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The Return of Harvest Home
Article ID: 12006
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Posted: September 30th. 2007
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The Return of the Equinox:
As the wheel turns, autumn begins again on most calendars. This year, 2007 the autumnal equinox occurred on September 23 for my region.
It has been suggested that the equinoxes were never closely correlated with Western European paganism. The Germans practiced the solstices. The Celts had their four fire festivals. But equinoxes? They were an unfamiliarity, at the best introduced from Roman or Middle Eastern mystery religions.
In my ongoing research to recreate a mood, time, and place for every one of the modern Wiccan and Neopagan eight sabbats, I have come across some very interesting details. Some of these are facts that may startle or shock the person who has accepted the ideas mentioned previously.
There are interesting calendrical variations between ancient holidays and the astronomical dates they should represent. These no doubt, are not taken into account nowadays by ever pagan.
For one, many calendars used before the spread of the solar-modeled Julian Calendar relied on observing the moon. Many times holidays were celebrated on a lunar phase closest to a solar date. Some have observed that Ostara should be a lunar holiday because it “should have” been traditionally observed on a “full moon.” Many do not know however, that this was the case for the Winter Solstice holiday, the Anglo-Saxon Geola and Germanic Yule. This was also the case for Celtic holidays such as Beltane. These dates only became fixed as the twenty-fifth of a certain month or the first of another with the spread of the Julian and Gregorian Calendars.
Beside the variations of dates produced by the shift from lunar to solar calendars, it is a verifiable truth that if the year were held constant – if we fixed the amount of days in a year – our own calendars would revolve around the solstices. Within thousands of years our winter solstice would be in June. However, the year has always been changed to match There is a veritable littering of holidays near solstice, equinoxes, and cross-quarter dates throughout many cultures because of this calendrical shift. For instance, Christmas Eve was once the actual date of the Winter Solstice.
Astrology takes this movement into account by separating into two camps called “sidereal” and “tropical” astrology. The shifting backward of dates occurs along side the shifting of the zodiac through the sky. It has been titled, “The Precession of Equinoxes.”
In my previous essay, I revealed that while the Neopagan holiday Ostara is believed to be built on a false premise, that the spring equinox was not only recognized by proficient astronomers in Western Europe, it was celebrated. Megalithic monuments in such places as Loughcrew reveal those spring and fall equinoxes were recognized by the original dwellers of what is now the United Kingdom.
The Venerable Bede reveals the English prior to the sixth century had their very own calendar that ended with a month and began with another month named Geola, or Yule. The Middle of the Year (or dareIsay, Mid-summer?) likewise had a summer solstice sandwiched between two months named Litha. (Contrary to popular belief, the name Litha for the Summer Solstice was not “coined” by Aidan Kelly.)
The beginning of summer was considered to start with Eostremonath, which was dictated by Bede as being the month of the Goddess Eostre. The beginning of winter was the beginning of the month “Winterfylleth” – a term that Bede dictated as meaning, “Winter’s Full Moon.” (Oddly enough, even with this name, each month began with a new moon.)
Critics have claimed that celebrations of the acclaimed festivities of Eostremanoth could not have been correlated to a spring equinox. But what my research indicates is that what was January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 was once, at the very least, intended to be what have become December 21, March 21, June 21, and September 21. The year began with the Winter Solstice, the event Geola, which occurred between the months “before Geola” and “after Geola.” (Despite certain allegations, the year only figuratively began with Christmas Eve. The month “after Yule” began with the return of the sun’s movement.)
Ronald Hutton had declared that no original society celebrated all eight holidays Neopaganism reveres. While this may be the case, it is clear that ancient Teutonic peoples of the British Isles commemorated the winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice, and fall equinox. It is also clear that the ancient neighboring Celts measured the seasons by calculating the midpoints between these four astronomical events, with the beginning of the year between the sun’s descent and ascent out of Samonios – what is now October and November.
These eight events collectively descended through the British Isles through the ages. They became the “term days” for England, Scotland, and Ireland. These term days were four days out of a year when rent was due and servants were hired. In the Christian era, Ireland and England held these term days to be marked by Christian holidays: Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Christmas. In Scotland, these were based on cross-quarter days, albeit with two altered for the purposes of conforming to a Christian holiday. These were Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas, and Martinmas.
Even if no group has bothered to connect the dots and ritually commemorate both quarter days and cross-quarter days (the likeliness of this not happening at some point would be astounding,) Neopaganism has done so, leaving perhaps enough evidence for people thousands of years into the future to see that the eightfold-wheel-of-the-year was observed at least by us, at one time.
Some Pagans refer to the cross-quarter dates as the “Greater Sabbats.” Indeed, Gerald Gardner began Wicca, as we know it with only the four ancient fire festivals known to the Celts. It was proposed to his liking by a covenmate later on to adopt the solstices and equinoxes. The move, was perhaps, quite intuitive. However, I do disagree that we should consider the “Greater Sabbats” to be superior in any way.
In my particular tradition, they are called Greater because they represent the “Occult” changes between seasons where seasons truly begin and end and are marked by the four “tetramorphs” of the four fixed signs. They are thus desirable for producing fixed energy for magick, whereas quarter days are desirable for religious observation as energy becomes transitory. (Magick is and should be practiced, but without pre-planning it can be hard to navigate as we ourselves change with the transitory energy of mutable signs shifting into the cardinal.)
It is ironic that though Hutton decreed we borrowed the mid-September feats of England, we had only made up Ostara for some purpose of symmetry. Interestingly enough, there seems to be the largest body of pagan-seeming folklore that we have manipulated from Eostre. If we were really honest with ourselves and Bede’s account of the origins of the term Easter, we could agree that the transition from a Pagan to Christian Easter was probably an under-the-table exchange to cover up a popular fertility holiday.
Many neopagan groups, contrarily, seem to arrive at a dead spot when attempting to celebrate what we have called “Mabon.” In fact, this Neopagan Sabbat is perhaps THE holiday that confuses celebrants the most. Hence, I created this article.
First of all, historically speaking, the Christianized form of the autumnal equinox faces the same predicaments as Easter. Easter falls on the Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. “Harvest” occurs on the full moon after the autumnal equinox. The Christian “Harvest Festivals” followed this cue, falling on a Sunday either on or after the full moon after the autumnal equinox. (Rather unlike Easter where it was considered unlucky by Christians to have Easter Sunday on a full moon.)
If I were to come up with the best term I could for the autumnal equinox, it would be simply “Harvest” but also the famous title from a Christian hymn, “Harvest Home.” Sometimes I slip into using the term Mabon, and indeed, I feel meditation on the god Mabon and his five sacred transformations has become a new tradition for the holiday.
However, the term “Harvest” itself really works. It comes from “haerfest” which itself means Autumn. This term was attached to “Harvest Moon” (as in Shine on…)
This has been correctly observed to be the “Witches’ Thanksgiving ” – as far that witches celebrate it and the mid-September feasts are the predecessors of the American Thanksgiving. In Canada, Britain, and Germany, “Thanksgiving” as it is sometimes called is celebrated in late September or early October. The Thanksgiving Turkey of America probably came from the traditional goose of Michaelmas.
In the Celtic Calendar, September/October was called “Cantios” or month of singing. Ironically, another name for the Harvest Moon is “Singing Moon.” This holiday, like Lughnasadh, can be very important to bards. I have experienced some of my most profound meditations and received some of most profound visions during this season. We dare not forget that Witchcraft probably began as a death-cult that is an obsession with our own mortality. Thus, this holiday should contain to Wiccans, a more profound realization of poetic death than discovered in the mock-sacrifices of Lughnasadh. However, death is not complete until Samhain.
This graver darkness should not make one feel that Mabon is any less of a bard’s holiday or less of a holiday of intoxication. Yet another term for Harvest Moon is Wine Moon and wine is a bittersweet symbol of the Haerfest. The simplest ritual I have practiced for this time of year is watching falling leaves on a river while sipping a deep red wine
The other elements are indeed present. Fire is invoked, and traditionally the archangel of Fire, Michael, was invoked by Christians to protect against the darkness. Air is present as the cold winds of justice and the scales of Libra whose fierce intellect motes out the harvest. Earth is the harvest, the womb of the Earth Mother represented by the traditional Cornucopia.
In the Wiccan Timeline, this is the holiday prior to Samhain, when the God is said to perish before his rebirth on Yule. Autumn traditionally is aligned with the sunset of the year, the direction of west, and the element of water (The Neo-Druidic Term for this holiday is Alban Elfed or Light in the Water.). The whole of this holiday serves as a sort of glassy spectacle that point into death and the future. Its panoramic vision is so perfect that the year completes its cycle in Mabon as the eighth and final holiday before the great transition of Samhain. This time of year relates to the elderly ages of life before the dying process cripples the consciousness. Life possesses a fragile ephemeral nature and the God and Goddess develop a love that is deep, mature, and rich.
In the Eleusinian Mysteries, Persephone is said to descend into the earth around this time. In my own blend of mythos, this descent of the Goddess is 'into herself', for she is pre-mourning the death of the God, knowing she must spend the winter alone.
Tools for the Harvest
I chose the acorn to be a meditative and lucky talisman of Harvest Home just as the egg is considered a meditative talisman of Eostre. It represents all of the mysteries of the autumnal equinox. Another greatest way to peer into the nature of this holiday is contemplating the five animal spirits of Mabon, the Blackbird, Stag, Owl, Salmon, and Eagle. While Mabon was indeed a term coined by Aidan Kelly for the fall equinox, the story of the god Mabon is similar in some ways to the story of the descent of Persephone and indeed could be interpreted as an autumn story.
The five-pointed pentagram can be an important symbol for this time. It is a symbol of the cycles of Venus, the morning and evening star that rules Libra. It is at the core of every apple that is harvested at this time. It is a symbol of the inner nature of knowledge that Persephone gains through the underworld. It is the golden mean that produces the aesthetics Libra is so famed for…
This holiday is a sensitive time of year, and I’ve seen it botched many times in the past by those who could not handle the emotional energies present. It’s important to be sensitive toward others around you. If your schedule begins picking up pace much like the scurrying squirrels preparing for winter, do consider others may be feeling the same.
Humans overall are sensitive creatures and hiding our emotions has become a norm. As the wind waxes electric and sights of geese across the moon fill the skies, it becomes hard not to observe the beauty of life or feel a rush of excitement, anxiety, joy, and sorrow as the fey curtain call draws near.
Witchcraft may be known by some for its pagan fertility rites and thus has become associated by some with spring. For others, witchcraft is one of the original shamanic sects – a death-cult that dealt with studying the ecstatic rush of separation from the body. Indeed, death is probably the original fascination around which religion organized itself, sex being the second. I cannot help but feel Pagan Pride as autumn returns again.
Samhain is certainly our big show, greatest holiday, but is almost charged with a sense of macabre and morbid joy, as the whole becomes one field of ghosts and echoes.
This Mabon as the sun balances days and nights and returns to darkness. Joy and sorrow, hope and fear, may be experienced side by side – not fully merged yet not fully independent of each other. They are aesthetically intermingled. These elements are calling merely to be felt in others and ourselves. As the sign of justice rules again, we are called to act upon our feelings and to seek the greater picture that is before us.
Many rituals lie before us. Many thanks must be given in the play of life. There are sights to see, and fruits of the harvest to taste.
Thank you for reading this article. A Blessed Mabon/ Harvest Home/ Alban Elfed to everyone!
"De Temporum Ratione"
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