Welcome Autumn!

1 Comment

The Beginning of Autumn

The Hapgood Pond Recreation Area of the Green Mountain National Forest displays its fall foliage splendor.

The Hapgood Pond Recreation Area of the Green Mountain National Forest displays its fall foliage splendor.

Contrary to the popular misconception in the United States, the Seasons do not begin with the Equinoxes and Solstices. Those are the mid-points, the high-points or quintessence of each Season. In the old European Tradition, for the latitudes that Europe and North America occupy in the Northern Hemisphere, the circle of the year looks like this:

  • Oct 31-Nov 2 Samhuinn                  The End of Autumn, the Beginning of Winter
  • Ca. Dec 21      Winter Solstice          The Depth of Winter
  • Feb 1-2           Imbolc                           The Beginning of Spring
  • Ca. Mar 21     Spring Equinox          The High-Point of Spring
  • May 1             Bealteinne                  The Beginning of Summer
  • Ca. June 21    Summer Solstice        The Height of Summer
  • July 31-Aug 1 Lughnasadh               The Beginning of Autumn
  • Ca. Sept 21     Autumn Equinox       The High-Point of Autumn

(Two notes: I am using the traditional Old Gaelic spellings for the Fire Festivals that come between the Solar Festivals, because that’s how I first learned them. There are many variants in the other Gaelic languages, and in other European languages. I am also setting Samhuinn [pronounced: Sow-wain, as in a female pig followed by a Hay Wain] as the beginning of the year because that is commonplace today. There is scant-to-no evidence that ancient Celts viewed Samhuinn as New Years.)

If one reflects on the feel of the Seasons, this schema makes much more sense than the really rather silly notion that Summer officially begins on June 21, etc.

I am in the process of completing a book on the ancient and modern correspondences of this circle of the year, and I wanted to give you a preview with some reflections on August 1, the Beginning of Autumn.

Ancient Lughnasadh

Three Headed Lugh on an  Altar at the St. Remi Museum in Reims.

Three Headed Lugh on an
Altar at the St. Remi Museum in Reims. Photo by QuartierLatin1968.

In many parts of the Celtic world, August 1 marked the first of three Harvest Festivals (followed by the Equinox and Samhuinn), and was named for the God Lugh (modern: Lú). It is also commonly known as the English Lammas and the Season as Lammastide. It has given its name in modern Gaelic tongues to the day/festival and the month. For example, August 1, and August are

Irish Gaelige:  Lúnasa

Scottish Gàidhlig: Lùnastal

Manx Gaelg: Luanistyn

Interestingly enough, in Wales, August 1 is called as Calan Awst, from the Latin Kalendae Augusti, The Calends of August. You will recall this from our previous discussions of the Roman Calendar, with its Calends, Nones, and Ides.

Lughnasadh itself means the Assembly of Lugh, and is the Festival associated with this date. There are modern festivals that descend from this, and also re-created Lugh Festivals. These usually include athletic contests, arts, first fruits of the harvest, etc. There seems to be a resonance here with the Greek Pythian Games, held at Delphi, which included contests in both athletics and the arts. The Pythian Games were probably held in August as well. Lugh and Apollo are not dissimilar figures, as we will see.

Lugh is said to have instituted the Festival in honor of the death of his Mother or Foster Mother, the Goddess Tailtiu, an agricultural Goddess who exhausted herself making the crops fertile. We’ll come back to this later.

Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena Russian: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses, on the left pages of the book

Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena Russian: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses, on the left pages of the book.

So who is Lugh? He is the Celtic God of the arts, magic, and skills. He is a trickster, and may also be a solar or lightning God, as the Proto-Indo-European root *leuk-, means “flashing light.” Since Victorian times, this has prompted scholars to link him with Apollo, because the Greek, Ἀπόλλων, that is, (λω), and the Latin Apollo both have this lu/lo root.

Historically, however, Lugh was associated with Mercury, which brings him into alignment with Hermes, and with the Egyptian (and Esoteric) Hermes Trismegistus / Thoth (Djehuti). Hermes is also a trickster, and Thoth is a God of Arts, Knowledge, Writing and Skills. Hermes, Lugh and Thoth are sometimes thought of as Culture Heroes, those who bestow the skills necessary for human culture.

The alignment of one Divinity with another—a specialty of Hellenistic Culture—is not an absolute science, as it is clear that Lugh has other attributes that resemble Zeus and Thor.

Lugh holds this assembly to honor his (Foster?) Mother, who sacrificed herself for humanity’s good, just as the corn, wheat, and other products of the harvest offer themselves for sacrifice for our good. Thus the Festival has a sense of Self-Sacrifice, of service to humanity, and also of Light, the Light that was born at the Winter Solstice.

The Correspondences of Autumn

As in so much spiritual and mystical work, the Season of Autumn corresponds to many other notions. In the directions, it is the West, centered on the Autumnal Equinox, in Life it is Mature Adulthood, the period of generativity. Here are some other correspondences:

  •  Kabbalah:
  • Sephirot:       Malkuth (Kingdom)
  • Oppositions:   Wealth and Poverty
  • Path:               Intelligence of Conciliation, Rewarding Intelligence of those who seek
  • Divine Name Letter:      Vav
  • World:                        Yetzirah: World of Formation
  • Tarot:                          The Wheel of Fortune, Kaph (a Curve)
  • Tarot Suit:                  Cups
  • Tarot Court:               Knight
  • Personality:                Emotion
  • Consciousness:          Rotation
  • Planet:                            Jupiter
  • Alchemy:                    Tin
  • Body:                          Solar Plexus ganglion, Manipura Chakra.
  • Week:                         Wednesday
  • Book of Humanity:    10th Page  (Martinism)
  • Martinist:                   Manifestation
  • Element:                     Water
  • Druid World:             Faerie
  • Christian:                   The Kingdom of Heaven; The Exaltation of the Cross
  • Esoteric:                     The Imaginal World

With all of these, one can meditate for a great while on how these all fit together, during the Season of Autumn.

Correspondences of Lughnasadh

Since Lughnasadh is the doorway to Autumn, half way between the High Point of Summer and the High Point of Autumn, its correspondences are about 45 degrees off from Full Autumn:

  • Direction:                   Southwest
  • Life:                             Middle Age: generative period
  • Kabbalah Path:        Imaginative Intelligence
  • Tarot:                          Death (Nun) (a Fish, to Sprout, Grow)
  • Consciousness:         Motion, change, liberation, transformation, imagination, visualization
  • Zodiac:                        Scorpio
  • Alchemy:                    Watery
  • Body:                          Reproductive organs, waste organs, nose
  • Christian:                   Transfiguration, Dormition, St. Ignatius Day, Maccabees, Procession of the Cross

As one can see, this is a variation on the major themes of Autumn, influenced by the thematics of Summer. It has to do with the implementation of change and transformation, and is dominated by the power of the mind (imaging, visualization for manifestation).

Lughnasadh Today

The Festival has come down to us in many ways.

Croagh Patrick Pilgrim Sunday the ascent of the Holy Mountain. Photo by Alan James, (c) 2007.

Croagh Patrick Pilgrim Sunday the ascent of the Holy Mountain. Photo by Alan James, (c) 2007.

First, there are direct survivals. In Ireland, it is still common to make pilgrimages up mountains on is Reek Sunday—the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July. Holy Wells were also visited in both Ireland and Scotland, and the pilgrim would walk around the well sunwise, and leave offerings. Although Christianized, the Pre-Christian origins are quite clear.

Blessings of the Fields at Lughnasadh is an established custom in the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland, connected to the ancient harvest festival. Wikipedia also reminds us of another popular observance:

Puck Fair in full flight in this photo with King Puck (An Puc Rí) installed on his "throne," 1900. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

Puck Fair in full flight in this photo with King Puck (An Puc Rí) installed on his “throne,” 1900. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

“The Puck Fair is held each year in early August in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry. It has been traced as far back as the 16th century but is believed to be a survival of a Lughnasadh festival. At the beginning of the three-day festival, a wild goat is brought into the town and crowned ‘king’, while a local girl is crowned ‘queen’. The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair, and a market”[1]

The custom of a Fair around August 1 has spread to many other locations in Ireland now. Modern Neo-Pagans, including Druids and Wiccans, have varying celebrations for Lughnasadh or Lammas.

Second, as is the case at every point on the wheel of the year, Christianity, both Eastern and Western, has Feasts which correspond to the themes and spirit of the holiday. Most importantly, both Eastern and Western Christianity have two major feasts in the first half of August. They are feasts of light, feasts of transformation and theosis, and a feast honoring the death and transition of the Mother of God.

In Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine/Greek Catholic) Christianity, August is the last month of the Church Year, and is the summation of the cycle of Salvation History.  What has been taught in the whole year is now summed up in these two Feasts. While Western Christianity shares these two Feasts, their emphasis is not as clearly understood today.

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: "Die Ikone"

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: “Die Ikone”

On August 6, the Transfiguration commemorates the vision of Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor, when they beheld Jesus suffused with the Uncreated Light, and flanked by Moses and Elijah. Although this event is reported in the Gospels during Jesus’s life, it is strikingly outside of time and space, and is transcendent. The whole point of the Church year has been to teach that Divinity and Humanity are compatible, and that humanity, and through humanity the whole cosmos, is destined for the realization of theosis (divinization).

As Athanasius, Pope of Alexandria in the 4th century says “God became human so that humans could become God.” Even earlier, one of the Orphic sayings found on the golden tablets in the Lucania cemetery states—Θεὸς ἐγένου ἐξ ἀνθρώπου—Theos egenou ex anthrōpou— “Through being a Mortal, you have become God.”

“But sure,” you say. “Jesus is the Son of God. He’s special. I’m just a human. How does this affect me?”

Dormition of the Theotokos (Uspenie Bogoroditsy)--i.e., the repose of the Virgin Mary 1392, by Theophan the Greek.

Dormition of the Theotokos (Uspenie Bogoroditsy)–i.e., the repose of the Virgin Mary 1392, by Theophan the Greek.

The Byzantine Tradition responds nine days later with the Feast of August 15, The Dormition of the Theotokos, known in the West as the Assumption. It is the patronal feast of the Great and Mystical Cathedral in Chartres. Some Rosicrucian friends and I visited there on the rainy eve of the Feast in 2007.

If anyone was in doubt that Theosis—Divinization—is the destiny of all the manifested cosmos, the Commemoration of Mary’s death and then translation into Heaven (a symbol for Divinization) cures those doubts. It is not just the Divine-Human Jesus for whom this happens. This is the destiny of all. Westerners are used to thinking of Mary as somehow another exception, but in Eastern Christianity, she is called “the Great Example, not the Great Exception.”

In Eastern Christianity, the term “Original Sin” does not have anything to do with an “inherited guilt of Adam,” as it does in the West. Instead, it is simply the fact that things don’t seem to work right in the world. We are in need of healing, what Martinists would call Reintegration or Regeneration. Therefore, there was nothing for Mary to be preserved from, as in the Western doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. She is the leader of humanity.

Here’s what St. Gregory Palamas, a mystic Hesychast of the 14th century, said about her in his homily for this day:

St. Gregory Palamas. Upload by Lamprotes.

St. Gregory Palamas. Upload by Lamprotes.

“She is a blending of all perfections – divine, angelic and human. A sublime beauty adorning two worlds, lifted up from earth to heaven, and even transcending that. She is the boundary of created and uncreated nature. She has crossed the frontier which separates us from the age to come.” (Homily on the Dormition)

The parallels with Lughnasadh begin to emerge. The Funeral of the Divine Mother, Light, and Self-Sacrifice, all themes of the ancient Feast, are present here, as well as the teaching of the Mystery Schools: our destiny is Divinization.  This is the culmination of one cycle, and the opening of the Season of Autumn, with so many associations.

Besides these two Great Feasts, Byzantine Christians also celebrate the Holy Maccabee Martyrs on July 31, and the Forefeast of the Procession of the Cross (Aug 1). Both image the theme of Self-Sacrifice.

St. Ignatius Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens (1600s).

St. Ignatius Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens (1600s).

Western Christians, and especially Jesuits—including the new Pope Francis—commemorate St. Ignatius Loyola on July 31, the Founder of the Society of Jesus. This mystic’s life and work was entirely devoted to Self-Sacrifice for the purpose of bringing all things to union with their source and origin, the Divine.  The theme prayer of the day, and of Jesuit Spirituality, is the famous Suscipe written by St. Ignatius and included in the addendum to his Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to obtain the Divine Love:

Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem.
Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem.
Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es;
id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum.
Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones,
et dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty.
Accept my memory, my understanding and my entire will.
All I have and call my own, You have given to me;
to You, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what You will.
Give me only Your love and your grace,
And I am rich enough, and I do not need anything other than that.

Other mystics would see in this the Unitive Way, the complete union of the person’s will with the Divine—Cosmic—Will. The Latin of the Suscipe is not elegant by any stretch of the imagination, but its meaning is transcendent.

 A modern version of this prayer was set to music by Dan Schutte. Another version is by John Foley, S.J. 

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher

This is what the inspiration for Martinism, the Unknown Philosopher and mystic Louis Claude de Saint-Martin strove for, as he mentions in a letter to his friend, the Baron of Liebistorf:

“…the only initiation I advocate and search for with all the ardor of my soul is the one through which we can enter into the heart of God and make God’s heart enter our own, there to make an indissoluble marriage which makes us friend, brother, and spouse of our Divine Repairer.

“There is no other mystery than to arrive at this holy initiation than to go more and more down into the depths of our being, and not let go till we can bring forth the living vivifying root, because then all the fruit which we ought to bear, according to our kind, will be produced within and without us naturally, as we see occurs with our earthly trees, because they are attached to their particular root, and do not cease to draw up its sap.”[2]

We Enter Autumn

With these reflections, we of the North enter the Season of Autumn, while our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere are entering Spring, complementary realities at work on our Planet. I hope that some of these thoughts and musings, from ancient Lughnasadh to modern-day commemorations, may resonate with you during this season. I am not an expert on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other Traditions. If you know parallels to what I have written here in other Paths, please add them in the comments.

The Peace of Autumn!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

[2] Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, “The Way of the Heart,” letter of June 19, 1797 to Kirchberger, Baron of Liebistorf. Published in Pantacle 2 (2002): 24-25 (San Jose, English Grand Lodge for the Americas, 2002).

One thought on “Welcome Autumn!

  1. This is a great learning for those inclined toward true spirituality; the teachings relate only to Western Tradition, but the Essence is universal. The Never-changing Reality is ONE, untouched by limitations!
    Many parallels can be elaborated with the inspirational words of ancient Vedanta, but the fundamental aspects are unchanged.
    Thank you for the depth and sincerity of the intention and for the beauty of the article!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s