In the pagan calendar, Lammas, or Lughnasagh, marks the start of the harvest season, which includes the Autumn Equinox in September and the final reaping, honoured at Samhain, or All Hallows Eve. Surprisingly, and despite being a harvesting festival, Lammas is more about new beginnings than endings.
In all light there is dark and in all dark there is light. Endings are also of course beginnings, and beginnings are endings.
In the Spring, the newness and growth that we celebrate there, finds its companion in a different kind of beginning celebrated at Lammas. In Spring, the Equinox is a point of balance before the growth and fire of Summer, in Autumn, the Equinox is a point of balance before the descent into the ice and stillness of Winter. Before both of these equinoxes is an opportunity to begin something new, to take a new path.
In Autumn, be that a metaphorical or seasonal one, the opportunity for starting something new comes with the experience and knowledge of Summer informing it. Spring newness is open, innocent, enthusiastic, Autumn newness is tinged with experience and with the foreknowledge of coming Winter. To my mind, this Autumn newness is the more heroic of the two.
To “start again,” is for me a term loaded with implications; it is brave and perhaps weary, it is full of hope, or determination, it implies an acceptance of effort. To begin something new at Lammas is to begin something in the full knowledge of possible failure, or to start again despite past failures. It is the bravest point of the year. You might imagine that Winter is the hardest season and state of being to overcome, but this is not so. The call to hope, the effort to start anew that we might experience in our Autumns demands the greatest courage.
This metaphorical Autumn that I am talking about can have many forms. Maybe it is the Autumn of your age and you decide to start an exercise regime despite your slightly battered, stiff and sore, middle-aged body. Maybe it is the Autumn of a project, the time when you need to courageously evaluate it and try to find new direction for your work. Perhaps it is an Autumn of your career, where you decide to bravely leave old successes and commit to finding the energy to start a new path. Perhaps it is merely the Autumn of the garden and the time when the gardener needs to envisage new growth, cutting, pruning, dividing plants and planting bulbs with hope for a good Spring.
In some ways, I think artists spend a great deal of their time at a Lammas point, or at least, we maybe work best when we allow ourselves to embrace a Lammas sensibility. The most dangerous place for an artist to find themselves is in the enervating heat of Summer success. Sure, success is a wonderful thing to have (I imagine, not having basked in its glories myself) and it should be enjoyed for every minute that it lasts. But the danger of success, of the languid warmth of Summer, is that that we want to stay there and that we want to stay there even after it has gone.
To embrace the call to newness, to starting again at Lammas is courageous and wonderful. Remember, evaluate and learn from your successes, the work you love, the work you do well and then begin something new. Have that courage, trust the creative spirit that you are tapped into, because it is a well that never runs dry. It has its seasons, it’s floods and droughts, but it is eternal and everlasting and you as an artist are part of it. When it’s abundance seems to flow away, when your successes are behind you, when the Summer goes and Autumn comes have the courage to begin, to start something new.
I recommend the following small ritual to help yourself move into the future:
You will need a bottle of pale ale, cider or glass of mead, a small but much liked artwork of your own making, an outdoor space where you are alone and can see the horizon, a clear, mostly cloudless evening in August or September, a box of matches/ Stanley knife or hammer.
Facing the West, uncork your bottle, lift your glass and toast the setting sun. It is your past success. Watch it’s beautiful, golden, radiant light slip away over the horizon. Watch until the last gleam of it has slipped into the horizon, then take your small but much liked artwork and burn it, smash it or otherwise destroy it saying;
“I sacrifice you to the power of creativity, that endless flowing river to which I entrust myself and my purpose and which will always fill me up, even when it seems not to”
Then turn to the East, which may appear grey and drear and shout;
“Here is to the dawn, to new things and to the courage to start again!” drink down the rest of your ale/cider/mead.
Clear up your mess, go and find some friends and spend the rest of the evening celebrating, preferably with more ale/cider/mead.