Crossquarter Lammas
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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 life.

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 older calendars.

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?

Back to index of Von Del Chamberlain's Astronomy Articles

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