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Hard Work as Sacrament

It is harvest-time here in the southern Highlands of the Appalachian mountains. The green beans have been blanched and frozen. The blessed elderberry harvest has been frozen and juiced and tinctured for winter healings. The apples are in now and I have spent many and many an hour cutting off the bruised parts and cutting out the wormy bits and chopping them up. Some have gone into bags to be future pies and apple cake. Others have become applesauce and many of them have been crushed for their juice and amended with yeast and honey to be hard cider in the cold months to come.

If I sound like the busy Ant from the fable that is appropriate. There are "fun" things that I have declined attending because the harvest is in and there is food to process. Not so much fun now but imagine pesto from my own basil, thawed in the depths of January. And I hold fast the notion of a crisp cold hard cider as the perfect celebration of the the Midwinter Solstice.

Many--possibly most--modern Pagans have a spiritual or intellectual understanding of the concepts of "harvest" because their world is one in which food comes from a store or farmers' market and not from the back yard. I make no judgement here, friends. Our lives are as they are. But I wish for them the chance to break the ground gently in the early spring, to pull a row and plant seeds that were saved from last year's crops and watch for the tiny bright green shoots that sing out "germination!"

I wish for them--for you--the weeding and the mulching and the battle between gardener and those that would eat your crop before you can pick it--those clever and hungry birds, those wily insects that hide beneath the leaves.

I wish for them--for us--the burst of seeds and flavor when that tiny perfectly ripe tomato, warm from the summer sun, is crushed in your teeth. And the smell the basil releases as you brush past the tall and pungent plant.

It is harvest time and the work is still hard, the hours still long. As I was paring another basket of windfall apples last night, my shoulders began to ache from the sitting and peeling, from the fetching and carrying.  I sighed with weariness and, let me be honest, boredom. I have peeled many a small, insect-bitten (i.e. organic) apple in the last few months, after all.

And then I remembered the grace that comes of hard work, of gains reached because of perseverance and sweat and foresight. As I finished that basket of apples and turned to find there was still a sinkful of dishes from the morning's batch of cider, I blessed the mess and the kitchen and the harvest.  I dedicated it all to great Ceres and Pomona and Selu and I gave thanks for the hard work that has been done and the hard work yet to do.

Yesterday was "Labor Day" here in the US and as with most national holidays, we took advantage of a day off to grill some food and drink some beverage and be with people we like and sometimes love.  Even the NPR story on the shortage of long-distance truckers didn't mention the once-powerful Teamsters union--an important part of my very young life as the daughter of a truck-driver.

So, I invite you--in the spirit of the season of harvest and of good labor--to reframe the notion of hard work into an act of sacred ritual.  Let the sweat of your body purify your soul as well as your body. Feel the rains of autumn as the anointing of priesthood. Be clothed in the ache of muscles well-used and call the elements in. Come, enough rain! Welcome, bright sun! Be welcome, insect allies! Call to the spirits of the land that produced all those apples and those beans and that perfect patch of long-lasting potatoes.

May that circle be open but never again broken.

Blessed be.

 

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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at info@myvillagewitch.com,

Comments

  • Diotima
    Diotima Tuesday, 03 September 2013

    Your lovely post made me think of this, one of my very favorite poems. The poem, and the fact that I still have that bag of beans you picked in the fridge. Dinner, I think. :-)

    The Seven Of Pentacles
    by Marge Piercy

    Under a sky the color of pea soup
    she is looking at her work growing away there
    actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
    as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
    If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
    if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
    if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
    if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
    then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

    Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
    You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
    More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
    Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
    Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
    Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
    Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

    Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
    Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
    Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
    a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
    interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

    Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
    reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
    This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
    for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
    the planting,
    after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Tuesday, 03 September 2013

    I love that poem--thank you for posting it. Marge Piercy certainly gets it, doesn't she? :) green beans...

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