Today, August 1, 2020, is Lammas, the Celtic festival of late summer, the ‘feast of bread’, time of harvest and of golden grain. Here in the UK, Lammas arrives just as we are emerging from our coronavirus lockdown. It’s hard to feel a personal sense of ‘harvest’ when most people’s lives have been on hold since the spring.
Confined to our homes, many people could throw themselves into tending their own gardens (if they had one), but most of us could not cultivate the symbolic gardens of our lives and work in the way that we wanted. Many have faced deep loss, the withering of seeds planted in the past which could not now come to fruition.
Despite the tragic times, the earth continues to dance to the sacred rhythms of sun and moon. The trees are full of fruit, the fields are full of grain. Although I too have had my share of sorrow and grief in recent months, today I feel moved by the season to look at what we can harvest from our experience of the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the gifts of the long months of lockdown was the way my own home became a protected container which could nurture new life. With my usual routine of work and travel on hold, and unexpectedly apart from my husband (he got stuck in Greece when the borders closed), I was alone and in one place for several months, which hadn’t happened for many years. I was able to finally finish writing my M.A. thesis on women’s ritual dances. I wrote, dreamed, and made collage. I slept a lot. These were some of the silver linings of my lockdown time.
On the collective level, many people found a stronger sense of community, and a new willingness to put up with some personal inconvenience in order to try to limit the spread of a deadly disease. This increased kindness and consideration for others, and a greater awareness of the ways we affect those around us, are a precious harvest indeed.
We’ve also seen more clearly how a healthy community depends on everyone speaking up for the good of all: we each have to act, not only to protect our own and others’ health, but also to protect our planet from catastrophic climate change; to protect our BAME / BIPOC brothers and sisters from the evils of systemic racism; to protect our public right to peaceful protest; to protect our democracy, judicial system, and the rule of law. All of these themes are intersectional, interlinked.
Care for the community (and all its human and non-human members) is a deep-rooted principle of feminist spirituality, as articulated by Carol P. Christ in her ‘Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality‘ [FN] Every one of her guidelines – including ‘Nurture life’, ‘Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations’, ‘Practice great generosity’ and ‘Repair the web’ – has at its heart the theme of protection.
In earlier blogs, I relate the Nine Touchstones to traditional women’s dances, and I want to make this link again here, because the image of an enclosed, protected space – monastery, harbour, castle, garden – appears so often in women’s dances, songs, and textiles. Circle dance itself embodies the very essence of safe and sacred space.
Dance songs about walled gardens depict a safe space in which to nurture life-giving fertility and creativity. Sometimes the healing herbs – basil, marjoram, and St John’s Wort – are in flowerpots, symbolic safe containers where the healing life force may grow. Images like these helped me see the lockdown as a sacred space in which to cultivate healing and life-giving ways of being.
Another sacred space in ritual dance is the alloni or threshing floor, circular flat spaces which make ideal dancing grounds, especially in mountain regions. Many summertime dance rituals take place on the alloni.
This brings us back to Lammas, the Feast of the Bread. Grain must be carefully tended as it is grown, and once harvested, must be stored in a protected place. Demeter, Goddess of grain, is linked with the mother Earth (De=Ge=Gaia; Meter=Mater=Mother), and as Glenys Livingstone writes in her recent Lammas post: ‘the Primordial Mother Goddess IS the grain (corn, wheat, rice) in many global indigenous cultures; and Lammas may be celebrated with the understanding that we are each and all the grain.’
Yes. In the myth of Demeter and Persephone, the life-death-rebirth cycle of the grain is mirrored in Persephone’s descent and return, and in Demeter’s sorrow and joy. The grain must die so that it can give new life, as bread or seed. Out of apparent death comes life in abundance. This is the great gift of the Goddess at Lammas.
May it be so for all of us. May all of these deaths and losses help us cultivate new ways of living. May the presence of death during this terrible pandemic – I am thinking not only of the lives lost to Covid-19, but also of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others – help us see the urgency of making more compassionate choices for ourselves and our communities. If sorrow and grief can inspire us to create more sacred space for the good of all, to plant precious seeds for a kinder future and a better world, then perhaps we will not have wasted the hard-won harvest of this difficult time.
[FN: Carol P. Christ describes her ‘Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality’ in her book Rebirth of the Goddess, in an interview with Karen Tate on Voices of the Sacred Feminine titled ‘Gratitude and Sharing: Principles of Goddess Spirituality‘, and in a series of blogs on this site.]
Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987, and is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement. She trained in Intercultural Studies (1986) and Dance Movement Therapy (1990), and has completed the requirements for the M.A. in Myth, Cosmology, and the Sacred at Canterbury Christ Church University in England. Her primary research in Balkan and Greek villages seeks out songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which descend from the Goddess cultures of Neolithic Old Europe, and which embody an ancient worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. In 2018 Laura was chosen as an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Sacred Dance Guild in recognition of her ‘significant and lasting contribution to dance as a sacred art’. Her articles and essays on women’s ritual dances have appeared in numerous publications, including Re-Enchanting the Academy, Dancing on the Earth: Women’s Stories of Healing Through Dance, She Rises! Vol. 2, Inanna’s Ascent, Revisioning Medusa, and Spiritual Herstories – Call of the Soul in Dance Research. Laura is also Founding Director of the non-profit Athena Institute for Women’s Dance and Culture. She lives in Canterbury, Greece, and the Findhorn community in Scotland.