Look past the machines: Lughnasadh 2021

Standing on a hill, I overlook the ancient fields of my ancestors. Barley is being cut by scythe as the village gathers together to celebrate the harvest. This is the season of the harvest, a celebration that life leads to death as death leads to life again. An old witch tends her garden, her hands in the soil, asking permission of her herbs to give their leaves for an ancient spell. A group is making its way through an orchard, plucking the ripe apples from the trees. I see some have fallen to the ground, their seeds to be swallowed by the earth to sprout into new trees, to bear fruit again as the seasons past. The cycle of death and rebirth that sustained my ancestors long ago is seen in all directions.

I watch as the the seasons pass, as the wheel turns through years, decades, centuries. Now I find myself overlooking vast uniform fields lying in a grid, like agricultural graph paper. On this soil, I see harvesters rolling over grain fields and cropdusters raining pesticides from the sky. The noise, the dust, the machinery obscures my view. Looking to my right, plastic bags of uniform, sliced bread appear on metal shelves. I don’t see the cycle of life. All I see are check-out stands. Where is the mystery?

I turn and find myself overlooking the harvesters once more. Beside me an antlered figure silently watches. “Where is the mystery?” I ask. He replies in a calm, measured voice. “Look past the machines. It is there John Barleycorn is dying to give you life. Look into the dirt, into the overworked fields. In this soil, he remains.” “But I am so removed. How can I connect?” “Look past the machines. The Earth Mother is there. Look under your shoes. She is there. Touch her, skin to skin, child to mother. Feel the energy, the unspoken bond. It has always been there.” As he speaks, I look down at my hands. I am in my garden, placing seeds into the ground, moist dirt under my fingernails. I feel it. The transformation of death into life, of detritus into loam, death and creation in the depths, in the cauldron of the Earth Mother. Is this not Awen? It was there all along, whizzing by me as I drove to work, under the soles of my shoes, deep under concrete.

“Look past the machines.” I turn to him in disbelief that he is actually there. I have felt his antlered presence in the forest. Was this my imagination? Was that wishful thinking? He shouldn’t be there. Am I going crazy? “And what of the gods” I ask? “Look past the what you can test and see in a lab. Look past what you can analyze. We are here. We were always here. You merely need to look into the otherworld and listen. We will come to you. Just listen. Listen. Listen.” I feel a profound sense of relief and peace. “Your ancestors connected with the land, as they connected with their gods; connecting with the gods, they connected with the land. Learn from them. Feel them. They are in you. Your forebears lost sight of them over the years. You are here now and so are we. Honor the land. It is the first step of healing. Honor the land. Feel. Notice. Look past the machines. Listen.” I watch as the antlered figure fades from view. The light of a candle burns on my altar, carpet under my feet. I stand, turn and walk through the gateway from the otherworld.

As I write these words, I look to the river and see an otter running upstream. Were I binge-watching TV, I would not see the otter make its way past. Yet it would be there, just the same. I sit at the bank, looking at the river bottom. I see through the clear water, crawfish hiding under rocks next to a group of clams, their small white tongues peaking through rock-colored shells. I realize the time I have spent on my smartphone vastly outweighs the time I have spent by the river, connecting with the land, breathing in the energy of the sky. They have always been there. All I have to do is look past my default activities and notice.

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