For those of us who are on a spiritual path, exhaustion usually has a purpose to reveal. This year, we look to the harvest season for meaning. This challenge to our wellness asks us to think deeply about the Lughnasadh sacrifice of an ancient Irish goddess named Tailtu.
How do we get so exhausted, spiritually, mentally, and physically?
Maybe it’s that we’ve taken on too much, or more than our body, mind and spirit can handle. Sometimes, we are bombarded with chaotic new downloads of information. At others, we are asked to make a number of rapid shifts in mindset or perception. It could be grief or loss taking a toll. Some of us have shown up in service where needed, only to find ourselves as care-takers in need of care-taking.
Lughnasadh/Lammas: Deep Gratitude For An Early Harvest
When we celebrate Lammas and Lughnasadh, it is always with deep gratitude. We gratefully receive the ripening fruits and vegetables, the bounty of the first harvest.
Those of us in the deep South who grew up in farming communities may remember going from house to house to help bring in the crops. The pea pickin’s and cane grindings and corn shuckings of our childhoods have their roots in our Irish, Scottish and Welsh ancestors’ communities. It goes against our grain to leave food on the vine!
Lammas/Lughnasadh lies halfway between summer solstice and fall equinox. It closes the door on the light, and marks the point that the sun begins its descent, giving way to shorter days.
It is a time to call in sacred space, with an altar of fruit and vegetables, grain, candles, sun symbols, flowers, and anything we’ve harvested.
It’s a good time to bake Irish soda bread (Lammas means “loaf mass”). In the old way, it may be ritually divided into quadrants. To do this, bless the bread, then place each of the four parts at the boundaries of the land or place you call home. Express gratitude, and ask for protection from harm.
But this year, I’m dialing back my Lammas/Lughnasadh expectations. I’m being kind to myself as I continue to recover from a year that has dipped deeply into my energetic reserves.
A Lughnasadh Nod to Tailtu: The Goddess Who Gave Us Her All
From this place of deep knowing, I feel it is time to reclaim the real story behind the importance of this time on the wheel of the year. I want to share the real story of how this harvest festival came to be.
In ancient Ireland, there was a strong and committed ancient Goddess fertility goddess named Tailtu. By all accounts, Tailtu was a loving and giving Goddess who understood many things.
She understood the important relationship between man and nature.
She understood that sometimes there is a need to care for others more than ourselves.
She understood unconditional love, taking it upon herself to rear a headstrong foster son. His name was Lu, and he is better known as the Sun God, or he who brings the light.
Tailtu also understood that mankind would need to change in order to survive on a changing planet. But no-one else seemed to notice. Maybe they were too busy with the bright, shiny, new Roman gods to respect her sovereignty.
With a mother’s intuition, she knew that food security would be an issue in the millenia ahead. Large tracts of forested land would need to give way to farms. Men would need to grow crops to be tended, and land to graze cattle or sheep.
I bet she got tired just thinking about it.
Yes, the job was a big one. So Tailtu did what few exalted beings do.
She showed up to do the work.
One by one, she cleared the trees from the plains of Ireland and prepared the land for sowing of the grain.
This year, I only had to clear one tree that fell on my house, and from that experience I can say that she surely had her work cut out for her!
When that was all done, another big job awaited, then another. So Tailtu walked the fields, dipping her hands deep into her pockets. She sowed the seeds, casting them upon the land. When she had emptied her stores, she watered the earth with her tears. For she also understood that she would never see them grow.
Finally, Tailtu dropped dead of exhaustion.
Let that sink in. This harvest festival is actually the funeral of a Goddess who worked herself to death for others.
Lughnasadh is the celebration of her sacrifice - only after her work bore fruit - and it doesn’t even carry her name.
Her foster son, Lu, a favorite of the Romans, lent his name to the festival and Olympic-style games and feats. However, this first harvest festival of the season should have been named for Tailtu,the mother.
Her body, like straw, was turned into the land to lie fallow with the harvest.
Why do we not revere this ancient Irish Goddess of sovereignty and well-being - who quite literally worked herself into the ground?
Those of us who sacrifice for others will get the irony.
Celebrating Tailtu’s Sacrifice While Remembering Our Own Mortality
Tailtu’s story is a cautionary tale. For if this level of exhaustion could be too much for a Goddess, how on Earth do we not understand that sometimes what is asked of us is simply too much for an ordinary mortal woman?
This Lammas/Lughnasadh, let’s celebrate Tailtu’s sacrifice while remembering our own mortality. If we protect our energetic stores, we won’t deplete all our resources. If we tend our well-being, we can continue to help others. If we tell Tailtu’s story, and encourage one another seek balance over burnout, then the blessing of her sacrifice won’t have been in vain.
Happily, a wee bit of Tailtu’s story does remain in the legacy of the Corn Dolly tradition. It is a tradition that gives us hope.
In the British Isles, corn dollies refer to “kerns,” or shafts of wheat. In the Americas, corn refers to a mezo-American plant that we roast on the cob. However, as traditions blended over time and distance, the corn dolly of our ancestors became a harvest tradition throughout many parts of the world.
Creating a corn dolly honors Tailtu and returns balance to the relationship between humans and nature. For women, it marks cycles of renewal and rest. The corn dolly tradition asks us to make the link between the depletion of over-work and the creative spring of wellbeing.
Let’s work with the corn dolly to cultivate well-being, abundance, and balance in the year ahead.
Here is an uplifting video on making a corn dolly in the American tradition:
Here is a lightly humorous video on making a corn dolly in the Celtic tradition: https://youtu.be/03kVmQrkVDs
If you choose to make a corn dolly to keep in a warm, happy place this year, I’d love to see your creation!