Summer has gone
Autumn has come
Winter comes too soon.
Skies seem clearer,
Stars seem nearer
Under a Harvest Moon.
(- waldorf kindergarten song-)
Here in the Western Hemisphere, September 22nd marked the Fall Equinox and the very next day saw the first full moon of Fall.It rose at dusk directly across from the setting sun, amplifying the illusion of a huge orange orb sitting low in the sky –almost close enough to touch: The Harvest Moon.
Actually because this full moon rose on the equinox like it did, it turns out it’s even more special this year – a Super Harvest Moon.
There is no denying the power of this particular phase of the lunar cycle. There is something in the indomitable presence of this Moon that makes even the most distracted of us stop in our tracks and give pause to our smallness in the face of the giant celestial body which governs over us night and day, in all Her stages, whether we see Her or not.
And don’t you just always love that “Wow! Look at the moon!” moment when you first happen to look up into the evening sky? This moon, the first of the waning season of Fall, is a sign that we have indeed begun the slow march of fading light towards the depths of winter.
The symbol of this huge glowing moon reverberates across culture and time. As I sat“googling images” one day, I came across this print of the timeless presence of the Harvest Moon in human life. I love the chiaroscuro of the sky and trees, and do you notice the farmers working away in the fields still, no doubt taking advantage of the extra dusky moonlight to finish their harvest work.
Now I admit I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who has an image of the phases of the moon tattooed on the back of my neck (in other words I’m a Believer), but I’ve certainly been deeply feeling the richness of this time of year, especially because I recently got to honor both the equinox and the full moon with my women’s ritual group this month.
Every month (well that’s the theory. We’re busy modern women and this was the first circles we’d had in umm….5 months) we meet on the full moon and practice ceremony.
What’s this you say? How new-age! How Pagan!…..
Allow me to editorialize for a moment and say two things:1) This is an informal group of spiritually-inclined women, who have been meeting for several years with the loose goal of maintaining their spiritual lives and honoring whatever tradition is meaningful to them. Last year, I was invited to join through a friend. I’m not sure how many of the women involved would openly identify as a “Pagan”, I certainly don’t. Hell I refuse to even identify as a hippie. One of the things I like about it is that there is not one set tradition or rigid model followed each time. Each month the host researches the meaning of that particular full moon, from whatever culture or spiritual tradition appeals to her. She lets us know what we need to bring ahead of time (usually a musical instrument and something for the altar) and then there is a certain amount of “winging it” on the night.
2) The women in Circle are varied in age and background and I have various levels of intimacy with each of them so I really don’t know how comfortable all of them would be being identified online for the whole world to know about our backyard/back-door mysticism. To err on the side of caution, I won’t be mentioning any names as I write this. The credo “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” might apply here – forgive me sisters for spilling the secrets of our circle, my intention is only for the good. …
Having said that, “M” was the host this month, out at her beautiful mini-farm in Fair Oaks. When we arrived a toasty fire was already burning in the fire-pit and a beautiful altar had been constructed, resplendent with gold, yellow and orange fabrics, flickering candles and autumnal bracken. We were to bring something from nature to place on the altar. I brought a gigantic turkey feather I found during my last walk by the American River, where the wild turkeys regularly converge. We ladies chatted and hugged and then when everyone was present, we got down to business.
M. gave four of us hand-written cards for each of the Four Directions and we cast the circle by evoking the Guardians of the Watchtower’s of East, West, North and South, and the powers imbued within each. I read for the East and while I don’t remember the exact wording from that card I can tell you that in my mind the East stands for creativity, inspiration, clarity of vision, and youthful exuberance. Our altar sat facing East, because it is the place of new beginnings and vision.
Once the circle is cast we consider ourselves “between worlds”. There is a subtle, perceptible shift and it is clear everyone feels it. As the dark enshrouded us we went around the circle, offering our truest thoughts on the season of waning light ahead – what we embrace about it, what we fear about it. As I sat listening to my circle sisters share I was overcome with the magnitude of our human experience, the commonality that leapt in my heart as each voice shared, the recognition of “yes, me too! It’s just like that for me too!”
Some shared the joys of cleaning up, hunkering down at home and getting their domestic spaces ready for the “home-body” season when we find ourselves bound by the early darkness, our children’s lives and the compulsion to do handwork. Others shared about the grief over losing the freedom of the summer season, when we are schedule-less and our families are able to rediscover one another without the pressures of work and school. There were the markers of Time evidenced in the events of our lives that we told: daughters having babies, the un-timely deaths of loved ones and all the joys and sorrows in between. My personal plea for the season was to embrace my own reality more – in essence to trust myself . “More Trust and Less Fear”. I’ve been joking that this is my life’s work and surely to be the epitaph on my headstone!
I have to say I feel like I’m outing myself a little bit with this post as there is no denying a sort of groovy-earth-mama quality about meeting with a bunch of other women under a Full Moon is there?
And yes people, we did howl beneath it.
I ‘m fairly certain that it is not it’s just me or the alternatively minded out there who feel this desire for marking something in our lives as sacred, and who sense the importance of ritual. And I’m not just talking about the ‘ritual’ of the morning cup of coffee or the ‘ritual’ of Football season starting up (although don’t get me wrong, we are deep into both of these particular rituals in my household). I’ve been noticing Harvest Fests advertised all over town in the last week, even at the local Catholic parish. Octoberfests, fall festivals, etc. This earthy celebration is everywhere. It seems there is an inherent urge to honor this particular season.
“The Autumn Festival is unhampered by empty or misdirected social traditions, as in the case of Christmas shopping orgies, or hollow Easter bunnies clogged with thick rivers of chocolate. We are free to devise a new kind of festival where the drama, the song, the dance, and the ritual truly celebrate free will, courage, and spiritual intelligence — a festival that may truly help answer the needs of the times.”
…which brings us, to Michealmas.
Now, I feel compelled to explain that I am kind of a “Supermarket Spiritualist”. I shop around. I troll through the aisles of ideologies, faiths, religions, world-views and sort of ‘take what I like and leave the rest’. The idea of committing to one viewpoint makes me antsy. One of the traditions that I’ve gathered into my basket and have a deep affection for, is the festival of Michealmas that is celebrated in the Waldorf school curriculum. It does have rather heavily Germanic roots however and relates to a myth straight out of Christianity, which brings out my inner Berkeley atheist. Doesn’t really fit for me. (this is why Barbar above is my new imagination of St. Michael!) Anyway, here’s how I have come to understand the meaning of this festival:
At this time of year as the sun begins it’s descent, and the light slowly fades with each day, the ‘darkness’ threatens to encroach on our inner world as well. We are affected by being indoors more, forced to be with ourselves more, a time when we have to face the struggles that we can avoid easier during the days of summer fun. The story of Michael and the Dragon is honored in order to give us a symbol of a force of Good and Light which can be called upon to subdue the force of destruction within.
I like to think of it as a time to acknowledge that I’ve got this whole struggle going on in my own life too, or at the very least inside my own head. And this story to me is like a hope – an elated wish – that despite whatever Life is bringing my way, and whatever the approaching season of darkness reveals about myself, that I will be able to stand tall. Especially with a little help from the sweetness of the bounty along the way……
My son goes to Camellia Waldorf School and there, the celebration of Michaelmas is in the form of a pagent where the Dragon is conquered by the Angel. Each year the 6th grade creates a new Dragon puppet and the 8th grade chooses the form of the Angel. It is a surprise to everyone else until they emerge.
Another tradition of the Michealmas celebration in my son’s class is that the class banner is updated every year. This year I was inspired to add the silhouette of flying birds. It made me think about these 10 and 11 years olds, about to take flight themselves. During the performance of the 5th grade choir, I was surprised and delighted to hear my son and his class singing a chinese folk song, “…we go through the land like a wild geese band, brothers in the flight are we.”
And you know what, since then I have been noticing a lot more flocks of migrating birds overhead .
Is it the act of paying attention to these birds and incorporating them into our ritual which has made me notice them more? Or did somehow the depth of Our collective feeling for what these birds symbolise for us all, call out to the flocks drawing them closer to us?
Rewind back to that night of the full moon circle, we had just finished up and were enjoying yummy spiced cider and muffins when “V” our oldest and therefore wisest member of the group (our honored crone), pull a folded piece of paper from her pocket and said ‘Oh I brought this to share, I almost forgot”. She unfolded it and read to us the following poem by Mary Oliver. I sat it the dark transfixed with a tear streaming down my cheek as she read in a clear strong voice these words which resonated in my heart. The true message and experience of being on earth during this time of the year, when the light dies, the earth sighs and every animal (human and otherwise) understands that it is time to return Home.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.