Lammas after Lockdown by Laura Shannon



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.

Corn dolly to celebrate Lammas. Photo: public domain.

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.

Women dancing on the alloni (circular threshing floor) in Milias, Pieria, Mt Olympos, Greece. Photo courtesy of Politistikos Syllogos ‘Oi Lazaioi’, Kato Milias, Pieria

Women dancing on the alloni (circular threshing floor) in Milias, Pieria, Mt Olympos, Greece. Photo courtesy of Politistikos Syllogos ‘Oi Lazaioi’, Kato Milias, Pieria

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.’

Demeter in Springtime. Collage by Laura Shannon

Demeter in Springtime. Collage by Laura Shannon.

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.

Persephone in Springtime. Collage by Laura Shannon.

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 AcademyDancing on the Earth: Women’s Stories of Healing Through DanceShe Rises! Vol. 2Inanna’s AscentRevisioning 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.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess feminism, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Thank you for this wonderful connection between Lammas and the pandemic – what beautiful, poetic, and insightful thinking! Another connection I’ve noticed in my own small New England town is a re-focusing on the importance of locally-grown food, much of which is just being harvested now. As the global food supply chain has been disrupted, it has become clear how important it is to support our local farms and farmstands and also to share the bounty of our own gardens with each other. I have definitely become more aware of the joys of cooking with local food and getting to know and support the people who grow it.

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  2. beautiful post… This feast is normally my favorite – a time of natural abundance when my heart is opened to Love of Nature on a grand scale -I note how subdued I feel this year… my ritual was a simple one done sitting on my woodland bridge…. bridges seem important to me now symbolically and practically… I need a personal bridge to getting work done on this house foundation which is still pending…and I need a perspective that embraces uncertainty – not one that comes naturally. Culturally we need a bridge to a totally new (old) way being in the world… Carol’s touchstones reveal the direction as embracing native/ Indigenous ways of being – both will help us make a transition from living this life to a kinder more loving life contained in the body of nature – but these perspectives can’t find purchase in a culture that is still irritable that we have not returned to “normal” by so many…. Normal by the way means what? A return to more racism, murder, rape greed, power mongering – business as usual? A terrifying thought.

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  3. Blessed Lammas. Here in Southern California, most of us are still in lockdown. For example, to get my hair cut last week, I had to go to my hairdresser’s home because the salon was shut down, cautiously opened, then shut down again. I haven’t been in a grocery store in a couple months. (My groceries are now delivered to my door, “noncontact,” as they say.) Thank Goddess the planet is still spinning!

    Let us all keep dancing, if only in a metaphorical sense, along with our Blessed Mother Planet and our Blessed Foremothers. Thanks for the lovely post and its important message. Brightest blessings for our good health and survival to all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Laura, for this optimistic take on our difficult time. I wish I could say that I’ve seen “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.” Instead here in Wisconsin, our governor has tried to keep us safe by first mandating that we shelter at home, and now, by mandating wearing masks when indoors with non-relatives. But our gerrymandered Republican legislature has pushed for “individual rights” and so-called “liberty,” and many people don’t seem to care at all about spreading the disease. For them it’s not an inconvenience, but and infringement on their rights (their right to spread a deadly disease). Our Republican-dominated Supreme Court overturned our governor’s sheltering at home order, and now the legislature is pushing for them to overturn the mask mandate. As a result, COVID-19 is increasing all over the state.I don’t know if Americans have much consideration for others. It makes me very sad and pessimistic.

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  5. Great reminders and lots to think about here. This is my favorite line which sentiment I always strive to remember: “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.”
    Thank you!

    Like

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