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Last week on Zoom, my coven celebrated Lughnasadh (AKA Lammas), a harvest/Thanksgiving ritual. My role for the ritual was to bless the cakes and ale.
I’m pretty good at extemporaneous ritual work, so I didn’t prepare anything specific to say for the blessing. I was ready to do the usual: offer gratitude to the deities, ask for their blessing, ask for the food to nourish us, yada yada.
But when we got to the cakes and ale blessing, I found I suddenly had a LOT to say about the concept of harvest during These Times.
2020 has been a year full of “nope.” A global pandemic resulted in canceled events, canceled vacations and trips, limited socializing, and a global childcare crisis as people juggle jobs and parenting when schools, daycares, and camps are closed. Many of us (myself included) have lost close friends or family members to COVID. It feels like a year’s worth of fun and productivity has been taken away and replaced by anxiety, grief, and stress. Avenue Beat phrased the ennui thusly:
The idea of harvest, in a personal growth sense, seems very far away right now. A life on pause does not feel like growth. How can I grow as a person when I’m trapped inside my apartment, limiting my contact with other humans? It’s hard not to drown in nihilism and depression under these circumstances.
Despite all of that, as I was blessing the cakes and ale last week, I suddenly understood what we’ve been planting and reaping this year, and it brought me a bit of appreciation and gratitude in the midst of all the <internal screaming>.
On a smaller scale, those of us in quarantine are reaping a “new normal.” We have the potential to reap patience and flexibility in the face of new challenges and postponed and canceled plans. We can reap new definitions of compassion and awareness, as we become more aware of how our behavior, particularly mask-wearing and social distancing, could literally mean “life or death” for those around us. We may be reaping new, less consumeristic ways to entertain ourselves when “going out shopping/going to a movie/going out to eat” is impossible, or at least inadvisable. And within the pagan community, many of us are reaping new, more accessible and inclusive ways of holding ritual (which, at least in my coven, has resulted in increased participation).
On a larger scale in the U.S., unfortunately we are also reaping some terrible things we have sown for generations: namely, 1. corporate profits being prioritized over the welfare of the lower and middle classes, which has led to a weirdly politicized and tremendously ineffective pandemic response coupled with a financial crisis; and 2. unchecked white supremacy, particularly in law enforcement, leading to horrifying acts of brutality against Black people and peaceful protestors. All of these things we as a nation have sown and fertilized with greed, indifference, and hate are now coming into full bloom as we see, on a larger scale than before, the hurtful impacts of our collective and individual actions and inactions.
As the barest of silver linings, seeing all of this has many of us reaping new strength in community, new commitments to action, new awareness, new learnings, and, potentially, new hope for change.
Even with those silver linings, though, it is exhausting, on so many levels, both for those of us new to these issues, and those who have been suffering from the impacts and fighting the good fight for years. Harvesting is hard and tiring.
But even fatigue has lessons to teach. Being tired means we have to prioritize and get better at collaboration. If you don’t have the energy to do everything you want or need to do, you have to pick what’s most important, and sometimes you have to ask for help. Learning what’s most important and how to ask for help are both key for managing life, whether we’re in lockdown or not. We may also be finding ourselves resting more, and in so doing, realizing we were overextended and getting insufficient rest before the pandemic. (Maybe we don’t have to be busy all the time! I know this is a strange concept to many of us, myself in particular.) The pandemic and lockdown have some fantastic lessons to teach us about self-care.
Through the exhaustion and through the tears, harvest is also a time of gratitude. We give thanks for the good things we’re harvesting, even if they aren’t the things we had intended to plant this year. We gives thanks for noticing things we hadn’t before, for increased awareness and action for justice, and for realizing what’s truly important.
As we live under intense pressure, as we find ourselves exhausted and pushing ourselves in new and uncomfortable directions just to get by, I hope you will take time to offer yourself gratitude for everything you have survived so far in this year, at the very least. Here’s a series of gratitudes and blessings you can offer to yourself as part of your practice:
I give thanks to my body that helps me do what must be done. I bless myself with the strength to honor my commitments.
I give thanks to my mind for processing new lessons and new ideas. I bless myself with the openness and willingness to learn and do better.
I give thanks to my Will for pushing me through the difficult times. I bless myself with the desire to align my actions with my values, to fight for justice.
I give thanks to my heart for endowing me with compassion. I bless myself with the capacity to hold space for those in need, including myself.
I give thanks to my spirit for connecting me with everything around me. I bless myself with the awareness of the big picture, that my actions may be aligned with the greatest good.
So mote it be.
Harvesting is hard. I’ve always thought of harvest in terms of being handed something good: a pat on the back for your efforts, or a ripe, juicy tomato fresh from the garden you tended. But all the things happening this year are a good reminder that harvesting is hard, hard work. You can’t just sit on your deck and admire the crops; you have to pick and carry them first.
As we consider the harvest season this year, from Lughnasadh to Samhain, we need to evaluate that which we are harvesting through the lens of the extraordinary circumstances of this year, so we may consider and plant better seeds to improve our world tomorrow.
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