“They’ve hired a man with a knife so sharp
For to cut him through the knees
And they’ve pitched Barleycorn
and tied him down with thorn
And served him barbarously”
Our senses want to run immediately to the pain of the situation and say, “Why does there even need to be a loss?” We hear this deeply in the Gaia Consort song “The Scythe”:
“In some flinch of your shoulder,
some look in your eye
I see the fear of disorder,
the fear of the scythe – comin’ down”
When we experience deep loss, we might even feel the rage along with our Goddess, as in the myth, The Descent if Innana. She ventures into the Underworld to challenge Death directly, demanding of him, “Why do you cause everything I love to die?” I’d like to think that, at that moment, she might have felt as grouchy as I can.
Death replies that Old Fate, one of the gods of traditional witchcraft, is out of even his jurisdiction. He gently reminds her that he does bring comfort and peace through reunion after death.
Lammas is a ritual crystallization of that very moment of questioning. As in all things, we want to place a value on our experiences, calling one experience good, and another evil. In the story of Caw! Or, That Poor Bastard, we see how events are not so simple as we might think they are.
Once upon a time, a kindly witch had an apprentice, whom she loved like a son. One day, he dropped her cauldron on his foot, and broke it. And, her Raven friend in the tree said, “Caw!” Which is Raven for, “That sorry bastard. Bad karma!” And, the witch said, “Maybe yes, maybe no. We will wait and see.”
Finally, his foot healed, but left him with a limp. Time passed, and war broke out. Every man in the village was drafted, except the apprentice, because his injury excluded him. And, opinionated Raven on her rooftop said, “Caw!” Which is Raven for, “That lucky bastard! The gods are looking out for him.” And, the witch said, “Maybe yes, maybe no. We will wait and see.”
In the meantime, the apprentice wanted to marry. Being gay, he had no boyfriends to choose from. And, the noisy Raven on her shoulder commented, “Caw!” Which is Raven for, “That sorry bastard. Bad karma!” And, the witch said, “Maybe yes, maybe no. We will wait and see.”
Time passed, and all wars end. But, when sickness comes, it takes a wise healer to defeat it. The apprentice had learned well from his teacher, and he stewed that obnoxious raven with healing herbs, and saved everyone. And he said, “Ha!” Which is human for, “That poor bastard.” (Humorously retold by L. Barshana Kyraphia)
And so we can that only in the fullness of time can we truly see fortune as good or illl… and sometimes, not even then.
The scythe is merciful. It removes the things that distract us, lock us into place, and leave us feeling stranded, far away from even our own feelings. As witches, we can use the Lammas energy to ritually cull those overgrown bits that induce separation, or to harvest the completed work we have so carefully tended. Finally, Lammas is the invocation of rest, the first time in the Wheel of the Year where we can catch our breath and relax. The scythe can cull, can harvest, or can set aside, but in all cases, the scythe is the mercy of the Goddess.