Dancing at Lughnasa by Mary Sharratt


Summer passes all too swiftly. Just yesterday it was spring and the woods were full of bluebells and the hedges frothy with hawthorn. Then, only a few days ago, I noticed that the heather is already blooming. Rowan berries hang heavy and ripe on the trees. The hedges are abundant with hazelnuts. After the endless golden days of midsummer, the nights are drawing in again. And despite warm summer temperatures, my Welsh mare is already growing her winter coat.

In the Northern Hemisphere, August 1, the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa, celebrates the first fruits and heralds the beginning of the harvest season. It also serves as a bittersweet reminder that we’ve only a month or so left to enjoy the rest of summer before autumn comes, with winter at its heels.

The theme of passing time–and of life passing us by if we don’t seize it–is one of the themes in Brian Friel’s haunting play, Dancing at Lughnasa. Set in a Donegal village in 1936, in Catholic Ireland at its most oppressive, five “spinster” sisters rebel against social constraints and looming poverty by dancing, unbridled and free, for the Pagan feast of Lughnasa. At least for one night, the sisters escape the bonds of linear time and enter Mythic Time.

 

 

What if linear time, as we know it, was not “real” at all, but an artificial construct, invented by the patriarchy to keep us all in line? 

The late Irish author, poet, and philosopher John O’Donohue, best known for his masterpiece of Celtic spirituality, Anam Cara, shared some fascinating insights on time with Krista Tippett in her podcast series On Being. Their interview, titled The Inner Landscape of Beauty, was recorded shortly before O’Donohue’s unexpected death in 2008. If you listen to one podcast in your life, let it be this one.

According to O’Donohue, Celtic tradition embodies a much larger, more expansive sense of time that is lost to us in our mainstream culture today. Modern life casts time as the enemy. Time is a bully and we’re captive to it. Stress comes from this fractured relationship with time. Rather than being the subject to our own time, our own cycles, and the larger cycles of the seasons, moon, sun, and stars, we have become slaves of Western linear time, which tells us that life is all about doing and productivity, not about being. It’s all about surface time, what O’Donohue calls “rapid-fire, Ferrari time, over-structured, stolen and thieved from you all the time.”

By approaching time differently, we can come into a new relationship with it. By slowing down, we find our rhythm. When we come into rhythm with our own natural cycles (particularly relevant for women, I might add–see my recommended book links below), then we are the subject, not the victim, of time. If we envision time not as a calendar product or something to be “managed,” but as the Mother of Presence, we enter into brand new territory.

Slowing down involves interiority. We need to draw back inside ourselves. When we put all our energy outward, it takes something from the inside. We deplete ourselves. Enjoying good poetry, art, music, and theatre are ways to cultivate interiority, to remind ourselves that there’s a huge inner life inside us. Not only that, but huge gestations and fermentions are going on within us that we’re not even aware of. Then we come to a threshold after which we’ll be able to enter a new passage in life and embrace something new because this secret alchemy has taken place within us. Everything happens in its own time while our Soul choreographs our destiny. When we cross a new threshold, we enter new ground. We experience an emerging fullness, depth, and grace. Then we can embrace Time, seeing it not as our enemy, but as possibility. As transfiguration. We re-orient by asking ourselves not, “What should I do?” but rather, “How can I be?”

Ritual, meditation, contemplative prayer, body work, ecstatic dance, and deep observation of nature and its cycles are all ways of stepping outside of linear time and entering Mythic Time.

This August, how will you unfold and experience the season’s abundance? How will you dance and honor these holy days? How will you be present in the golden sunlight and the nourishing rain? How will you experience Mythic Time and timeless grace?

For a woman-centered approach on honoring the cycles of the year and the embodied cycles of women’s lives, I recommend Ruth Barrett’s excellent Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s monumental Yoni Shakti.

This essay is another in my series on how to heal our fractured relationship with time. Here’s my previous essay on the subject, The Art of Reclaiming Lost Time.

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her novel, Ecstasy, about composer and life artist Alma Mahler, is now out in paperback. Learn more at her website. If you enjoyed this article, please sign up for Mary’s newsletter



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13 replies

  1. That is such a good movie! I haven’t watched it in many years, but now you’ve inspired me to order it and watch it again.

    I think you may well be right when you say linear time is a bully. Was it invented for factory floors? Places where we work and men are the bosses certainly use time against us. Meet those deadlines. Speed up the assembly line. Get more done so the boss will be wealthier.

    Back in the 1970s, there was a wonderful play called Working. It was based on a book by Studs Terkel, who interviewed people in many kinds of jobs. Meeting deadlines and under the spell of linear time. Gee, it’s still available! https://www.amazon.com/Terkels-Working-Broadway-Theatre-Archive/dp/B00005TNFF/ref=sr_1_10?crid=31YFW5K1HSCZA&keywords=studs+terkel&qid=1565359929&s=movies-tv&sprefix=studs+terk%2Cmovies-tv%2C196&sr=1-10 I recommend it very highly to anyone who wants to see captives of time and also hear some good songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary, thank you. This is just what I needed this morning. The bumblebees on my Culver’s Root and native wild Bee-Balm in my suburban Chicago garden just outside my back door buzz me over the threshhold and into SlowTime. The monarchs twirling and nectaring on a tall stand of milkweed accompany me to a rickety wooden folding chair under two hawthorns where I am happy to just sit and be. Hummingbirds flit by, moths of all sorts rest and fly away, tiny native bees like little clouds of electrons circle the floral power-points of zinnias, Mountain Mint, and echinacea. In my garden sanctuary I recharge myself for the daily tasks in the world. I look forward to your newsletter.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Yes, a thousand times yes! Thank you for this evocative essay on time. That interview with O’Donohue is fantastic, for sure, and I’ve listened to his entire audio collection (available through Sounds True) *many* times, gaining insight into something new each hearing of it. I’ve gradually come to realize over decades that one of the reasons I was not drawn in any way, shape or form to the Christian denomination I was raised in is because it was entirely absent of mystery, magic, mysticism and the inner life/world. Life in all its diverse forms is a miraculous, wondrous manifestation of so much more than we can see … or than most of us experience. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “What if linear time, as we know it, was not “real” at all, but an artificial construct, invented by the patriarchy to keep us all in line?”

    Hmmm… linear time is real in the sense that time does pass – we are born, we live, we die, but as you note linear time is also the way most humans experience time in our out of control global culture and there is another equally real dimension that is not honored – Sacred time attaches us to Nature’s cycles and the seasons. And in that space past present and future are one…

    This is a “both and” reality, I believe.

    Like

  5. Lovely post. In Hawaiian (which I study but am far from an expert on) they do not have future or past tense because they don’t see time as linear. My teacher explained this by saying that since Hawaii is an island with water all around it they see things in a circular fashion. I think that’s fascinating and pretty cool. If they want to say for example that they will buy milk tomorrow, it comes out something like, the milk that I am buying is not yet completed.

    I look forward to listening to that podcast.

    Let me also add that I just finished Illuminations last night, for the 2nd time. Love your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes and yes and yes again! Thank you for this beautiful reminder Mary! Years ago I read Mircea Eliade’s PATTERNS IN COMPARATIVE RELIGION, and was deeply affected by his notions of sacred time and space . . . I’m always finding my way back to the experience of mythic time. I look forward to reading those books you recommended and also more of your work.

    Like

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