Living in Season
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Water Lilies and Ice Cream
And, trying to develop a more practical acquaintance with the flower of the month, the water lily, I convinced my niece, Shayla, to go canoeing with me on Monday. We didn't find any water lilies in bloom but it was lovely to spend a hot afternoon out on the water. It is really the Dog Days here in Seattle. The temperature topped 94 today.
Living in Season: Take a Hike!
But I can think of only two holidays that prescribe climbing a mountain. One is the Chinese holiday of the 9th of the 9th, sometimes called Climbing the Heights, which is celebrated either on September 9 or on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month (October 3 this year). The other is the Celtic holiday of Lughnasad, celebrated on or around August 1.
According to Maire MacNeill, who wrote a comprehensive study of this ancient Celtic festival, all over Ireland, people climb mountains, especially on the Sunday before and after Lammas, which is sometimes called Garland Sunday because people leave flowers on the mountaintops, along with other offerings such as wheat. At Gainmhe in County Dongeal, everyone wears a flower going up hill and at the summit all the flowers are put into a hole and covered over, as a sign that summer is over.
Since many scholars believe Lugh was a sun-god, it makes sense that people would climb mountains and leave offerings for him in high places. But some of the Irish folks surveyed by MacNeill said the offerings were left for the fairies, who were active on quarter days. MacNeill believes the practice of standing on a peak overlooking the landscape, keep alive a passion for the land and its history.
Another popular name for the holiday is Bilberry Sunday, since people pick bilberries as they climb the hills. Bilberries (also known as whortle-berries and blaeberries) are the small, dark-blue berries of the vaccinium myrtillus, a hardy shrub that grow on heaths and sunny moors in Great Britain and Northern Europe. They are one of the first berries to ripen.
In some places in Ireland, boys thread the berries on grass stalks and make bracelets of them for the girls of their choice. In Cashel Plantin' in County Armagh, these strung berries were brought home as presents and kept around the house for luck.
In Seattle, it's the blackberries that are getting fat and juicy on August 1st. I always go blackberry-picking on the weekend closest to Lughnasad, gathering enough to make a blackberry cobbler, or simply spoon them over ice cream. Of course, they're also great eaten warm, right off the bush. One of the great transitory pleasures of the summer.
Ideas for celebrating Lughnasad:
In my Library: Celtic Holiday Lore
My other favorite source for Celtic holiday lore is that great collection by the Scottish folklorist, Alexander Carmichael, the Carmina Gadelica. Unfortunately, I loaned my copy to a friend and never got it back, so I can't refer to it for Lughnasad references. There is a version online but only the first volume has been entered, in both Gaelic and English.
Be warned, there is also a paganized version floating around on the web written by Mike Nichols who says he is only trying to restore these charms and spells to their original mystery and charm. But I find quite a lot of charm in the curious mixture of pagan and Christian in the versions collected by Carmichael.
Autumn in the School of the Seasons
Signs of Autumn