Tristie and Izzy

Shattered slivers of the past –

a cup, a glass, a bowl, a soul;

artifacts to nourish and sustain,

though in their new and shattered form

they threaten only pain

in brilliant handfuls, a

twinkling death.

 

Still – so inviting, my remembered

jewels. Pieces of recovered time,

bright and small and so unjust,

with the best, most dragonlike of all

aimed to pierce my heart.

 

That favorite shard?

 

We two lie stretched

across a basement floor,

head to head, late at night,

a candle burning like a

sword between us.

 

Never had we touched before,

except in jest, or especially

in mock argument (with

touch its only point).

 

A milisecond kiss was how we launched,

a brush of tangled lips

amid the scented coils of the soot

from our extinguished light.

Though barely like a touch at all,

our kiss became forever,

and forever, and for us,

until I pushed you back,

and picked you up,

and led you to

a private, secret door.

 

Your eyes condemned my sense

of duty, and invited dereliction,

and thus were we both primed

and cocked for every fated unzipping.

 

With your skipping heart waiting

in your plundered mouth

for me to make demands,

and force myself upon you

and then into you in every way,

you stood with

soul upon soul

clamoring in your depths,

crying for commands,

and begging to surrender.

 

You stood just so,

and offered You to me…

 

In literal fact, about my once-beloved Cara, and the inception of our physical relationship. But in the world of symbols and tropes, this is about the negotiation that occurs between any two lovers, when they accept the possibility of love.

The title, "Tristie and Izzy", is of course a modernization of "Tristan and Iseult", which gives a bit of context for the affair as described – particularly the bit about the sword…

 

Delight

We’ll set them free – both our delights, this once,

this night – so you and I again might be;

and you, my brightest Queen of Senses – call

to all our dead, to every long ago,

and me – your wanderer among the lost.

 

I trust your flame as only candles trust –

as tunes to toss and dance upon. Just so,

invoke for me a blood-fermented thrall,

to feast bone deep upon my urgency,

and on the fate that frightens what it hunts.

 

 

Then, force me up against your iron will,

so sadness dies within my lamp of fate

and spites the measured ticks on every clock

(so sick we are, of knowing when in Time

our harmony has flowered, or has died).

 

This night, the raging, ringing, All subsides,

and time, though so much briefer than it seems,

still lets me be for your delight. Now – lock

your lips with mine, our hearts as light as light,

while doggerel and knowing throb and thrill.

 

Composed over the course of five days in bits and bobs in my 1988 pen-journal.

Typically, I write a full draft of a poem and then tinker with it, but this piece came in bite-sized pieces over the course of several days, and was then assembled – sort of bolted together, and once I got a bird’s-eye view of the consequences, I hammered it into coherence (or incoherence, according to some of my more critical readers) over the course of several years of edits.

Seems an odd way of going about writing a poem…

Four five-line stanzas of iambic pentameter. Rhyme scheme:

ABCDE

EDCBA

 

FGHIJ

JIHGF

 

Which ain’t half bad, and divides the poem very naturally into two ten-line sections.

Content-wise, this is a bit incoherent, still, for all I’ve tried to move it towards sense. Someone is urging their lover to focus, it seems. I know I can make this clearer and more musical…

 

Enter

deep in the digital cycle of our year

imbibing the binary dose

flipping switches

inserting disks

adjusting contrast

setting intensity

 

wishing for eight more hours in a day

eight more functions on every key

just eight bits more of data

just the sublest

sublest

shift in parity

 

until the night falls in on our logic

in an algorithm mapped across the function of

 

oh for the source code

 

Destiny

 

the keyboard collapses through the legs

fingers reach through the translucent self

 

to gently press the

 

Enter

 

key

and fall

according to ancient law

into their own

center of gravity

 

From my 1988 pen-journal, written as I rose out of a weeks-long session of code. Few things are more exhilarating than that sort of immersion, and this particular marathon had been particularly exalting. I ate, drank, and slept code, alone in a basement hovel of an apartment, skulking out once every few days to load up at the local deli, usually just before they closed at one in the morning, when I would see no one; isolation allowed me to stay inside the coding high.

I loved my life then, with the pure and simple love of an acolyte. Nothing made me happier than the new language I had discovered, and the new worlds that language opened – worlds I could build…

The "digital cycle" mentioned in the poem refers to the way in which I cycle through activities over the course of each (more or less) year. The usual cycle is coding, followed by writing, and finally a mixed graphical/musical phase.

These phases of activity aren’t immutable in their occurrence or order, but this is my general pattern, and I have been subject to this pattern for decades, now. The phases vary somewhat in length, with the average varying between 2-5 months. Usually the different phases occur during the same seasons – I almost always feel inclined toward coding in late Spring, for example, and it usually lasts until hints of Autumn are first beginning to appear.

The poem was written at the peak of a coding phase.

I’m an assiduous self-observer, and it hasn’t escaped me that the flow (code/writing/art) could be characterized as a flow along a spectrum from nearly pure intellect at the "coding" end of things, to nearly pure emotion when I phase into music and art, with my writing representing some sort of compromise in-between state.

This is probably significant in some way, but I couldn’t really say how.

Most interesting to me is the jump that seems to occur when I phase from music and art back into code. I would expect my phases to resemble a sine wave (code=>writing=>art/music=>writing=>code…), but in actuality the seem to follow a saw-tooth pattern: (code=>writing=>art/music=>code…). Which feels weird, but my data bears it out – somehow, I jump from wordless processes like music and art (which are very manual and emotion-oriented, directly into code, my most intellectual of pursuits.

I guess in a way it makes sense – a sort of reactionary shift – a spasm of sorts, or rubber-banding from the emotional investment of painting or music to the emotionally blank purity of bits and bytes…

 

Noah

it was our joy

and our honest appraisal of his divinity

that the nomad god could not tolerate

 

in the slick sand desert

of his mad mind

he built for us

revengeful consequences

and in them

all peoples are still trapped

and will so remain

for millennia to come

 

in the slick mad world

invented by the sick and angry god

my children’s families

now grind the dried bones

of what once were neighbors

to make our bread

I wake each dawn in mourning

hoping my Self is what died

 

as the waters withdrew

and revealed the sodden

waterlogged bodies

of those we once loved

the god

in rainbow celebration

stripped the thunder from the sky

 

in a secret somewhere in my thought

I hear my hopes and dreams

 

not so

not dead

only sleeping

possibly even

rousable

 

but they are gone

all the peoples of the world drowned

in the inflated estimations

and belated fury

of one so undeserving of our worship

that he slew a world of courage

 

slew until only cowards remained

to bow down at his feet

 

I am old

my life is winding away

exactly as do all

the tarnished bits of mechanism

that begin to fill this new and iron age

 

thoughts and heartbeats

lose their regularity

become distinctly less

recognizable

 

but still I deny that death kills love

 

I have seen

the too much floods

of imaginary grief

 

my spirit requires

that such be balanced

by real joy

 

defiant to the last I will remain

a last denying fuckyoufinger in the face

of the sick and wrenching old god

whose thoughts and heartbeats

assembled

 

for his own

hateful delectation

 

a world of pain

 

Originally from my 1988 pen-journal, although it has been extensively modified in the intervening years.

This is the story of how Noah really felt about his god and what his god demanded that he do.

 

Bug-filled And Robin-free

You were last seen

in comfortable clothes

(though too light for the weather),

walking west.

 

Your blazing horizon,

in its final report,

could not say

that it was me you loved,

and so? You left.

 

Out of my reckoning

(as always)

and as always too late,

I had been dreaming of

some callow dawn,

instead of you.

 

But while our bitter suns

rose and then fell, I loved you,

and of all who say the same,

I loved you best,

and loved you longest –

from the high grace of childhood

to my bent years, I have loved you.

 

From a treetop beech branch

barely able to manage my weight

(scarred with sap plugs

from my scrabbling ruthless

hands and feet),

I loved you bug-filled and robin-free.

 

While flailing through Winter

(and while my foolish bladed skates

searched for the edge beside

the darkest and most dangerous of waters),

I loved you full

of floes and flaws as light failed.

 

Now I love you

as one who holds my hand

and smiles when I hold back…

if only in my dreams.

 

All those years,

and now, a balance fills,

and ripples of reckoning

rill their way to flood-level tide:

though I have died, still I feel alive,

and still,

we both can love.

 

From my 1988 pen-journal. I have orbited many suns in my half-dozen decades of living, and this is sort of about all that.

There’s a variant version of this poem that works well with an acoustic guitar accompaniment:

Bug Filled And Robin Free

 

Bug Filled was last seen

in comfortable clothes

(though too light for the weather),

walking west.

 

Her blazing horizon,

in its final report,

could not say

that it was Robin Free she loved,

and so? She left.

 

Out of his reckoning

(as always)

and as always too late,

Robin Free had been dreaming of

some callow dawn,

instead of her.

 

But while their bitter suns

rose and then fell, he loved her,

and of all who say the same,

he loved her best,

and loved her longest –

from the high grace of childhood

to his bent years, he loved her.

 

From a treetop beech branch

barely able to manage his weight

(scarred with sap plugs

from his scrabbling ruthless

hands and feet),

he loved her bug-filled and robin-free.

 

While flailing through Winter

(and while his foolish bladed skates

searched for the edge beside

the darkest and most dangerous of waters),

he loved her full

of floes and flaws as light failed.

 

Now he loves her

as one who holds his hand

and smiles when he holds back…

if only in his dreams.

 

All those years,

and now, a balance fills,

and ripples of reckoning

rill their way to flood-level tide:

though they have died, still they feel alive,

and still,

they both can love.

 

It isn’t often that I’m this indecisive about the direction a poem should take, but I’m pleased with both of these versions, and I suspect that (if given enough years for both version to mature) they’ll scatter in two entirely different directions. I feel many future adventures are possible for Bug Filled and Robin Free.

 

The Golden Fleece 10 – True North

Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to understand what’s going on here.

 

It isn’t easy getting from the valley freeway entrance where I jumped out of Jason’s car to Venice without being seen. But that was what I somehow had to do. I knew if I hailed even a single cab I would leave myself open to discovery, and I couldn’t afford that.

But I had to get down to the beach. The only thing I could think to do, given my predicament, was get to Leeza.

Why Leeza? Because she and I were similarly placed. Someone just smoked her friend Packy, and anyone who had a problem with Packy was gonna have a problem with Leeza – the two of them were that close. So someone would be hunting for Leeza, just like someone was hunting for me. Plus, Leeza had just lost her bestie, and she’d be crippled by that. She’d need someone’s help – just like I needed her help.

So Leeza was the choice.

I’d known her since she showed up at the theater. She never told me how she’d heard of the place; she never explained why she was there. She showed up one day, introduced herself, said she was there to help. Didn’t need money, just wanted to be part of the scene. Made herself indispensable, and we became as much friends as two people can be without ever becoming lovers, and being almost twenty years apart in age. My antique ways amused her, and I pretended indifference to her teenage body and bewilderment at her enthusiasms, and the two of us worked very well together.

She’d first showed up when she was in high school, and she’d stuck for five years, and was still with us. She’d begun to shape some policy and aesthetics after a time. Everyone trusted her judgment when it came to money or personnel; her performance choices were less universally admired but they were always interesting, frequently arresting, sometimes disturbing.

Leeza could help.

If she was there. It had occurred to me right away that she might be on the bum herself; if so, where would she go? Packy’s mum’s place in the canyons? Maybe… but no – she wouldn’t want to draw the danger that was chasing her into Lady Sunray’s orbit. Packy’s mother and trouble were sometimes magnetically attracted to one another, and Leeza would do everything she could to keep Lady ‘Ray out of her current trouble. Oh, she might stop there, quickly, in order to warn her. But she wouldn’t stay.

So where would she go?

Where the hell else? I said to myself, as the obvious occurred to me. Leeza would go to the theater. It would be a semi-safe shelter for her.

And then with a blinding flash of insight, I understood Leeza’s devotion to our little summer theater: it was her priest’s-hole. I ran the past few years over in my mind: her involvement with the theater was unpaid volunteer work, so no tax records, only the very best of her "real-life" friends knew she hung there, she used a stage name for everything she did there, and none of her "performance-life" friends had ever been welcomed into her non-theater reality. She had kept her involvement private, almost secret, hermetically sealed one life from the other.

Of course she would run to the theater.

So my plans changed, when I figured this out. I didn’t need to get to the beach. I needed to get to the theatre.

 

The theater was far enough outside of LA to make it feel like an adventure to go there, but close enough that it could still pull a good audience. It was situated on a dozen rolling acres of coast highland and looked like something picked up in the hill country of west Pennsylvania and dropped on our hidden hilltop.

We were starting to acquire a pretty good reputation among a certain class of narrow gauge performer: locally popular musicians liked our venue and our rates and our ambiance, as did the occasional book signing party, the seasonal lecture by a recently published quantum physics popularizer, maybe a self-help seminar or two every year; that was the sort of event we were good with, and that was the bread and butter of our business.

That bread and butter was maybe a little on the boring side, but it gave us the wherewithal (and of course, the performance space) to host other, and often more interesting events.

It was a wonderful place. It was mortgaged to the last aching penny, but was worth all the hassle it brought us. It was the heart-space of our art, for almost all of us.

 

It took me a couple days to get there. I didn’t end up walking very much of it, but it felt like I did. I cadged rides mostly at construction sites. There were always a few pickup trucks full of laborers at closing time on most construction sites. I could usually buy a ride. It wasn’t too long before I was out of town to the north, but that was where I had to get very, very careful. There was no cover out there. No option for mimicry or camouflage, and it was very possible Zeetz would have a few of his guys prowling the pavement out of LA. I had to move mostly by night, out there. That was when I did most of my walking.

I was pretty sure it was safe for me to go there. People knew I was involved, but not really how involved. Jason thought I hung out there to nail teenagers, and I didn’t try to change this idea of his. It was unlikely he could rat my location to anyone. He would though, I was sure. If he thought of it. So that was a worry, true, but I was pretty sure he’d never think of it.

The place was dark when I got there. Dark as it ever got, anyway. A number of staff people bunked there, so it was never truly empty, but I arrived in the chill pre-dawn dead of night, so it was quiet and dim. Even the boisterous crowd that called it home managed a few hours of sleep in every twenty four; at least most of them did.

I sat on the hill above the barn and watched the dawn arrive, got shivery and dew-bedecked as the sun made its presence known and the wind came piling in from the direction opposite the light, from the invisible Pacific Ocean. You could smell it in the air, but the old farmhouse and barn weren’t in the coastal zone – just outside it, but it made the property values an order of magnitude lower, which was the only reason we were able to acquire it.

Once the sky was light I went back and tiptoed in, not wanting anyone to know I was there. Loose lips, even the friendliest and most trusted lips, can still sink ships. But not if they don’t have anything important to say.

I knew which room Leeza kept for herself – a small garret on the attic floor, slope roofed, moody and atmospheric. Over the years, she’d molded the space to fit her eccentric personality. I liked it there.

I gave a soft knock and then tried the knob. It was locked.

"Who?" She said, not sounding the least bit asleep. I thought maybe I heard the quiet snap of a gun’s safety, too.

"Bee," I said. After a moment, the bolt retracted. I slipped in, and closed and locked the door behind me. "Who knows you’re here?" I asked.

"Costas. Now you."

"Keep it that way," I said. I moved to her small window and peered cautiously out and down. "Anyone funny been here?"

"Not yet. But they’ll probably figure this place sooner or later. My being here got a definite sell-by date stamped on it."

"You know who did Packy?"

"I got some ideas, but nothing I could take to the bank."

"Gotta start somewhere, right?"

"Right. Look – I know why I’m hiding, but why are you doing the James Bond imitation?"

"I got someone after me, too."

"Huh. Is is just coincidence, our two mortal dangers?"

I sure as hell hope so." I looked at her. "I guess whoever did Packy is looking pretty hard for you, yeah?"

"Could be." She shrugged. "Probably."

"Life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it."

"Uh-huh. You been thinking maybe we could help each other out?"

"Something like that, yeah."

"You may be right. Who’s after you?"

"You know Zeetz? Medium-scale bad actor, rattlesnake personality, doting grandfather?"

"By reputation. Saw him in the news a few times. One of those guys who never quite gets convicted."

"I insulted him. He’s kind of old-fashioned about that sort of thing."

"Old-fashioned in an organized-crime-boss sort of way, you mean?"

"More or less, yeah."

"How’d that happen? Not the old-fashioned thing, but you insulting him."

"There was this new friend of mine, from Israel, and I was showing her around town and we ended up in this bar; place had a ‘social director’ -"

"Say no more."

"Somehow, I did a stand-up routine in the bar about -"

"Please say no more."

"I did a comedy routine about my friend, the vengeful Greek mobster."

"I’m praying you were drunk."

"I was."

"Good. Otherwise I’d have to shoot you for your own safety. Do Israeli girls always have this effect on you?"

"A lot, yeah."

"You might want to give that some thought."

"I have, believe me."

"I’ll bet."

We were quiet for a while.

"When did you last sleep?" She asked me.

"Ten hours ago, maybe? I slept the day in a chaparral covey maybe ten miles down the highway, woke in the evening, walked here."

"Well I haven’t slept in maybe thirty hours. You wanna keep watch for me while I catch some shut-eye?"

"Sure. That’s great – I feel useful already. Go ahead."

"Then we’ll talk."

"About how we’re going to handle our respective problems, yeah?"

"Yeah. You armed?"

"No."

"Heater in the vanity drawer on the left. An old nine-shot nine. Weird one-sided safety."

"Thanks."

"’Nite."

I sat by the window after that, as the light grew stronger and my stomach began to rumble. I hadn’t had much fodder in the past few days and I thought with longing of the kitchen on the first floor, but there was no way I was walking out into that thickly populated house until I had to. I’d already made one risky bathroom run, down to the second floor and back. I sure as hell wasn’t going to the kitchen at breakfast – word of where I was staying would be out in no time.

So I sat, and rumbled, and watched the intense and beautiful and threatened Leeza sleep, and watched out the window, and listened to the noises of the house as the day began in earnest. Most everyone went off to the barn for some rehearsal or other but I wasn’t tempted to try my luck. I knew the place. There would always be someone in the kitchen, as long as there was someone awake – it was the center of all activity in the place. Plus the costume designer had his sewing room on the first floor of the house, and the company restrooms were on the same floor as the kitchen.

Not a chance I could escape detection if I walked out there during the day.

I checked out Leeza’s nine milly, in case I had need of it, and then put it back in the vanity. I watched the world out the window and pondered my stocking’d feet and itched for a shower and caught myself dozing a couple times but I didn’t really have much trouble staying awake.

Leeza came to in late afternoon, stretching and purring and groaning.

"How you doing?" She asked, eying me through her disheveled hair.

"I was thinking about eating one of your shoes."

"I think we can do better than that," she said.

"We shouldn’t let anyone see us if we can avoid it," I said.

"Duh."

"I’m just saying you may want to limit your trips to the kitchen."

"Food is sometimes found outside the kitchen," she said, dipping into the capacious duffel I now noticed alongside the bed. She flipped me a package of trail mix and a pint bottle of water.

"Got an equally felicitous solution to the restroom problem?" I asked, as I tore the little bag of gorp open.

"Why do you sometimes talk like Shakespeare is your close personal friend?" She asked.

"I dunno." I munched.

"Anything alarming happen while I was unconscious?"

"Sure – Patty and Ava doing tai chi in the front driveway."

She laughed. "But nothing unusual?"

"No. Mostly I thought about food and showers and looked out the window."

"Got anything like a plan?" She asked.

"Maybe," I said. "You?"

"I got to figure who killed Packy. Then I kill them. Not sure what to do after that."

"Good plan," I said. "I thought I might try and kill Zeetz, but it’s hard to do, and the upside is not a sure thing even if I could do it. Probably his boys would keep coming."

"More trouble than it’s worth," she agreed.

"I could do all Zeetz’s guys, if I got lucky, but by the time the dust settled I’d be ahead of Dillinger on points. I’d be a frikkin serial killer."

"Or dead."

"Yeah – or dead."

"Not very good odds there."

"Nope. Plus Theseus would miss his gramps."

"That’s something to consider." She grabbed her own bag of gorp and began eating.

"You could run," she suggested. "Running is always an attractive option for someone in your situation."

"Kind of, yeah. But it has significant downsides too."

"You could pay him off."

"Not this guy."

"You could lie."

"Nope – I was seen. He’s even heard a recording, I was told."

"You could beg."

"Yeah, I thought of that too. That might work. But man, would that would be risky. I’d be walking into a dragon’s den with no guarantee of ever coming back out."

"So what the hell you gonna do?"

"I was sort of hoping you might have some ideas."

"For fuck’s sake, man."

"I know. Believe me, I know."

 

The Full Green Corn Moon

Perfect weather, winds like wine, a glowing dusk, filled with a moon divine…

Night Of Dream And Light

 

My goddess moon, my perfect lovely light

who sails to the edge of every mind;

my night companion of the second sight,

my glowing legend of a monstrous kind:

 

we all are relics of a laden Was,

entangled in the gluey skeins of Now;

we all are dreaming of unlikely Whens

(as you still wait on Jumping-Over Cows).

 

And where I see some thing beneath my bed,

imagining a Screaming Faceless Face,

you riffle through The Book Of Alhazred

and teach me words to grant me every grace.

 

My perfect mate of everlasting night,

a sun so bright will be your trusted friend –

he’ll harry every prowler from your gate.

and raise the tune on which you most depend,

 

while to me sing you tales of the clouds,

and sing me songs of rain and wind and snow,

and laugh beyond the thunder in the shrouds

I wear, and tell me of the colored bows

 

that arc across the daylit sky as rain

withdraws, and of the dances that evolve

beneath the cloaking mists upon the plains,

as age on age beneath the sun revolves.

 

My darling moon (who comes when duty calls

from Now until the when of every End),

regale we specters, lying where we fall,

and teach us what it is to have a friend…

 

 

Party

Verse 1:

C

People everywhere I think a Party is all we

G

need. It's your

F

solution to all the hate and bigotry and

C

greed. We don't

G

need to sort it out – all we

F

need is to jump and shout. I think a

C               G

party is all we need – it's all we

C         G

need. . . . . .

 

Verse 2:

C

Everyone comes to a Party, as we all

G

know. There's one

F

thing you have to do – you have to

C

show. At a

G

Party, we all get fed; there's a

F

roof above our head; I think a

C               G

party is all we need – it's all we

C         G

need. . . . . .

 

Verse 3:

Everyone is at their best,

when a Party is on. . .

It's "Pleased to meetchoo Babe!"

n we pass it on.

At a Party, we share our drinks,

we share the food and what we think.

I think a party is all we need –

it's all we need.

 

Verse 4:

Anybody runnin' a tab,

consider it called;

or the world gonna eat shit n die,

before we're old.

If everybody dig,

then no problem be too big.

I think a party is all we need –

it's all we need.

 

This thing sure could use a chorus. I’m not any too sure about that last verse either – there must be a better way to say what it’s saying…

It would be nice to fix up that last verse or just drop it and repeat the 1st…

 

My Bowl Of Science

garments dropped

like wreckage of a hurricane

in a wandering path

foyer floor to bedroom door

a night of storms

and careless joy

from which I wake

a tidal dolphin’s nap later

from forty winks to thirst

 

cold before dawn water

in a steel bowl

listen

my lover murmurs in her dream

as might an ocean

sucking with an outgoing tide

at a stoney beach

 

the delight of liquid

drinking

heat clinging to my body in a cool dark

to skin slippery with sweat

as the drunk silk tranquilizes

the hop and skip of the blood

 

hand

tipping the perfectly

steel perfectly

round perfectly

rings perfectly like a bell

bowl

of remarkable science

to my lips

 

From my 1988 pen-journal.

I was drinking chilled distilled water from a small stainless steel mixing bowl while standing naked in the dark beside my kitchen sink. I had risen from my then-partner’s side, that debauched pre-dawn, restless and excited and thirsty.

What I noticed, as I drank, was the utter impossibility of the bowl. It’s perfection, and its very human unnaturalness, struck me with great force and clarity. There is nothing like stainless steel in nature. That bowl was a technological miracle made possible by hundreds of years of cultural curation – and it was as commonplace as all the other toys that typically surround a person with my cultural origins: light or dark at whim, warmth and chill at command, clean clothing, knowledge at one’s fingertips, endless amusements, bountiful food and drink, companions at will…

In what way is this not a paradise? This world is an enchanted fairytale of a place.

And yet, we dismiss it. We are bored with it…

 

Lughnasadh 2017

General Notes

Lughnasadh is celebrated on 1 August and honors the early harvests. It is one of the four cross-quarter festivals of the Neopagan calendar (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain) and the first of three harvest-related festivals (Lughnasadh, Mabon, and Samhain).

Lughnasadh is a cross-quarter day, midway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. This puts it halfway through the constellation Leo (in the northern hemisphere). As a sabbat it is preceded by Litha and followed by Mabon.

The cross-quarter sabbats (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa, and Samhain) are all associated with divination – the veil between the worlds is believed to be at its thinnest at these times, as the balance of energies between Solstice and Equinox is thought to have a significant effect on such boundaries.

Lughnasadh is one of the eight sabbats or solar festivals in the Wheel of the Year. Neopagans also sometimes refer to this holiday as Lammas, a name based on an Anglo-Saxon Xtian holiday occurring at roughly the same time of year, though really, Lammas and Lughnasadh are only as closely related as any two random harvest festivals might be – both are feasts of thanksgiving centered on bread (and the grain that is the source of bread) and other first fruits of the harvest.

A festival corresponding to Lughnasadh may have been observed by the Gauls at least up to the 1st century CE (see Coligny calendar); the same date was later adopted for the meeting of all the representatives of Gaul at the Condate Altar in Gallo-Roman times.

The first of August is the national holiday of Switzerland, ancient homeland of the Iron Age Helvetii; the traditional Lughnasadh bonfires might trace to this ancient Celtic tradition.

Etymology

Also spelled Lughnasa; modern Irish Lúnasa; Modern Scots Gaelic, Lunasdal.

Lughnasadh means "Lugh’s assembly". Lammas (an Xtianized name for the holiday) is derived from the Anglo-Saxon hlafmæsse "loaf-mass".

Mythology

Lughnasadh is dedicated to Lugh, the Sun God of Celtic mythology. It commemorates his sacrifice and death in a manner similar to many other Corn Gods. The cycle of death, nurturing, and rebirth resembles that found in many Sun God traditions.

As Máire MacNeill tells it, the rituals of Lughnasadh represent a battle over the harvest. One god – often called Crom Dubh (possibly a later version of the Dagda) has grown the crops and guards them. Lugh (the other god) seizes it for humankind. Sometimes the harvest is symbolized by Eithne, the daughter of Balor (and mother to Lugh).

Winning his battle to possess the harvest, Lugh then defeats a harvest blight. MacNeill notes these themes appear in early Irish mythology in the tale of Lugh and his grandfather Balor, who represents blight. Other scholars point to similarities between the Balor-Eithne-Lugh story and many similar stories in many cultures, of monstrous gods defeated by heroic grandsons.

Traditions

Lughnasadh, the time of early harvest, is a time of thanksgiving, but also a time of sacrifice, e.g., the first slaughters of livestock in preparation for Winter. These animal slaughters may have been marked with a ritual human death as well, though human sacrifice rituals are more inferred than documented.

Some Neopagans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the God in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it.

Fire divination (scrying), and the casting of protection and security spells for strength in coming Winter months are additional (again largely inferred and traditional) features of Lughnasadh celebrations. Events of this sort fit well within what we surmise of the constellation of symbolism and tradition that surrounds first harvests the world over.

Lughnasadh festivals last from 15 July until 15 August. Aside from religious rituals, the celebrations are a time for contests of strength and skill. Some Irish continue to celebrate the holiday with fires and dancing.