Monday, August 29, 2016

Hello Newbies!

So you want to be a Witch. Well, that's just fine...But are you sure?

Because this isn't going to be easy. It's going to take a lot of study and practice. It's going to be a lot of trial and error and things are going to go slowly at the beginning, because you're going to have to establish a personal rapport with the Natural world. It takes time and effort. Things that work for others may not work for you, and I will guarantee that they will not work for you in the same way as they work for others...because we all have different energy. We all vibrate on an individually unique level. Establishing that relationship with the forces of Nature is crucial to your success in using magick. This isn't Charmed or Practical Magic where you throw a fireball at an opponent to disable them. It doesn't work that way; being a Witch doesn't employ Hollywood special effects.

One does not simply sit down one day and decide to be a Witch. Calling yourself a Witch, plopping a pointy hat on your head, donning a flowing cape and carrying a broom doesn't make you a Witch
(although those things are all fun outward signs of such). Reading one-or fifty- books on Witchcraft doesn't make you a Witch. Knowledge and use of those things unseen is what makes you a Witch.
That's why Witchcraft is called the Craft of the Wise. .You must acquire knowledge and skill, which only comes with practice and putting what you have learned to use in everyday life. There are no shortcuts; I've been a practitioner for nearly 45 years now, and I'm still learning because Witchcraft is an art and process. I didn't learn everything I know straight away, and in fact when I began I didn't even have a name for what I was doing. I certainly never dreamed that it was Witchcraft. And because I had no mentor back in those years, I never dreamed that the little things I was doing were actually spell casting or ritual. I did things intuitively, in a place that felt safe, secluded away from others, where I felt close to Nature, and where Nature returned my efforts with the gift of powers to perfect and use. I always felt different from others in that way: not special, just different. And my inherent feeling turned out to be true: I had the ability to use the energy and forces of Nature in ways that were beyond the mundane. Nothing spectacular and flashy, mind you...but they were there. My ability grew as I studied on my own and finally with a group of like minded individuals who had their own unique set of abilities.

Finding the power in the forces of the natural world requires concentration and attunement in order to become sensitive to the vibrations around you. Some of us are better than others at this, but I believe that all humans are born with their own level of sensitivity, and that the majority of us loose this as we age due to the outside influences of society and culture. It's much like childhood imagination which simply goes away in some individuals...and thrives in others.

Back to those books...A book, any book, is not ever the 'end-all' because books should be used for a reference. I have a few books I favor because I like the author's style of writing and the way they disseminate information, but none of those books or authors are the final word or authority on any one given subject on magick or Witchcraft. And while those authors can be considered as teachers when no other is available even one-on-one teachers are merely guides. The power begins with you and comes from inside; books and teachers are vessels that help release the power within. Books are the spark of imagination that make you think; but the power has been yours all along. That's why you should never become so attached to a book ( or author) in a way that limits your practice. Like using a map or GPS when driving, you use other things when making the journey: your eyes and intuition and what is around you. Maps are used for reference. Sometimes the GPS takes you off course. It's the same with books.

While I have a deep and abiding regard for tradition, I am not a student of the "stand here and do this" school of magick. You can do things your own way (within reason), and to be honest, none of the really good authors or actual teachers I have studied with have demanded rigid compliance to instruction. Nearly all of them allow 'wiggle room' for individuality, and in fact most encourage it. Doing things rigidly 'by the book is', in my humble opinion, only a poor imitation of what someone else has done. I believe that not only does the power lie within you, I believe that the energy comes from the essence of what you are doing. I am a firm believer in putting yourself into your work and personalizing it-re-write a spell  to suit your intention, make substitutions, use tools you are comfortable with, dress comfortably. The knowledge of correspondences and herbs, etc., are all still necessary, but so is learning to use them in new and unique ways. The magick doesn't come from these things. The magick is you. ( There are many schools of thought on the subject of magick and this is only mine. You may like someone else's, or develop your own.) My own thoughts on the subject are if the information you are using has no real resonance with you, then it's essentially useless. Others believe differently. I think it goes back to that respect for tradition I spoke about earlier. For me, Witchcraft, like everything in our world, has evolved and changed over the years. What was useful back in an age when occult knowledge was hidden from the general population was like that for a reason which may still hold value, but our world is not the same, and we develop new understanding all the time.

In the beginning, Witches and cunning folk used what was available to them. They wrote their own words and conjured spells in a way that was personal and meaningful to themselves. The energies available to them came from the vibration and essence of those things. That's why their magick worked. That's how they used the Universal forces of Nature to their benefit. That's what made them who they were. And so can you!

Before I end this little pep talk, I do want to say something about negative elements. You may have heard about the Law of Return, that "whatever you put out come back to you three times". Phyllis Currot, a respected Wiccan High Priestess and author, charmingly calls it the "Boomerang Whammy Rule". It has to do more with the Hindu belief in karma than anything to do with magick. Nature is neither good nor evil. Dark and light need one another (Stars still shine in the daylight but are only seen at night). Universal energy is neither positive or negative but is receptive to the manner in which it is used. Why? Because through magick we experience immanent divinity. We literally touch God/dess and become one with the Divine and that gives us an experience of the interconnections of, well, everything. Even that nasty jackass down the street you'd like to turn into a toad. It changes your perspective. I'm not saying that witches never hex and curses are never laid-but they have their place and are used with caution because usually there is another way of handling the situation resulting in a beneficial outcome for all. No, it's not all sweetness and light, but it's too easy to get caught up by negative emotions which eat at you and will surely influence your practice in ways you'd probably regret. We don't not use negative energy because we're afraid of the repercussions, we learn ways of turning it around by finding something more effective that makes our work in tune with the holiness of the Sacred Divine. That's a lot for a beginner to think about, but everyone of us needs to do this at some point for our abilities to develop usefully.

And so...It's not about calling yourself a Witch...It's about what you want to do with the inherent birthright that is the use of personal power and the elevation of your unique vibration. Do you want to go about like the characterization of a fictional Witch, or do you want to genuinely practice the Craft of the Wise? The next move is yours... 

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Clean Sweep With A New Broom

Can you feel it? Even though we're a few weeks away from the  Equinox that designates the Autumn season, there is a vibration growing closer. It's coming from that place where the Veil is thinnest, heralding the sabbat of Samhain.

But before Samhain, there will be Fall. While most of use will be in the mindset that Fall is the end, many Pagan folk believe it's a beginning-our version of New Year according to the ancient Celtic calendar. It's true the leaves will soon be turning color and dying (actually, they have already begun to turn here), a parallel  to the mythic story of the Dying God. Either the year ends with a spectacular blaze of orange, yellow and red glory, or it begins with one...depending on your personal belief. Some traditions celebrate Pagan New Year on October 31 and some at Yule (December 21); others wait to celebrate with the rest of the world and have a Happy New Year on January 1, when Janus looks back at the old year and forward into the new. Personally, it doesn't matter- as long as I get a nice, long period of cool nights, morning frost and a million colored leaves.

For me, Autumn is the time to make a clean sweep with a new broom-literally and figuratively. I start cleaning a few days prior to the Equinox because that's when I  begin to put out the seasonal decorations. I wash windows, clean the cobwebs out of the unseen corners, and give all the floors a good solid scrubbing. There are some cleaning agents I am particularly fond of, but for magickal purposes I use either white vinegar or Florida Water. Both clear out negative vibrations. I follow that by smudging my whole living area with white sage, being sure to get the smoke into all the little nooks and crevices by gently fanning  it with a feather or blowing. Afterward I move all the furniture back into place and tidy up. Clutter blocks energy by trapping it. Cleaning and de-cluttering opens up the energy of a space.

At this time of year I try to have a few folks over for a quiet Harvest celebration consisting of finger foods and mulled wine or cider. Of course apple and pumpkin based recipes are traditional, but anything fruity or earthy will do. I love making a spread for nut bread out of creamed cheese and dates; simply blend the two together, adding a little white wine or apple juice if it's too thick. A bit of nutmeg, and it's ready to spread. I especially like to make apple cake for this kind of evening event, it's wholesome and expresses the Autumn theme ( I add black walnuts and a little rum glaze to mine).
The celebration itself is more of a gratitude circle than a harvest festival: in a cast circle we give thanks for friendship and each other and share light refreshments. We talks about our lives, and about all the new people in them....and we aren't afraid to laugh and tell stories about those who have gone across the Veil before us. In fact, we call them in as a part of the circle casting, leaving a gate for them to enter and leave at will. Sometimes we sing, or use this time as an introduction to a potluck dinner. We keep the lights low after we close the circle, drink more wine, and talk about our plans for the rest of the year. It's truly a celebration of friendship.

Because Autumn is an ending and a beginning, I try to purge my life of things that no longer serve me, especially material items I've outgrown and bad memories. I take in that which is new and different and makes me happy and incorporate it into my everyday. If this includes new items, they can be blessed and/or dedicated. I like to bless and anoint new altar tools at this time. In these days- because when I am alone I stretch this celebration out as long as I can-I do card readings for myself,skry and use my pendulum as a presage of what is to come. I write out what I get from these mediums and analyze it into what my Jungian training calls, " The best story", that is, what is the most positive outcome. This is also a good time to cast runes or bones.

I love to collect dew from the morning frost because it's a natural form of water; I use it to wash my house crystals. Afterward I take them to my personal altar and dedicate them to their specific work for the season ( I do this after every sabbat, but you can dedicate them for the year or however long you like). I also collect fallen acorns and oak leaves to decorate and use in later spellcasting. This is the time of year when I find the most feathers when out for walks in the woods around my home. I also collect seeds and pods ( even if I'm not familiar with them-I identify them later. Be careful of collecting potentially poisonous specimens and wash your hands thoroughly after handling them).

And do burn some wood! There is nothing like the smell of burning wood; pine and hardwoods are my favorite. (Again-know what you're collecting and do not include any woody parts of poisoned ivy or sumac, which can also spread their poisonous properties through smoke.) By burning wood you are combining all of the elements" earth, air, fire and water (even dry woods has some moisture in it contained in any remaining sap deposit that will liquefy in the heat). Remember to be mindful with fire tending and have some way to extinguish the flames on hand such as a bucket of fine earth or water. You may also collect the ashes and find a use for them later ( I am not a wasteful Witch!)

You may even try your hand at creating the physical representation of that 'new broom' by cutting some little twigs and binding them to a small branch with inexpensive twine. I have use the bush parts of marigold plants; the broom is temporary and can be burned in a larger fire at Samhain. Use your imagination!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sweetness and Light

image via internet search
Life is not all sweetness and light, bad things happen to good people, and sometimes life really does suck and then you die. ( I think I've exhausted all the sarcastically corny sayings about the conditions of life-let's move on.)

The phrase sweetness and light is often used to describe an irony or something saccharine and superficial. The Victorian poet Matthew Arnold used it to describe beauty and intelligence in the broader Greek sense of classical culture in reference to the effect and benefits of positivism in society and self.

In a more magical, occult sense it means favorable outcome and wisdom associated with a situation or influencing another person to have those qualities in regard to your relationship to them. A common way to achieve this is by the use of a honey jar (aka a sweetening jar) to "sweeten" the circumstances. This comes from the Hoodoo Tradition, a form of folk magic. The following instructions are for a very basic jar and a simple way to use it. I encourage you to personalize the spell for your own use and specific situation.

Use a clean jar with a tight fitting lid ( so the sweetening agent won't leak out or draw insects). Some practitioners use locally sourced honey because they believe it is more potent than store bought, but to be quite honest, as with all magick, I personally believe that that the outcome depends more on your intention than the tools. While honey is the traditional medium, golden syrup, maple syrup, corn syrup- in short, any type of syrup-can and has been used as well as brown sugar or regular table sugar. The sweetening agent is a matter of personal preference and what you have available to you. The same goes for the candle you will place on top of the jar to 'heat' it: white candles work just fine, but if you'd like to use a candle in a color corresponding to your intention, that's fine, too.( Dress the candle appropriately before using it, or simply hold it in your hands and dedicate it to the task at hand) Fill the jar with the sweetening agent part of the way and add any corresponding herbs you choose to raise the vibration of the tool. Instead of adding these things to the jar, you may wish to place them beneath the jar if using a photo or paper, and draw a ring around the jar with the herbs. In some cases you may want to also add a photograph, or a slip of paper with the subject's name written out in full. Do the best you can to narrow the focus of the intention in as few words as possible.  When you have placed any additional objects in the jar, fill it up and attach the lid tightly. Shake the jar three times while reciting an incantation or prayer suitable to your need ( one you have composed will most certainly be more effective, in my opinion, because you have imbued it with your personal power and vibration). The wording need only describe your need or desire, but some practitioners like to write their wording to rhyme because they believe that rhyming is more magically effective. After shaking the jar, place the prepared candle on top to activate it, light the candle, and meditate on your target. As always, be sure to place your jar and candle in a safe place away from potential fire hazards, have plenty of clearance around it, and never leave it unattended when the candle is lit. Use the jar once a day, repeating your need-but don't be needy. The point is to petition but not beg. While deities  and spirits do respond to desperate situations, they don't respect groveling and whining!

Sweetening jars are used to "sweeten" a situation, to make a person nicer to you ( such as that nasty boss or teacher) or situation ( a court case, that test you're dreading, or to get a new job).

Another way to 'sweeten' your life is to simply change the energy around you. What is required from you is a combination of mind and magick. First the mind: let go of as much negative thinking as you can through self examination and meditation. Why do you feel the way you do? What is influencing your thinking? Once you have the reason narrowed down you can take steps to deal with it more effectively. It may require a change of attitude on your part, meaning you refocus your thoughts in a more positive manner. You can still be annoyed, angry or afraid of something, but you cannot think things through if your thoughts are not focused. Write things down to help sort them out, so you can see the situation more clearly. Keeping writing and condensing until you have it down to it's basic elements and thoughts are concrete. Then write out what you have in a statement, further condensing if necessary to keep it sharp. When you feel you are ready, take a ritual bath using Epsom salts  (Substitute: sea salt ) to draw the negative vibration from your energy field, then rinse off. Follow by a second a soak in a tub of water containing a bit of Florida Water, or lavender or rose. If using the herbs, steep them into a tea before hand and use the tea only in the bath. A quarter cup of tea should do it; if you're using essential oil, use only a few drops. ( Beware of allergic reactions and test anything you bathe in before hand to be sure you won't have a reaction to it. If you develop redness or a rash or other symptoms, don't use the herbals or solution. Commercially purchased Florida Water is usually in cologne form and is safe for most people to use, just don't over do it.) Allow the bath water to dry on your skin. You may wish to do this several days in a row until you feel better.

A third way to 'sweeten' to improve or change a situation is to dedicate a basic quartz crystal to the work needed and place it on your personal altar or carry it with you. Cleanse a crystal by any means you like, hold it in your hands and "tell" it your need. If you think that's simple, it is. Sometimes simple is best. We don't a lot of tools-remember that words have a power all their own. The crystal does have a particular energy that can be programmed, and it's a great reminder, but it's your heartful, thoughtful words that are the true magick.

Friday, August 5, 2016


Image/Heather Gleason
I began my sixth decade in mid-March with emergency heart surgery that sidelined me for the last few months while I went to rehab and physical therapy. Through that time, I have lived in the shadows: not quite fully in this world, but not in the next ( for now, thankfully). Now I'm anxious to reclaim my life and routine, yet I have one more task- I need to move to be near my doctors and to keep the insurance that will pay for medications, continuing medical care. There are few resources where I currently live. It's a very mundane thing, but it affects everything-physical, mental and spiritual. To be honest, I've been considering making a move for over a year before this happened. I love the countryside-but I am too far away from everything for my own comfort. I want to be able to walk to the store and around the block for a cup of coffee and to read a magazine, something that is impossible to do where I currently reside. I guess I really am a Vestal Virgin, as my friend Joe used to say.

I wish I could say that I'm sorry to be leaving the little mountain town I've called home for nearly four years, but the fact is that with the infrastructure crumbling as quickly as it is (and the townsfolk being in denial of this), it's no longer a desirable or viable place to live.   If I miss anything about it, it will be the countryside; I've learned a lot, first hand, about Appalachian folkways, and particularly about the magic and rootwork of the area. The place I'm thinking of moving to  will be a little farther North, to West Virginia...I'll still be living in the mountains, but in an urban area (as far west as I have ever permanently lived) in a town with considerably more and better infrastructure- and a better attitude. I have been here long enough to know that everything that goes with living in the South will still prevail, but it will be tempered by liberal thinking and reason, due mainly to the diversity of population.

Life right now is certainly Zen-light and dark. I've seen both sides dramatically illustrated most recently, and happily, I am able to move between them with little discomfort, although I'm still trying to figure out the details of moving at a time when I am mentally but not financially ready. I can totally freak out and say things are falling apart, but to be honest, I think it's more like they're falling into place, so that keeps panic in check. And...I'm still a witch. Nothing has changed that, other than right now I have had to pull a little more from Universal energy than I normally do.

But with renewed vigor, I am ready to reclaim my power. Using the gifts of magick, I'm putting together a spell for the best outcome. Magickal needs often have roots in the mundane, so I have a lot to consider- finances, housing, moral support; finding a way to get my belongings, my cat and myself to the new location. And afterwards. I don't like the process of moving or being uprooted. I know some of that comes from the fact that I am a creature of habit-I like my routine. I don't like change, even though I am resigned to the inevitability of it. I like being in control of things as much as possible.

I've put a lot of consideration into this situation, and just to check myself ( because we all have doubts) I've discussed it with quite a few people over the last few months...all of whom have weighed the facts, and whom have come to the same conclusion I have: It will be difficult, but it will be for the best. It will be hard, but the pros outweigh the cons, and is necessary. So much for being in control. Beyond the advise of mortals, I've sought the counsel of my patron deities and Ancestors. They too have presented similar must be. And so, I shall.

Sigh...They say that Life is an adventure. To quote Bear Grylls,Author and  Host of the BBC TV series Man vs. Wild :" To me, adventure has always been the connections and bounds you create with people when you're there. And you can have that anywhere." 

My part in this, as far as I can tell, is to be up to the challenge and keep the fire burning. I am as good at tending fires as putting them out ( being a devotee of Brigid, A Scouter, and an EMT/firefighter has come in handy, it seems!) So as I gather the proverbial wood with which to build my new home, I'm making a lot of offerings and prayers, too. If nothing else, I have learned over the course of my years to be persistent. And I am a stalwart believer in the promise and love of the Immanent Divine.
Meanwhile, I'm going through everything in the apartment, decluttering,packing up what I want and need while I continue to apartment hunt. wish me luck. It's never easy to move.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Magick Of The First Harvest

Here we are at Lughnasadh, the First Harvest, also known as the Grain Harvest. Unless you live in an area like the US mid-west, where barley, wheat, oats and corn are grown-I suspect like me you take these foods for granted when you pass by them at the grocery store. Not only are they nutritional powerhouses packed with dietary fiber and vitamins, they are magickal  powerhouses as well. Some of the most well-known festivals were dedicated to the grain goddesses Ceres and Demeter.

Barley is a member of the grass family and one of the first grains cultivated in the world. It is grown in temperate climates globally and is one of the most popular grains fermented in the process of making distilled alcohol. It is also particularly good as a cooked breakfast cereal, or cooked and combined with fruits for a side dish. Barley flour is popular in Scotland; it's lighter in weight than wheat flour ( but darker in color, which is why most barley-based malts used in ale are dark).It is also used to make a roasted cafe drink similar to coffee, and for animal feed. The magickal correspondences of barley include protection: sprinkle barley in your windowsills to keep evil and negativity out. It can also be used as a perimeter barrier as a substitution for salt. Barley water is the base for several tried and true protection washes for both the individual and home. Libations made from distilled barley are and appropriate offering to the Norse god Frey, and to most Sun gods.

Wheat is ground and used not only for flour, but as a cereal as well. It is full of fiber and popularly consumed as bread-heavy, dense wheat bread is wonderful hot from the oven! It is used magically for protection and prosperity and is a conduit for psychic energy and all spiritual needs. Add ground wheat ( or coarse flour) to spirit bags to call up the energy of the Earth.

Corn has a long history not only as a food, but as a spiritual tool. Cornmeal, sprinkled on the heal of an individual, is used to open the Third Eye and as a dedication to the Corn Maiden of The First Nations. As masa, it can be used to thicken soups and stews, and to bless the food at the same time. A few kernels of corn can be carried in your pocket to curb negativity, or to raise your own personal vibration ( the difference is in the intention). Corn is also used in healing ceremonies. It is a plant sacred to most Native Peoples. Sprinkle cornmeal or add it to mojo bags for prosperity.

All grains are linked to prosperity and fertility (sexual and otherwise). when you use food as magick, always cook with the intention clearly in mind throughout the preparation. Imbue the food with your own personal energy as you cook it, and it will be that much more powerful toward reaching your goal. Remember to stir clockwise to 'build up' the positive and counter-clockwise to decrease or banish.

Bread, cakes and cookies are all particularly popular in pagan culture at the First Harvest. You might like to try the following recipe. I use them as ritual cakes, but they're a good, quick snack for a hike, too.

Scottish Style Oat Cakes
2 C Oatmeal
1 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C vegetable oil or butter
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 brown sugar
1/4 C boiling water

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper.
  2. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water (add a little more water if needed).
  3. Combine dry ingredients with butter, then add dissolved baking soda.
  4. Mold dough into a  ball, then press it out onto a baking sheet. You can roll it out with a rolling pin to make it thin as you want it to be about ¼ inch thick.
  5. Cover and chill for 10-15 minutes to firm up the dough, then remove and score down the middle and across to make 8-10 squares (you'll use these lines for clean cuts after it's done baking).
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until they are golden brown. They should be crisp and crunchy, not chewy.
  7. Separate the cakes along the score lines with a thin knife and  allow them to cool.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Blessing Of Bread

The point cannot be argued that this is the prettiest place I've ever lived. I have always wanted to live in the lush, rich soil of the countryside. I hoped one day to call the mountains home-and I got my wish. In  Appalachia we have four distinguishable seasons. And I am thrilled by that. I am also thrilled by the abiding culture of bygone days; it is easy to find the roots of this place if you know what to look for and where to look for it. Right now we are on the cusp of the season of harvest: the tractors are in the fields mowing hay and the tops of the corn have gone to tassel and are turning to tan husks. Morning air is crisp, and there is a haze of fog that lingers long into the day.

This part of the country was settled by Eastern European immigrants, most notably of Scot-Irish decent. It's good to live in the place your ancestors settled, and knowledge of  that was a bonus when I moved here. I love the history of this place... but not the feel of the back-woods politics, or the inherent intolerance of the fundamentalist/evangelical religious community in the surrounding area.

As I write this, we are about six weeks away from the Autumnal Equinox, the official start of the Fall season, but Nature is no respecter of calendars and planetary shifts. I suspect we are yet to have some rather warm days, but right now it is cool at night... and perfect for bread baking.

Bread is wonderful and earthy. When it's made at home using natural ingredients its infused with your personal energy as you knead the loaves. You can pour any intention you choose into it, thus making it a tool for magick. By varying the ingredients and adding herbs, you can manipulate the correspondences batch by batch. In this way, bread is truly useful in spell casting.

The addition of nuts, in particular, represent manifestation because they are literally the seeds of the tree. Dried fruits such as raisins or apricots bring in the energy of the whole fruit, depending on what is used. Consecrating the ingredients before adding them to the mix activates their energetic vibration to a higher level. Corn is a particularly good all-purpose ingredient, and it which can be used as corn flour, corn meal, or whole. If you are making a loaf for protection, use chopped garlic or onion, a pinch of crushed red pepper, or sprinkle the finished loaf with sea salt. Sweet dough makes a loaf to use when asking for companionship or love to come into your life and is appropriate to use during the Great Rite or sharing the Grand Communion in a public setting.

In the previous post I included my favorite wheat bread recipe[ ], but there are an unlimited variety of recipes available, and you can use any of them successfully. Most of the batches can be broken down into several small loaves or rolls if you don't want to make one large loaf. It stores simply if kept cool and dry and keeps a week or more.

Happy baking!


Friday, July 22, 2016

John Barleycorn And Other Legends For Lughnasadh

Traditionally the first day of the First Harvest  is known on the ancient Celtic calendar as Lughnasadh. The Feast of Lugh, or more accurately, the feast in remembrance of his foster mother Tailtu, who died from exhaustion after clearing a field after she and her people were defeated by the Tuatha De Dannan in Ireland. Her death coincided with the yearly grain/cereal harvest. Lugh made a solemn vow that her selfless sacrifice would never be forgotten. At least for me, the real meaning of Lughnasadh is giving thanks for personal harvests, the sacrifices of ourselves and others that made that bounty possible. We sing and dance, light bonfires and share seasonal food as a way to acknowledge the promise of the continuation of life. In another age it was one of the times popular for trial handfastings for a year and a day. Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest cycle in the Northern Hemisphere, and is the first of the harvest-themed sabbats celebrated by witches and neo-Pagans. It is also one of the cross-quarter days of the Wheel of the Year, days positioned half way between the Solstices and Equinoxes. ( It is mid-point between the Summer Solstice, or Litha, and the Autumnal Equinox, or Mabon.)

Lugh himself was a Sun god in the Celtic pantheon, often referred to as Lugh of the Long Spear (remember that Ancient Celtic stories are a part of an oral tradition, so that the myths and attributes of the main characters are often tailored to the specific area and audience to which the story is being told). Olympic-type games are featured at celebrations honoring Lugh-as well as the brewing of beer, mead and malt products. The stories of Lugh have changed and morphed over the years, and by the 17th century we see a secularized version of the myth featuring John Barley Corn as the personification of the grain deity. Scottish Poet Robert Burns immortalized him in 1782. The character of John Barley Corn has been remembered in countless songs (and many versions of those songs) until modern times. In the troubadour tradition, Steve Winwood, then the lead singer of the rock band Traffic, recounts the life and death of the hero in the song "John Barley Corn Must Die"(1970), one of the most familiar known versions of the story.

Many of the earlier versions have the protagonist being murdered by three kings of unspecified identity; later ones identify the assailants as mere mortal men reduced to the foul deed by drink.
The main concept of the story in all versions remains that the mysterious John Barley Corn was willingly killed, shedding his blood for the good of all in the manner of a dying god, and then being triumphantly resurrected.

In some places a kinder, gentler form of the corn/grain deity exists in the Corn Dolly. Variations of the spirit of the crop lived in the Corn Mother, or goddess of European origin. Effigies of her were woven out of straw and hung in the home as a talisman. (The most common version seen in the US today is the corn husk doll in Autumn.) Other times stylized fetishes were made out of shocks of corn still standing in the fields and often plowed under as an offering to the land.

Much later the pagan festivals were superseded by a Christian feast day in both the Roman and Orthodox Churches known as Lammas ("Loaf Mass", from the Saxon hlaf mas). On August 1st, tradition held that a loaf of bread freshly baked from the recently harvested crop was brought to the Church for blessing, then bits of the bread were distributed to the four corners of the keeping place where the grain was stored to protect it. Another custom says the bread must be given as an offering to the Church as an annual tribute to the Pope in Rome (" Pope Pence"). As with the ancient pagan oral traditions, many versions of customs related to Lammas exists; some are still in existence today, but most are long forgotten. Beginning in August and lasting until late November, countless harvest festivals abound in numerous forms, the prominent activity being a display of baked goods, apple cider pressing,and crafts.

At home my personal altar is laid with a few pieces of  wheat, an ear of corn and a dish of barley. Late summer flowers are included. The Great Offering is made with corn cakes and mead or apple cider. I have also used barley water sweetened with honey. I use corresponding colors of yellow, red, orange and greens. My invocations are addressed to corn goddesses such as Demeter and Ceres, and include Sun gods such as Lugh of the Long Arm. I especially love to include the Song of Lughnasadh by Caitlin Matthews from the Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayer and Blessings. One year we built a ritual around the legend of John Barley Corn, using stanzas of the song to help tell the story of sacrifice and renewal of the land. I often make simple corn husk dolls or straw braids tied with red ribbons to hang around the house or give to friends.

Something else I like to do is bread bread to give away. This is my favorite wheat bread recipe. It is one I learned about 30 years ago and still stands the test of time. Delicious right out of the oven with fresh butter ( I recommend Kerry Gold if you don't have anything local ):

2 Tbs. dry yeast
¾ C . warm water
1- 12 oz can evaporated milk
¾ tsp salt
½ C.  honey
1 ½ C. boiling water
7-8 C. whole wheat flour
1 C. unbleached white flour

> Put yeast in warm water to activate 10 minutes
>In large mixing bowl, whisk together milk, salt, honey, boiling water; mix in activated yeast
>Whisk in one cup at a time whole wheat flour. Knead in 1 ½ cups flour until dough is no longer sticky. On a well-floured surface, knead in more flour until smooth and elastic. Let rest 10 minutes. While allowing dough to rest butter two pans for bread.
>Cut dough in half, work half at a time. Knead five minutes more and cut into three 18 inches strips to braid bread. Braid dough and shape into ring.
> Place each braided ring into buttered pan or cookie sheet and let rise 30 minutes.
> Bake in moderate oven until loaf sounds hollow, or 2-3 hours in solar cooker.

How ever you choose to celebrate Lughnasadh, be bountifully and  joyously blessed!

[ Lyrics and audio version of John Barley Corn is Dead can be found here:]