Shortening Days and Changing Weather Ushers in the Harvest
+ Von Del Chamberlain +
Some of my articles during the last year have described how the year can be
divided into parts that signal changes in climatic effects to influence our
lives. Although the official beginnings of seasons are marked by solstices and
equinoxes in the latter parts of December, March, June and September, we have
seen that many people have thought of seasonal changes coming with "cross-
quarter" dates occurring mid-way between the solstices and equinoxes. This,
then, is the last of eight articles in this set, and it deals with the least
well-known of the seasonal dates.
Throughout much of Europe, especially in the British Isles, summer was
considered to end about the first of August with rapidly shortening days and
lengthening nights. Even though temperatures remains high, all the signs of
demise of summer and onset of autumn are at hand. The rising and setting points
of the Sun can easily be observed to move southward each day, and its mid-day
elevation is dropping rapidly. Earth has reached the portion of its orbit where
the tilt of its axis increases the angle of sunlight to spread solar energy over
larger areas, diluting the heating that takes place on our landscapes.
It was at this time, when the Sun was descending, that the ancient Celts
honored Lug, god of light, in a festival named Lugnasad. This was the
celebration of the beginning of the harvest season, a time when the first cuts
of the grain were ritualistically sacrificed to ensure the continuity of
Lugnasad was eventually replaced by the Christian feast of Loaf Mass,
"Lammas," when early grain, baked into loaves, was offered at mass. Even into
our current century Scottish farmers were known to use new grains of corn in
rituals to the deity of harvest and to throw sickles in the air to divine by
their landing who in the villages would marry, grow ill or die before the coming
of the next Lammas. Lammas is still celebrated in some places, and Lugnasad has
been revived as one of the eight sabbats of modern Wiccans.
Europeans are not alone in such traditions. During the latter part of July
the Hopi people in Arizona hold the Niman dances. This is the last of a cycle of
dances that take place during the fertility half of the year, the time when the
Katcinas have been among the people. In February the Katcinas enter the villages
to usher in blessings of increasing sunlight that warms the earth in preparation
for planting the fields. The Katcinas remain, bringing rains and increased
fertility, marked especially by the growth of corn, until the Hopi mid-year.
From dawn until nightfall the people express thanks and honor the spirits for
the good life they have initiated, then the Katcinas return to their homes in
the San Francisco Peaks, and the people begin the second half of the year, happy
with appreciation for food, family and friends.
In our part of the world, we need only look around to be aware of dramatic
changes of season. As July flows into August, great thunderheads tend to gather
in the afternoon, sweeping across the land, enunciated by flashes of lightning
and peals of thunder. Raindrops moisten parched ground, often in such abundance
that floods rumble through washes into canyons.
From older European traditions we have, in this column, identified eight
transition points for the year. Groundhog Day is the remnant of Candlemas that
once marked the start of spring to be followed by mid-Spring at the vernal
equinox. May Day, the remains of Beltane, ushered in Summer, and mid-summer came
with the turning of the Sun at the June solstice. Lammas brought end of summer
and start of autumn, and the primary harvest season marked mid-autumn at the
September equinox. Winter began with Samhain, surviving in America as Halloween,
and the December solstice was thought of as mid-winter, new years day in many
Our American seasonal traditions are more punctuated by holidays that provide
relief from our jobs. Presidents' Day has become a time of surrender to
advertisements vying for our funds, convincing us to stock up for the coming
vacation season. For many, Memorial Day feels like the start of summer and the
Fourth of July marks mid-summer fun. Summer seems to end with Labor Day, and we
celebrate bountiful harvest on Thanksgiving Day. There are, of course, other
special days--religious, cultural, historical and personal--that are associated
with the migrations of Earth in its annual orbit.
No matter how we designate its progress, the floating of Earth along its
course, coupled with the tilt of its rotation to revolution, controls the
prospects of our lives. We live because Earth maintains just the right
relationship to the star that drags it wherever it wanders within the Milky Way
Galaxy. Each day is different by degrees, slowly changing from solstice to
solstice, year in, year out. Although we do not feel the gigantic globe grinding
along its path around the Sun, we do, with certainty, feel the changing flow of
energy falling into the air we swim in as Mother Earth carries us through the
fields of Father Sky.
This article was modified from the original to serve as an information
source for all lammas cross-quarter events.
Another good article to read is Phil Plait's What Causes the Seasons?
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