Kage Baker placed great value on edges. She liked well-defined ones, blazoned forth in decorative carving or careful brushwork or the histories of rites so old the celebrants had forgotten the gods they once evoked.She liked the feeling of standing on those edges, swaying in the wind off eternity – like the wind of the sea, filling her lungs with the perfume of salt and her eyes with strange distances. Especially the old holidays, the quarter days, the Solstices and Equinoxes.
And really, at a sufficient distance, does it matter if you pour salt on your door sill on Halloween to guard the door from the dead, or because your grandma taught you it was the best way to keep away ants? Though (no offense to your grandmother), salt will only inconvenience ants. Cayenne pepper works much better. Better still, spray Simple Green on ’em. Works a treat and will not poison your family.
Anyway, Kage liked borders, boundaries, verges. She was a creature of borders and edges, balanced easily between the Past and Future; although she did sometimes lose her way and wander off in some non-Euclidian direction. She’d get a peculiarly sharp focus in her eyes, gazing out the window as we drove along, and I’d wonder what she was seeing. And when … usually, she’d start describing a story, and decorating the sets, as it were, with whatever it was she saw. Lots of stories were born that way.
Today, Dear Readers, happens to Lammas, one of the old quarter days derived ultimately from the Celtic calendar. Honouring Lugh, it is Summer First Harvest, more or less; cereal crops are harvested and harvest breads baked and shared. Christians, when they got into Britain, called it Loaf Mass, for the first loaves baked from the harvest, and it has softened into Lammas in modern English.*
Almost no one remembers that, though, or celebrates it as either Lughnasadh or Lammas, especially in America. Americans go overboard for the Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, in their new wrappings of Christmas and Easter; they really lose their minds in celebrating Samhain, which is now even globally celebrated as Halloween. But the names of Samhain, Lammas, Imbolc, Beltane – not so many people know what they were and are. Even Beltane, vigorously celebrated with maypole dances, ribbons and flower crowns on May Queens, doesn’t recall any specific goddess anymore; the bonfires might be lit but not to mirror the sun. No one lights beacons on the heights (in LA? In August? Eeek!) or drives their cattle between the fires anymore. Mind you, cattle aren’t easily come by in the urban environment; but one can always light barbecues and leap between them.
But enough of my maundering. I have been celebrating these old holidays most of my life, and am steeped in eccentricity. If you, Dear Readers, are antiquarians or righteous pagans, I hope I haven’t offended any of you. Everyone has their own past; I can only address these things from my own traditions. It doesn’t mean any of yours are not just as splendid and solemn. But these are the designs that limn the borders Kage most cherished, and those are the ones I know best.
Gods know, the summer heat is with us now. However, in Los Angles, we are (amazingly) getting a pretty good deal. Sure, we’re in a civilization-ending drought here, but the Basin is not quite on fire and we’re not getting the floods and fires and famines that are plaguing the East Coast and the Midwest. It’s just unnaturally humid, and hot enough to make you pant, and at night it doesn’t get below 70 degrees: DIY sweat lodge time. But tonight we had roasted meats for dinner (including roast pork, which was given to Men by the Fair Folk, you know) and local roasted grain (corn – this is the New World).
Were I still in health and in my younger days, I’d be complacently sipping my third or fourth beer, and contemplating a walk round the block under the summer stars … and maybe a modest leap between the barbecues.
*At best guess, anyway. Early English was just as weird as modern English, but with different confusing sounds.