Celebrating the Cross-Quarter Day of Summer Thermstice (Lúnasa) in America is different from in the Old Countries. There is a lack of continuity in tradition for it; unlike the Halloween and May Day traditions that held on throughout those ancestors’ New World immigrations. Yet, there remains a seasonal event to commemorate.
Here, corn (maize) is the prominent grain. Though the harvest start times can vary widely in this country, there is a corn harvest starting around mid-August for Arkansas and Oklahoma. Around the first weekend in August, there is a grape festival held in Tontitown Arkansas. So we see those same themes of first fruit and grain, but in quite a different context.
We have many traditions surrounding corn. Cornmeal is a traditional land spirit offering here, and it’s used many different ways in our breads, often combined with wheat flour. It is also used as the base ingredient in herbal powders used for magic. In Appalachia, fodder of corn stalks is placed about the home as a magical charm to ensure the family always has food. Red corn necklaces are made to help with fevers and bleeding. Dried corn cobs are attached above the doorway to the house, so that haints, or evil spirits, have to count each hole in the cob before entering. In the Ozarks, dried corn cobs are used in a similar way to feather and egg sweeping traditions; it is rubbed over the body then burned to destroy sickness. When you talk about “corn dollies” here, people’s first thought is of corn husk dolls, not the grain dollies of Europe. Cornsilk is prized for its many herbal and magical uses as well, as it is used much like Irish moss in prosperity spells, and as hair for poppet dolls.
Mid-august is also when pawpaws are beginning to ripen, though this sacred food may not be fully ready until the next harvest holiday. This is also the time to see if the incredibly delicious muscadine grapes are ready for harvest.
The days here in August are the hottest, as we’re in the middle of the dog days of summer. It’s much hotter here than in the countries our ancestors came from. Many Southern Pagans celebrate this holiday with an emphasis on water, for without it, an outdoor gathering would be unbearable in our August heat. Yet this is in keeping with some of the lesser known Lúnasa traditions which symbolized a quenching of the now oppressive sun.
Looking to the realm of folklore, we have our Summer Thermstice theme there as well. The Appalachian story “Old Fire Dragaman” has some parallels with Lúgh’s story: there is the symbolism of securing the land against (a Fomorian-like) force of nature, to claim the land itself, and to secure a harvest. Jack is like Lúgh in many ways. He is small and crafty; a triumphant underdog figure. Jack may not be as bold as Lúgh, but he is sneakily clever. Unlike Lúgh, Jack returns to ordinary life after every adventure.
Following the symbolism of the story of Whitebear Whittington as a cyclical seasonal narrative, we find ourselves at the point in the story where Whitebear and his wife have three children. These three children can be seen as symbolic of the three harvests of the year.
Also, in the latter part of the story of Ashpet, she is held prisoner by a Wild Man figure, who may represent a chaotic or Fomorian element of Nature, threatening to take back sovereignty. Like the goddess Bloddewydd, she learns her captor’s weaknesses, and relays them to her rescuer so that she may rejoin her true love. But unlike Bloddewydd, Ashpet then returns to civilization and resumes her happy ending.
(Note: I include a lot of Appalachian lore in my Ozark Paganism because they are linked, often overlapping, and can inform and fill in the gaps for a more fleshed out tradition. We are, after all, a part of “Greater Appalachia”.)
So what might an Ozark Summer Thermstice look like? A trip to a harvest festival such as the Tontitown Grape Festival, or a “pick your own” berry farm (if not from your own garden), or maybe a trip to a favorite swimming hole may be just the thing. It’s a time to enjoy regional foods of the season; like cornbread casserole, Arkansas tomatoes, and for dessert- Ozark berry cobbler or gooseberry pie. It may also be a time for corn magic, and for ritual, one of the aforementioned tales could be played out, and/or the themes displayed in arts & crafts or altars of the day.
Bonus: a playlist!
•Dawn Chorus by Maiden Radio
•Rise Sun by The Infamous Stringdusters
•Summertime by Billy Strings
•Ozark Summer by Jed Melton Band
•Snakes and Waterfalls by Nick Shoulders
•Sweet Sunny South by Maiden Radio
•Mighty River by Railroad Earth
•Meet Me at the Creek by Billy Strings
•There Is a Time by Whiskey Shivers
•Thunderbolt’s Goodnight by Josh Ritter