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Autumn Equinox

By Anna Franklin

The autumn equinox marks the end of the year’s cycle of growth, the completion of the harvest and the culmination of all the work of the agricultural year. Light and darkness stand in balance once more but the darkness is gaining, and we are moving towards winter.   It is a dual festival of light and darkness, joy and sorrow, a time of abundance that marks the death of the Corn Lord.  The expansive, active part of the year is over and it is time to turn inwards.  The sun’s power is waning, but deprived of the external light, we encounter inner illumination.


The word harvest comes from the Anglo-Saxon haverfest meaning ‘autumn’, the season when growth stops and the crops must be gathered in and stored for winter. Whereas Lughnasa marks the start of the grain harvest, the autumn equinox marks its completion; it is the culmination of the whole work of the agricultural year, the success of which determined survival or starvation. The Harvest Home festival was one of thankfulness and relief if the harvest had been good, and great joy in all that had been accomplished, as well as one looking forward to a period of rest and release. It was a time to celebrate with festivities and feasts, and was marked with ritual and customs to ensure that the stored harvest would be safe and that life would return to the fields in the spring.


Until the Industrial Revolution in Britain, most of the population worked on the land in a way that had changed little since ancient times. In our warm homes with our indoor jobs and handy supermarkets, it is hard for us to imagine lives when seeds had to be scattered by hand, ploughs were pulled behind horses or oxen and harvesting was done with the scythe, resulting in weeks of back-breaking work. Even at the end of the nineteenth century much of the corn was cut by hand with the farmer and his labourers working side by side in rows, mowing down the grain, then using sickles to gather it up into sheaves bound with straw which were left to dry before being threshed with hand flails to separate the grain from the chaff. Competitions were held, in the north of England, for the best harvesters (called a mell or melt).  On the last day groups of three or four each took a ridge and strove to see who should finish first.  In Scotland this was called a kemping, which means a ‘striving’.


Continues in book….


THE CORN DOLL

The last sheaf, accompanied by its cutter and all the reapers, was usually taken to the farmer’s house and made into a figure or doll. Sometimes this was made before the cutting of the last sheaf, so that the figure could witness it.  In some cases, the farmer or his wife ‘bought’ the sheaf from the workers, in others the farmer’s wife would provide them with a mighty supper. The corn doll was given various - almost exclusively - female names in different localities, ranging from baby to maiden or bride, harvest queen, ivy queen or hag. Corn figures were either paraded around the field on a wagon, or placed in the farmhouse for the harvest supper and then kept until the following year when they were ploughed into the earth on Plough Monday (January), which marked the new start of the agricultural year. In Wales, the seed from it was mixed with the seed at planting time ‘in order to teach it to grow’.


It is hard to resist the idea that the ancient Corn Mother concept still persisted in these customs. In The Golden Bough, Frazer speculated that the corn dollies, made after the harvest by various peoples of the world (including the Celts, Teutons, Slavs, the Indians of Peru and many peoples of the East Indies) represented the harvest maiden, a Persephone-like figure. Sometimes the corn-spirit was conceived as a child who is separated from its mother by the stroke of the sickle. In Poland, when the last handful of corn was cut, people cried out ‘You have cut the navel-string!’ In some districts of West Prussia the figure made out of the last sheaf was called the Bastard, and a boy was wrapped up in it. The woman who bound the last sheaf pretended to give birth to him. In other parts of North Germany the corn dolly was called the Child or the Harvest-Child.


Continues in book…



Chapter 1 THE AUTUMN EQUINOX

The Technical Bit

The Autumn Stars


Chapter 2 THE MYTH OF THE CORN

Changes in Belief Systems

The Mother Goddess

The God of Vegetation

Death and Initiation


Chapter 3 HARVEST HOME

The Harvest Lord

Largesse

The Last Sheaf

The Corn Doll

The Harvest Supper

Harvest Knots

Threshing the Corn


CHAPTER 4 MICHAELMAS


CHAPTER 5 RITUAL

Themes of Herfest

Autumn Equinox Ritual

Gardnerian Autumn Equinox Rite

Herfest Ritual

Solo Harvest Ritual

Harvest Ritual


Chapter 6 THE HARVEST FEAST


Chapter 7 HERB CRAFT


Chapter 8 INCENSE


Appendix 1 CALENDAR OF HERFEST


Appendix 2 GODS AND GODDESSES

OF THE HARVEST


Appendix 3 SONGS AND POEMS


Afterword DON’T CALL ME MABON…


Rrp £13.95

978-1907614149

194 pages

Published by Lear Books

Autumn Equinox by Anna Franklin

£10.00

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