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a Lammas story – The Burning

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First Harvest

And the Lady is called to perform the hardest of her duties for the Land that she was promised to when she was born. She takes a sharp, silver sickle and presses it to the skin of her Great Love. Watches them bleed. Bleed until they are dry.

And when they are dry, she builds them a pyre, from fallen oak and spindly grasses. She lays them atop the mound, surrounded by the scattered fingers of the first grain harvest, and with a flame she sets it all alight.

And because her love was extraordinary, because her love was promised to this land just as she, it takes not hours, not a day, but three entire days to transform.

And for three days and three nights she stands by the pyreside, to bear witness. And while she bears the witness, she dances. Her feet are bare as she dances. Tripping and stamping on stones, stubble and thorns she bleeds her grief, her anger, her sorrow into the ground. And when her feet are too sore for dancing, she falls to her knees and weeps her love and her relief into tears that drip over her fingertips and slip into the soil beneath her, nourishing that which would become scorched and brittle from the burning.

When the fire is gone, what was once Great Love has become ash.

And she presses her feet and fingertips into that ash, then sets out to journey the land over. She does not walk, but she dances and presses feet and fingertip stains hard against the earth. She stamps her feet across grass and stone for an entire season. The fliers, the crawlers, the walkers, the swimmers hear the clarion, the warning: life has been taken, death has arrived. But the Land hears differently. Land is relieved. Because in the power of her feet and the warmth of that remembered fire, both Lady and Land sense a hope that, beyond the darkness, life will come again.

photo by Althea De Carteret

This piece is based on one of the alternative folk tales I have created around the themes of Lammas. The festival of the first grain harvest is celebrated by many Neo-Pagans with the burning of a Wicker Man or effigy of some kind. When I first experienced this ritual myself, a number of years ago now, it came with a story of a Lady or Queen of the Land who has to sacrifice her lover, the Lord or King of the Wood, to benefit the harvest. This ritual tale draws on an old myth, in which the sovereign (usually a King) is sacrificied (ritually or otherwise) to ensure the land remains fertile. Beneath the gruesome nature of the act, is a ritualised balancing of power. The act reminds all who witness it that no one human being should ever be above the needs to the many, and that those in power have a responsibility to use that power for the benefit of all.

My version of the story shifts from the act of ritual sacrifice to what comes after. To the processing of all the many emotions that are stirred by loss and hope in equal measure. By focusing on the space and time between a death and a return of life, come Springtime, (which we know as the autumn and winter) it makes space for change and transformation that is nuanced and delicate, not simplified and blunt. In reality, this dark half of the year is a time folks can often find difficult to navigate. I want my story to act as a compass, a pebble in your pocket, something to help make traversing that liminal time (between seasons and between life and death in all the many forms we see it) feel more grounded.

We live in a time of complex power balances and struggles that often feel overwhelming, but also uncomfortably reductive to try and simplify them. The destruction of our planet could easily be expressed as a sacrifice of a beloved, intentional or otherwise. In this version of my alternative tale, the gender and even the form of the Beloved is not made explicit. I wanted to make this connection between mythical King and Mother Earth more visible. I wonder, did it work?

What does the story mean to you?

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