“All sounds, all colours, all forms, either because of their pre-ordained energies or because of long association, evoke indefinable and yet precise emotions, or, as I prefer to think, call down among us certain disembodied powers, whose footsteps over our hearts we call emotions; and when sound, and color, and form are in a musical relation, a beautiful relation to one another, they become as it were one sound, one color, one form, and evoke an emotion that is made out of their distinct evocations and yet is one emotion.”
- William Butler Yeats The Symbolism of Poetry (1900)
There is ‘music’ in the seasons of Earth & Cosmos, and there is a ‘music’ in us that animates and – if we heed it – keeps us awakened to possibilities. There are the rhythms of circulation and the melodies of thought, the harmonies that exist between different parts of our bodies, as well as the harmonies – or perhaps dissonances – that characterize the interface between our inner and outer lives. From a naturalistic or earthen perspective, one of the primary aims of spirituality is to ‘tune’ our lives; to bring ourselves into ‘harmony,’ which involves coming into harmony with Nature and our human surroundings in such a way as to encourage and promote flourishment. When we are well-tuned, we ‘dance.’
Lughnassadh; one of the old Celtic cross-quarter festivals, opposite Bridgetmas and crossed from Beltaine and Samhain in the Wheel of the Year—was long ago considered a time to celebrate life rhythms and patterns in music and dance; thus bringing the music that animates us in our journey through Earth & Cosmos to a manifest expression, if only for a moment. At this tine of the year, I turn to these old mythological stories, seeking earthen wisdom. Mythology can still inform a naturalistic spirituality, if we know how to hear and interpret it. Ancient symbols and metaphors, especially those drawn from the turning of the seasons and the human journey through the annual cycle – can still speak to an earthen heart.
Let the dance begin!
Lugh [pronounced “lou”] was a polymath and an omnicraefty character in Celtic myth who gained entrance to the Celtic fellowship of gods & goddesses – known as the Tuatha de Danaan [pronounced “Too-ha jay don-awn”] – by being master of many things, not just master of one thing. I am always intrigued that he was a magician as well as the god of both manual and artistic craefts. There is much to be said for the idea that ‘magic’ is but an artistic expression of human desire and intention. Lugh is said to have introduced several agricultural innovations into Irish society, including the plow. _Thus the artist may also have a practical side; the aesthetic and the technological can be wed together in the gifts of a single person—something we tend to deny or forget in our culture.
This connection to agriculture testifies to the lateness of Lugh’s ‘admission’ to the ‘house of the gods & goddesses,’ as the Celts in Ireland and all across Europe had long lived the life of pastoral nomads, only settling down to till the land late in their history. In this way, Lugh can be seen as the culmination of the Celtic vision of what a human person was – or at least could be. He was an ideal; someone who might have been called a “Renaissance person’ a millennium later. Legends have it that Lugh wanders about the land on his festival days at the beginning of August, looking to make craefty any mortal person willing to discipline themselves and dedicate themselves to excellence, beauty and vision. We might today take this story as a call to inspiration, each year as we come around to the early days of August.
I dance_ I revel_ I sing_ I frolick!
From a naturalistic spiritual point of view, I find in the lore of Lughnassadh a summons to renew my own energy through meditative dance and music. Lughnassadh is a time for music that calls us toward an ecstatic fulfillment, in imitation of what is going on in the natural world around us. The crops in the fields and even the weeds in the flowerbeds are all coming to maturity and being fruitful. I have taken as a rann for the summer the triad: “Flourishment—Fruition—Fructification” – and through it attempted to realize in myself something of these natural processes that are so evident as summerwood passes from Solstice through this turnstile at the first of August and on into September. The music I listen to at this tine of the year tends to be passionate, erotic and sensual in a particular way. The maturity of the emotions is to be celebrated, as well as the possibility of epiphany.
I have taught myself to dwell in the seasons and nurture experiences that reflect – in my interior nature – what is going on in the external world. (If you have followed my blogs, this may be apparent to you). Everything I do is ‘seasonal’ in its way. Attuned to the season, I express myself differently in Summer than I do in the Winter; in the Fall as in the Spring. The genres of music I listen to at this time of the year differ from what I listen to earlier in the Summer or in the Spring or back in the Winter. I have favorite artists and albums that express what it is I think each season is manifesting. The fervor of High Summer is passing, and in its wake I start to quiet down, revel more solemnly, and inevitably turn to more reflective music.
After Lughnassadh I shift toward music that has that sense of "Faery Melancholy" – which is akin to what is called the "High Lonesome Sound" in American music. This music, for me, reflects the irony of the Season; the fact that although the days are still hot & humid _and the woods & fields are green, the nights have grown longer over the last five weeks, the fruit on the trees and the vegetables in the garden have ripened and even gone past their prime, and in the woods you will occasionally see that odd red leaf on the ground, prophesying Autumn!
As we turn down the darkening side of the Wheel of the Year, I yearn for moments of transcendence, and nothing prepares me for this like music with the temperament of melancholy. Melancholy, properly understood, is not synonymous with 'depression' or even with mere sadness; it is that certain awareness of our own mortality tempered by the love of life.
Along with the music comes the desire to dance; to move – to swing and sway and make my way round and round the meditation circle, moving to the rhythm of the music and hearing – in my own being in becoming – the affirmation of life that transcends the coming of the dark; the dying down of life in the Autumn; the end that we all must inevitably face. To dance is to seek to fly; to move and churn and wave the arms and sing a song_
Lughnassadh as a time of dance and song can be a potent moment in the Wheel of the Year when our love-of-life faces our mortality – which is what is intimated in our awareness of the dimming of Summerwood days – and accepts it. Everything dies. But first_ everything lives! And in the maturation of life comes the harvest of all that we have worked for and striven for and danced to receive! This is the gist of Lughnassadh for me. Thus_
I dance_ I revel_ I sing_ I frolick!
[An original version of this blog was posted 08/02/2009.]