the theme of harvesting grain, some dating back to the stone age.
The basic motif of death and resurrection runs through most of these stories and whether you are religious or not, this theme is worth pondering in the context of navigating life transitions.
Sickles and Cycles
Consider a grain of wheat that is buried in the earth, sprouts with life, grows tall and then is harvested with Death’s favorite tool - a sickle.
Next it is ground into flour which is baked into bread. The bread nourishes a person who contributes to the lives of others and who will eventually encounter the sickle and be buried in the Earth where the body will, in turn, nourish the soil that is waiting for another grain of wheat.
Our lives and all of our endeavors and relationships on the planet follow the same basic pattern.
Sometimes we see the threat of an ending that can and should be postponed, and this may rightfully spur us to prolong life. We might find a cure for our life threatening disease, revive a dying relationship, fix that old car or save an ecosystem, but eventually the end will come to all.
When the sickle appears we usually feel fear and believe that something is WRONG. We resist the end of whatever cycle is completing, not realizing that new growth (which is always preceded by some kind of death) is necessary and beneficial.*
Yes, that sharp blade is scary and we are biologically hardwired to resist pain in all of its forms. But pain, like death, is inevitable and also brings beautiful gifts. Practicing the art of learning to dance ever more gracefully with this truth, also prepares us for the final transition. And it makes living life a whole lot more enjoyable!
Okay, let's get back to the part about celebration. I lured you in with cute llamas and then dragged you into bleak scenarios of pain and death. Please forgive me.
One way to help us look for and receive the gifts of our life transitions is to tune into the seasons of nature. Many of our holidays (holy-days) have some connection to these natural cycles. When we engage in familiar rituals, connect with loved ones and/or community, decorate, feast, sing and dance, we celebrate the rhythm of life.
In addition to the four seasons, we observe the moon waxing and waning and day turning to night. Although we have distanced ourselves from these natural cycles in many ways in our modern world and we attempt to distance ourselves from the natural cycles of life changes, as Heraclitus pointed out; "nothing endures but change".
Rather than expend enormous amounts of effort trying to create "security" and control endless variables, it might behoove us to accept a little more chaos and mystery - especially in our ever more rapidly changing world.
As we reconcile ourselves to the fact that we simply do not know with any certainty what is next, we can also take comfort from the cycles of nature and our connections to each other. What better way to do this then with celebratory rituals?
The full moon that occurs the night before Lammas this year on 7/31 is also a blue moon, in that it is the second full moon this month.
[2015 was a blue moon - 2016 Lammas falls on a New Moon - also considered a powerful combination]
Full moons are thought of as powerful times for letting go of that which does not serve us in order for renewal to occur. Blue moons are considered even more powerful and associated with rare circumstances.
Whether or not you believe in the Christian or Pagan story behind Lammas or the power of blue moons doesn't really matter. If you are experiencing a transition in your life, and struggling with an ending, why not pretend whatever story you want to believe is true and construct your own little ritual. Create a rare circumstance!
There is tremendous power in stories and rituals. You might be surprised to see what happens if you write something you want to let go of and burn or bury it under the full moon. Invite your loved ones to celebrate with you in a meal (be sure to include bread -even if gluten free!) the next day.
Or if you prefer something with a more Christian flavor, take out your Bible and hunt for all of the miraculous stories about bread. Bake a loaf, or draw a picture of one and bring it to your church on Sunday, August 2. Ask for the support of your community there and pray for help with surrendering any fears to God.
Whether you subscribe to a particular belief system or not does not matter. You can still experiment with forming an intention to let go of any stories that are not serving you, being willing to accept what is happening in the moment, taking some kind of creative action that demonstrates your intention to engage, connecting with others in celebration and expressing gratitude.
It is always helpful to give thanks for the abundance you have in your life (hint- Did you eat today? Do you have running water? Does anyone love you? Are you able to read these words?).
Celebrate your time of transformation, rebirth and new beginnings.
What have you got to lose?
My photo of the last full moon
* for those readers who have no belief in any kind of life after death, I realize that the prospect of enriching the soil may not be very reassuring, but hopefully creating an enduring legacy or just knowing that your presence on the Earth now is nourishing the lives of others will provide some comfort.