Two sisters, two coasts, one blog

Harvest Moon

WEST TWIN

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!…..

If there’s a hare churning butter under an ancient tree, there’s definitely some serious “pagan” going on!

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.

photos courtesy of David Summers

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.

  I was grateful to see my friend Kelly’s Facebook status update the other day (quoting a writer named Steven McFadden):

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……

Every year for Michealmas, the parents bake Sun Cakes for the children and at the festival’s end the sweet confections are shared by all.

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.

Wild Geese 

 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.

12 Responses to “Harvest Moon”

  1. Jacquelyn Marie

    My favorite poem and my favorite poet.
    I love that you are celebrating the change of seasons in that Sacramento sister-women style.

    I went with three sister singers to Bodega this weekend and we lit candles in all the windows, read poetry, sang songs to the ocean and the whales, meditated and ate incredibly delicious Mexican food cooked by Yolanda from her mother’s recipes.

    Love to you on this harvest moon time.

    Reply
  2. Virginia

    Loved reading your blog, Rucha.
    It may be just be due to my server, but the last two lines of the poem were left off or covered up by the picture. (Love the pictures, by the way)
    Here’s how it ends:

    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.

    Love,
    Virginia

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Oh my gosh Virginia! I am SO glad you caught that. It was a cut and paste problem…that’s what happens when you spend all day in front of a computer!! Thanks so much for much for reading and for your eagle eye. xo

      Reply
  3. sharon rosen teig

    just happened to read your blog today…i so relate to your moon musings..the moon is, for me, the most wonderful connection to that which is larger than myself..keep writing, wonderful woman! i feel priveleged to read all you pen!

    Reply
  4. oami powers

    Earth mama! You always describe the natural world around you so beautifully…and that poem sent shivers down my spine!

    Reply
  5. Norman Ross Powers

    West Twin, you’re evocative reflections on autumn and the moon caused me to look for these subjects in a book of haiku I’ve had for years. There were many verses, but these four were the ones I like best. Let’s see if the formatting holds when they’re posted:

    The autumn moon;
    I wandered round the pond
    All night long. (Basho)

    The moon in the water,
    Broken and broken again.
    Still it is there. (Choshu)

    Even to the saucepan
    Where potatoes boil,
    A moonlight night. (Kyoroku)

    After cleaning Zenkoji Temple–
    A bright autumn moon. (Issa)

    Reply
  6. Gabrielle Jones

    Well we have got spring starting here in New Zealand and it feels good and very promising. As for moon cycles, that was my idea for Paul to make us rich by writing a gardening by the moon cycle ap for the i phone, there isn’t one when last i checked. and I would use it all the time.
    And since you are a New Zealand girl also, dont forget to think about celebrating Matariki, the Maori New Year which happens when the seven sisters constilation rises (called matariki ) which happens around June 26th the shortest day of the year here in mid winter. Don’t know how that crosses hemispheres, but its nice to have a mid winter celebration with friends and family.
    Love your blog, keep it up.

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Hey Gabrielle! I’m always so thrilled to know you are out there reading! I’m going to learn more about the seven sisters constellation, sounds very goddessy. I think the gardening/moon cycle ap for the iphone is a BRILLIANT idea! Tell Paul to do it!! I have a friend who just sold apple her iDoula ap- birth support for the laboring mother. Smart move. Love ya xo

      Reply
  7. Signs of Fall | East Twin, West Twin

    […] of year, permeating everything. Last year the equinox fell during a harvest moon and I wrote about the pagan reverberations of the time of year. This year the shift is softer, subtler; more about the balance struck when the […]

    Reply

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