Mead and Mistletoe

Thoughts on Pagan Spirituality from an ADF Heathen Druid

Tag: harvest

Celebrating Harvest Home/ Halig/ Mabon 2018

The Autumnal Equinox, also called Harvest Home, Mabon or Alban Elfed is a time of transition and change, a time of honouring the changing seasons and a time of reflection and thanksgiving (in fact it is often called “The Pagan Thanksgiving”). It is also a time of balance. The Autumn Equinox is the midpoint between the summer and winter solstices, when the day and night is of equal length and light and dark are balanced. It marks the beginning of the dark half of the year for the northern hemisphere, when nights are longer than days.

By the time of the Autumnal Equinox, the earth around us is showing the signs of the journey into winter – with later dawns and earlier sunsets, the weather is cooler and the leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn wonderful colours. The animals are busy preparing for winter – squirrels collecting nuts and acorns while birds prepare to migrate to warmer climates. Most of the grain and fruit harvests have been gathered in and its now time to harvest the apples, grapes, squashes and nuts, to preserve them for winter.

Historian Ronald Hutton writes that the end of the harvest was often celebrated in the medieval times with a harvest feast or supper to reward those who helped gather in the harvest, and ceremonies involving the last sheaf of corn. It often involved a lot of drinking. In the book “Our Troth”, they mention a lot of examples of the last sheaf of corn being associated with Woden in Germany. These include a charm to Wodan from 1593 that talks of it as fodder for his horse, the last sheaf being given to a demon called “Wode,”, the mention in the Southern German Statsregister (1350) of leaving the “Wutfuter” (Wod’s fodder), the last sheaf being left ” for the wolf, as fodder for his horse”, the last sheaf being made into a corn dolly in Niederporing and given the name “Aswald – Ase Ruler”, the last sheaf being a “Waul-Staff” decorated with ribbons and flowers, being called “Wode,” and a few apples being left hanging from the fruit harvest for “der Wod.” All these examples point to the importance of Woden in the celebrations of the end of the harvest. In Scandinavia, the last sheaf was supposed to be left for Woden’s horse. Interestingly in England, the last sheaf is often called the “Harvest Queen” and in  Denmark, it is the “Old Woman.” Perhaps it therefore represents the goddess Earth, a bride of Odin in the Norse mythology.  The Harvest Supper, called the “Mell Supper” in Northern England was a communal supper in which the landowner thanked the workers who helped him gather in the harvest. There was often lots of dancing, singing, entertainment, drinking and food.

According to Bede, September was called haleg-monath (holy month) for the ancient Anglo Saxons and Hutton says “it can be surmised that this was derived from religious ceremonies following the harvest.” Bede further says that this was the month when the heathens “paid their devil tribute in that month.” Interestingly Jason Mankey has suggested the Autumn Equinox could be renamed “Halig” after Bede’s original name for September – I really like that idea.

I am not aware of any evidence or mythology to suggest that this day was celebrated by the Druids in ancient Gaelic cultures. However, there are a few ancient Irish temples which line up with the sun at the spring and autumn equinox which suggests that pre-Celtic people’s might have considered the day sacred. It is also very close to the time of Michaelmas which may have absorbed previous festivities in ancient Irish culture at this time, for example – picking carrots on the eve before, an emphasis on giving to charity and the beginning of the apple harvest and hunting season.

In modern times, Druids honour the Green Man of the forest by offering cider libations to trees. It is also good to celebrate this time by visiting an orchard to pick apples, making jams and cider or eating a meal of autumnal fruits and vegetables, especially carrots, apples, nuts, grapes and squashes. It is a time to make gratefulness lists and also to remember those who have a lot less than us and to perhaps volunteer or give some food away to others.  In Gaelic cultures the Last Sheaf was often identified as “Cailleach”, the old woman of Winter, so she is a suitable deity for Druids and Celtic Reconstructionists to honour at this time. Additionally is the Mabon or Maponus, mentioned in the Welsh Mabinogi. It’s also potentially possible that 29th September was a day focused on Gwyn ap Nudd, the Welsh lord of Annwn (the Otherworld) as September was referred to as Gwynngala in Cornwall.

For Heathens, this can be a time to honour a variety of gods. First there is Ing/ Freyr (though he might be more traditionally honoured at Winternights), a lord of fertility, king of the Aelfe and has the title “Harvest God.” The Vanir as a whole may be honoured at this time, as may the Earth Mother. Idunna may be honoured as goddess of the apple because today begins the apple season, Njord because its the end of the fishing season or Aegir as god of brewing. It would also be very appropriate to honour Woden at this time given his historical association with the last sheaf in Germany and Scandinavia. Meanwhile Neo-pagans celebrate it as a day of balance, when the night and day are equal and nature is declining. In Christian cultures it has become known as Michaelmas (celebrated Sept 29th).

For me, this is a time to give thanks for the abundance of nature. It is a time to party and celebrate with all the wonderful food that is around. It’s one of my favourite times of the year because its so beautiful at this time as the leaves are turning. I love to decorate my altar with fruits, vegetables, nuts and leaves, as well as making leaf garlands to hang around the house. I will have a big feast of waldorf salad (filled with autumn nuts and fruits like grapes and apples), carrot, butternut squash, and lentil salad ( I use carrots from my allotment), and fruit bread.

Here are some videos…

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Celebrating Hlafmaest/ Lughnasadh/ Lammas 2018

Happy Hlafmaest Everyone. Hlafmaest/ Lughnasadh/ Lammas is the “feast of first fruits” or “feast of loaves” held on 1st August each year to celebrate the beginning of the grain and potato harvest and the start of Autumn. It ushers in the end of hunger and a bountiful abundance of crops.

For the ancient Irish, Lughnasadh was one of the four Fire festivals mentioned in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire. It is named after the god Lugh, the Fair One, and is the only festival to be named after a deity. However, he is not a god of the harvest, but rather “a patron of all human skills with a special interest in kings and heroes.” It was said to have been started by him as a funeral feast and sporting competition in commemoration of his foster mother, the goddess Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. Historian Peter Berresford-Ellis says it was “an agrarian feast in honour of the harvesting of crops.” The festival evolved into a great tribal assembly where legal agreements were made, political problems were discussed and huge Olympic-style sporting contests were held. It was a time of peace and was also one of two festivals where hand-fastings have been traditionally held.

hlafmaest harvestAnglo Saxon Christians also held their feast of Lammas at this time. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle refers to it as “first fruits” and historian Ronald Hutton says that it was customary at this time to reap the first of the ripe cereals and bake it into bread. This is why the festival was known as Lammas or Loaf-mass. Hutton states that “the importance of the first day of August was already so well established by 673 that Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus decreed that the annual synod of the newly established Church in England should be held then. It would seem very likely, therefore, that a pre-Christian festival had existed among the Anglo-Saxons on that date” and “the same feast was…celebrated in different ways and under different names all over Celtic, Saxon, or Norse Britain.” He goes on to say that in the middle ages this was an important time for holding fairs, paying rents, electing local officials and opening up common lands. Modern heathens follow the example of Garman Lord in naming the festival Hlafmaest, the feast of bread.

An Anglo Saxon charm recommends breaking up the bread that has been blessed on  or hallowed on this day, and sprinkling it in the four corners of the barn to protect the harvested crops. Meanwhile folk practices suggest this was a time when the first sheaf of the harvest was honoured, either by being turned into a corn dolly or given as an offering (by leaving it lying in the field, burning it or throwing it into water). Alternatively it might be hung up in the house to keep away bad luck.

English folk songs of this time tell of John Barleycorn (personification of Barley), who is cut down at the harvest. Meanwhile in Norse tales, Freyr has a servant called Byggvir (Barley) who may be associated with the Harvest. Byggvir is sometimes also related to the Anglo Saxon figure “Beowa” (Old English for “Barley”), mentioned in the royal lineages as the son of Scyld and the grandson of Sceafa (Old English for “Sheaf”). Perhaps he is also related to Beowulf, as a Beowulf is mentioned as the son of Scyld Scefing.

In England, the end of July is often associated with hot weather and storms, which makes Thunor a great god to celebrate at this time. He was often seen as a god of the common man, especially of farmers and fertility. In Norse myth he has a wife called Sif, whose golden hair may be associated with the harvest, and which Loki cuts off in one tale.

For Anglo-Saxon and Norse pagans, there are many gods who may be honoured at this time – Thunor and Sif for the summer rains and the protection of the harvest, Tiw as god of the Thing, or Byggvir/ Beowa/ John Barleycorn/ Scyld or Sceafa as representation of the harvest itself. This is also a festival that lends itself particularly well  to myth tellings or re-enactments, such as the story of Beowulf or of Loki cutting the hair of Sif.

Another important historical practice in England at this time is the picking of bilberries (the English version of blueberries), which often occurred on the first Sunday of August. Similarly, the first of the year’s potatoes are often ready to be pulled up at this date, and as I have an allotment this year, I shall celebrate by  harvesting some.

As this was traditionally a time when the Thing was held for the Norse in Iceland, and when elections of local officials were once held in Britain, it makes sense that this would be a good time for our Pagan groups to elect new officials or hold annual general meetings to decide important issues.

In Celtic wales, this was a time when people would hike up the Brecon Beacons, perhaps harking back to the old practice of making pilgrimages to hill tops to honour the gods and leave offerings. Perhaps we could use this as an opportunity to go hiking, and leave an offering when we reach the top of some nearby hill or mountain?

Throughout Celtic cultures this has been a time to visit fairs or to hold annual competitions, games and equestrian activities (this is a feast of the warrior). One can carry out saining rites to protect the home or visit holy wells. It is a time to be thankful for the harvest, make bannocks, cheese or Lample Pie, and to enjoy the bounties of nature.

Hlafmaest or Lughnasadh is a time to be grateful for the food on our table and to remember that the hot days of summer are coming to an end as we approach the cold part of the year. It is the time to briefly rest before the hard work of reaping what has been sown begins. It’s traditional to celebrate this time by making corn dollies which represent the spirits of the fields (ask a farmer if you can cut some corn), baking bread, holding sports competitions, selling your crafts at summer fairs and hiking to hilltops with offerings. It is also a good time to pray for or work for peace. Offerings are given to Lugh, Thunor, Tiw or Beow in the hopes of a good harvest. I will be celebrating this festival by doing an ADF ritual, making some bread (one for me and one for a neighbour as an act of kindness), opening the Mead that I brewed at Midsummer, going hiking, having a feast of seasonal foods such as sausages, potatoes, sweetcorn and blueberry gravy, and spending time in nature. Sometimes I also pick bilberries/ whortleberries. Have a great Hlafmaest everyone.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

http://www.tairis.co.uk

http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/

http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm

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