Monday, September 11, 2017

About Foghar


I woke up this morning and the air
was crisp and bright.

The maple trees out front 
are beginning to turn color.

The squirrels are making their yearly mess
as they harvest seed for the long cold winter.

In my garden, some plants are slowing down production.

I spent time outside, harvesting the last yellow pear tomatoes,
thinning the cucumber bushes 
and making space for the winter squash.

The winter peas are up!
The parsnips are ready for a frost.
The eggplant are nearly ready to pick.
And the figs are as sweet as candy!

It felt good to spend time in nature.
A breeze caressed the maple trees
and I was caught in a magical cascade
of falling leaves.

I laughed as, for a moment, 
I was a girl again,
playing with the sprites!

The Wheel is turning
as it has from the beginning of time.

And so, once again, 
here is our post on Foghar,
or Autumn Equinox  . . .



Tha na duilleagan a' tuiteam leis an fhoghar
(The leaves are falling with autumn)


The word "Fhoghar" is Scots Gaelic
and one translation is "Autumn." 

In Scotland, 
Foghar is not celebrated as a holiday, 
but rather there are several different days celebrated 
during the season of Foghar, 
depending on where in the Isles a person lives.

In late September, the sun crosses the celestial equator
and there is one day where the length of the day and night 
are approximately equal. 

This day is called the equinox, 
from the Latin meaning “equal night.” 
The autumn equinox marks one of the lesser Sabbats 
occurring around September 22. 
Astrologically, this is when the sun moves into Libra. 



This feast is known by many names to many people. 
The Druids call it Alban Elfed as well as Mea’n Fo’mhair. 
Some call it simply Harvest Home.
In the Oakmist Tradition, we call this the Feast of Foghar.

At Foghar, we honor the God with offerings of wine, cider and herbs. 
The Goddess is also commemorated 
as she joins the Lord on his journey into the Earth.
As they leave, there is a feeling about us,
as we watch the green turn to golds and browns and reds;
a feeling of loss, of worry.
Will life return? 

At this time of year, our hearts are stirred 
with feelings of aging, dying, and death. 

This is a time of letting go, 
of releasing all that has been used up, 
all that has served its purpose. 

This is the time of letting go,
of those places, people, or things that hold us back 
as we listen to the words of the Goddess,
"Keep pure your highest ideal,
strive ever towards it,
let nothing turn you aside."

What is YOUR highest ideal?

What is there to turn you aside?

Let go...

Let go...


There is a subtle change in the air, 
an occasional crispness that wasn’t there before. 

There is the scent of fallen apples, 
the damp earth, rotting leaves, 
and of smoke 
as it hangs like haze over harvested fields. 


The days begin to grown shorter 
and to the ancients, 
the waning light signaled death. 


For the first time this year
the Sun God is not able to outshine the darkness. 
Now, we bid farewell to the Harvest Lord. 
His seeds are planted into the Earth 
so that life may continue and be more abundant. 
Remember when the two Sun Gods fought at the Summer Solstice, 
and the Old God was wounded. 
His wound is bleeding still. 
His wound is mortal; it will not heal. 
It is the wound of Time, slowly sucking his life away. 

As He weakens, his light dims, 
and the days grow shorter and colder. 
He begins his journey into the West, 
the Land of Death, Tir na Nog, 
where he will sink into the watery realm of the Ancestors. 


Blodeuwedd

In Welsh mythology, this is the day of the year when the God of Darkness,
Goronwy, defeats the God of Light, Llew, 
and takes his place as King of the world.

From an excellent essay by Mike Nichols: 


Llew is the Welsh god of light, and his name means 'lion'. 
(The lion is often the symbol of a sun god.) 
He is betrayed by his 'virgin' wife Blodeuwedd, 
into standing with one foot on the rim of a cauldron 
and the other on the back of a goat.

It is only in this way that Llew can be killed, 
and Blodeuwedd's lover, Goronwy, 

Llew's dark self, 
is hiding nearby with a spear at the ready. 
But as Llew is struck with it, he is not killed. 
He is instead transformed into an eagle.

Putting this in the form of a Bardic riddle, 
it would go something like this: 

Who can tell in what season the Lion (Llew), 
betrayed by the Virgin (Blodeuwedd), 
poised on the Balance, 
is transformed into an Eagle? 

The sequence is astrological and in proper order: 
Leo (lion), Virgo (virgin), Libra (balance), 
and Scorpio (for which the eagle is a well-known alternative symbol). 
Also, the remaining icons, cauldron and goat, 
could arguably symbolize Cancer and Capricorn 
(representing summer and winter), 
the signs beginning with the two solstice points. 

So Llew is balanced between cauldron and goat, 
between summer and winter, 
on the balance (Libra) point of the autumnal equinox, 
with one foot on the summer solstice and one foot on the winter solstice.

This, of course, is the answer to a related Bardic riddle. 
Repeatedly, the 'Mabinogion' tells us 
that Llew must be standing with one foot on the cauldron 
and one foot on the goat's back in order to be killed.
But nowhere does it tell us why. 

Why is this particular situation the ONLY one in which Llew can be overcome?

Because it represents the equinox point. 
And the autumnal equinox is the only time of the entire year 
when light (Llew) can be overcome by darkness (Goronwy).

When it is time for Llew to kill Goronwy in his turn, 
Llew insists that Goronwy stands where he once stood 
while he (Llew) casts the spear. 
This is no mere vindictiveness on Llew's part.
For, although the 'Mabinogion' does not say so, 
it should by now be obvious 
that this is the only time when Goronwy can be overcome.

Light can overcome darkness only at the equinox
-- this time the vernal equinox. 

The Welsh myth concludes with Gwydion pursuing 
the faithless Blodeuwedd through the night sky,
and a path of white flowers springs up in the wake of her passing, 
which we today know as the Milky Way. 




When Gwydion catches her, 
he transforms her into an owl, 
a fitting symbol of autumn, 
just as her earlier association with flowers 
(she was made from them) equates her with spring.

Thus, while Llew and Goronwy represent summer and winter, 
Blodeuwedd herself represents both spring and fall, 
as patron goddess of flowers and owls, respectively.




A final consideration would pursue this mirror-like life pattern 
of Llew and Goronwy to its ultimate conclusion. 
Although Llew is struck with the sunlight spear at the autumnal equinox, 
and so 'dies' as a human, 
it takes a while before Gwydion discovers him in his eagle form. 


How long? 
We may speculate 13 weeks, 
when the sun reaches the midpoint of the sign (or form) of the eagle, Scorpio 
-- on Halloween. 

And if this is true, it may be that Llew, 
the sun god, 
finally 'dies' to the upper world on Halloween, 
and now passes through the gates of death, 
where he is immediately crowned king of the underworld.)

Meanwhile, Goronwy (with Blodeuwedd at his side) 
is crowned king in the upper world, 
and occupies Llew's old throne, 
beginning on Halloween. 

Thus, by winter solstice, 
Goronwy has reached his position of greatest strength in our world, 
at the same moment that Llew,
now sitting on Goronwy's old throne, 
reaches his position of greatest strength in the underworld.

However, at the moment of the winter solstice,
Llew is born again, as a babe, 
(and as his own son!) into our world.


And as Llew later reaches manhood 
and dispatches Goronwy at the vernal equinox, 
Goronwy will then ascend the underworld throne at Beltane, 
but will be reborn into our world at midsummer, as a babe, 
later to defeat Llew all over again. 

And so the cycle closes at last, 
resembling nothing so much as an intricately woven, 
never-ending bit of Celtic knotwork.

“Llew's sacrificial death at Harvest Home
also identifies him with John Barleycorn, 
spirit of the fields. 
Thus, Llew represents not only the sun's power, 
but also the sun's life trapped and crystallized in the corn. 

Often this corn spirit was believed to reside 
most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, 
which was dressed in fine clothes, 
or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. 

This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, 
and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing. 

Photo from Eastbourne Lammas Festival website

So one may see Blodeuwedd and Goronwy in a new guise, 
not as conspirators who murder their king,
but as kindly farmers who harvest the crop
 which they had planted and so lovingly cared for. 

And yet, anyone who knows the old ballad of John Barleycorn
knows that we have not heard the last of him."


- Mike Nichols, Harvest Home

Other Associated Myths




Demeter and Persephone. 
Demeter was a goddess of grain and the harvest in ancient Greece.
Her daughter, Persephone, was a great beauty.
One day, she caught the eye of Hades, the bad boy god of the underworld.

Hades abducted Persephone and took her back to the underworld.
Demeter went into a huge depression when she was unable to find Persephone. Demeter's grief caused the crops on earth to die and go dormant.
Everything dried up and rotted.
By the time Demeter recovered Persephone,
the daughter had eaten six pomegranate seeds
(remember the caution not to eat the food of the fae?),
and so was doomed to spend six months of the year in the underworld.
These six months are the time when the earth is dying and becoming dormant.
It begins with Foghar.




For the Christians, the season begins with Michaelmas on September 29. 
Michaelmas is now a Christian feast. 
However, many of the rites associated with it are definitely pagan,
 and it has been said,
 "It is a day when pagan cult and Christian doctrine meet and mingle 
like lights and shadows on their own Highland hills." 



Micheal Nam Buadh, 
Michael the Victorious, the conqueror of the powers of darkness, 
is the patron saint of the sea and maritime lands, 
boats and boatmen, horses and horsemen. 
His name is found all over the Celtic territories. 
He is usually represented riding a milk-white steed,
 a 3-pronged spear in his right hand, 
and in his left, a 3-cornered shield inscribed "Quis ut Deus," 
a literal translation of the Hebrew Mi-cha-el.   
St. Michael is the Neptune of the Gael. 
He had temples dedicated to him around the coast 
wherever Celts were located.

From Carmina Gadelica, Vol.1:11:
The Eve of St. Michael is the eve of bringing in the carrots, 
baking the Struan, killing the lamb, and stealing of the horses.

A few days before the festival,
 the women and girls go to the fields and plains to pull carrots. 
They must be pulled, not dug.  
If the soil is too hard, a space is dug into the earth next to the carrot 
to give the hand access to the root. 
The space is made in the form of an equal-sided triangle, 
technically called torcan. 
A 3-pronged mattock is used. 



Each woman intones a rune to her own tune and time 
irrespective of those around her.  
Examples might be:

"Torcan fruitful, fruitful, fruitful,
Joy of carrots surpassing upon me.
Michael the brave endowing me,
Bride the fair be aiding me.

Progeny pre-eminent over every progeny, 
Progeny on my womb.
Progeny pre-eminent over every progeny, 
Progeny on my progeny.


If a woman finds a forked carrot, 
she breaks out into a happier strain 
that brings all her neighbors to see and admire her luck!

"Fork joyful, joyful, joyful,
 Fork of great carrot to me,
Endowment of carrot surpassing upon me,
Joy of great carrot to me!"

There is much rivalry among the women who shall have the best and most carrots. 
The carrots are washed and tied in small bunches with 3-ply thread, 
usually scarlet.

On this night, a male lamb, without spot or blemish, is slain. 
This lamb is called Uan Micheil (the Michael lamb.)

A cake called Struan Micheil is made of all the cereals grown on the farm during the year. It represents the fruits of the field, as the lamb represents the fruits of the flocks. Oats, bere, and rye were the only cereals grown in the Isles.  The Struan should contain a peck of meal, and should be baked on uinicinn (a lambskin). The meal is moistened with sheep's milk, the sheep being deemed the most sacred animal.  The Struan is baked by the eldest daughter, guided by her mother. As she moistens the meal with the milk, she softly says,

"Progeny and prosperity of family,
Mystery of Michael, protection of Trinity."

The Struan was set on Struan-flag (baking stone)  near a stuan-fire made of oak, rowan, and bramble. Certain woods are to be avoided.   The Struans are of various form, some 3, 5, 7, and 9 cornered. An earlier shape, obviously associated with the female sex, was a triangle with the corners cut off.   Marian McNeill speaks of the link between the latter and the triangle made with the space at the ritual cutting of the Michaelmas carrots. Beneath the Christian symbolism, the phallic symbolism of the earlier pagan rite is obvious.  

I found the following reference online:

"The awesome responsibility of faultless production of the bread falls upon the eldest daughter of your house (or at least some other dependable female). The grains used must be in the proportion of those grown on your land (you probably have barley, oats, and rye). A peck (8 Imperial quarts) of flour from this grain (or two pecks if you have a large family) is to be mixed with an appropriate amount of sheeps’ milk into dough. This preparation is ideally done upon a lamb-skin. The dough is then placed on a “Struan-flag” – a large stone which your menfolk brought in from one of yon bonnie banks earlier in the day – and is placed before the fire. During the baking three layers of a batter of cream, eggs, and butter is daubed over the dough to enrich and engolden it."

Here is another recipe found online:


There is much more about the Struan in Carmina Gadelica on page 590 in the Notes.

An interesting charm is told by Alexander Carmichael, 
wherein people, eating their Struan 
would toss pieces over each shoulder alternately and say,

"Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep;
there to thee, fox, spare my lambs,
here to thee, eagle, spare my goats,
there to thee, raven, spare my kids,
here to thee marten, spare my fowls,
there to thee harrier, spare my chickens."

Gifts are given to the poor on this day, and a great procession is made about the town and lands.

"Theft of horse of the Feast of Michael,
Theft that never was condemned."

The day of Michaelmas includes horse races, called "The Oda."  
Neither saddle nor bridle is used in the race. 
No spurs are used either. 
Only a rope may be used to bridle the horse 
and a piece of seaweed is traditionally used in place of a whip.  
Often, the men have their sweethearts behind them on horseback. 
The men give the women knives and purses; 
the women give the men garters of diverse colors and a quantity of wild carrots. 



There is an ancient custom by which it is lawful for any of the inhabitants of Lingray to steal his neighbor's horse the night before the race and ride him all the next day, provided he deliver him safe and sound to the owner after the race. The people act upon this ancient privilege and steal horses without compunction, owners and stealers watching and outwitting and circumventing each other, all in good fun.  It is important to leave the owner with at least one horse to carry himself and his wife, but it may be the worst horse of the lot. No apology is offered or expected provided the horse is returned uninjured.

On the island of Iona, 
the islanders brought their horses to a small green hill 
on which stood a cairn surrounded by a circle of stones. 
"Round this hill they all made the turn sunwise, 
thus unwittingly dedicating their horses to the sun."  

 On the island of Canna, the people assembled at the graveyard. 
Every lad mounted his horse without a saddle and he took a lady behind him. 
It might be a neighbor's wife, but never his own. 
The couples rode in procession to an old stone cross, 
doubtless originally a menhir, round which they rode thrice sunwise. 
After they returned to the village, 
they shared a huge oat cake, made in the form of a quadrant of a circle, 
and daubed with milk and eggs.  

In St. Kilda, animals were sained with salt, fire, and water. 
The Catholics still sain animals in honor of St. Francis.

Races took place in Lewis, Harris, Skye, Coll, and Tiree.

On the night of Michaelmas, a ball called a cuideachd is held in every town.  
Many dances have been lost, but you can read about some in The Silver Bough.

The Corn Festivals.

During Foghar, there were also Corn Festivals.  
Many ancient rites and ceremonies are associated with seed-time and harvest; 
Streeking of the Plough, 
the Consecration of the Seed, 
and the Reaping Blessing.

The cult of the Corn Spirit is very ancient. All the world over, great reverence has always been paid to the last sheaf of corn to be cut on the harvest field, which was believed to embody the spirit of the corn. In Scotland, the privilege of the cutting of the last sheaf was often reserved for the most attractive or youngest girl on the field, a reaper holding the top of the bunch while she severed it.  A woman who had "lost a feather of her wing," as the country women put it, might not be allowed to touch it. 
Artist:Baron Dudevant Jean Francois Maurice Sand
Title:
Celebrating the last sheaf in Berry, mid-19th century
Museum:Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs Paris

Once the last sheaf was cut, a cheer went up called "Crying the Kirn." 
The reaping hooks were tossed upwards, 
the direction of the falling hook indicating the direction 
in which the reaper should go for his next harvest. 
 If its point sank into the soil, that augured his early marriage. 

If it broke in falling, his early death.  
Sometimes a ring dance was performed with the bagpipe, 
during which the hooks were tossed.


Most often, the sheaf was given the semblance of a doll,
 dressed in a child's white frock, a ribbon about the waist.  

It was carried through the town in honor, 
and often water was thrown on the sheaf or the person carrying it, 
in order to procure rain for next year's crops. 

Great care was taken that the sheaf should not touch the ground. 

Bread, cheese, and ale were served by the farmer's wife 
when she received the sheaf at her door.  
The sheaf was named The Maiden, 
and hung in the kitchen above the door.




20 Ways to Celebrate YOUR Harvest:

1.   Celebrate Foghar with a Potluck FEAST and a short ritual. Traditionally, lamb is served along with triangles of harvest bread, made from local grains.  Beer and wine are served.

2.   Dig out old family photo albums. Try to tell stories about each person in the photos. Put the photos in frames and create a family ancestor altar.

3.   Leave an apple on the grave of an ancestor.

4.   Bake apples, cored and filled with butter, cinnamon, and raisins.

5.   Take a walk in a wild place and gather seedpods and dried plants. Use them to decorate your altar and home.

6.   Cut some willow wands and use them to decorate.

7.   Make and put out a birdfeeder or suet feeder.

8.   Make rattles.

9.   A collection might be taken as a generous gift to the poor, or volunteer work may be done. Thanks is offered to the Gods for their many blessings of the seasons.

10.          Select the best of each vegetable, herb, fruit, nut or item you have made and give it back to the Mother with prayers of thanksgiving.

11.        Hang ears of corn (or wheat) around your home.  Decorate with colorful autumn leaves, baskets, gourds, nuts, berries, acorns, wildflowers, anything that represents harvest to you. Use yellow ribbons, or gold, to represent the Sun. Decorate with yarrow or cinnamon. Make a protective charm of hazelnuts strung on red cord.

12.        Clean then decorate your altar with orange, brown, and yellow. Use autumn leaves, gourdes, nuts, dried corn, acorns, pine cones. Add a bowl of water, since autumn is associated with the West and of emotions.

13.        Make apple dolls.

14.        Ask yourself these questions:


a.   What is your personal harvest from self-improvement resolutions planted last spring?

b.   In what specific and creative ways can you honor the productivity of Mother Earth?  

c.    What is something new that you produced in the last six months?


15.        Make a new broom.

16.        Make corn dollies from wheat or corn husks.

17.        Make home made wine.

18.        Adults might enjoy attending a horserace, while children might enjoy making stick horses or attending local harvest festivals. 

19.        Visit a local sacred site.

20.        Stay at home!  Improve your backyard or garden.

How ever you decide to celebrate, make it an event with friends and family gathering to enjoy the fruits of the harvest!



Poems and Songs:

"Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green,
When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen.
Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so?
'Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so.
Call up your men, dilly, dilly, set them to work 
Some with a rake, dilly, dilly, some with a fork. 
Some to make hay, dilly, dilly, some to thresh corn. 
While you and I, dilly, dilly, keep ourselves warm.

Lavender's green, dilly, dilly, Lavender's blue, 


If you love me, dilly, dilly, I will love you. 


Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, And the lambs play; 
We shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm's way.
I love to dance, dilly, dilly, I love to sing; 


When I am queen, dilly, dilly, You'll be my king. 
Who told me so, dilly, dilly, Who told me so? 

I told myself, dilly, dilly, I told me so."

-   Lavender Blue, circa 1680



* * *
"O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained

With the blood of the grape, 
pass not, 
but sit

Beneath my shady roof, there thou may'st rest, 

And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe; 

And all the daughters of the year shall dance, 

Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers. "


-   William Blake, To Autumn 
* * *

"As autumn returns to earth's northern hemisphere,
 
and day and night are briefly, 
but perfectly, 
balanced at the equinox, 

may we remember anew how fragile life is ---- 

human life, surely, 

but also the lives of all other creatures, 
trees and plants, 
waters and winds.
May we make wise choices in how and what we harvest, 

may earth's weather turn kinder, 
may there be enough food for all creatures, 

may the diminishing light in our daytime skies 

be met by an increasing compassion and tolerance 
in our hearts."


                                          -  Kathleen Jenks, Autumn Lore  
* * *


"May there be peace in the North;

May there be peace in the South;

May there be peace in the West;

May there be peace in the East.

May there be peace throughout the whole world."

- Druid Blessing, Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
* * *


Foghar Animals: 



Colors: Brown, Golden, Red, Orange

Themes: Sacrifice Abundance, Death, Withdrawal
Tools: Baskets, Sickles, Scythes
Incense: Pumpkin, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Time of Day: Late Afternoon, Evening, Sunset
Decorations: Acorns, Grapes, Fall Leaves, Corn, Wheat
Fruits: Apples, Grapes, Pumpkins, Gourds, Squash, Corn, Wheat, Pomogranates, Nuts
Sacred Direction: West, Blue, Water, Well





Another Struan Bread Recipe
Ingredients:
3 tbsp polenta
3 tbsp rolled oats
2 tbsp wheat bran
60ml water

420g unbleached bread flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry active yeast
3 tbsp freshly-cooked brown rice
1 1/2 tbsp honey
120ml buttermilk
180ml water
1 tbsp poppy seeds to decorate

Method:
Mix together the polenta, rolled oats, wheat bran and 60ml water in a bowl. 
Cover and set aside to soak over night.

The following day, combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl 
then stir-in the soaked mixture and the wet ingredients. 
Bring the ingredients together as a dough and, 
if needed, add a little flour or water 
until the dough can be brought together into a ball that is tacky but not sticky.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead well 
for about 12 minutes before returning to the bowl. 

Cover with clingfilm then set aside in a warm spot
 to rise until doubled in size (about 90 minutes).

Turn the risen dough back onto your work surface a
nd gently knead to remove the excess gas. 

Either split the dough or keep as a single loaf. 

Shape into triangular loafs and place on a baking stone or tin. 
Sprinkle the top with water then scatter poppy seeds over the top.

Loosely cover the loaves then place in a warm spot 
and leave until doubled in size (about 90 minutes). 

Remove the cover and place the loaves in an oven pre-heated to 180°C 
and bake for about 50 minutes, 
or until the loaves are well browned on top and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Turn onto a wire rack to cool and serve sliced thickly with plenty of butter.

Have a Blessed Foghar!