Baking for Lughnasadh

fresh bread for the season

I don’t celebrate the Saxon “Loaf-mas”/Lammas but I do bake something yummy for this holy day. Pretty lucky today to have some cool weather in which to ply this craft. I’ll make traditional Irish soda bread and plan to take some butter out of the fridge so it’s ready for snacking. I’m also making some kamut, which is a enormous-grained wheat. I’ll turn it into a tabouli-esque salad, with onions and cucumbers and tomatoes.

I began the day at my home altar and relaxed into the day and the days to come. It’s raining here and it breathes of a cooling season, a time when more crops can go into the wet ground.

At last.

July is one of the hardest months here. There is dirt in my garden, cleared of the earlier spring crop, waiting for planting. But July is either too hot or too wet–I never even planted the okra this year and am pondering whether I can get a late crop by planting now. Couldn’t hurt, could it? I have the seed and the space. And if last winter was any indication, we won’t get a hard freeze for several more months.

Ah, well, friends. Watch for the lowering Sun in the West and bring your mind to a place of gratitude as we approach this first harvest fest. Remind yourself that you have blessings as well as challenges and are probably so blessed that you have resources to share.

Especially summer squash.

A Day Filled With Words

After a quick trip to the bookstore and the car repair place, I mostly spent the day writing. Ah, writing. That thing that I love to do and do rather a lot of but there is something about a day dedicated to writing that makes with world a different–and better–place. I had a magazine piece due, had an edit/rewrite that the editor was waiting for and, of course, there’s the book that I’m slowly working through.

That’s a job of words, even for a Blarney girl like myself.

I finished both those pieces and did an online tarot reading, too. I’m feeling so pleased with myself that I’m here now, too.

Used to be a once-a-day blogger, me. But something about moving the blog to this new place just as my book was being published has put me off my game. Gosh, it wasn’t all good, that every day blogathon. But I’d like to get back to the place where I think through the cycle of days and share it here.

I made a good start today but…I have those other blogs to get up to date, too.

No rest for the wicked, as they say.

The Valley of the Shadow

I attended a funeral today. I attended a funeral today in a church full of ghosts and old memories. I attended a funeral today for a man who died suddenly and swiftly, leaving behind a grieving family still in shock.

It was a perfect scenario for a screen play. In this old and fractured church, I stood with this couple as they married, more than 26 years ago. I wore a dark mauve dress and the preacher was nervous and dropped the ring.

Today I sat alone in the short wooden pew and remembered when the choir loft didn’t hold a blue drum kit but an actual choir that contained my grandmother. I glanced back to the balcony where I recalled a particular wild Palm Sunday. I was singing in the junior choir and we were to enter with the Hosannahs, waving long palm fronds. We had been wrangled up into the balcony, out of the way. But we started fencing with the palms, jabbing and jousting, silent miscreants bent on putting out an eye.

The family, led by my old school chum, sat in the front right rows. My grandfather I sat in the second row of that section, beside former Asheville mayor Ottis Green, who was missing some head pieces, due to cancer, I suppose. I went to church with my grandparents when I visited them on the weekends and was always given a shiny coin for the inevitable moment when the plate was passed.
I even walked past the Sunday school classroom where I had been chided and removed for dressing as a “Gypsy fortune teller” on the Sunday before Hallowe’en.

I haven’t been to a Methodist funeral in many years and I found it dear and sad and terribly right. Many of the funerals I attend are led by people who never met the deceased and they often turn into weird, proselytizing altar-calls. This was a roomful of people who were grieving and the pastor—he was grieving, too. It was a shocked community and he and his associate were gentle. The texts were gentle, too. And we got to sing hymns together.

It was a day too full of memory and loss and the invisible folk that always walk with us as we move through the world. They were in the aisles and downstairs in the wrecked hallway to the kitchen. They peeked from the corners of the Sunday school wing, and watched us through the glass-brick wall that used to be a doorway that opened onto the painting of Jesus knocking at the door.
It is the Sunday before Lughnasadh and it is Samhain in the deep places of my soul.

An Age-Old Answer Presents Herself

I got up very early this morning and the world is cool and damp.  I’m going to do this as often as possible: get up with the young Sun and do the work–dish-washing as well as writing–that I need to do.  Then I can spend my usual writing time–evening–sitting in front of the fan, drinking lime juice.

Following the cycle of the season, me.


There’s something spiritual and tender I need to write but it’s too hot…


The times we live in are filled with challenges, with glories and with grief.  War blasts its horn in many lands and violence stands as the answer to everything. Or so it seems. The beloved Blue Ball of the Earth is burning and flooding and parched, toxic and scarred in so many ways and places.  Our own species seems bent on self-destruction—our leaders focused on short-term deals and blind to long-range visions.

Here in the southern highlands, gardeners are picking fat cucumbers and giving away armloads of summer squash.  Though there is a corn crisis in the great flatlands of middle America, here the corn is strong and sweet, coming even now into the tailgate markets of so many neighborhoods. The soft fruits are being brought in and processed into jams, wines, pies and tinctures.

My community is preparing to celebrate one of the Cross-quarter days. This one falls between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox.  Standing in front of the East altar at Mother Grove today, I pressed my fingertips into the bright kernels of wheat. I was pondering the Mysteries of the Great Mother, of harvest and renewal.

And very conscious of the window air conditioner that was cooling the small space, making it bearable in these late summer days.

I would like to write more about the ears of “corn” and the ears of corn. I want to explore the place of tribe in a world that uses the word as a metaphor for ignorance and violence.  I so want to share with you my journey, as I lead this first flight of Mother Grove priestesses down the winding path to ordination.

But it’s too hot. The fan makes this room bearable but my mind isn’t thinking about lofty and earth thoughts.

I only want a tall glass of cold water.

Days of Small Summer

If you follow the so-called Celtic calendar, you know that the year is divided into halves—Summer and Winter. The hinges for those seasons are at Beltane and at Samhain.  That places Midsummer at the Solstice and Midwinter at the other Solstice. Reckoning for four seasons—which we like to think we have here—that puts Spring at Bridnasadh/Imbolc and Autumn at Lughnasadh/Lammas.

This is the calendar I follow because it works with the land where I live. The earliest signs of spring come with a thaw at the end of January (I plant onions then) and in the evenings now, I feel a dampy coolness that foretells the great cooling that is to come.


At least, I hope so. Given our last winter here…

We are approaching the First Harvest, the grain harvest. We will wear sheaves of wheat in our flower crowns and weave corn dollies and dance the ring.  Someone will remember the old tale of John Barleycorn and how he died—and continues to die every year—only to rise again.  Do you know the old song?  I first heard it back in the glory-days of Steeleye Span.

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 ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Threw clods all upon his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John barleycorn was Dead.

They let him stand for a very long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall
Then little Sir John’s sprung up his head
And so amazed them all
They let him stand till the Midsummer Day
Till he grew both pale and wan
Then little Sir John’s grew a great, long beard
And so become a man.

They hire’d men with scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They bound him and tied him around the waist
Serving him most barb’rously.
They hire’d men with their sharp pitch-forks
To prick him to the heart
But the drover served him worse than that
For he’s bound him to a cart.

They rolled him around and around the field
Till they came unto a barn
And these three men made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn
They hire’d men with crab-tree sticks
To strip him skin from bone
But the miller, served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones.

Here’s Little sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in the glass
But Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl’s
Proved the stronger man at last
For the hunts man he can’t hunt the fox
Nor cheerily blow his horn
And the tinker, can’t mend Kettle or pot
Without a little Barleycorn.

It takes me back to those Thomas Hardy books that hold so much of the ancient heart of our people.  As the month changes from July to August, as we stand under the sign of Leo with his proud back and tender heart, it is good to remember the best parts of the old ways and to bless those that sing them still.



The Magic of Bumbles


How nice to learn new things. How silly to have believed something so wrong for so many years.

Let me begin at the beginning.  My wildly spinning world has been spinning even more wildly of late. Travel, writing, house clearing,book tour,  a new shop, losing 20 pounds. Moremoremore.

I had set aside some time this morning to be in my garden.  Not a huge agenda—clearing the hops back off the gate, picking beans and cucumbers. Nothing more ambitious than that—and spending time in the green and damp.

I brought light cloth gloves, mostly to keep the hops from leaving their customary welts on my hands. The secateurs, I noted, were a little dull. I wished I had doused myself in bug spray. I heard the gentle chirrup that meant Puka had caught something. A wee bird. I fussed at him and told him he should eat the damned jays that were destroying the fall Cortland apple crop.

I gathered a big bale of hops and turned to walk them over to the edge of the bank. I backed into the wet and drooping rose of Sharon hedge and suddenly felt a sharp pain on the back of my gloved right hand. I looked down, thinking I’d caught a raspberry cane.

A big glorious bumblebee was stinging the Hel out of me.

I literally said “What…” out loud and flicked her off my hand. She lay in the damp grass a moment and then returned to her work in the rose of Sharon blossoms.

I dumped the hop clippings down the bank and wondered at the sharp throbbing pain continuing to worsen on my hand.

In shock?  Maybe. Because my whole life long I have believed—quite wrongly—that bumblebees couldn’t sting, didn’t have stingers. I have shown countless people how to pet a working bumble with  a gentle downward stroke on their soft bodies. Don’t worry, quoth I. They don’t have stings.

What else don’t I know I don’t know, I wonder?  I have no idea who told me that and showed me how to pet a bumble.  Might have been one of the old folks in the cove or some gardening relative.  It’s been so long ago I can’t remember.

It’s stopped hurting now—though my fingers feel stiff when I ball up my fist.  And the sting site is a little itchy. I’m going to put some witch hazel on it in a minute and see if that helps with the itch.

My friend MariJo Moore is my go-to person for asking what things like this mean.  I don’t have a cultural history of animal medicine like this so I sent her an email—in between my internet search for info on stinging bumblebees.  She told me what Gabe Horn had to say about medicine like this coming when you need it.  And then she told me that bumblebee medicine is about seeing that life is good and sweet and filled with brightness and color and the bee is the ancient symbol of good fortune, joy and harmony.

That feels very right.

And here’s another interesting piece of this bee biz.  We had the first meeting of our fiscal year at Mother Grove on Sunday.  In an effort to inspire the circle of council in this new time, I reminded them that bumblebees don’t look as though they are capable of flight and yet, they do.  And building a Goddess Temple on the buckle of the Bible Belt may not seem possible, but it is.

And two days later I get stung by a critter I firmly believed didn’t have a stinger.

Yeah, that’s how it happened. Isn’t that the way of the Divines?  We speak our fates into being sometimes and They laugh at our surprise.

Green Grow the Rushes…and hops


Since returning from the North Countree, I haven’t had any time to take a machete to the hops at the garden gate.  I fought my way past it (them?) in order to pick beets, green beans and cukes in the one dry day last week but since then I’ve been otherwise engaged in my rich and dizzy life.

Also, I don’t have a machete.

In the bridge-times between this meeting and that celebration, I have been thinking about the first of August.  As is typical of many Pagans of my age and experience, there come points where you look at things you’ve known or practiced for decades and you think–where did that come from?  I’ve shared my saga about 1 February–I have called it Bridnasadh for 30 years and assumed I read that somewhere or one of my teachers taught me that. It seems logical because it is opposite Lughnasadh and it is the festival of Brid.

But when I Google it…the only reference to that word is me writing it in blogs and articles.  So, I may have simply dreamed it up.

And that’s where I am with Lughnasadh–the first harvest festival. First, some folks refer to it as Lammas (which I inderstand comes from “loaf-mass” and has Saxon origins)–a time when you cut down poor Barleycorn and make bread and corn dollies and all that early-harvest fun.

Lughnasadh is an Irish (and possibly “Celtic”) fest and is about honoring Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu with funerary games.  Pan-Irish tribal Olympics, is how I think of it. Either way, a time of coming together and offering hospitality, with the added fillip of showing off a bit.

I met with a student last week and we discussed the difference of the two and I told her my version of the foundation myth of Lughnasadh.  But afterwards I wondered.  Did I make that up?  Is that another Bridnasadh tale of creativity and sloppy scholarship?

Happy to report that it was mostly accurate.  My research reveals that I must’ve learned that somewhere from a  fairly reliable source and it simply stuck with me over the years.  O, to be sure, it has been embellished and is told with much arm-waving and eye-rolling but pretty accurate.

I’ll be at White Horse in Black Mountain at the end of the month.  I’ll be talking about my book, of course–and hoping to sell some–and I’ll talk about Mother Grove.  And I think I’ll try to squeeze in a bit about Tailtiu. Complete with arm-waving and peering seriously over the top of my glasses.

Remains of This Day

I don’t know if it’s the cool weather or the sweet rain or so many cups of PG Tips this morning but I have swept through the day with good humor intact. I met with one of my private students this afternoon and we had a bright discussion of the First Harvest Festival, which she calls Lammas.  Though I do all my priestess work in the name of Inanna, much of my actual practice is set in the deep roots of my Irish blood.  I always celebrate that first harvest festival as Lughnasadh, or perhaps more accurately, as the Peace of Tailtiu. She was the Fir Bolg foster-mother of Lugh and I use that holy day to consider what a carefully-orchestrated peace could look like.

I’m not much of a peace-nik, as you know, so any excuse of a deep and thoughtful exploration of the concept is probably a good thing for me.

I will be writing more about this holy day as we get nearer to it and I hope you’ll add in your own thoughts on how to celebrate the Harvest of First Grains.

Around here, it’s often with giant squash.

I am a Dinosaur…or so it seems

I am on the verge of becoming one of those cranky old people who grumble about anything new. Okay, not exactly. As a Pisces, I actually get a thrill out of change.  Friends of long-standing will tell you that I reinvent myself every ten years or so, shapeshifting as a rite of passage.

But I find that I am crabby about changes in the Village.  Most of them, at any rate.  I don’t like the New Belgium space-suck. I don’t like it when perfectly serviceable buildings that are kind of funky and dated get torn down to make way for some vanilla cookie-cutter space. I don’t like “trendy”. I don’t like plastic. 

I don’t like Village history being left to the devices of people who don’t care about the Village or only care enough about it to want to profit from its new-found cache.

Take Trader Joe’s as a case in point. Many of my foodie friends have been excited by the rumor of TJ’s coming to Asheville.  The wine! The nosh!

Like there isn’t wine and nosh enough already for the over-fed and over-privileged that make up the chattering classes here.

At last, it is coming. Trader Joe’s has plans to demolish half a block of Merrimon Avenue to sandwich its new store between Whole Foods and the new Harris Teeter.

What disturbs me is the loss of the businesses and buildings that will fall to the Coming of the Hipster Walmart.  There’s a sweet Mexican restaurant there that has been a meeting place and a refuge. Not great architecture, to be sure–it used to be a Hardee’s, I think. And the cool clothing shop on the corner–will it find new digs in the Village–where rental costs keep pace with much larger cities?  It’s ain a funky two-story building that has housed many a small business.

The paint store in the middle will also be demolished.  It used to hold a wonderful photography shop–one of the last places in town where one could get a contact sheet from a roll of B&W film.

And we will clap our hands gleefully, relishing the idea that Asheville is getting the cool stuff they have in Portland and all those other places where cool stuff erupts and then flings itself all over the local landscape.

Let’s work hard to make this backwater Village into something presentable, something not like here. All so we can have a $3 bottle of wine.