It was a cloudy here on the east coast when we went out to pay our respects to the Harvest Moon. She was hidden from us to begin with, but we waited, as she slowly came out from behind the cloud, reflecting on the sea and the wet sand, as the tide had turned. For a few moments, it felt like the whole earth had held their breath, as she coyly glanced down upon 2 small people watching in awe and anticipation. He silver trail, melted on the receding waves as they danced and sang for her. Then she touched the wet sand, which in state of undress, shuddered. Then as quickly as she came, and hiding her modesty, she moved on, back behind the clouds rising higher, away form outstretched hands.
She was a little late this year as usually the Harvest Moon is seen at the end of September. Indeed her appearance in October is quite rare,; the last time was in 1990 and the next time it happens will be in 2020.
Why is She called ‘Harvest Moon’? Well the Harvest Moon was the one falling the closest to the Autumn Equinox.
The moon rises at this time close to the setting of the sun. Her light is so bright that before the use of automation and machinery , farmers were traditionally able to use Her light to gather in the last of the harvest.
After the harvest was all in, the workers would head back to the barn where there were fed a Harvest supper was fed to those who had been out in the field. A great feats of ale or Cider, meat, cakes was served and celebration of the harvest would continue to the early hour. The need for a harvest to be gathered in successfully meant to our ancestors survival over the coming winter months. In England, a Corn dolly would be made with the last sheaf of the corn as it was believed the spirit of the field was chased into as the corn was cut.
The Dolly would then be kept until the following year. It held a place of honour at the feast, and would be key sometime on the door of the barn, of even in the thatch of the barn till the following year, to ensure that a good harvest.
In medieval England, a Harvest Queen would be selected, a young girl would be chosen and then decorated with ribbons, the last of the summer flowers from the fields, and of course corn. She would be paraded through the village on a wagon which had also been decorated.
Paul Hentzner, a 16th Century German Traveller, who travelled through Elizabethan England described a harvest celebration as follows:
“As we were returning to our inn, we happened to meet some country people celebrating their Harvest Home; their last load of corn they crown with flowers, having besides an image richly dressed, by which, perhaps, they would signify Ceres; this they keep moving about, while men and women, men and maid servants, riding through the streets in the cart, shout as loud as they can till they arrive at the barn.”
And as late as 18th century, the antiquarian William Hutchinson reported meeting the Harvest Queen in Northumberland, in his book, A View of Northumberland :
“I have seen in some places an image appareled in great finery crowned with flowers, a sheaf of corn placed under her arm and a scythe in her hand, carried out of the village in the morning of the concluding reaping day, with music and much clamour of the reapers, into the field where it stands fixed on a pole all day, and when the reaping is done it is brought home in like manner. This they call the Harvest Queen and it represents the Roman Ceres”
Although perhas she is more a memory from our ancestors, the Anglo Saxons, and the Goddess Nerthus,
And then there is of course John Barleycorn, who is, of course, a metaphor for the spirit of grain, who is gown and cut down, and made into ale and whisky. The tale of John Barleycorn goes back at least till the 1500’s where it is found in the Bannatyne Manuscript of 1568.
However, Sir James Frazer, suggests in his work The Golden Bower, argues that it goes back even earlier. He suggest that is is evidence of the pagan past of our ancestors. Katherine Herbert, in her book Looking for the Lost Gods of England, suggests that the Anglo Saxon god of agriculture Beowa, or Bēow , and who’s name is thought to be the inspiration for the titular character in the epic poem Beowulf, , is also a direct link to John Barleycorn.
At Hærfest, it is a time to gather in our own personal harvests. To look back on the past year to re evaluate maybe what has gone before, to reap what we have sown; to keep and give thanks to the Gods for that which has been good, to let go of that which serves no purpose.
We moved here just as the harvest was starting to be gathered in the fields surrounding us, and as the month has passed we have watched as the harvest as been fully gather in.
Last night and over the next few days we will give thanks to the Gods for all has come to pass; to honour and remember and give thanks for the seeds we have sown, to raise our glass , and enjoy the fruits before the coming winter months and the darkness.