The Seasonal Psychologist: On Lammas / Lughnasadh

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark, and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simple glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.  The Oak Holly, whose strength peaks at Midwinter, begins to retreat with the warming temperatures and we are reminded that one season’s strength is another’s weakness.

There were three men came out of the West

Their fortunes for to try

And these three men made a solemn vow

John Barleycorn must die

They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in

Threw clods upon his head

And these three men made a solemn vow

John Barleycorn was dead

Traffic. (1970). John Barleycorn must die. [Album]. United Artists.

Lughnasadh, or Lammas, is the first of two harvest celebrations, usually celebrated on or around August first. In the northern hemisphere, it marks the Sun’s arrival at the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, and the visible shortening of the days. Crops are bountiful. Some are ready for harvest, others need a bit more time. There is a sense of anticipation, apprehension…will the approaching harvest be bountiful? Will the encroaching darkness be kind?

One of four yearly Fire festivals, Lughnasadh is named for the Irish God Lugh, which means “bright or shining One”. He is associated with the Sun and the fertility of the crops.
Some call this Sabbat Lammas, or ‘first loaf’ to signify ritual harvesting of the first grains, then made into bread and eaten in celebration.

The metaphor of sacrifice is strong with this Sabbat. In some places, the growing grain is personified as the Green Man, or John Barleycorn, whose sacrificial death allows others to live.  This sacrifice is reenacted in many ways, most commonly in the gathering, preparing and partaking of the first harvest. It offers a brief moment of reflective and optimistic strategizing before the frenzy of the second harvest, the BIG harvest, arrives with the Fall Equinox.

Psychologically, Lammas allows us to see the beginning fruits of our labor, and promises that more will follow, so it’s a useful time to assess our readiness for the harvest and approaching cold weather. What will we need in those last few months of the year, and what can we do about it now?

This is a time for walking the land to note needed repairs, to assess and address physical health, to ready the kitchen for the incoming bounty and to ready the spirit for the slow descent into darker days and longer nights.

The “seasonal department” of many stores reminds us that it’s time to buy our canning supplies and freezer bags.  Many will soon return to indoor education, in clothes that may no longer fit. There are shoes to be bought and physicals to be scheduled. Basking in the beauty of summer, we nonetheless hear Autumn marching closer; there is a tension between ‘being’ and ‘doing’.

Psychology has identified 5 stages in any change process: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, change and maintenance. Lughnasadh is the stage of contemplation where we are getting ready to get ready.

This week I will ask my clients how their ‘pre-harvest’ is doing. Again, we will revisit the seeds planted (goals set) last fall and this spring to track their progress or lack of. We will voice gratitude for all that has grown as planned, and see what can be done for the stragglers (goals AND plants). There’s still time for plant food and fertilizer, still quite a bit of sunshine available for infusion (into our bloodstream AND our crops). There is still time to go out and play too.

Perhaps most importantly, I will challenge my clients to name that which must be sacrificed for the greater good. For just as John Barleycorn’s sacrifice brings us bread, we too have pieces and parts that might be just lovely as they now are, but could be even more nourishing if allowed to transform. In the coming darkness, what sacrifices will you be happy that you made now?  What needs to go, so that something else can come?

As you enjoy these last few relaxing weeks of summer, I invite you to take stock of all that you have achieved so far. If Serendipity graced you with unexpected blessings, give thanks. Where there have been hardships, name the lessons learned and honor those who helped.

The sun is setting a minute earlier each day, yet the weather still remains warm. Sit for a spell in the twilight between day and night, between what you hoped for and what occurred. Take inventory; take stock. For while the feast day of the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich falls closer to Beltane, her words remind us that the wheel of the year turns instinctively, both inside and outside, thus assuring that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. Bright Lughnasadh / Lammas to all celebrating!

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