According to the Old Style calendar reckonings, August 1st is the true first day of Autumn. This day - the day of Lughnasadh, the Lammastide of the old Anglo-Saxons - belongs to the lunar-reckoning of the Celts, who halved their year into only summer and winter, and tallied their days from sunset to sunset. Lammastide is the cross-year partner of Imbolc - old Candlemas, celebrated on February 1st - and derives its Celtic name, Lughnasadh, from its connection to the Irish god Lugh.
In Irish tradition, the ancient festival of “first fruits” celebrated around the first of August, coincides with the death of Lugh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu. The god decreed that ever after the first day of that month should be kept sacred to her memory, and the kings of Tara followed suit, ordering that “all Ireland” assemble and gather on this sacred day to assure the continued well-being of the land. The date also held a dual significance to the ancient Irish for it was the day when the warlike Fir Bolg – Tailtiu’s people – invaded the island realm; this alone would have assured its significance in the Celtic mindset.
The Anglo-Saxons commemorated the day set aside by Lugh as Lammas – literally “loaf-mass” – in honor of the first bread made from the newly-cut grain. Other harvests might start in September, and in some areas of Europe the entire harvest may not even be brought in until the last days of October, but swift-growing corn was eagerly reaching for the sun by the first of August, and was therefore the first to be brought down.
In pagan beliefs, the harvest was directly connected to the seasonal death of the consort of the Earth, the Green Man of the Summer now transformed into the Harvest King; and the festival celebrating this event held great significance across the ancient world. The people of Roman Gaul – the remaining Celts of continental Europe – were observed coming together at the beginning of August to honor their god Lugus; later the Romans imitated the Gauls, transforming the event into a harvest festival celebrating their god-Emperor Augustus, and ultimately attaching his name to the month as "August." Similar harvest celebrations were held across the ancient world, from the forests of Germany to the islands of Greece. The Welsh call the month “Awst”; in Gaelic it is named “An Lugnasda” (“the month of Lughnasadh”).
Harvesting continued throughout September, the seventh month of the Roman calendar, named for the Latin “septum” or, simply, “seven.” In Gaelic, September is “An Sultuine,” the month of plenty.” The Welsh call it “Medi,” for “reaping,” and so significant was the harvest to the Anglo-Saxons that they called it “Halegmonath” or, “holy month.”
As the harvest came to an end, the focus shifted to the last portion of the field left standing, for this was the place where the spirit of the grain had taken refuge, and as such, it possessed a highly-potent power. The reapers would approach this patch with great reverence and work until the last stalk was left standing; then from this stalk they would pull the last sheaf of the harvest, and fashion it into a human figure, known as the "Spirit-In-The-Sheaf."
Depending upon the prevailing beliefs of the community, the Spirit-In-The-Sheaf could be seen as old or young. If old, this conveyed a sense of maturity or ripeness, and the spirit might be deemed to have an affinity with the Harvest Mother, the Goddess of the Grain. If the spirit was believed to be young, it might be viewed as a “maiden” or even as an infant child, a “kirn-baby” who has been delivered from the womb of its mother, its cord severed by the last stroke of the harvest scythe. This spirit, and the figure fashioned from the grain to represent it were to play a significant role in the processions and celebrations of Harvest Home.
The festival of Harvest Home, known to pagans as Mabon, was celebrated at the time of the Autumnal Equinox around September 23rd. It marked the time when the full harvest, now matured, could be gathered in, or brought “home,” as part of preparations for the challenges of the fast-approaching winter. Communities marked this seasonal passage with dancing and suppers that had about them the sense of "turning inward" that was overtaking the wider world.
The spirit of the grain, be it Mother or Maiden, was always given a place of honor in the celebrations of Harvest Home, as was the sheaf fashioned to mimic the spirit. Seeds from this sheaf might be mixed with the next year’s seed crop, or kept in a special place to be scattered with the first sowing of the following spring. Or the sheaf might be kept in a place of honor in the home throughout the dearth of winter until Yule, when it would be broken apart and shared among the livestock to make cattle thrive in the new year, or to ensure the safe birth of the new spring foals. A Mother sheaf that had been fashioned to look like a pregnant woman might even be gifted to a farmer’s wife at Harvest Home to make her fertile through the winter that she might bear a child in the new year.
St. Michael and the Balance Between
The Autumn Equinox of September 23rd coincides with the astrological progression into the sign of Libra, appropriately symbolized by the scales. A few days later, on the 29th, is Michaelmas, the Feast of St. Michael, who was traditionally charged with weighing the good deeds of the dead against their transgressions in life.
Michael’s connection to the universal scales and his placement at the Autumn Equinox, is not insignificant, for he stands at the Gateway to Winter, to October and November, the little seasons of the dead, and just within sight of the dark heart of the year.
"There was a door to which I found no key,
There was a veil past which I could not see;
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee . . .
And then no more of Thee and Me."
From, “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” Fitzgerald, 1859
“A FEATHER ON THE BREATH OF GOD”:
HILDEGARD OF BINGEN
Hildegard of Bingen was a Catholic mystic and visionary whose reputation as a prophetess earned her the title of “Sibyl of the Rhine.”
Born at Bockelheim in 1098, not much is known of her early life. According to legends, she was the daughter of an illustrious Bavarian family and rightly ought to have been distinguished as a Countess; but Hildegard was a sickly child and as a result received little education at home. Early in her life her parents promised her to the Church, and at the age of eight she was placed in the care of Jutta of Meginhard, the Abbess of a reclusive order of nuns who lived on Mount Disibod in the diocese of Speyer. Here again, because of a lingering sickness that frequently made her unable to walk and often even to see, Hildegard received only little formal instruction. She was taught to read and to sing the Latin songs sufficient for chanting the Divine Office, but she never learned to write. Eventually she took the habit of St. Benedict and committed to the religious life; when Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was appointed a Superior of her Order.
Numerous aspirants flocked to her community and, impelled by what she described as a “Divine command,” around 1148 Hildegard decided to move the community to a new location. She chose Rupertsberg near Bingen on the banks of the Rhine River, and after overcoming many difficulties and obtaining the patronage of the governing lord, Count Bernard of Hildesheim, Hildegard settled into her new convent with eighteen other sisters. The community was successful and around 1165 she founded another convent at Eibingen on the opposite side of the river.
There is nothing in these rudimentary beginnings to indicate the extraordinary life Hildegard would eventually lead. From her earliest years she received visions, but soon learned to keep these revelations to herself:
“Up to my fifteenth year I saw much, and related some of the things seen to others who would inquire with astonishment whence such things might come. I also wondered . . . a great fear befell me. Frequently, in my conversation, I would relate future things, which I saw as if present, but noting the amazement of my listeners, I became more reticent.”
Hildegard managed to conceal her visionary gifts until, at around forty years of age, she received a command to make known to the world what she had long seen and heard. Though long-convinced that her revelations were of a Divine nature, Hildegard naturally hesitated, fearing what others, and especially the Church, might think or surmise. But the inner voice continued to speak to her, alternately urging and rebuking, and even threatening her until at last she unburdened herself to her spiritual advisor and through him to the Abbot governing her community. He in turn ordered a monk to attend Hildegard and to put into writing the nature and character of her revelations; some of her nuns also assisted her. The resulting records were ultimately presented to the Bishop of Mainz who pronounced them as coming from God. Other bishops from the dioceses of Trier, Cluny, and Verdun, also investigated and made favorable reports.
The visions continued, and Hildegard’s writings were circulated. Crowds of faithful flocked to her from all parts of Germany and Gaul to hear her wisdom and advice, and to receive help with spiritual and physical ailments. Not only the common people but also many men and women of nobility and officers of both Church and State were drawn to Hildegard by reports of her enlightenment and sanctity. Hildegard is also credited with inspiring other religious visionaries; St. Elizabeth of Shönau was a follower who became an intimate friend and frequent visitor, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux was counted among Hildegard’s many admirers. Her extensive correspondence with many medieval luminaries is still extant, and she frequently accepted invitations to visit communities and churches across Europe.
Hildegard died a holy death at Rupertsberg near Bingen in 1179. Greatly venerated in life, after her death many called her a saint and attributed miracles to her intercession. The process of her canonization began with Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241), but Hildegard was not formally canonized until 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI welcomed her as a Saint of the Church.
Hildegard’s copious manuscripts were found in the convent at Eibingen and preserved. In 1814 they were transferred to the state library at Wiesbaden. Of this collection the foremost and greatest work of St. Hildegard is the “Scivias” (Scire or vias Domini, or vias lucis), which she began in 1141 and completed ten years later.
Prophetic and grave in the manner of Ezekiel and the Apocalype, the Scivias is an extraordinary accomplishment. In the introduction, Hildegard speaks of herself and describes the nature of her visions, then follow three books: the first containing three visions; the second, about double the size of the first, recounts seven visions; the third, encompassing the size of both the others, has thirteen visions. Altogether, the Scivias represents God on His Holy Mountain with mankind at its base, and tells of the original condition of man, his fall and redemption, the human soul and its struggles, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the times to come, the son of perdition and the end of the world.
Hildegard’s “ Liber vitae meritorum,” written between 1158 and 1163, is a picturesque description of a Christian’s life of virtue and its opposite; the “Liber divinorum operum”(1163-1170) is a contemplation of all nature in the light of faith. Sun, moon, and stars, the planets, the winds, animals, and man are in her visions expressive of something supernatural and spiritual, and as they come from God so should lead back to Him. Also among her works are nine small essays: on the creation and fall of man; God’s treatment of the renegade; on the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist; on the covenant between Christ and the Church (“Ecclesia”); on the creation and redemption; on the duties of secular judges; on the praises of God with intermingled prayers.
The Vitae Disibodi and S. Ruperti, which Hildegard claims also to be revelations, were probably appended with local traditions, and have only legendary value; these include the Expositio Evangeliorum, fifty homilies in allegory, and a collection of seventy hymns and their melodies. The “Linga Ignota” is a manuscript in eleven folios containing a list of nine hundred words of an unknown language, mostly nouns and a few adjectives, together with an unknown alphabet of twenty-three letters with a Latin, and in a few instances a German translation.
Hildegard’s gifts as a naturalist and healer are displayed in Liber Simplicis Medicinae and Liber Compositae Medicinae, a series of nine books treating of plants, elements, trees, stones, fish, birds, quadrupeds, reptiles, and metals. A second medical work, Curae et Causae, was discovered in 1859; it is in five books and treats of the general division of created things, of the human body and its ailments, of the causes, symptoms, and treatments of diseases, and is today considered one of the premiere works of medieval natural lore.
Follow the link to sample the album, "Hildegard von Bingen: 11,000 Virgins, Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula" by Anonymous 4:
Ever mindful of the importance of both spiritual and physical health, St. Hildegard first set down the recipe for these cookies over 900 years ago. She instructed that these spice biscuits should be taken at regular intervals to increase joy and positivity!
St. Hildegard’s Cookies of Joy
For 30 cookies you will need:
1½ sticks (¾ cup) of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
Let butter soften and then cream it with the brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add half to the butter, sugar and egg mixture; blend well. Add the remaining half and blend thoroughly. Dough may be chilled to make it workable. Form dough into walnut-sized balls; place on a greased and floured cookie sheet and press flat. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks and cool completely.
“WHO IS AS GOD?”:
Michael is undisputedly the most identifiable of all the Archangels. Indeed, in both Biblical and secular lore, and the traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, Michael is ranked as the greatest of all angels. He is Chief of the Order of Virtues, Chief of Archangels, Prince of the Presence, Ruler of the 4th Heaven, and Angel of Repentance, Righteousness, Mercy, and Sanctification. He is the conqueror of Satan, angelic prince and tutelary guardian of Israel, and guardian of Jacob. He is the author of the 85th Psalm, the angel who stayed the hand of Abraham to prevent the sacrifice of Issac; he is the angel of the Burning Bush and he, along with the other archangels and the angel Metatron, assisted in the burial of Moses.
Michael comes to us from the Chaldeans who worshipped him as a god. Islamic tradition describes him as having “wings of the color of green emerald” and being covered in “saffron hairs, each of them containing a million faces and as many tongues” - possibly an allusion to Michael’s role as the ruling angelic spirit of the Sun. In the occult traditions, Michael is also the ruler of the greater and lesser angelic spirits associated with Sunday; by virtue of this solar connection he is aligned with the south and with the element of fire. Michael is credited with leading the hosts of heaven against the third of the angels who rebelled against God, casting out Lucifer and the angels of darkness under the command of the Arch Demon Belial. In Western art, Michael is familiar as the martial angel, wings outstretched, sword drawn, ready to strike at the head of Satan, who is prostrate beneath his girded feet.
This mighty Archangel who cast the Devil out of heaven is also given power over all God’s natural phenomena including rain, wind, fire, snow, thunder, lightning, and hail. As the angel of battle and defender of the righteous, Michael is the patron saint of policemen and other law enforcement personnel. He is invoked to aid against wrong-doers and physical enemies; spiritual enemies flee from the very mention of his name.
Prayer to St. Michael
St. Michael, Archangel, defend us in battle,
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil,
May God rebuke our enemies, we humbly pray,
And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
By the power of God, thrust into Hell the Adversary
And all other evil spirits who prowl about the world
for the ruin of souls.
September Spells for the Autumn Home
As Summer wanes around us, our attention begins the barely-perceptible inward turning that marks the entire season of Autumn. Now we begin to spend more time inside with family and friends; we want to surround ourselves with the joys of the season, growing golden all around us. And in thinking about our homes and families, there may be an occasional need also to assure that home is a welcoming - and safe - place to be.
Protection: At the corner of the house site, bury one each of four precious stones and one silver coin.
To Rid the Home of Unwelcome Guests: Place a broom behind a door of an adjacent room, pointing to him or her. The guest will leave in a hurry!
John Barleycorn: The Green Man in the Grain
Barley is an ancient grain and is possibly the oldest cultivated by the peoples of antiquity. A traditional English folk song tells the story of the lifespan of the grain, personified as “John Barleycorn” – from his “birth” in seed-shoot to his demise as whiskey in a “nut-brown bowl.”
There came three men from out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
As they had sworn a solemn oath,
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed,
They harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.
Then they let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprung up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John he growed a long beard
And so became a man.
They hired men with scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee;
They rolled him, and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.
They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.
Here’s little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
And the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can’t mend kettle nor pot
Without a little Barleycorn.
Cooking and Crafts
Autumn is a great time for cooking and trying out
recipes for the coming holiday season, such as this
Spice Cake with Velvet Cinn-Brown Sugar Glaze
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