BY E.J. OAKLORE
I recall the dim, romantic light of the candles as my Circle and I gathered just the other day in my dining room, which often doubles as a ritual space, to honor the rites of Lughnasadh. The altar was dressed with traditional symbols of the first harvest; fresh fruit and vegetables, ears of corn, apples, pears, figs, grapes, stalks of wheat, and flowers. An offering of cornbread and mead was prepared and made during the ritual. We sang, we chanted, we honored the three realms; Land, Sea, and Sky; and called the quarters. We shared what blessings in our lives we were grateful for, and what bounties we hoped to reap in the coming Harvest. Our Circle was filled with spirit and light. And when we unwound the Circle, we, each of us, felt uplifted and full of magick.
It is a wonderful thing to be able to set aside our fears and inhibitions, our worries, and our stresses as we gather in the Circle together. For the magick we create there permeates us on every level, and reminds us that the Gods have not only blessed our lives, but that They continue to watch over us, protect us, and provide a light for us in the darkest of times.
Being Pagan is a truly a blessed thing. Notwithstanding the arguments over which tradition comes closest to that which the ancients’ practiced, we are all of us heir to a noble lineage – which lineage in the case I am describing is passed on spiritually – and keepers of a folklife that stands even today as the best chance the Earth has to be protected from irreparable harm, if the mainstream could but embrace just a few of its basic principles.
But being Pagan, practicing magick, and having the sense of control over our destiny that comes with it, does not protect us completely from calamity. I speak with many folk who do not understand why bad things happen to them even though they are devout Pagans; they worship, pray, and meditate daily, they attend every festival and event they can get their hands on, and they study and read voraciously. Why then, they seem to wonder, do bad things still happen to them? I have wondered this myself. You see, I have heard it posited that, because we practice a magickal tradition, we ought to be able to exercise enough control over our lives to ward off calamity. As if, because we’re Pagans, we should suffer less than any other group of people on Earth.
Then reality shows up, and we are visited by hardship, disaster, or tragedy. It is at those times that it seems a lot of Pagans’ first instinct is to blame Karma. “Oh I must be suffering some Karma for something I did in the past,” and such. To me, this seems wholly unfair – I mean, unless you truly were an asshole in some past phase of your life. It is also an audacious notion; that your Karma could be responsible for events which, more often than not, affect more than just yourself alone.
It seems better to embrace that hardship is as much a part of life as happiness. Without darkness, how could we appreciate the light? Without tragedy, how can we cultivate compassion and empathy? Without failure, how could we recognize success? What makes the revelation of our spiritual path so meaningful to us? Why is it so much like “coming home” when we discover our Pagan selves? It is because we have wandered, and because we have suffered, and because these things have cultivated in us a higher perspective; a willingness and even a yearning to be enlightened; to serve others and to serve the Gods.
Lughnasadh is named for the Celtic God Lugh, often ascribed as representing the sun, ergo the light which fertilizes the Earth. It is also richly associated with Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu, who is credited with the introduction of agriculture in Ireland. It is easy to see, then, why the holiday is so much associated with the land and the Harvest. In each of our lives we reap a “harvest” of blessings. This harvest relies on the seeds we plant earlier in our lives, and how steadfastly we tend the soil. Our labors, in this respect, include dealing with hardship and tragedy; for when we overcome these things, we till them under and make them part of the soil which fertilizes the bounty of our character and understanding; the very foundation of our being. It is this which the Gods reward, not blind expectation. And the reward is not to be shielded from tragedy or hardship touching our lives. Rather, it is to be made better for it.
When I thank the Gods for the blessings in my life, as I did during our ritual at Lughnasadh, I am also moved to thank Them for the dark times, the hardships, and the tragedies; for these things have made me the steward that I am. I pray every day that I may be a worthy steward; that I have cultivated and tended the soil with care, and that in all that I do, I reflect the grace and glory of the Gods, and the love of my spiritual family.