Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Harvest Moon





The full moon closest to the autumn equinox is known as the Harvest Moon. Due to the tilt of the earth's axis, it rises an hour earlier than normal, giving on clear nights a near unbroken period of light. For those rural people working desperately into the night to bring the harvest home, this extra light was a godsend. The moon also often has a rich golden colour, reminiscent of ripened corn.
A relic of how important harvest was, and still is, to our survival, this is often the one full moon that nearly everybody knows. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Lughnasash



The first of August is the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, now anglicised to Lammas. Falling midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, it marks the traditional start of the harvest season, when plants are gathered, seeds are set and the future for the coming year is assured.
It is linked the the god Lugh, the Celtic version of the dying and rising god or god of the green, who dies in autumn in order to be reborn the following spring.

The celebrations ensure an auspicious start to the harvest and also a last chance of fun before the slog to bring the harvest home begins. Traditionally, mummers plays  were performed, performances handed down orally for generations and varying from place to place. Some have hints of Celtic traditions, suggesting the antiquity of the plays.
And now harvest begins. Next stop, the Harvest Home.



Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Mother's Moon

The full moon of May is often known as the Flower Moon or Mother's Moon. It is the month where the Earth flourishes. Plants, animals and insects all come into their prime as summer approaches, and the Earth changes from her Maiden form to her Mother form.
The beginning of May is marked by the festival of Beltane or May Day, which celebrates the great marriage between the Earth and her lover to allow this life to flourish.
A lot of plants come into flower this month, hence the moon's other common name. This is explained by another county saying:
April showers bring forth May flowers.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Beating the Bounds

Rogation Sunday, around 25th April, is a little marked date today. It stems from the Latin rogare, meaning 'to move' or 'to ask for.' It involved circulating the parish bounds and asking for a bountiful year. Crosses were carried, along with green boughs to symbolise fertility, and prayers were said at various points, often under an oak tree. Place names with the element Gospel Oak indicate such sites. Crosses were placed at parish corners to physically and spiritually mark the bounds. 
Rogation Day was introduced in the 8th century and was a Christian adaptation of the Roman robigalia, a procession through the cornfields to pray for their preservation. The bounds were beaten to symbolically drive out the devil, presumably into the neighbouring parish.  
It was marked into medieval times and then suppressed for its pagan connotations, but the beating of the bounds ceremony survived into the 19th century. This was a more prosaic adaptation to ensure no boundary stones had been moved or unauthorised buildings erected. The bounds were still beaten, as were boys at strategic points, apparently to ensure they would remember their parish boundaries in years to come. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Easter Bunny

People often wonder what the rabbit has to do with Easter. 
The answer is actually nothing; it is in fact a relic of a far older spring festival which Easter has replaced. This is associated with the spring equinox marked in many cultures worldwide. In Europe the spring Goddess was called Ostara or Eostre, from which Easter is derived.

The Easter bunny is actually a hare and not a rabbit. As many people cannot tell the difference between the two, they are often confused in folklore and myth. The hare is one of the totems of the ancient Mother Goddess whose flourishing on Earth is celebrated in spring. This is why witches were popularly believed to turn themselves into hares to cause mischief.

Easter is timed by the moon: it falls on the Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. This is strongly associated with the hare. Hares are very active around this time of year. Everyone knows the saying "mad as a March hare." The full moon in April is named the Hare Moon. In the Warwickshire village of Coleshill until the 20th century the young men would traditionally try to hunt a hare on Easter Sunday. If they were successful  they took it to the vicar who was bound to give them a breakfast of a calf's head and a hundred eggs.

The spring equinox was originally a festival of birth: the Goddess becomes a mother and the Earth flourishes with all kinds of life, hence the fluffy chicks and Easter eggs. The story of Jesus also links to this same deeper story. It is the day when he rises from the dead into a new life, just as life on Earth has always done and will always do. Out of death, new life is born.
Happy Spring everyone !


Saturday, 1 April 2017

April Fool's Day

How many of you were caught out this morning? Well, if you were, take consolation in the fact that you're just one in a series spanning hundreds of years.
The first reference to April Fool's Day is in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in 1392. It is a custom which has come to span much of Europe and other English speaking countries. In France it is the custom to stick a paper fish on the back of your chosen victim, and inScotland  andIreland the victim was asked to deliver a letter to someone asking for help. They would read it- often actually  saying 'send the fool further' or such like- and tell the messenger they'd better ask someone else instead. The victim could spend hours on a wild goose chase.
One of the best pranks was the announcement that Polo mints could no longer be sold without a hole due to new EU regulations, and 'hole fillers' were to be sold with existing packs to comply with the law.
Nobody knows how it originated. Some link it to the old New Year's Day, 25th March, for which celebrations could last a week.
However it came about, we love this day. And if you were caught out, you have a year to work out how to get them back.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mother's Day

The modern institution of Mother's Day is an American invention of the early 1900s, but the older custom of Mothering Sunday, on which it is based, was a custom originating in the Easter tradition.
Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent, falling shortly before Easter. All dutiful children would take a present for their mother on this day, as they do today, and share a meal which included frumenty: sweetened and spiced wheat boiled in milk, along with Simnell cake.
Servant girls were often given the day off to go back home, and they would take one of these cakes with them. The traditional fasting of Lent was lifted for this day.
Happy Mother's Day.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Seed Moon

The full moon of March is often called the Seed Moon. The days are lengthening, the soil is warming up, and the Earth and everything on it is thinking of the new season.

Farmers and gardeners get ready to plant their seeds, and those sown wild are beginning to germinate.

It influences our everyday lives as well - we think of 'spring-cleaning': a literal and metaphorical clearing out of the old and preparing for a fresh start.

March is very much a month of promise.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Ice Moon

The moon of February is known as the Ice Moon or the Chaste Moon. February is the coldest month in the northern hemisphere, as sea temperatures fall and frost and snow prevail.
In February falls the festival of Imbolc, now Christianised to Candlemas. Imbolc is associated with Brigid, the maiden or 'chaste' aspect of the Triple Goddess who became Saint Bridget, whose feast day is celebrated on February 1st.

In February, the earth is in its maiden or purest state, bare earth or virgin snow which will soon harbour myriad life forms as spring arrives.



And even in this coldest month, the earth is already becoming a mother.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Imbolc

The Celtic festival of Imbolc marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was associated with the Goddess Brigid, and in Christian times it became Candlemass or St Bridget's Day, celebrated today on 1st February.

Imbolc, as Welsh speakers will know, means 'in the belly' and it is commonly thought to link to ewes giving birth. This is probably unlikely: although sheep today generally lamb in February, in Iron Age times they would lamb later - March or April - to take advantage of the spring grass and better weather. 
Imbolc is more likely to link to human pregnancy, falling nine months after the fertility festival of Beltaine on 1st May. A lot of babies conceived at Beltaine would be born around this date.

This links to an interesting point. Before modern medical advances, life and death were more intimately connected to the seasons. Infant mortality rates were high and varied greatly throughout the year. The most ideal time for a birth in Celtic Britain - giving the best chance of survival for the newborn - was around 1st February. The worst of the winter hardship and shortage of food was past, spring plants were beginning to shoot, providing valuable nutrients for nursing mothers, and the baby had a good period to develop a strong immune system before the summer heat led to a surge in disease.

Was the Beltaine fertility festival developed specifically for that reason? Answers on a postcard please.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Wolf of Allendale



In 1904, in the town of Allendale in Northumberland, something started attacking the sheep. An escaped wolf was blamed, although the culprit was never conclusively identified.

Farmers started housing their sheep, but still the slaughter continued. A committee was set up to try and hunt it down and a reward offered for its skin, to no avail.
A wolf was then found dead on a railway line and the story was considered finished, until 1971.

The chance discovery of some ancient stone heads, suggested to be Celtic in origin, triggered strange happenings including the appearance of a werewolf-like creature. This was linked to the legend of the wolf of Allendale. The incidents seemed to be attached to the heads and stopped when they were moved.
The heads were eventually taken by a museum for study; their current whereabouts is unknown.

This strange story is the inspiration behind my new novel The Wolf of Allendale. For more information see http://hannah-spencer-author.weebly.com


Friday, 13 January 2017

Unlucky Days


Friday the Thirteenth, the most dreaded date of the calendar. It has darkened our lives since the 19th century: the first known superstitious reference to the date is in 1869, when Gioachino Rossini died on Friday 13th November, the very date he had particularly believed to be so unlucky.

Fear of this day is called paraskevidekatriaphobia: paraskevi being Greek for 'Friday,' and dekatria meaning 'thirteen.' It is estimated that around $900 million USD are lost in business on this day, as people are reluctant to go out, drive, trade or any other potentially risky things. Statistics do actually show a slight increase in road accidents on Friday the 13th, compared to any other Friday, but probably this can be explained by the simple fact that what you expect to happen, often does.

The reasons for this superstition are complex. Friday has always been considered an unlucky day: this is referred to in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales written in the 14th century. This possibly stems from the crucifixion of Jesus, which took place on a Friday. Thirteen is the traditional unlucky number. Again this may link to the crucifixion: there were thirteen people at the Last Supper. Thirteen is a discordant number: being prime, it is divisible by no numbers except itself and one, whereas twelve is the traditional number of harmony and completeness. There were twelve apostles, twelve knights of the round table, twelve constellations of the zodiac, and many others. Friday and thirteen combined is therefore a double whammy of bad luck.

Another reason, popularised by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, is the Knights Templar, the organisation linked to so many conspiracy theories which were rounded up en masse and imprisoned or killed on Friday 13th October 1307. This may have led to a belief that this date was cursed.

Whether you believe in it or not, I hope the day passes well for you.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Plough Monday

Plough Monday, falling on the Monday after Twelfth Day or epiphany (6th January), was the traditional start of the farming new year after the twelve days of Christmas revelries were over.

Ploughing the fields after the fallow period of winter, ready for the spring planting was the main focus of the coming month or two.  The care taken and the weather conditions at the time would have a dramatic influence on the quality of the harvest later in the year. As anyone who cultivates plants knows, the seedbed is the most important variable. 'God speed the plough' is commonly found in ballads and on engravings.

The celebration dates to at least the 15th century, and the day was one of feasting, revelry and pageantry, and a plough, decorated with ribbons, was pulled around the village by all the farm lads with pipes and other instruments playing.
Money was usually collected door to door, as on St Thomas' Day and wassailing days, with the threat that non-compliance would result in their garden getting ploughed up!

In some areas, participants would dress as women. In Warwickshire the plough boys and farm girls would race to the nearest furrow and back; the losers lost their share of plum pudding.

Plough Monday was all but forgotten by the beginning of the 19th century, but in the late 20th century it began to receive more interest as old customs were revived. It is celebrated in several places today.