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:]

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Lesson From The Earth

Live Oak Trees/Shutter Stock photo

When Live Oak Trees are planted together in a row their roots fuse together, and the individual trees become interdependent upon one another for water and nutrients. The twining of the roots give the trees a stronger hold in the soil. Rooted as such in the Earth and interdependent they are able to be sustained throughout whatever comes their way.

Many of us in the Pagan Community are connected to the Earth through the worship of the Goddess Gaia (Gaea) in her various aspects. Exploring Her character this way I have developed a genuine relationship and love for her as Creator and Source of the Universe in an individual and personal way.

It's not enough to simply sit in awe of Nature. It is not enough to see and admire a sunset, a flock of birds, or a flower. All of that is wonderful, but for me, it's necessary to know the Source behind all that to be able to truly enjoy the Gift. My devotion to Gaia grounds me by grace, in love and with mercy. The process of developing this understanding is sometimes an arduous journey when following the framework of Modern Paganism. Years of exploration have lead to dead ends and false leads and requires patience, tolerance and discernment. There is a lot of chaff to sift through before finding the gold of the beneficial grain to feed my spirit and soul. What has sustained me through this journey and kept me from being discouraged, is the singular truth that She loves us and stays with us the entire journey, whether or not we realize it. Our faith may falter, but her love does not. And that's what keeps me in the Pagan sphere, despite the silliness, outright nonsense and negativity we sometimes seem to wallow in.

She is there in the most difficult of times, and that gives me both comfort and peace. She is there for the journey in times of transition and change. My most recent experience of that is when I had emergency heart surgery several months ago and nearly died. There were no tunnels of light, no glimpses of Summerland, no choirs of angels for me ( unless you count an appearance of my friend Arthur the Druid who sang a very sweet song for me which I largely do not recall other than that it was beautiful). There was none of the NDE stuff you read about on paranormal sites, but there was the comfort of Her presence and a holding of space.

I often find I lack the proper words or am uncertain how to express myself to the Goddess because I allow myself to become overwhelmed by the vastness and scope of her divinity. It's a hold-over of my period of being a Christian, and while it's not necessarily a bad thing, it does get in the way occasionally and I have to stop to re-frame my concept of the Feminine Divine into something more comfortable. Her aspect of the Holy Rose lends her divinity a softness which in no way diminishes her strength. The understanding of my relationship with Her is often too deep for words and the eloquence of language fails me. To counter that I become still and give myself over to simply being, and then we can merge at the point of spirit, which is restorative.

My connection to the Goddess in Her many forms is continually changing as I make new discoveries and add to my faith story. How I apply these things to my everyday life formed who I am and who I continue to become. The latest of these lessons is that we are given no trials without purpose- and after saying that, I can argue the point. Shit just happens and things go inexplicably wrong. In March I threw a blood clot and ended up having major surgery. Even when things go wrong you have to find the positive in them and use it. So what happened after the surgery is that while I'm still healing I'm getting healthier. The downtime during my stay at the rehab center was used to prioritize somethings I've been meaning to do and make them goals to look forward to, and one of the best things out of that time are the friendships I made while there ( including some new Pagan friendships). The very best thing that I came away with is that I discovered how resilient I am. That was the purpose of this particular trial, from my take on things.

In the time I was forced to be still (momentarily!) I not only had the space to look inward, I truly had some moments of solitude-nothing from my everyday routine to worry about because I was disconnected from it all. My primary reason for waking up in the morning was to simply make it through another day as my body and mind healed from the trauma. Right now I do what I can physically for the moment-but then I read. I study. I call on the power within to remember who and what I am. This helps me to ready myself for even more the next day.

Like the trees in the opening paragraph,when I entwine myself with other people and situations, we all-hopefully-benefit from not having to stand alone.