The Talking Forest Runes

Summer's First Harvest

Fieldnotes for August September 2023

by Kay Broome

Hostpapa web photo - Summer Sun

The observance of Lammas, held on August 1st, is the first of two annual harvest festivals held in late summer. The word Lammas comes from the Old English meaning “loaf mass” and relates to the custom of worshippers bringing loaves of bread to church to be blessed in honour of the first of summer’s yield. But as is generally the case with most Christian holidays, Lammas was originally a pagan celebration. Perhaps the rite originated in Europe’s earliest farming communities. In any event, among the Gaelic Celts of Ireland and Scotland, the first of August was celebrated as Lughnasadh or Lugh’s festival.

Lugh the Light of Summer Bright

Lugh Corn Dolly (Wikimedia Commons)
Lugh Corn Dolly (created by Mountainash333; photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This Gaelic solar god had counterparts on the mainland of Europe: Lugus among the Gaulish tribes of France, and in Wales, he was known as Lleu Llaw Gyffes. All these names allude to light and brilliance, as well as to the taking of oaths. In the Irish myths, Lugh had many titles, most notably Lámfahda “of the long arm”, referring to his prodigious skills in battle. Lugh’s weapons included a fiery, flaming sword; a mighty yew spear which, when thrown, never failed to return to him; and a sling which always found its mark. The name Samildánach, “he of many talents”, alludes to Lugh’s various skills, among them smithcraft, sorcery, warrior, poet, and harpist.

Lugh was the grandson of Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha De Danaan, who were the major gods of the Celts. The Tuatha were somewhat analogous to the Greek Olympians or the Norse Aesir.  Lugh’s mother Ethniu, oddly enough, was the daughter of Balor, leader of the Fomori, an earlier race of fearsome and monstrous gods of the underworld and the ocean.  These were much like the Greek Titans or the giants of Norse mythology and they were constantly at war with the Tuatha.  Balor was said to have one evil eye that killed any who looked upon it.  During the Battle of Magh Tuireadh, Lugh put out Balor’s eye and later slew him.  This particular myth perhaps refers to the overthrow of an earlier culture’s pantheon by the conquering Celts, similar to the usurpation of the Titans by the Greek Olympians.

Lugus (ancient altar stone), Wikipedia
Statue of "Mercury of Soissons", believed to be Lugus, (Altar Stone, France)

The Tale of the Sons of Tuireann

Lugh is a god of contrasts.  In the myths, he is frequently portrayed as having a strong sense of honour and great courage, but he is also cunning, somewhat of a trickster and merciless in his revenge.  Nowhere do we see this more than in the tale of The Sons of Tuireann, three brothers who murdered Lugh’s father Cian. When Lugh learned of this, he confronted them at a feast given in his honour. In order to avoid a sentence of death, the brothers agreed to carry out seven seemingly easy tasks.  These, however turned out to be nearly impossible to fulfill.  The brothers had to obtain the following: three golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides; a magical healing pig skin belonging to the King of Greece; the conquering spear of the King of Persia; two horses and a chariot capable of running over both land and sea, belonging to the King of Sicily; seven pigs of the King of the Golden Pillars which, when killed and eaten, came alive and whole the next morning; a hound belonging to the King of Iorroway, which was able to capture anything she chased; and a cooking spit belonging to the women of Fianchuivél – a land submerged beneath the Irish Sea. The owners of all these items would no doubt be loathe to part with them.  The final and seventh undertaking was simply to give three loud shouts from a hill; but here there dwelt a mighty warrior who was a close friend of Cian, and who would be honour bound to seek vengeance for his ignoble death.

After a long period of time, the three brothers actually fulfilled the first six tasks, mainly by way of undue bloodshed and treachery.  When they at length carried out the final task, the brothers fought and slew the king of the hill and his retinue, but were in turn so fatally wounded that they could only cry out feebly. When their father begged Lugh to save their lives with the magical pigskin they had obtained, he refused and they died.  It is implicit here that Lugh was in his rights to forfeit his oath, due to the ongoing violent and dishonourable conduct of the sons of Tuireann. We should remember that while keeping an oath was of absolute importance in the ancient world, no less so was respect and honour toward those who welcomed you into their homes. To betray your host was deemed even more perfidious in earlier times than today.  Thus, the tale of the Sons of Tuireann carries within it a persistent theme of karma.

So Shall Ye Reap

Hostpapa web photo - farm lane
Farm Lane (Web Photo)

August, a typically hot and sunny month, habitually features heavy rains and sudden thunder storms. It is therefore fitting that a dualistic weather god such as Lugh, is celebrated on the first day of this month.  As a magnanimous and honourable god of light, Lugh was nevertheless a ferocious warrior capable of meting out cruel punishment to those who acted in bad faith.  And even though we might not think that our actions have an effect on us, they do eventually come back to haunt us. As the book says, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” What we have done throughout the year and in our lives, comes back to us, and this is true for good as well as ill. For a farmer, laziness and stinginess with fertilizer often means a poor yield, but mixing various crops, and being cooperative and generous with each other during harvests and throughout the year, will eventually give a bounteous outcome. We see this all the time in the real world and not just with farming.

Bramble (Rubus)

Hostpapa Web Photo, Blackberries
Bramble Bushes (Web Photo)

Brambles are members of the Rubus genus within the Rose family. They are thorny, with small prickles along the branches and stems that cling tenaciously to anyone who gets too close to them. Their fruits are aggregate – each seed on the berry is encased within a soft fleshy envelope attached to a receptacle on the end of the stem. Raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries are a few of the members of this extensive group of shrubs.  Mulberries, members of the Morus family, are not related to the brambles, although their fruits bear a strong resemblance.

Raspberries, 2022, Kay Broome
Raspberry Bush, Toronto West (Kay Broome)

The Talking Forest Bramble rune displays two flower spirals ending in fruit dots.  The one on the right is larger to indicate that brambles come in various sizes – from the small raspberry bush to blackberries that can grow up to three metres in height. The X on the right side of the rune, below the branch, indicates a thorny plant.  Bramble’s kenning or metaphoric meaning is snare or trap, and this rune deals with consequences and with karma.  The berries are tasty and good food, but we can get caught in the thorny canes, or stung by the wasps who often visit these bushes.  Our prior actions or words can often act to ensnare us in their repercussions. Often however, we forget that karma can also bring good times, and benevolent actions have a way of returning to us as well.  We harvest as we have sown. Moreover, if we do get caught in the berry bushes, they are generally not that big anyway, and we can usually find a way out of our predicament. The Bramble rune’s season is the Lammas sabbat, when these fruits are ripe.

Talking Forest Bramble Rune

Talking Forest Bramble © 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Bramble and the other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

Prior Plantings