A SONG of the good green grass!
A song no more of the city streets;
A song of farms—a song of the soil of fields.
A song with the smell of sun-dried hay, where the nimble pitchers handle the pitch-fork;
A song tasting of new wheat, and of fresh-husk’d maize.
–Walt Whitman, “A Carol of Harvest for 1867”
The word I would use to describe Lughnasadh is liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. Summer isn’t over yet, and autumn hasn’t begun. There is still work to do—the harvesting of crops, especially grain, if you happen to be a farmer. For most of us, however, the harvest is more akin to deep reflection, taking stock, and looking at how the intentions we have put out into the world have developed.
What has grown? What has withered? What can be gathered in and used for nourishment? Was it worth the sacrifices we made? Are we enjoying the fruits of our labors at all? We pause. We consider. We begin to winnow out anything that isn’t useful. We dance in the sacred space between “no longer” and “not yet.”
I celebrate the astrological date of Lughnasadh when the sun reaches 15 degrees in the sign of Leo. In the northern hemisphere, this marks a seasonal shift toward autumn, as it is the exact midpoint between a solstice and an equinox.
Again, there is the overriding theme of being poised without having to move in either direction. For me, nothing captures this better than The Hanged Man of the Tarot, and he has been making a frequent appearance lately.
This card disturbed me a little when I first encountered it years ago. The whole idea of being hung upside down seemed barbaric. I imagined the blood rushing to my head, the ropes chafing at my ankle and wrists, and the constant exposure to the elements. I thought of insects biting and stinging and feeling helpless to swat them away. Some decks show The Hanged Man underwater, which is even more unsettling if you suffer from aquaphobia.
Yet, he seems to endure his restriction with a contented expression on his face. There is an air of quiet resignation about him. He has accepted what fate has delivered and knows that struggling is futile. Rather than focusing on his outward circumstances, he goes within and finds peace. He appears to have chosen this particular trial and is managing it gracefully, like Odin’s shamanic initiation upon Yggdrasil.
If you flip him right side up, The Hanged Man becomes the cosmic dancer of The World card, the very last trump in the Major Arcana. But he hasn’t achieved that supreme level of integration yet—he cannot avoid spending some quality time in the Underworld first.
We can learn much from this placid figure about honoring the space between. As an American, I was brought up to believe that achievement is paramount. Competition is instilled from elementary school onward, because how else would we survive in a capitalist economy? You either climb the ladder or dwell in various levels of poverty. So we develop this driving force to be the best at whatever we try and to constantly set higher bars for ourselves.
I’m not saying that pursuing goals is a bad thing, but when 40 million of our citizens have anxiety disorders and 17.3 million die from cardiovascular disease every year…you have to wonder if we’re doing it right. Maybe we haven’t been taught the value of BE-ing along with DO-ing. After all, what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls?
That is what The Hanged Man is finding again as he sways from the branches of the World Tree—his radiantly beautiful soul. He is teaching us that liminal space is healing space and that a divinely ordered time out is often just what we need. There is no place in the past worth revisiting and no place in the future to run toward. There is nothing to be accomplished immediately and no all-important five-year plan to hatch. As we celebrate the first of the harvest Sabbats, casting our magic circles once again to honor the Old Ones, let us drink in the sanctity of being between the worlds. In the midst of an ever-changing and frequently chaotic era, may we listen to the subtle whispers of nature, reminding us to Be Here. Be Now. Just Be.
©2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.