As of August 1 summer is half over. The midway point of summer is like a well-seasoned woman. The galloping growth and sweet blush of spring have slowed and faded in her sweltering heat. She's slower now, and surer. Strong and steady. She's salty and sultry and a little bit dusty. A little wrinkled. A little weary. A whole lot wiser. She bears the fruits of her own labors and she wears them well. By midsummer, dame nature has grown tired of her wardrobe with it's dizzy palette of vibrant greens, vivid pinks, randy reds and profusions of pretty pastels. She now prefers the warmer, deeper, richer tones more flattering to her present station. The lady is now of a certain age, after all.
Midsummer marks and celebrates the glorious bounty of the ripening season. Trees and vines, stems and stalks are hung heavy with the abundance of the earth. Mushrooms push themselves up uninvited onto the musty floor of the dark forest. Animals, birds and fish, fat from their greedy feasts and lazy, all but offer themselves up to the hunters who are a step above them on the food chain. Summer crops are ready for the table and to be collected and prepared for the larder. But it is the growth of the grain that holds the strongest significance of the midsummer season in agrarian societies. Grain, the staple, the sustenance, the stuff, the staff of life.
The reaping of the first ripened grain was great cause for celebration in honor of the great grain mother who feeds us all. She has been known by many names: Astarte, Ashoreth, Isis, Demeter, Ceres, Op, Terre Mater, Tailltiu, Chicomecoatl, Green Corn girl, Blue Corn girl, Mother Quescapenek. The english word, "lady" is derived from the old english "hlaf-dig." The root word, "hlaf" means "loaf," and "dig" means "knead." Used together, they have the connotation of woman, lady of the house, matriarch, as provider of nourishment, the "giver of daily bread."
The midsummer cross-quarter day is the only one of the four seasonal midpoints that is not still actively celebrated in our contemporary culture. Midsummer is celebrated in Europe, but there it refers to June 21, the first day of summer and not the middle, at all. Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" actually takes place on the summer solstice. Many celebrations of the first corn were observed on August 1. Named for Juno Augusta of Rome, August was particularly sacred to the goddess who gives all life and feeds it, too. It was considered for this reason an especially propitious time to be born. To this day, when a Scot says that someone was born in August, it is a compliment in praise of skilled accomplishment, with absolutely no bearing on the person's actual birthday.
The summer cross-quarter day was celebrated by the Saxons as Hlaf Mass (feast of bread) and by the Celts as Lughnasadh (commemoration of Lugh). Lugh was the grain god, son of mother earth. Every August he was sacrificed with the reaping of the corn only to be born again in the new shoots of spring exactly as the Egyptian god of grain Osiris had been. "Loaf mass" and "lugh mass" evolved into ''lammas,'' the Druid corn feast, one of the four cornerstone festivals around which their year revolved. When the church adopted, co-opted, lammas, it was referred to as lamb's mass in commemoration of St. Peter in chains, and the practice of the offering of the first fruits on the altar remained exactly the same.
The only living vestige of lammas in the United Stated is a rural holiday called second planting. But unless you read "The Farmer's Almanac" or belong to the Grange or 4H Clubs, you would have no reason to hear about it. It is celebrated exactly as midsummer has always been celebrated. The first grain is harvested, threshed, milled, baked into bread and cake, brewed into beer and then shared in community. After a night of feasting and dancing, work starts again at first light planting the second crop of summer wheat that will the mature by the fall harvest.
How can we, separated from the agricultural process by city and century, appreciate the atmosphere of the season which surrounds us, but which we cannot see? What is the goddess of grain to us of the boulangerie? The patisserie? We who buy our grain in bags, in boxes, premixed, pre-measured, prepackaged, prepared, sown, grown, harvested, hulled, milled, by someone else, somewhere else. How can we identify with the earth values taught by terra mater during this time of year from where we are held captive in the synthetic heart of the genetically modified pop tart culture which claims us?
Well, we can behave, as they say, as if we were born in August. We can, in fact, become August -- wise and generous and gloriously noble, each on our own chosen paths. We can hone our skills as the tenders of mother earth. We can hoe our row. We can carry our load. We can break bread together. We can feed the hungry.
We reap what we sow.