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Autumn Equinox


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About the Author Ellen Dugan, also known as the Garden Witch, is a psychic-clairvoyant who lives in Missouri with her husband and three children. A practicing Witch for over eighteen years, Ellen also has many years of nursery and garden center experience, including landscape and garden design. She received her Master Gardener status through the University of Missouri and her local county extension office. Look for other articles by Ellen in Llewellyn’s annual Magical Almanac, Wicca Almanac, and Herbal Almanac. Visit her website at: www.geocities.com/edugan_gardenwitch


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ellen dugan

Autumn Equinox the

e nc h a n t m e n t of m abon

Llewellyn Publications Woodbury, Minnesota


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Autumn Equinox:The Enchantment of Mabon © 2005 by Ellen Dugan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Llewellyn Publications except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. First Edition Second Printing, 2005 Book design and editing by Rebecca Zins Cover design by Kevin R. Brown Cover illustration © 2005 Tom Metcalf Interior illustrations by Kate Thomssen Zone map on pages 113–115 by Gavin Dayton Duffy Llewellyn is a registered trademark of Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Dugan, Ellen, 1963Autumn equinox: the enchantment of Mabon / Ellen Dugan. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-7387-0624-5 ISBN-10: 0-7387-0624-8 1. Autumnal equinox. 2. Autumn festivals. 3. Harvest festivals. 4. Neopaganism. I. Title. GT4995.A98D84 2005 394.264—dc22 2004063273 Llewellyn Worldwide does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business transactions between our authors and the public. All mail addressed to the author is forwarded but the publisher cannot, unless specifically instructed by the author, give out an address or phone number. Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific location will continue to be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to authors’ websites and other sources. Llewellyn Publications A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd. 2143 Wooddale Drive, Dept. 0-7387-0624-8 Woodbury, MN 55125-2989, U.S.A. www.llewellyn.com Printed in the United States of America on recycled paper


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Other Books by Ellen Dugan Garden Witchery: Magick from the Ground Up (llewellyn, 2003) Elements of Witchcraft: Natural Magick for Teens (llewellyn, 2003) 7 Days of Magic: Spells, Charms & Correspondences for the Bewitching Week (llewellyn, 2004) Cottage Witchery: Natural Magick for Hearth and Home (llewellyn, 2005)

forthcoming The Enchanted Cat: Feline Fascinations, Spells, and Magick (march 2006)


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Contents acknowledgments . . . xiii dedication . . . xv introduction . . . xvii

Chapter 1: The Autumnal Equinox and Harvest Home, 1 Autumn Equinox or Mabon? A Harvest Festival No Matter How You Look at It [2] Various Harvest Goddess Mythologies [4] Romancing the Harvest [5] You Call It Corn, We Call It Maize . . . [6] John Barleycorn and the Lord of the Harvest [8] The Sacrificial God [11] European Harvest Customs, Folklore, and Festivals [12]


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Harvest Festivals at the Equinox [15] English Festival of Harvest Home, 15 Holy Rood Day or Nutting Day, 16 Michaelmas, 16 Oktoberfest, 17 The American Harvest Festival:Thanksgiving, 17 Celebrating the Harvest Down Under, 19 viii

Happy Harvest Holiday [20] Celebrating Autumn and the Harvest Today [21]

Chapter 2: September Sun Signs and Stars, 23 Virgo the Virgin [25] Autumn Faery Meditation, 27 A Virgo Tarot Spell for Abundance, 28 A Virgo Candle Spell: Practical Magick, 30 A September Herbal Spell, 32 An Herbal De-Stressing Spell, 33 Calling on the Blackbirds for Skill and Cunning, 33

Libra the Scales [35] The Six-Pointed Star of Libra Meditation, 37 A Tarot Spell for Libra, 37 Libran Candle Magick to Promote Harmony, 39 An Autumn Herbal Spell, 41 On the Wings of a Dove:A Spell for Partnership and Beauty, 42

Chapter 3: Harvest Moon Magick, 45 A Family Outing [47] Mid-Autumn Moon Festival [49] An Invocation to Chang-O, Goddess of the Autumn Moon [50] Full Moon Magick for Fall [52]


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Full Moon Solitary Ritual: The Wine Moon [52] Full Moon Faery Wisdom Spell [56] Working with a Group [59] Full Moon Group Ritual [61]

Chapter 4: Harvest Goddesses, 65 Demeter, The Ultimate Harvest Mother Goddess [66] A New Way to Look at an Old Tale, 68 Persephone’s Story, 70 Magick with Demeter and Persephone, 73 Calling on Demeter for Abundance and Prosperity, 73 Correspondences for Persephone, 74 Choosing Your Own Path with Persephone, 75

Elen of the Ways [76] An Invocation to Elen, 78

Pomona, Roman Goddess of Apples [79] Pomona and Fall Apple Magick, 81 More Ideas for Goddess Magick, 82

Chapter 5: The Gods of Vegetation and Vine, 85 Dionysus, God of the Vine [87] Dionysus’s Story, 88 The Gifts of the Dancing God, 90 A Group Invocation to Dionysus for Mabon, 90 Experiencing the Grape Harvest Today: Local Wineries, 91

The Green Man [94] Autumn Magick with the Green Man, 96

Herne the Hunter [98] Facing Fears with the God of the Wild Hunt, 100

Antlers and Acorns [101]

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Chapter 6: The Garden in Autumn: Fall Flower & Foliage Fascinations, 103 Autumn in the Garden [105] The Garden Witch’s Dozen of Magickal Fall Plants [106] Zone map, 113–115

Flower Fascinations for Autumn [117] x

A Multi-Purpose Fall Pansy Spell, 117 Morning Glory Vine Protection Charm, 118 An Autumn Chrysanthemum Circle Casting, 118 Bulb Planting Charm, 119

Fall Foliage [120] Fall Color Magick with Foliage [121] Yellow and Gold, 122 Orange and Rust, 123 Red and Burgundy, 125

Those Enchanting Leaves, Flowers, and Trees [127]

Chapter 7: Equinox Enchantment: The Charm of Autumn, 129 Apples [130] Grapes [132] Ornamental Corn and Cornstalks [133] Pumpkins [134] Cornucopias [136] Wheat and Grain [137] A Golden Prosperity Spell, 137

The Scarecrow [138] Scarecrow Folklore in Europe and America, 141 Scarecrow Magick, 143


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Scarecrow Property Protection Spell, 144 Scarecrow Abundance Charm, 145

Autumn Candle Magick [146] Candle Color Chart for Autumn, 146 God and Goddess Candle Spell, 147 Equinox Candle Ritual for Balance, 148

Solitary Autumn Equinox Ritual [149] xi

Chapter 8: The Harvest-Tide Feast, 153 Seasonal Recipes [156] Turkey Timetable, 156 Cooking Wild Game, 157 Ken and Ellen’s Stuffing, 158 Rosemary Garlic Potatoes, 159 Cheesy Baked Squash, 160 Shoepeg Corn Casserole, 160 Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna, 161 Dora’s Grape Jelly, 162 Janet’s Crock-Pot Apple Butter, 162 Grandma Dorothy’s Piecrust, 163 Crumb Topping for Pie, 163 Deep Dish Apple Pie, 164 Sugarless Apple Pie Filling, 164 Blackberry Pie, 165 Harvest Apple Upside-Down Cake, 165 Pumpkin Bread, 166 Applesauce Cookies, 167

Baking Tips, Kitchen Hints, and Fun Facts [167] All-Purpose Spell to Bless Food [168] Bewitching Tricks and Tips for Natural Floral Centerpieces [169]


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Meal Blessings and Pagan Prayers [170] Harvest Prayer, 171 General Mealtime Prayer, 171 Sabbat Prayer, 171

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Chapter 9: Autumn Potpourri: Spellcrafts and Magickal Projects, 173 Grape Wreath for Autumn Equinox [175] Mini Metallic Leaf Wreath [176] Lighted Fall Garlands for Protection [177] Leafy Luminaries to Light Up Your Nights [178] Herbal Soaps [179] Lavender Citrus Soap, 181 Honey Oatmeal Soap, 182 Gardener’s Scrubbing Soap, 182 Charms for Soaps, 183

Correspondence Charts for More Autumn Enchantments [184] Harvest Deities, 184 Crystals and Stones for the Fall, 186 Magickal Herbs, Plants, and Foodstuffs, 187

Autumn Enchantment Worksheet [190]

closing . . . 191 bibliography . . . 195 index . . . 201


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Acknowledgments Writing a book is a learning experience and during the writing of this particular one I learned a great deal. During this adventure a few words of thanks need to be said to Ben the Computer Wizard, who saved the day and this manuscript when my computer crashed and then had to be completely rebuilt. While this slowed me down, it didn’t stop me, thanks to a loaned laptop from Ben. And so the book kept rolling along in spite of technical difficulties. Also I’d like to express my appreciation to the wonderful men and women of the Pagan/ Wiccan community who so graciously helped me early on in my search for historical information. They loaned books, offered suggestions for resources, and gave me ideas of where to look as I began my search for answers. These wonderful and wise folks include Ken, Nicole, Paula, Gwen, Scott, Lisa, Ron, Sandy, Duane and Chell, Christopher Penczak and Steven, Dorothy Morrison, Kala Trobe, Catherine Wishart, Stephanie Taylor and Raven Grimassi, Natalie Harter, Becky Zins, and Megan Atwood. At the end of my quest for information I think I harvested more laughter and friends than historical reference material . . . but I’d say the tradeoff was well worth it.

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Dedication For my children: Kraig, Kyle, and Erin, I remember fondly teaching you the basics of the Craft and the names of all of the sabbats when you were little. I also recall how you would delight in yelling out the name of one particular autumn sabbat even when you knew what the correct answer should be, just to yank my chain. There we’d be, dying eggs for Ostara or wrapping gifts for Yule, and I’d ask you what the name of the upcoming holiday was. The three of you would look at each other, grin, and shout out in unison,“Mabon!” No matter what magickal question I’d ask you over the years, this has become the standard answer. Then came the day when you were all older, in high school and college, and I was asked to write one of the books in the sabbat series. After accepting, I walked into the living room, dazed and excited, to find the three of you sprawled over the furniture and happily arguing amongst yourselves. “Guess what sabbat book I’m going to get to write?” I asked the three of you. I believe it was Kyle who raised an eyebrow at me and asked, “If I say Mabon, are you going to hit me over the head with something?” How in the world I ever managed to raise such cleverly sarcastic, smart-alecky children is a constant mystery to me. Unfortunately, it only makes me love you guys even more. This one is for the three of you.

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Introduction xvii

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn Stand shadowless like Silence, listening . . . •

thomas hood

The Forgotten Sabbat? No, It’s the Season of the Witch The Autumn Equinox has to be one of my all-time favorite sabbats. Why? Probably because it’s such a quiet yet profound holiday. This is a magickal holiday that is not overshadowed by commercialism. In recent years, some folks began to refer to this holiday as the “forgotten sabbat,” which mystifies me. How can it be forgotten when the change in the air, the turning leaves, and the shortening days are doing everything possible to catch your attention? This is a sensual time of year. You can see the leaves start to change on the trees, you can feel the snap in the evening air and the dew that soaks through your shoes on the morning grass. You can hear the cries of migratory birds as they start to move their way to their winter homes. Just stop and smell the spicy scent of the fall flowers as the color shifts in the garden from pastel to deep jewel tones and fabulous textures. Taste the apples that are in season and experience the magick of this glorious time of year, for the season of the Witch has begun. The fall, as far as I’m concerned, is the most bewitching time of the year. This past year I took my family apple picking, as this is one of our favorite fall family traditions, on a


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misty September morning. We had started out early and, as luck would have it, we had the orchard to ourselves. It was just the five of us plus the farmer’s black lab, who had ridden along on the tractor ride to the orchard. He enjoyed the petting and attention the kids gave him and studiously ignored their attempts to have him fetch a stick. It was quiet and peaceful, except for the fact that my three kids, all older teens, were either arguing over what variety of apple tasted the best or happily insulting each other. I wandered a bit away from the kids and their cheerful bickering, leaving my husband to refxviii

eree, and walked farther along the rows by myself. The sun was trying to burn off the mist, but it lingered on. Walking through the ankledeep mist and wandering between the rows of the apple trees heavily laden with golden yellow fruit made me wonder if this was what Avalon was supposed to look like. I looked out across the orchard and noticed a brush of color in the tree line of the surrounding woods. I snapped a few pictures and thought to myself that I would not be surprised if a nature spirit should suddenly appear. My husband poked his head around an apple tree and walked quietly to my side. Together we silently stood there for a moment, enjoying the view.“You can really feel fall in the air this morning,” he said. As I stood there and leaned into him, we watched the thinning mist creep along the grass.“The wheel of the year is turning,” I murmured. We stood in companionable silence for a few more moments, enjoying the magick of the orchard and the approaching fall. We could only laugh when, a few moments later, our three “grown-up” college- and high-school-aged children came running along, laughing and pelting each other with fallen apples. I cast a last look at the vanishing mist and said a quiet “thank you” to the Lord and Lady for the chance to experience a bit of autumn’s enchantment. Then we gathered up the troops and got down to the business of picking apples. Taking the kids apple picking is an autumn tradition that I began when my boys were just toddlers. The first year we set out, my husband stayed home with our daughter, as she was still an infant. The three of us had a great time; I took a ton of pictures and the boys really liked showing me how big they were by reaching for those apples dangling just out of reach.


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The following year it was all five of us, and we have gone in September, quietly celebrating the Autumn Equinox, every year since. Now that the kids are growing up it’s more of a challenge to get them to come along. But they do. I hate to break it to them, but someday in the not-too-distant future they’ll want to do the same with their families.

Celebrating the Season How you go about celebrating the beginning of the fall season and the sabbat of the Autumn Equinox will depend a great deal on what is happening outside in the part of the world where you live. Here in the midwestern United States, the harvesting of field corn, soybeans, apples, grapes, winter squash, and pumpkins gets under way. What is happening in nature where you live? Get outside and use your senses. Can’t you feel the change and magick drifting out on the air? What enchanting traditions do you enjoy at this time of balance and bounty? In the Wiccan tradition this sabbat has many names, and many of these titles will vary widely, depending on the magickal tradition of the practitioner. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to it here as the Autumn Equinox. (We’ll get into the vast and varied names and titles for this sabbat in our first chapter.) The one theme that does hold true in all of these different magickal traditions and celebrations is that this is the second harvest festival of the agricultural year, the first being Lammas (or Lughnassadh). This is the festival of the reaping of the late grains, fruits, and vegetables. The Autumn Equinox is, at its foundation, quite simply a Harvest Home event. And this enchanting celebration is a time to be thankful for the bounty of the earth and for all of your blessings. Are you looking for some fresh ideas to make this “forgotten” sabbat into one that is custom-made just for you and your lifestyle? Together, let’s take a look at this harvest festival from a new perspective and see what sort of autumn enchantment we can create. This book is overflowing with magickal ideas, spells, charms, seasonal recipes, and bewitching crafts for you to try. There is a smattering of history on the traditional celebrations of the harvest from all over the world for you to consider. This book has a chapter on sun sign magick during the

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autumn months and a chapter devoted to spells and rituals to celebrate the enchanting harvest moon. There is magickal information on the major harvest deities, such as Demeter and Dionysus, and Persephone and the Green Man, for you to mull over, plus spells and rituals invoking their assistance. How about calling on Demeter to bring abundance into your life? Or petitioning Dionysus for passion and joy? We will consider the charms of nature and discover the natural magick in your own backyard, with an entire chapter devoted to the garden in autumn that features autumn xx

foliage spells and fall flower fascinations. In this sabbat book you’ll find many simple and natural autumn enchantments and equinox rituals for the solitary practitioner. To round it out and close things up there will also be chapters for the harvest table with recipes, meal blessings, and harvest prayers, and finally a chapter on Witch crafts, featuring all sorts of fun and clever seasonal crafts for you to make for your home while you celebrate the fall season. No matter what title you call this sabbat, this is an abundant time of the year for enchantment and natural magick. So let’s get started! The Autumn Equinox is our kick-off to the most colorful and bewitching time of the year.


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In the other gardens And all up the vale, From the autumn bonfires See the smoke trail! Pleasant summer over And all the summer flowers, The red fire blazes, The gray smoke towers. Sing a song of seasons! Something bright in all, Flowers in the summer Fires in the fall! •

robert louis stevenson, “autumn fires”


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CHAPTER 1

The Autumnal Equinox and Harvest Home Come Roger and Nell, Come Simpkin and Bell, Each lad with his lass hither come; With singing and dancing, And pleasure advancing, To celebrate Harvest Home! •

an old english harvest song

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he beginning of the autumn season officially commences in September with the

T

Autumn Equinox. As the sun enters the astrological sign of Libra, the hours of day-

light and darkness are equal to one another, just like the balanced scales of Libra itself. 2

From this point of the year, with each passing day, the daylight hours become noticeably shorter and the weather starts to cool. Autumn is a season of shadows and a time of waning light, but it is also a season of abundance, thanksgiving, and harvest. Ancient people realized the importance of the sun to life on earth. In the time after the equinox, the sun appears to be growing weaker, losing its battle against the darkness. To help the sun regain its former strength, people held harvest festivals of light featuring torches and bonfires as an act of sympathetic magick to encourage the sun to return. Autumn has always been our colorful season of reward. As the sun began to decline and its yearly job was finished, the people gratefully gathered in the field crops. The grains from the fields, the fruit from the orchards, and the vegetables from the garden were harvested to be safely stored away for winter. Everyone in the community was involved in the harvest, as folks needed to make sure they could gather in their crops before they spoiled or were ruined by inclement weather. At the end of the harvesting, the people were worn-out but happy and looked forward to a celebration. No matter where on earth the harvest is celebrated, from mid-August throughout the month of September, there is a basic and profound magick in the hearts of all people as they gather around with friends and family to feast and to celebrate the abundance of the earth.

Autumn Equinox or Mabon? A Harvest Festival No Matter How You Look At It The word equinox actually comes from the Latin word aequinoctium, which means “equal night.” September, the seventh month of the Roman calendar, is taken from the Latin word “seven,” septem. In Gaelic the month is identified as An Sultuine, the month of


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plenty. In Welsh it’s called Medi, the month of reaping. The Anglo-Saxons called this month Gerst moanth, the barley month. Barley was thought to be the first grain grown in Britain. One of the modern names for this autumn sabbat was taken from the Welsh god Mabon. The story of Mabon and his mother, Modron, is as follows: Mabon was taken from his mother as she slept when he was only three nights old. Modron’s cries of anguish were so great that a search or quest commenced to find the missing child. At this point the story ties into the Arthurian legends as some of King Arthur’s knights, or the king himself, take up the quest to find Modron’s son. They eventually rely on the wisdom of the five wisest animals to help them: the blackbird, the stag, the owl, the eagle, and the salmon. Eventually the child was discovered to be quite safe. He had been sleeping in his mother’s womb or, depending on the version of the story, resting in the Underworld. In a plant analogy the child was resting just as a seed must rest beneath the earth before it can face the sunlight and brave the challenges of sprouting, growing, and f lourishing. Now that Mabon’s time had come, he was ready to face the world as God of Light and to be reborn as his mother’s champion. This mythology eventually became wrapped up and associated with the celebration of the Autumn Equinox. For many Wiccans and Pagans this is a bit of a puzzle. How did this sabbat end up with this name, anyway? I never really did come to a conclusive answer. But it sure does make me wonder . . . maybe that’s why there are so many different titles and names for this particular sabbat today. However, no matter what name you call this sabbat, the Autumn Equinox is a magickal time of balance and plenty. The majority of magickal traditions do celebrate this second harvest festival of the year as one of the fruits and the late grains. All around us signs are everywhere in nature, hinting of the shortening days and cooler nights to come. The leaves are beginning to turn and the birds are beginning to migrate south. Apples and many varieties of squash are ripe and ready to be harvested, and the grapes that were harvested just a few weeks before, in late August–early September, begin to be processed into wine. In modern times, when few of us are so intimately linked to the land, the enchanting autumn festival of harvest can be a time to reap what good deeds you’ve sown. And, no

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matter where you live, you can still feel that connection to the seasons as they change. On this day of the autumnal equinox, the sun will rise at true east and then it will set straight at true west. So if you ever wondered where the cardinal points were exactly, here’s your big chance. This is the perfect occasion to consider balance and harmony and how these forces are at work within your life. On this day, whether you call it the autumnal equinox or the sabbat of Mabon, this is your opportunity to celebrate the earth’s bounty and gather in 4

the fruits of your labors. This holiday is the Witch’s Thanksgiving. So let’s be thankful for all the blessings that we have. Here are a few of the many mythologies, harvest festivals, and harvest customs from around the world. Take a look at these and notice how the common theme of the great Earth Mother is tied throughout them all.

Various Harvest Goddess Mythologies Throughout the world, in many mythologies, a goddess of the grain, the harvest, and the good earth was venerated at the Autumn Equinox. This is not surprising, as the Earth itself is seen as a fertile mother, or Gaia. From this matriarch all life was born. She is a great mother goddess who was known by many names throughout time and in numerous cultures. Some of these names include Astarte and Ishtar (to the Sumerians), Isis in Egypt, Demeter in Greece, and Ceres in Rome. To the indigenous people of the Americas she was known as Old Woman Who Never Dies and the Mother of Maize. The harvest mother, Demeter, was a Greek goddess of grain and the fertile earth. Her characteristic of being the “spirit of the grain” is well-known in many cultures as Mother Earth’s child. This child was represented by the seeds that fell from the mother plant, which would then be planted for the following year. Demeter would be visualized as the ripe crop of this year while her daughter, Persephone, would be the seed taken from it to be sown the following spring. The spirit of these future crops could be seen as a daughter, a maiden (such as Persephone) or as a divine child. In Russia the child was simply called the Corn Baby. In Egypt the spirit of the grain was the goddess’s son, Horus. The Aztecs called the harvest goddess


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Chicomecoatl, while a goddess named Xilonen was Goddess of the New Corn. Her son was symbolized by the seeds and called the Spirit of the Corn. The Cherokees called the harvest child the Green Corn Girl. In other parts of the world such as southern India, there is a harvest festival called Pongal. This is a rice festival that lasts for three days. On the first day folks thank the gods for the rain that blessed the earth and that granted them a successful harvest. The second day is spent honoring the warmth and light of the sun that helped the plants grow tall. The third day of the festival honors the cattle who have helped to plow the fields and to bring in the harvest. It is traditional to decorate the horns of the cattle with paint, ribbons, fruit, and flowers. The child who came from this harvest mother was called the Rice Baby. Harvest festivals are as plentiful as the crops produced in the counties in which they are grown. There are harvest festivals for corn, onions, pumpkins, apples, yams, grapes, hops, rice, barley, wheat, and sugar cane. In all parts of the world communities gather together to feast, to sing, and to dance as they celebrate the successful end of the growing season.

Looking on the happy Autumn-fields, And thinking of the days that are no more. •

•

•

alfred, lord tennyson

Romancing the Harvest Without a doubt the most frustrating aspect of researching this historical section was the general lack of information about Autumn Equinox customs. Some reference books claimed that in medieval Europe folks worshiped Demeter as a Corn Mother. Hold on a second . . . corn (or maize) is a native American plant, as in indigenous to the Americas. Did they even have corn in the Middle Ages in Europe? There was such a mishmash of information and customs tying into both the other harvest festivals of Lughnasadh (or Lammas) and Samhain that I began to wonder what in the world to do. I spent weeks trying to track down legitimate harvest custom information.

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Many of the folk customs that modern magickal people insist are from the “ancient” celebration of the autumnal equinox, or what modern Witches call Mabon, were actually tied into the first major grain harvest of the region. At my best estimate that would have probably occurred in the month of August. Bummer . . . I needed something for mid- to late September, around equinox time. Still, there was some information linking Autumn Equinox customs back to Harvest Home celebrations and, of course, to the Celtic festival of Samhain. There was a tempting 6

thought—I could always take a look at the festivals when the first crops were brought in, at Lughnasadh, and the celebration of the third harvest, where everything was stored away in preparation for winter, at Samhain. But what about what we know today as the Wiccan holiday that falls on the Autumn Equinox? The title “Mabon” is, quite honestly, a fairly new name for this harvest festival. So I searched a little harder but kept coming up with more conf licting information. I could literally feel the gray hairs popping right out of my head. And just to keep me on my toes, the harvest festival dates would vary widely, depending on the region of the world these festivals were celebrated in. No wonder people think of this holiday as a forgotten sabbat! What about the grape or apple harvest, and what’s up with all these references to Demeter as an ancient European corn goddess? There are even passages in the Golden Bough describing Demeter as holding “stalks of corn” and “ears of corn.” Am I the only one who noticed that mistake?

You Call It Corn, We Call It Maize . . . Demeter is safely known as a goddess of agriculture. But there are references to both Demeter and Ceres, her Roman counterpart, as corn mothers in the Greco-Roman period. Again, did the ancient Greeks and Romans grow corn as we know it today? Or was the whole thing a mistake caused by the Victorian time period, when folklore was considered fashionable and romantic? Or should I figure that it was a mistake caused by some well-meaning but overly idealistic writers from the 1970s, and that people kept running with the idea as holy writ? You know, the whole Oh, we’ve been celebrating this Pagan harvest festival of Mabon for hundreds of years type of thing.


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While that’s a lovely thought, it really doesn’t have any historical proof to back it up. Then, when I found references to Isis as a corn mother, I knew I was in big trouble. Okay, no way did the ancient Egyptians grow corn. I could maybe imagine how the maize plant, what modern Americans call corn, might have had seeds shipped over to Europe in the 1700s or 1800s—that’s not too much of a stretch. But corn grown in ancient Egypt? That I just couldn’t buy. I knew I was missing something—something important. I found a clue as I looked through a book on medieval gardens and what was commonly planted in them. There was a heading under “corn.” When I looked it up, it said “see wheat.” Excitedly, I flipped back to the “W” section and looked at the entry for wheat. There I read that wheat was called “corn.” Good grief. I slapped the book closed in frustration and tossed up my hands and . . . missed the forest for the trees. That afternoon, when my husband walked in the door, he made the huge mistake of asking how the research was coming. I gave him an earful. (No, that was not another corn reference, Goddess forbid.) He listened to me rant and then suggested looking at the agricultural history of Britain—maybe corn was being sowed in the late 1700s, he speculated. He ought to know, he comes from a long line of farmers. We could both visualize that seeds might have been exchanged. If there were crops of American corn, or maize, being grown in Europe during the 1800s, that would go along with my Victorian romance of the harvest theory. All those references to cornhusk dollies and corn mothers were really driving me up the wall. So I searched the Internet and hit pay dirt. The word corn once meant “a little particle of something such as a seed or a grain of wheat.” Then I stumbled across the fact that in botany, the name corn is given to the leading cereal crop of any major region. In England, corn meant “wheat”; in Scotland and Ireland, corn was “oats.” The grain called corn in the U.S. is properly or historically referred to as Indian corn, or maize. No wonder all those books kept referring to Demeter and Ceres as the goddess of corn, for she was. Demeter was the goddess of whatever the main crop of the region happened to be. That made Isis and Ishtar goddesses of corn, too. The word corn was being used as a term, not as the name of the plant. Eureka!

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Corn and grain, corn and grain, All that falls shall rise again . . . •

wiccan harvest chant

John Barleycorn and the Lord of the Harvest 8

Now that I solved that problem, I figured I could take a fresh look at the harvest customs and the information that I could actually find. Since all of my information linked back into the two other harvest-theme sabbats, why not take another look at those? There are three harvest festivals in the Wiccan calendar and they are all connected. Well, we do love our trinities: three spring festivals, three harvest festivals, three faces of the goddess (Maiden, Mother, and Crone), and three aspects of the god (youth, a man in his prime, and the sage). The harvest celebrations all embrace the idea of sacrifice; however, it is a symbolic sacrifice only. The sacrifice is the one made by the spirit of the grain, sometimes known as John Barleycorn. There is a very popular old ballad for John Barleycorn. It’s been remixed into songs and you may find many versions of this poem all over the Internet. It is often listed as “author unknown.” However, it was actually written by Robert Burns and published in 1782. Now you’ll notice some variation on the spelling; if the words throw you, just say the word out loud and you’ll figure it out. It’s sort of a gruesome ballad, but remember that what it is actually describing is the life span of the barley crops. We start with spring planting and then the summer growing season. Then it rolls into the hot days of late summer as the grain turns brown. Next comes the harvesting and then the process of threshing and grinding the grain. It does end with a twist, as the barley ends up becoming beer and the ballad has a toast to Scotland all in one poem.


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John Barleycorn There was three kings into the east, Three kings both great and high, And they hae sworn a solemn oath John Barleycorn should die. They took a plough and plough’d him down, Put clods upon his head, And they hae sworn a solemn oath John Barleycorn was dead. But the cheerful Spring came kindly on, And show’rs began to fall; John Barleycorn got up again, And sore surpris’d them all. The sultry suns of Summer came, And he grew thick and strong; His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears, That no one should him wrong. The sober Autumn enter’d mild, When he grew wan and pale; His bending joints and drooping head Show’d he began to fail. His colour sicken’d more and more, He faded into age; And then his enemies began To show their deadly rage.

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They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp, And cut him by the knee; Then tied him fast upon a cart, Like a rogue for forgerie. They laid him down upon his back, And cudgell’d him full sore; 10

They hung him up before the storm, And turned him o’er and o’er. They filled up a darksome pit With water to the brim; They heaved in John Barleycorn, There let him sink or swim. They laid him out upon the floor, To work him farther woe; And still, as signs of life appear’d, They toss’d him to and fro. They wasted, o’er a scorching flame, The marrow of his bones; But a miller us’d him worst of all, For he crush’d him between two stones. And they hae taen his very heart’s blood, And drank it round and round; And still the more and more they drank, Their joy did more abound. John Barleycorn was a hero bold, Of noble enterprise;


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For if you do but taste his blood, ’Twill make your courage rise. ’Twill make a man forget his woe; ’Twill heighten all his joy; ’Twill make the widow’s heart to sing, Tho’ the tear were in her eye. Then let us toast John Barleycorn, Each man a glass in hand; And may his great posterity Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

The Sacrificial God During the time of the harvest comes the realization that the summer, the season of the sun and full moon, is coming to an end. Autumn is taking over, and it’s the season of the waning moon and the gathering darkness. All life, both plant and animal, is slowly drifting toward the dark and barren time of the winter, which begins at Samhain. Just as the sun is overshadowed by the darkness, signified by the shortening days, the autumnal equinox falls on the day of balance, when light and dark hours are equal. Symbolically, at the Autumn Equinox the god goes to the Underworld as the corn king and Lord of the Harvest. He has been cut down and the grain absorbed back into the womb of the earth. The symbolic sacrifice of the god at the sabbat of Autumn Equinox, or Mabon, is part of the fertilization process for the future spring planting season. For us today this is a time of cutting away what we no longer need or have moved beyond. There are a few variations of harvest customs from around the world that call the last sheaf standing in the fields the “old man.” I wonder if this is a link to the sacrificial harvest king? Overall, the “old man” was treated much less gently than the corn mother or corn child, for here, in the spirit of the harvest, the god gives up his life at the harvest to feed his people.

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As the final crops and fruits are collected, the god, represented by the weakening sun, returns to the earth to rest with the goddess until it is time for him to be reborn again. Sometimes this is referred to as the sun god going into the seed or being held within the grain. At harvest-tide, a time of incredible bounty spreads out across the land. The grains were full of the life and energy of the god, the earth mother rewarded us with her bounty, and finally the crops were all harvested. The fruits of the fields were gathered and then safely stored away. 12

Life was good, food plentiful, and the barren, cold days of winter seemed far away. Grapes were made into wine and apples pressed into cider. Our friend John Barleycorn began the fermentation process toward becoming beer. As the gathering neared its completion and the harvest looked to be promising, the mood shifted to a happy one. The attention of the reapers now became focused on the last sheaf of grain left ceremonially standing in the field.

I trust in Nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and Autumn garner to the ends of time. •

robert browning

European Harvest Customs, Folklore, and Festivals At harvest-tide, it was typically thought that the spirit of the mother goddess was present within the last sheaf of grain standing in the field. Depending on the local custom, this last sheaf was treated with respect or fear. The last sheaf might be beaten with sticks to help drive out the corn mother; the belief was if she was driven out, then she couldn’t be captured or, heaven forbid, killed. The last sheaf gathered would typically be given special treatment. It was probably tied differently from the rest and was carried from the field by the person who had cut it down. As this individual left the field bearing the special bundle of grain, it signaled that the harvest was officially over. Some local traditions stated that water was to be sprinkled


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on the bearer and the sheaf, both as a blessing and to ward off drought in the following year. In some European villages the last remaining sheaf of grain was braided and made into a female-shaped doll. I imagine this looked a great deal like the cornhusk dolls of today. In some parts of England and Scotland the last sheaf of grain was named the Cailleach and the stems were shaped into a doll. For good luck, the “corn dolly” was saved until the following spring to bless the spring planting. Again, notice here how the word “corn” pops up. This actually would have been wheat, barley, or oats they were referring to, but as we learned earlier, the word “corn” is a botanical term for the main cereal crop of the region. It’s not maize as we know it from the Americas. The shaped corn dolly, who represented the harvest mother goddess, was dressed and adorned with flowers and colorful streamers or ribbons. There are some references to the dolly being dressed all in white with blue ribbons. Then the dolly was attached to a pole and brought home with the last wagonload of grain. Whoever carried the pole had to jiggle and shake the doll to keep the doll moving, so it appeared as if she was still alive. Once back to the farm, the doll was placed on the floor where the grain was threshed. The doll stayed there until the threshing was finished. Some texts claim the corn dolly may have been displayed near the farmer’s hearth. This way, the spirit of the grain goddess stayed with the reapers and farmers, ensuring a plentiful harvest the following year. In Ireland, according to country folklore, it was the young unmarried girls of the community who were invited to cut the last sheaf. Whoever managed to cut it down with one swing would be married within the year. Then the young woman who had gathered the last sheaf would be escorted to the harvest festival by the farmer’s eldest son. They got the first dance of the evening at the big party. No wonder she was supposed to be the first or next girl of her village to get married—she gets set up with the farmer’s oldest eligible son for the big dance? Hmm . . . sounds like a little community matchmaking to me. At these community gatherings, harvest knots were worn to show that the harvest was complete—sort of like a modern corsage or boutonniere. Think of an arrangement of braided wheat with more elaborate knots for the ladies and simpler ones for the fellows. The wearing of harvest knots was popular in many rural counties in Ireland, England, and Scotland.

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Autumn Equinox  

Mabon, Feast of Avalon, Cornucopia, Harvest Home, Festival of the Vine . . . there are many names for this magickal holiday that celebrates...

Autumn Equinox  

Mabon, Feast of Avalon, Cornucopia, Harvest Home, Festival of the Vine . . . there are many names for this magickal holiday that celebrates...