Monday, September 21, 2009

Colourful Season of Plenty

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stainèd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust'ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.'
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

~To Autumn by William Blake, 1783.

For us folks in the Northern half, the time of falling leaves and feasting on Autumn's bounty is upon us! Even though we had a pretty crappy Summer, I am thankful for Autumn to be here, as it is my favourite season! :D

The Autumnal Equinox happens on September 22nd this year, and is of course the day when light and dark are pretty much in balance.

There are many different festivals coming up over the next little while, and most of them about celebrating the harvest and giving thanks. It is a time to start to relax a little bit more (well, hopefully!) as Nature gets ready for her long Winter slumber.

Many neo-Pagans and Wiccans call the Autumnal Equinox Mabon, which is apparently named after Welsh hero Mabon ap Modron by Aidan Kelly in the 1970's. Neo-Druids call this holiday Alban Elfed.

Heathens and Odinists also celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, which for them marks the beginning of the second harvest, and take the opportunity to give thanks to the Vanir. According to Odin's Volk historical celebrations would consist of:

Bonfires, feasting and dancing played a large part in the festivities. Even into Christian times, villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames, cattle having a prominent place in the pre-Christian Germanic world.With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.

Of course, soon it will also be Thanksgiving for us in Canada, as well as Erntedankfest in Germany, Harvest Home, and Michaelmas for others.

Just like with Lughnasadh, there are several folks who mention sacrifices being made around this time to promote fertility.

In ancient Greece, women held a festival in honour of the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone called Thesmophoria, which happened over three days, likely October 11th to 13th. Autumn sowing would take place with seed that had been laid on altars with the remains of sacrificed pigs. The participants, being only women would implore that fertility be continued not only for the fields, but for themselves as well (Greek Popular Religion by Martin P. Nilsson).

The Romans would also make a sacrifice on October 15th to Mars for a good harvest; the sacrifice being what Sir James George Frazer calls 'the October horse' in The Golden Bough. After a chariot race, the horse on the right side (the wrong side for him!) of the winning team would be stabbed with a spear, and have his head hung with loaves and his tail would hang in the king's hall.

Mike Nichols has an article Harvest Home that says that the Autumnal Equinox is symbolized by a God of light being overcome by his 'alter-ego', a God of darkness:

Mythically, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. And as I have recently shown in my seasonal reconstruction of the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the Autumnal Equinox is the only day of the whole year when Llew (light) is vulnerable and it is possible to defeat him. Llew now stands on the balance (Libra/autumnal equinox), with one foot on the cauldron (Cancer/summer solstice) and his other foot on the goat (Capricorn/winter solstice). Thus he is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).

Two things are now likely to occur mythically, in rapid succession. Having defeated Llew, Goronwy (darkness) now takes over Llew's functions, both as lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess, and as King of our own world.

You can see Mike Nichols' take on this whole story here.

Legendary Dartmoor (thanks for the head's up for this site Bek!), the 'neck' was actually an image of a female doll, and after the 'Crying the Neck', she would be placed on a kitchen table or hung up. She would stay there until either after Christmas or for a whole year, when she would then be fed to a favourite 'beast in the stall' or burnt.
In parts of England there was a custom (like similar ones that can be found in Scotland and the Isle of Man) where a doll would be made from grains of the last harvest, and would be dressed up in some pretty duds, crowned with flowers, and may even don a sickle. Folks would parade her around and she would be followed by cheers, music, and general merriment. The procession would make their way to an awaiting feast (The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs by T. Sharper Knowlson).
A tradition that comes from Devon and Cornwall called 'Crying the Neck' seems to be one that is still carried out. The ceremony was usually held at the last harvest, where a small bit of the best grain was gathered by a senior reaper arranges the grain into a 'neck'. Everyone in the field gathers round and they go through a series of movements and yelling 'the neck! the neck!' and 'wee yen! wee yen!' three times. After this all the men would try to get the neck and whoever had it would make a dash for a house where a lady would be waiting with a kiss(Popular Romances of the West of England by Robert Hunt).

A less joyous English tradition described in Folk-lore of Shakespeare by T.F. Thiselton Dyer apparently used to be taken up in Warwickshire, where during Harvest Home a trial would be set up to try labourers who were naughty in the fields over the season. Whoever was found guilty would be seated on a bench and then would be pummeled by a pair of boots.

Besides feasting (we need nary an excuse to do that 'round here!), many of us gardeners and farmers will soon also getting our gardens and fields ready for Winter.

In the next two or three weeks I will be getting the last of my harvest and wildcrafting in, planting next year's garlic, and cleaning up the garden (as well as getting lasagna beds set up!). Around this time I will do my final seasonal offerings and a ritual of thanks to the Genii Loci I work with.

Just like at Lughnasadh, this is a great time to make wreaths and garlands from grains and late flowers, as well as corn dollies. And fallen leaves will most likely be at your disposal now too!

If you are setting up an altar, other pretties that are suitable to put on it are gourds, dried corn, dried berries, acorns and other nuts, apples, and pomegranates. Images or figurines of horses and pigs, as well as a horn of plenty and sickle are all suitable symbols as well. For candles, great colours are red, orange, yellow, and brown. As far as crystals, great ones for Autumn are citrine, jasper, sapphire, lapis lazuli, and tiger's eye.

This leafy lad sits on my altar.

For recipes, check out the post I did last year for Autumn. And here are a few more:

Raspberry Wine




gumboot goddess said...

I'm so glad I found your post today :-) just what I needed to get me into the Autumn spirit - love the images, recipes, and stories. Now to get me some raspberry wine and feast on squashes and corn. Blessings!

Medusae said...

OH what a great post! I agree with Gumboot.

Those dastardly Romans! It was always SOMETHING with them, wasn't it? Poor horsie...

I love the historical research you reveal in all your posts. Very interesting! I always learn something.

Also, I'm fascinated by the Lasagna gardening, and very happy to see the AppleButter recipe! Thanks so much, and have a wonderful Equinox! (Your altars are always so beautiful...)

Hertha said...

Beautiful as always! Happy Fall!

nefaeria said...

Thanks everyone! :)

gumboot goddess: Glad we could get you into the spirit! :) Are you already getting the transitions in your area?

Enjoy that yummy feast! :)

Medusae: The Romans make a great scapegoat, eh? ;) Unforutnately my ancestors apparently had a penchant for equine sacrifices, but we'll keep that just between us! ;)

The lasagna gardening is supposed to be pretty nifty, and a little less work (!!!). Let me know if this is something you are thinking of doing, and we can swap notes! :)

Hertha: Do you have anything special planned? :)

Happy Autumn everyone! :D

Cammie said...

That is funny! I saw a movie with the crying of the neck a little while ago but I can't remember what it is called. Wonderful post and happy mabon :)


perma_culture said...

I love learning about all their funny historical bits and some of them are really funny like the "bootings" X^D

That is so cool that you are trying lasagna gardening, I have found it a very good method =^)

nefaeria said...

Cammie: That's cool! If you do remember it, please do let me know! :)

Permie: Nice to see someone else using that method! :)

Bek said...

I wanted to wait until I had time to read this properly and follow all the links etc. Great stuff! I heart folklore - and Autumn :)