It’s September. It’s the full moon, the second ‘super moon’ of 2014. That means the moon is unusually close to the Earth.
I took a couple of pictures to show you just how huge the moon is tonight.
In this photo the moon is in the centre. The lower light is a street lamp about 400 yards away. It’s in the pub car park.
Again, the moon is in the centre, the white light at the top is a street lamp 30 yards away. You can just see the orange light of the other street lamp in the lower right hand corner.
The full moon in September is poetically referred to as the Harvest Moon (Thanks to my friend N for the post on Facebook; I wouldn’t have remembered otherwise)
There are some things I don’t talk much about, or at all, on this blog. One of those things is my personal religious beliefs; other than the odd comment or poem I avoid the subject. I do read other people’s blogs though and tonight I was reading this post by a writer/artist who is also pagan, a Vanatruar specifically. I have a couple of his books, and though I don’t necessarily agree with the writer I usually find his in-depth blog posts interesting. I thought, since we have a particularly spectacular moon tonight, and I’ve been out in the fresh air noticing the seasonal changes I’d write a little about my personal approach; it is informed by history, locality and what feels right. I will stick to discussion of harvest time.
I have difficulty pinning down a description of my beliefs. I use Heathen as a shorthand, because I’m not a Christian and I identify with some pre-Christian beliefs. But I would not necessarily call myself a hard polytheist either; I accept that it is possible the Gods exist as independent beings, but I also accept that it is possible they exist as manifestations of an archetype, or that they may not exist at all. Bothering gods is akin to me walking up to the queen and demanding she have a conversation with me, it’s a bit rude and far more than I could handle. There’s a streak of pantheism in my worldview too. Mostly I stick with elves and ancestors, the local rather than the ‘global’.
As an amateur historian and a practicing Heathen (because I haven’t got it quite right yet *bad joke is bad*), I find the information imparted in early and medieval English manuscripts interesting for what they can tell us about the cultural practices of the distant past. I am also interested in how modern Heathens apply this information to current practice. From observation it seems as though many people try to mesh the reconstructed ancient calendars with the ‘Wheel of the Year’ invented in the twentieth century. This is just an observation; I make no judgment against anyone’s religious practice. I have my own idiosyncrasies, as you might have deduced from my preceding comments.
If Bede is to be believed the equivalent month to September in pre-Christian England was called ‘haligmonath’ holy month. It was later changed to harvest month, presumably because the Christian monks who recorded this stuff didn’t want to remind people.
I have seen some ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Heathen ritual calenders which have several harvest festivals. The first is around 1st August. This seems based on the ‘Wheel’ cross-quarter festival of Lammas, but Lammas is derived from Hlaf-mass (loaf mass). It is known in medieval documents as the feast of first fruits. According to Bede, August wasn’t a particularly special month. It was known as Weodmonath – weed month. July was Aeftera Litha – after Litha. At least in the surviving records of the calendar there is no indication of a harvest festival. It is left to other, later, documents and traditions.
A second harvest festival is celebrated in September, at the Autumn Equinox. As I’ve already mentioned, September was called Holy or Harvest Month. The later name gives us an idea of the reason the month was considered ‘holy’, but we don’t know the content of festivals celebrated. Harvest festival is, or was, a major church festival held on the Sunday nearest the Equinox. In some churches (I’m almost certain the local Methodists still do) there is a harvest supper or a special harvest service. As much as I hate using Wikipedia for my sources,I’ve had to resort to it as my books have all been packed; there’s a lot of information on the linked page.
Finally there’s Winterfyllith – Winter Full Moon (October) and Blodmonath – Sacrifice Month (November). Depending on who you read, there’s a final harvest festival during late October or early November. Lots of people have it coinciding with Halloween, as a feast of ancestor. Personally I don’t, but each to their own. To me it celebrates the start of winter and the final sacrifice of the year, that of the livestock that wouldn’t make it through winter. Years ago I remember reading a history of my locality; there used to be a traditional of keeping pigs which were fattened and then slaughtered late in the year. Any bits that couldn’t be preserved would be taken round the neighbours on a plate and people shared them. This was a practical and celebratory event.
That is later in the year though. At the moment I’d like to concentrate on September, the Haligmonath. It’s supposed to be a celebration of a successful harvest. I don’t know where September is a harvest month. In Lincolnshire the grain harvest is usually completed by late August, the rape seed by July.
But it all depends on the weather.
A few years ago, I remember being at archery, towards the beginning of September and mentioned to an older archer, a lifelong rural dweller and professional horticulturalist, that the harvest seemed late. She agreed that it was; her farming acquaintances had been complaining. It was a wet summer that year.
My point is, harvest moves around depending on the weather and micro-climate. For some agricultural communities September might be harvest time, but for some it’s in June and July. Winter arrives at different times too. I find it difficult to celebrate festivals when the event they celebrate have occured weeks before or have yet to happen.
While for some people having fixed dates for observing religious festivals is preferable, I like to be more spontaneous. So tonight, the photography and a pork based meal because the tomatoes I grew earlier this year ripened and were eaten last month. I have no produce to give thanks for. If I still had my allotment I might have had vegetables to harvest still. To be less literal I am grateful for my family’s help in finding somewhere to live and helping me move later this week. Two weeks from today, at the Equinox, the moon will be a tiny slither, a last strip of waxing moon before it goes dark; maybe I’ll celebrate again?
And now I really must stop writing. I need to try to get some sleep.
If anyone read my previous post, I can assure you that I’m feeling a lot better. Concentrating on writing has lifted my spirits.