In ancient times, so the story’s say, the fate of the King and the fate of the land were one. The King, born mortal, ascended to become God’s representative on earth after being wedded with the sovereign spirit of the land. From this moment on the King’s life was no longer his own and his life became a life of service and ultimately ended in sacrifice.
The grain growing tall and turning gold heralded the end of the King’s reign on earth, and at harvest time every year, although some say every seven years, the harvest festival would end in blood shed and the greatest of sacrifices. The blood of the King would saturate the land, his life force seeping into the soil replenishing what had been taken by the people with scythe and sickle. His people gathered, watching and waiting in silent reverence, would approach as the life ebbed from His body and into the land, slowly they would step forward before eventually brawling and fighting with each other, threshing even, to obtain just one small drop of his sacred blood, a single holy morsel, perhaps dipping a rag or small square of linen into the claret stream as it flowed over the fields, perhaps dipping fingers and anointing their brows and the brows of their children petitioning the King to watch over them from the other side and in some small way cementing their connection.
The King’s sacred duty didn’t end just because his willing throat was cut, if anything it was just beginning. From here on in His shadow, His wraith would work unseen in the other worlds on behalf of His people, carrying their prayers and burdens directly to the ears of the Ancestors and Gods, petitioning on behalf of men and women, rich and poor alike for protection, good health, good crops, fertile herds and many strong children to care for them in old age.
So the cycle was complete. Next year, the crops will be gathered, the new King slain, and the first bread eaten in full knowledge that the grain so painstakingly harvested and milled into flour is not only the fruit of labour and land, but contained the spirit of the sacrificed King, and the King before him, and the King before him whose blood restored the fields and whose soul watched over their interests.
The mythology surrounding the Sacred King plays a very important role in my seasonal observations for here a mythical drama unfolds where one can easily draw parallels between the life of ‘The King’ and the life of the Witch. We are born, some say ‘clay born’ or ‘once born’ and through a series of transitions, transformations and initiations (yes that’s initiations…plural!) which may take years or lifetimes, we become ‘other’ we become one of ‘Her Darling Crew’. We ‘marry’ our land…our lives as witches and the life of our lands are connected. The Witch cannot be without his or her land and the spirits who inhabit it. We know too that the land and its living inhabitants are also one; the people, the animals and the plant life are all connected to the land, and thus to the witch by the very same spark, the same fiery spirit which gives life to them all, connecting them all in and endless vast web. Just like our Mythical King we too are servants, reading, interpreting and plucking at the threads of this mighty web, and it is through service and our desire to serve the Gods, Ancestors and the people that we can effectively mediate between them.
For me, the rites of Lammas are probably the most pivotal and significant of all the seasonal observations. Lammas represents a culmination or a climax to my ritual, mythical cycle. Whilst thanks is given to the land and the spirits for the earth’s bounty and the continued sustenance of the people, it’s important to reiterate that The Craft is not a pagan fertility cult. There is more to Lammastide than simple thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth. Unlike some I do not believe that the crops are God, I do not believe the ‘Sacred King’ is God…my God is not ‘slain’ when the sickle cuts the grain. As I said above the King and the Land are one. The Land is divine, and by sacred union with the land (i.e. coronation) the King is thus made divine representative on earth. Its false to assume that “being one” is the same way of saying “the same as”.
It is my belief that over the years, myths, legends and local customs have become so entangled with each other that occasionally we need to step back from what the majority of neo-pagan authors would tell us and delve a little deeper towards the roots of our practise so we can better unravel them and trace back to the source. Paganism was the religion of the people, what we know as ‘The Craft’ is a mystical practise for the few…whilst the people worshiped the Grain God…there were those, perhaps only one or two, who looked beyond the myth or the legend. Yes, they knew the myths but they looked beneath the story and beyond the words…they lived them, experienced them. This is ‘becoming’ through drama, this is sympathetic magic, the act of being that which we wish to be.
From my purely personal point of view, there are layers to everything, endless hidden depths to every myth, every season and every symbol. Lammas is not simply about taking from the land and giving token thanks, it isn’t about baking bread and weaving corn dollies (although they are two activities I happen to thoroughly enjoy), I do not believe God is ‘slain’ by sythe or sickle (as if a God could be ‘killed’ so easily!) I do however believe God gifted us all with a spark of divine fire, a spark which connects us all and through living the myths of our people, can be nurtured and kindled into something far greater.