Monday evening, at 4 pm Pacific, 5 pm Mountain, etc. I shall be coordinating a discussion in preparation for Lammas, the contemporary and ancient Earth-centered grain holiday. As I’ve prepared for our discussion, some words and their etymologies have come to mind, and some pieces of stories about my experience of Lammas over the years.
Pieces of the Story, Pieces of the Bread
“This is My body, given for You. This is MySelf, given for the People.”
“Into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
Priests collapsing to the ground, all five, each left with a bloody hand print on their pristine white tunic. Each priestess gazing at her own bloody fingers.
The fullness of the head, the straightness of the shaft, the sharpness of the sickle. The flower that stands tall and blooms by the waterside must also wilt and be carried downstream and become One again.
These are some pieces of what comes up when you take a devout Roman Catholic girl and she evolves into a UU and a Wiccan priestess.
But what about those words I mentioned?
A verb we know comes from Latin, offrere, and into both Old English and French. In Latin, it means to gift or bestow something upon someone. “Offering,” then, is (etymologically speaking) something bestowed or given.
Comes from “sacrare,” holy or sacred,” and “fecit,” done or made, also in Latin. In Middle English, we get “consecrate” as the usage of “sacrifice.” Consecrate, which means to set aside something as holy or sacred. I’ve heard its etymology played with at times to get some interesting thought experiments going, as in how is “to make sacred” different from “doing the sacred,” or “doing holy things”?
The coolest thing about the word “sacred,” though, is that we know its origins back to Hittite. HITTITE, people! And in that Ancient Near East tongue, “saklai,” rite or ceremony. How cool is THAT?!
(Yes, I am a dork. If you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been here long. Welcome!)
Another important word to consider among this group is, “holocaust.” Holocaust comes straight out of Greek, holokaustos, “burnt whole,” nearly always as a sacrifice to a deity. If you know a little 17th-century light reading, you may recognize it from the King James Version of the Bible, in which the word is used. Still, most English-speaking folks associate it with the atrocities of the Nazis during World War II.
From the online Merriam-Webster, “Did You Know?”:
“The Greek word holokaustos means “burnt whole”. For the early Jews who followed the laws given in the first books of the Bible, a holocaust was a sacrifice to God, the burning on an altar of a lamb, goat, or young bull. The word is used about 200 times in the traditional Greek version of the Old Testament, though it rarely appears in English translations. In the 1700s holocaust began to be used to refer to the mass destruction of life.”
The problem, now it’s easy to see, with using the word, “Holocaust,” to describe what happened under the Nazis is that it implies that human beings were sent as burnt offerings to God. A better word, I have learned, is the Shoah, the Hebrew word for “disaster, catastrophe.” I use it when I can and encourage others to do so, as well.
Wait, What Are We Doing Here?
These words are on my mind, because we are approaching the holiday of Lammas, the contemporary and old celebration of the Loaf-mass or feast of grain and bread. (It is also Lughnasadh, a celebration of Lugh, the god of light, and his spear of the sun, but I know much less about Lughnasadh, and so I shall not be mentioning it much.)
Lammas, is, among other things, a day to consider the words above.
Lammas is a day to consider how they are different from one another, what they mean for us now, apart and in addition to their etymologies, and yet enriched by those roots.
What is a gift? An offering? A sacrifice? What does it mean to give, to offer, to sacrifice? What is the value of burning something up in its entirety as a sacrifice, as an offering a gift? What is the value of destroying something precious, if that is indeed what’s up here at all?
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