by Kathryn Theatana
The red pickup truck fishtails out of the parking lot at high speed, tires screeching, beer cans scattering, young male voices bellowing obscenities as they (once again) nearly crash into the other cars. My friends and I watch with dismay. One of us says, "The Lammas Men are back."
A number of years ago we began to notice a pattern. It always seemed that as the summer turned towards LammasTide, there were more weird, violent things happening than usual; men in particular were getting more macho, violent and careless. Car crashes left and right, murders, rapes, gay-bashings, fights in the bars and on the streets, all seemed to increase around this time of year. Was it just the summer heat, and young drunken males with more free time than usual? Or was something else happening here?
Perhaps you've seen them? In fast cars, squealing around corners, cutting you off in traffic (they never check their mirrors), drunk and young and sweating out steroids, setting themselves up for unconscious sacrifice.
Do the Tides run in our blood even if we're unaware? Does something atavistic call them? --The voices of their ancestors, or some Power that calls out to be fed, whispering in their bloodstreams, "you are young, you are strong, you are the offering..."
As my co-Priestess in flaming crones coven, Cathy, once put it: "You either do the Sabbat, or the Sabbat does you." We learned the hard way that if we copped-out and didn't do a Sabbat ritual that the patterns of the Sabbat would still play out in our lives, sometimes in not-so-nice ways. We realized it was crucial that we actively choose our roles in the matter (as much as is possible) by being aware of the shifting currents around us, and consciously choosing how to dance with the energies of the Seasons. But I was somewhat surprised to see that people who were not sworn to these cycles and Powers seemed to play them out as well. I still don't understand exactly why it happens to the uninitiated, but perhaps it is an ancestral thing -- a tide in the blood that still calls, even though the present generations have not consciously aligned themselves with the myths.
The "I Am Not Making This Up" Department:
As I was writing the above text, suddenly explosions started off in the distance. (Seriously!) They grew closer and louder and the house began shaking with the blasts. It sounded like shelling. ("Incoming!") Somewhat panicked, I called the police and fire department to try and find out what on Earth was happening. Turns out the Army decided to do "night maneuvers" near here(!) ...Holy Shit...The Lammas Men are out hurling explosives at each other. But telling my dog (who's now cowering in fear, hiding under my chair while I type this) "It's o.k. It's just the Lammas Men." doesn't seem to make any difference in her panic. She knows psychotic seasonal madness when she hears it.
(We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming:)
And what about this Seven-year cycle thing, anyway? One friend told me of how her former HPS' relationships (with men) always ended after seven years. At the seven-year point they'd just up and leave. Did some unconscious urging kick in a "get out of here or YOU'RE IT" reaction? Is this some metaphysical explanation for the "Seven Year Itch"?
What of the Sacred King, When His Obligation to the Land is Broken?
Last summer I was visiting my mother's family in Indiana. We walked through the brown, dying cornfields, seeing firsthand the devastation that Global Warming is already wreaking. Drought and scorching sun have destroyed the crops for three or four years in a row now (and for longer than that, in some areas). It's not getting better. Right now the losses are borne mainly by the farmers who are losing their livelihoods and their land. But soon the losses will be passed on to those of us who are not living directly off the land -- those of us who live in cities and shop in supermarkets, for whom the fertility of the Land is more a religious concept than a constantly present reality on which our very survival depends. But our survival does still depend on the fertility of the Land; it's just that those of us who aren't farmers may still be in denial about it. Some Witches in the Midwest have predicted that the entire region, "the breadbasket of the U.S." will become a desert within our lifetimes. Think about that. What does this failing fertility mean to us, as practitioners of a religion that has historically worked, even to the extent of Sacrifice, to ensure the fertility of the Land?
I have never really related to the whole Dying God Thing. Chalk it up to being Dianic, I guess. I always thought of it as a "guy thing" that didn't have a whole lot to do with my personal mythology or spiritual practice. But in recent years, as I've seen so many people fall ill with AIDS, Breast Cancer, CFIDS, MCS, and other weird, undiagnosable illnesses that directly relate to the failing health of the Earth; as I've seen too many friends die or become disabled; a steady rage has been building, and along with it a questioning of some of our basic myths surrounding Sacrifice.
As my mother and I drove through mile after mile of those screaming, dying cornfields, as we viscerally felt the pain of the Land, as I poured out water in desperate offerings to the cracked, parched Earth, to the Spirits that had nourished my childhood magic, to the Earth Mother who has sustained my ancestors for nine generations on that land, this rage and despair began to take form in a vision... Wicker Man time. I could see it, burning, towering over those suffering cornfields, with Reagan, Bush and Quayle as the ThreeFold Officer Howie (Here be a Mystery).
Whither the Sacred King?
I don't pretend to know the experience of the present-day Pagan men who act out the Dying God cycle in their covens, or what it means in this present time to play that role symbolically in a Sacrificial Cycle that was not always merely symbolic. Like I said, that has not been part of my practice in this lifetime. Oh, I "get" the symbolism -- the agricultural cycle, the cycles of the sun, the cycles of death and rebirth that all living things must go through; I even "get" the need for Sacrifice -- the knowledge that life feeds on life, that we must give energy back to the life-force that sustains us, even to the extent of risking our own lives to serve the greater good. Death is just one transition in our eternal lives, and sometimes that is what is called for. Maybe it's just that women and men do these things differently. Maybe it's just that I don't understand men, and how they work with this energy (or resist working with it, as the case may be).
But what is Wiccan mens' role at this time on Earth? What does it mean to us now, when the Earth is in a state of profound crisis, when the fertility of the Land is failing in a big way? This sacrifice theme is part of our history, and part of our current mythology. For some covens and Traditions it is a central myth, enacted every year, throughout the year. How can one go through the motions of this myth and ritual symbolically without feeling the connection to the dire real-world situation we're in, and without seriously questioning how our situation now connects to that of our Ancestors? Our current situation is far more serious than a few years of crop failure. It is far more serious than the situations our ancestors responded to with Sacrifice.
Surely the elected officials have set themselves up with all the privileges of the Sacred Kings -- they have claimed they represent the people; they have asked for this position, asked for our trust, asked and received the honor to lead. And they've certainly been given the best treatment. In a very practical way, they are vowed to the service of the land...
But hey, this is just a humour article. Far be it from me to suggest anything.
Seriously, everybody, I'd like to know how people are dealing with this. At this time of the year (and at other times, as well) we celebrate the bounty of the Earth, but we also ask Her what She asks of us in return. We look honestly at ourselves and our lives; we ask what we must let go of, in order that the work may continue, what we must sacrifice in order that life may go on. For me this has generally taken the form of sacrifices in my personal life, of admitting what parts of myself have to die, in order that that which is more important can thrive; or the sacrifice of giving up behaviours that are harmful to the Earth, to myself, and/or to my tribe. Often the "sacrifice" is work that must be done, service that She asks of us, or perhaps the challenge of accepting a hard lesson that could only be learned by going through trials, loss, mourning and pain. Not an ideal way to learn, true, but sometimes we humans can be stubborn, and avoid the truth until we have no choice.
And, for some of us, sacrifice has also meant the choice to consciously place one's self fully in Her hands --making the covenant that the survival of the Earth is more important than an individual life, knowing that if She chooses to take us, it is meant to be.
We do our Earth-healing rituals, raising and returning energy to Her for Her strength and healing. We strive to work the Unseen currents that shape the visible world. We do political work to ground our visions through our actions. We reduce, reuse, and recycle. We lay our bodies on the line at demonstrations and risk that powers larger than ourselves may rip us to shreds, despite any laws that are supposed to protect us. Sometimes the laws don't protect us, or Her, at all, and we quite consciously choose to break them. We do our research, and we boycott companies that rape the Earth and harm Her creatures. We try not to buy anything that can't be recycled or composted. We explore alternative energy technologies, and we do our best to minimize our impact on the Earth's ecosystems (including, for some of us, choosing not to have children). Women of child-bearing age sacrifice every month; many of us gather our blood with sea sponges or cotton pads; we pour our blood upon the Earth with prayers for Her healing -- giving back some of the life-force that She has blessed us with.
But, specifically, how is this crisis affecting the men and women who (consciously) work with the Sacrifice Cycles? Personally, I'm sick of dying gods. I've done more rituals to honor the dead than I ever wanted to have to do in one lifetime. I've debated late into the night if any of our recent deaths were Sacrifices of some sort; and even if any of them were, I remain unconvinced that it's done any good except for lessening the burden one person (or hundreds of thousands of people) makes on the Earth. I'm sick of watching the good people fall sick and die, sacrifices to ecocide, ignorance and greed, while the unethical ones seem to thrive. Though I reassure myself with thoughts of Karma and conscience, and the fact that some of these passings have raised awareness, still, I'm pissed off. What do the rest of you think about it?
Anyway, drive carefully, if you must drive at all. Be conscious of what you're invoking, of which myths you're living out in your lives, of what role you are playing in this dance of death and rebirth.
And watch out for the Lammas Men.
copyright ©1992, 1998 kathryn theatana
Originally appeared in Harvest, Lughnassadh 1992