A very belated Loafmass

Loafmass is supposed to be on August 2nd, making it parallel with Imbolc. Instead of focusing on any one of the Three, it’s a holiday for all of them.

Loafmass is about berries and bread, and the first harvest, and sucking all we can out of summer before autumn reigns the land. It’s about sun and heat and swimming in the river, or the ocean if you can get to the coast; it’s about camping with friends; it’s about a heat wave that sucks out your will to live. It’s about hot, sticky, summer rain that brings life to the land and complaints to the mouths of your fellow humans.

Loafmass is hiking in the woods with your dog and eating the berries you find on the bushes by the side of the trail. It’s a time for zucchini and blackberries and blueberries and sorbet. The siren song of the ice cream truck wends its way down your street and up again, and if you can get up in the heat to grab your wallet in time, you can make an offering in exchange for a too-small frozen treat that melts too fast.

My experience of Loafmass is directly tied to my experience of August in southwestern British Columbia, so Loafmass for you might be different (though ideally, it’s still in summer, whether that’s August or February for you, and it’s still about bread — hence the name). Different foods will be in season; your climate may not be as hot as our Augusts traditionally are, or it may be hotter. You might be inland; you might not get rains. Maybe you don’t live in a rainforest.

In building this path to honor the Three, I am struck by how individual it is. My understanding of the holidays for Them is rooted in my home climate, so all I can really do is put together a general framework, and if anyone else wants to follow it, they’ll have to add in their own meanings for their own climates.

August in BC is traditionally the hotspot of summer. We generally have a wet June, and July can heat up, but for me, summer happens in August, ending with Labour Day Weekend, the last long weekend of summer and the signal of the start of the school year, and autumn.

This is likely changing, however. This year we’ve had a good ol’ BC summer, with wet June and July, no end of complaints from people with short memories, and a fairly hot August. Last year, though, our province was on fire. We had a hot June, which is unheard of, and no rain. Our water reservoirs got low. We went on water restrictions. Wildfires ravaged the province. And the oligarchy was successful in getting the proletariat to eat each other alive, instead of seeing who the real culprit was.

The people who complained this year about our rain in June apparently don’t remember what last year was like; being unable to breathe; waking up and wondering if the apocalypse was happening because of the color of the sky; wondering when they’d tell you to evacuate your home. Or maybe they just were lucky enough to be far away from the wildfires and the danger they posed. I wasn’t. I stayed in Powell River for a few weeks last July, and for 3 days the sun was blocked out by the smoke and we couldn’t breathe. All my clothing smelled like smoke and fire when I got home.

Wildfires aren’t an abnormal occurrence here, but the amount and the time they happened last year was strange. August is wildfire season, and they’re generally no where near as bad as they were last year. Last year they started in June and raged on all summer. We weren’t off campfire and water restrictions till something like October.

The factors are numerous: climate change is a big one, but also the government’s refusal to put any money into wildfire prevention and maintenance in 2014. The budget for wildfire reduction was 0$, so is it any surprise they were so bad? Nothing had been cleared; no preventative measures had been taken, because the BC Liberals are idiots.

And instead of taking the fight to them last year, they succeeded in getting us to rip each other’s throats out. “Report your neighbors if you see them fling cigarette butts from cars, or watering their lawns in violation of water restrictions!” Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t do something about cigarette butts being flung from cars, because duuuuuuh that’s a bad thing, but focusing on that and reporting neighbors for watering their lawn to the exclusion of all else is exactly what the government wanted, and they got it.

(And don’t even get me started on how the everyday citizen got restrictions on water usage, but giant corporations could do whatever they wanted, and were not seen as culprits in the reduction of our reservoirs. Get out of BC, Nestle.)

So in the coming years, Loafmass might change in form for me. It might be about survival, about clean air, about living through the fire and coming out a different person. It might be about living without rain for 3 months, which in a rainforest is a pretty big deal. It might be less about the green of my home, and more about the dust and smoke and red of my home, as plants shrivel and die.

And it might be about kicking corporations and the BC Liberals the fuck out.

~

A plate of zucchini loaf next to a bowl of cut strawberries and a bottle of honey mead sit upon a white but dirty stove.
Zucchini loaf, strawberries, and mead. (on a very dirty stove)

Tonight I am baking zucchini loaf for Loafmass. I should have celebrated at the beginning of the month, but I have been completely without spoons, without energy. I bought the zucchini back then and miraculously, they survived. The blueberries I got for the ritual? Not so much. I will be using the more recent strawberries instead.

The loaf is baking right now, and it smells pretty good. I hope I grated the zucchini correctly. I cannot remember if you’re supposed to de-seed it first or not; hopefully a seedy loaf will do no harm. (The symbolism works out just fine, anyway.)

Next, I need to clean off the space that is supposed to be my new shrine and altar space to the Three in my office. Currently they occupy a shelf on my bookcase, but it is small, and not appropriate for workings. I would like to switch them to the bigger spot, and use the smaller spot to start putting together a shrine for Elua and His Blessed Companions.

The big space is covered in things I need to organize, as is much of the rest of the house. Depression makes it difficult to get anything done, and I have been stuck in a deep well of it for a while. But tonight I will clear this space, and make it as usable as I can, and I will do my ritual, and I will not feel guilty, because the gods don’t want me to.

I am human, and I am perfect in my imperfections. Being 21 days late with my ritual is not a failure; it is a baby step towards the life I want, a life with regular religious practice, a life with touchpoints of devotion keeping me ever on the path I’ve chosen.

The Three do not punish me for being human. They are infinite, they are endless, and they are patient.

~

A shrine to the gods Brighid, the Morrigan, and Manannan, with lit candles and offerings placed upon them. The shrine is covered in myriad holy items, with places for offerings to go and various representations of the gods.
The shrine during the ritual. The bread is on the pentacle and in the bowl with the berries; the mead is in the wine glasses. The candles are lit, and the Three walk with me tonight.

I have completed the ritual, and I think it was pretty successful, despite forgetting some key elements at the beginning. However, I think that portion might be a bit redundant for the Loafmass rite in general, so there may be an edit.

Before the ritual I cleaned off the shrine and wiped it down with holy water blessed at Imbolc, then set it up and got ready. Then I washed my hands and face while thinking “I am holy; I am pure” over and over, as a mantra. I did not shower, though I was covered in sweat from cleaning today. I knew it was enough to wash my hands and face; if I am not pure when soaked in salt and sweat and the dirt of cleaning the house; if I am not pure in my rawest form; if I am not pure and holy as I am, then I never will be, and it does not matter.

I will publish the rite below, with notation in parentheses on what I changed or what was different. The rite is loosely modeled after this Imbolc ritual on the IMBAS site (very loosely).

Ring a bell to signify the beginning of ritual space.

And the roots grew.
And the seeds travelled from a home we’ve forgotten, finding soil in our hearts.
And the roots grew.
From the earth to our souls, one Mother Tree to unite us all.
And when we rise Her branches hold us,
And when we tire Her trunk shelters us,
And when we die Her roots will carry us home.
Praise the trees.

Invoke Land Sea and Sky: sprinkle salt water and ask the Sea not to burst its bounds and welcome Father Ocean to your rite; face the world and ask the Land not to open up and swallow you and welcome the Forest Queen to your rite; light incense and ask that the Sky not fall on you and welcome the Sun Mother to your rite. (This bit was where I forgot things; I didn’t have any salt water or incense. I sprinkled salt instead, and lit a sage bundle. However, for the Loafmass rite in particular I might omit this part. Not sure yet.)

Light 3 candles: “From heart to hearth, I kindle the sacred fires.” (I said this each time I lit a candle.)

“To the Land Spirits, may you draw close and keep this rite grounded: what I have been given, I have prepared and return to you. Accept my offering this night.” Put berries into a bowl.

“To my Ancestors of blood and spirit, may you draw close and give this rite its place in history. What I have been given, I have prepared and return to you. Accept my offering this night.” Place the bread on the altar. (The loaf was pretty crumbly, so I put it on the pentacle candle-holder I have instead of directly on the altar.)

“It is Loafmass, the midpoint of the secular year, the middle of summer, the beginning of the end of the warm days. August will be hot at first, then wane into decided fall as Father Ocean, King of Winter, takes over the year and the Sun becomes a Sleeper, Maiden ageing into the Witch of the Hills, retreating from human space and becoming one with the wilds.

“It is the first harvest, though plants have been picked since May, the beginning of fall. It is a time of birth and life and death, for in the death of plants there is rebirth for next year; in the eating of our crops there is life. Crops sustain life, and thus are sacred.

“It is time to prepare for winter, for fallow times, for times for seeds to sleep and dream of growing in spring. It is a time for winding down, for beginning endings — it is the end of the middle.

“It is a time for bread and berries, for celebration, for sucking all we can out of summer before it’s gone. It is a time for swimming and BBQs and splashing at the water park, and fires on the beach after sunset, hoodies around our chilled shoulders. It is a time to be alive.

“It is Loafmass, and I invoke Brighid, bright power of the sun, birther, midwife, age-changing creatrix. The Smith of the Stars, the one who lights the flames that keep us alive. Mother of poetry and grief. Protector of green lands, keep us ever under your mantle. Beekeeper, shepherd — mistress of milk and honey. Beginning of all things — hail, Brighid! Bright one, fiery arrow! Hail and welcome to this rite!

“It is Loafmass, and I invoke the Morrigan, dark power of the soil, queen of the forest, life itself and the bridge between worlds. Shapeshifter, witch, sorceress, magic using warrior. The Phantom, the breath of life in every spirit; the one who decides when life has had enough. The one who guards the doors. Sovereign of the blooded lands, protector of cattle, the one who gives us the power to reclaim what’s ours — middle of all things, Liminal One. Hail, Morrigan! Dark woods, blood-soaked soil! Hail and welcome to this rite!

“It is Loafmass, and I invoke Manannan, gentle power of the sea, father and uncle to all, shepherd to the dead, guardian to the afterlife. Loving ocean, the Deep One, frozen and cold in the depths of space — within you glitter stars, sparks life. Within your depths the dead sleep, waiting to awake again; within your arms they are kept safe and loved. Briny one, King with Crabs in His hair; lord of the rain and storms and mist; God the Father — the end of all things. Hail, Manannan! Deep one, sparkly depths! Hail and welcome to this rite!

“It is Loafmass, and I honor the Three — Smith, Phantom, Deep One. Birth, Life, Death. Sky, Land, Sea. Rulers of the three realms, connected by the Mother Tree that lives in our hearts. Hail to the Three! May our offerings please you; may we live in your light; may your blessings keep us as our sacrifice keeps you.

“I offer bread and berries and mead to you, Sacred Three! Bread for death, berries for blood, mead for birth.”

Share in the offering with the gods, putting some aside for Them, to be given to the spirits of decay later. Leave things you wish to be blessed on the altar, for the gods to touch them in the night. (In making this rite the parallel of Imbolc, I left a jar of water to be blessed by the gods, as well as my green kerchief.)

Sit and meditate on Loafmass and the gods for a few minutes. Maybe do some writing, or play their playlist. When you feel ready, end the rite.

“My thanks to you, sacred three, for coming to my rite, for your blessings upon my life. My thanks for life, for breath, for love. Though I end this rite now, I know you walk with me always, in my heart and my soul.

“My thanks to my ancestors of blood and spirit, and to the land spirits who have given my rite its context, and kept it grounded. Thank you for your blessings, for keeping the space sacred. Please accept my gratitude, until it is time to gather again.”

Extinguish the candles: “From hearth to heart, I extinguish the sacred fires; may they burn forever within us.” (Again, said 3 times.)

“Father Ocean, Uncle Sea, thank you for keeping your bounds, for keeping us safe; Forest Queen, Blooded Land, thank you for not swallowing me whole, for keeping us hale; Sun Mother, giving sky, thank you for not falling upon us, for giving us warmth and air and life.”

And the roots grew.
And the seeds travelled from a home we’ve forgotten, finding soil in our hearts.
And the roots grew.
From the earth to our souls, one Mother Tree to unite us all.
And when we rise Her branches hold us,
And when we tire Her trunk shelters us,
And when we die Her roots will carry us home.
Praise the trees.

Ring the bell again.

You may notice that I said the Mother Tree Prayer as part of the rite. I said I wanted to include it in my practices, and it feels very right for it to be part of it all.

During the meditation part I sat and listened to a couple of songs that I associate with Them, specifically the Morrigan and Manannan. I didn’t feel called to listen to a song for Brighid. I sat and thought about them, about my love for them, and wondered if I was on the right track. I felt lightheaded and full of fire; it was clear to me I am on the right track, and they are pleased.

In recent times they’ve gotten quieter in talking to me. I don’t know if it’s that they are speaking softer now, or if I can’t hear them as well because of my depression and my issues with feeling anything at all. But tonight I felt them clearly, even if not loudly. I was reaffirmed in my faith and my devotion, and that I am not just making it all up.

Now I am sitting and drinking some coffee to offset the effects of the mead, which had quite a kick (it was a wedding present to myself and Mr. Morag from a friend of ours who keeps bees). I am also eating more zucchini loaf, as much to ground as because it really is delicious. Dear gods. I made a good choice with this bread as my first one. (Recipe here!)

~

If you feel called to work with the Three as I have been, and if you find my writings and thoughts on them resonant to your own feelings and practice, you are free to take this rite and alter it to your needs and local climate. I realize that’s probably not very useful for this year if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, as Loafmass is kind of over (but belated ritual is better than no ritual at all!), so I’ll try to be better at getting my stuff up for Autumnal Equinox closer to the actual day.

Happy Loafmass. May your harvests be rich, your berries ripe and succulent, and your life blessed with abundance.

~Morag

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