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Some call this May Day. Depending on where you live, it could be International Workers’ Day or Labour Day. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries. Not many people are celebrating Beltane, so let’s mark that festival here.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.”

Traditionally large bonfires would be lit to celebrate this transition from spring to summer and the fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility.

The annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland is the prime modern example.

Today, the neo-pagan community, often associated with the art of fire dancing, have also embraced the Beltane festivities.

In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the mouton ash or rowan tree. Twigs and branches of the rowan were, and still are, used as protection against evil in this part of the world.

May Day is another name often given to this day. That derives from the Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and the mother of Hermes. From her, we get the name of this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia.

A maypole is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place. The festivals may occur on May Day or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer.

May Day celebrations were continued by early European settlers to the American continent with May baskets filled with flowers or treats left secretly at someone’s doorstep. If the receiver catches the fleeing giver, a kiss is exchanged.

 

May Day basket

May Day basket

 

In Japan, this month is Obon, the 3-day Festival of Lanterns. This Buddhist and Shinto celebration honors the dead. It is a time when homes, altars, shrines and tombs are cleaned and decorated. Gardens are hung with lanterns to light the way of the dead so that they can join their families for the festival.

Obon (also just Bon) was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. But Obon celebrations vary in different parts of Japan and the world since the lunar calendar is no longer followed. In many regions of Japan, Obon is celebrated from August 13 to 16.

Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed but it has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. The spirits of those ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars.

img-lanterns2

The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down rivers symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits’ return to the world of the dead. This ceremony usually culminates in a fireworks display.

In the United States, the “Bon season” is an important part of the present-day culture and life of Hawaii. Bon Odori festivals are also celebrated in North America, particularly by Japanese-Americans or Japanese-Canadians affiliated with Buddhist temples and organizations. Buddhist Churches of America temples in the U.S. typically celebrate with both religious Obon observances and traditional Bon Odori dancing.

 

img-deer-velvet

I missed my post for the Full Moon of this month. It rained that night (the 22nd), so it wasn’t visible in Paradelle, but it was still there casting its spell.

The full moon of July is commonly known as the Thunder Moon (for the frequent thunderstorms) and as the Buck Moon.

July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck (male) deer are “in velvet.”  While an antler is growing, it is covered with highly vascular skin called velvet, which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone.  Growth occurs at the tip, and is initially cartilage, which is later replaced by bone tissue. Once the antler has achieved its full size, the velvet is lost and the antler’s bone dies. This dead bone structure is the mature antler.

In most cases, antlers fall off at some point (unlike animals that have horns).  Antlers are considered a handicap because there is an incredible nutritional demand on deer to re-grow antlers annually. In most arctic and temperate-zone species, antler growth and shedding is annual, and is controlled by the length of daylight. In tropical species, antlers may be shed at any time of year.

Antlers are considered an exaggerated case of male secondary sexual traits in the animal kingdom. They grow faster than any other mammal bone. In researching this a bit for this post, I discovered plenty of articles and sites for buying deer velvet as an unproven performance enhancer. It is used by some athletes who believe it helps heal cartilage and tendon injuries more quickly and boosts strength and endurance. It’s not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and is banned by the National Football League. Deer antler velvet is essentially a growth hormone called “insulin-like growth factor 1,” or IGF-1.

To the New World settlers, full moons were most often related to their farming and the July Moon was known as the Hay Moon because the brightness of the moon allows one to harvest hay in the cool of the night rather than the heat of the day.

For native Americans, the names of the moons indicated what each tribe thought was important at that time in nature. It usually pertained to weather, crops or food that could be gathered. July for many tribes was the time of summer crops, mainly corn, which begins to ripen for the harvest and was the staple crop for many American Indian tribes. July is often the hottest month of the year for much of the Northern Hemisphere and with the ripening corn also comes tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.

Here are some of the names different tribes had for the Full Moon at this point in the year.

Abenaki – Grass Cutter Moon
Algonquin – Squash Are Ripe Moon
Cherokee – Ripe Corn Moon
Choctaw – Little Harvest Moon, Crane Moon
Comanche – Hot Moon
Cree – Moon When Ducks Begin to Molt
Dakota Sioux – Moon of the Middle Summer
Haida – Salmon Moon
Hopi – Moon of the Homedance
Kalapuya – Camas Ripe (the bulb of the camas lily was a staple food to the Kalapuya)
Lakota – Moon When The Chokecherries Are Black
Mohawk – Time of Much Ripening
Ponca – Middle of Summer Moon
Potawatomi – Moon of the Young Corn
Shoshone – Summer Moon

For the ancient Druids, this is the moon to celebrate the harvest.

In the Chinese Moon calendar, on the 14th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, the Gates of Hell open, and ghosts pour forth from the Nine Darknesses into the sunlit world. This Hungry Moon is the reason for Hungry Moon festivals and traditions.To placate the dead, Hell Money (fake paper money) is burned, offerings are made, and paper boats and floating lanterns are set out to give direction to wayward spirits.

Though many spirits simply seek out the comforts of their former homes and the company of their loved ones, there are some rancorous spirits also roam the streets, seeking revenge on those who have wronged them, before and after their deaths. Offerings of ginger candy, sugar cane, smoky vanilla and rice wine might appease the ghosts who give off their own scent of white sandalwood, ho wood, ti, white grapefruit, crystalline musk and aloe.

These hungry ghosts are often thought to be lost or disturbed souls. Unlike normal spirits, a hungry ghost is thought to have been greedy in life or to have been forgotten by his or her descendants. In some traditions, these ghosts are the spirits of those who have died tragically, violently, or wrongfully. They are hungry during the time of the seventh moon to seek revenge against those who have wronged them.

You might choose to honor this time with a nice glass of the 16th Century Medieval English drink which gave its name to this lunar month in that period – the Mead Moon.

Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey. Since this is a month when hives are heavy with honey, it was a time to make mead. Mead, also called honey wine, is produced by fermenting a solution of honey and water.

Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, although its origins are lost in prehistory.

Claude Lévi-Strauss said that we might consider the invention of mead as a marker of man’s passage “from nature to culture.”

The Mead of Poetry is a mead of Norse mythology that was crafted from the blood of the wise being Kvasir.  Drinking it would turn the drinker into a poet or scholar.

October Moon

The hunter’s moon—also known as blood moon or sanguine moon—is the first full moon after the harvest moon, which is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox.  In most years, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. It was so named as it was the preferred month to hunt summer-fattened deer and for the hunts of the fox who is unable to hide in the baring fields. Like the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon seemed to be particularly bright and long in the sky, giving hunters the opportunity to stalk prey at night. It was suited to hunting migrating birds in Northern Europe. The name is also said to have been used by Native Americans as they tracked and killed their prey by autumn moonlight, stockpiling food for the winter ahead.

The Hunter’s Moon and Harvest Moon are not really brighter, smaller or yellower than during other times of the year. But all full moons have some special characteristics, based more on where the ecliptic in the sky is at the time of year that they are visible. The full moons of September, October and November, as seen from the northern hemisphere, are related to the full moons of March, April and May as seen from the southern hemisphere.

October or Octem, was the eighth month in the oldest Roman calendar. This Blood Moon does not take its name from blood sacrifices, as some might guess. It is from the old custom of killing and salting down livestock before the Winter months made it impossible to feed them and saving only the choicest stock. Today we still do something of the same when we do preparations such as “winterizing” the car, garden and house.

Thesmophoria

The Greek festival of Thesmophoria came every year in honor of Demeter and was confined to women only. This was a three day remembrance of Kor’s return to the Underworld. At this festival the initiates shared a sacred barley drink and cakes. One feature of the Thesmorphoria was a deterrent to offenders against the sacred laws and temples, especially the temples of Demeter and Artemis. It was believed that anyone so cured would die before the year ended.

In Tibet, the Buddhist Lent occurred along with the Descent from Heaven festival which celebrated the end of the rainy season.

In general, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day, as it moves in orbit around Earth. All full moons rise around the time of sunset. The Harvest Moon and Hunter’s Moon are special because—as seen from the northern hemisphere—the time of moonrise on successive evenings is shorter than usual. The moon rises approximately 30 minutes later, from one night to the next, as seen from about 40 degrees N. latitude, for several evenings around the full Hunter’s or Harvest Moons. This gives us no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise, around the time of these full moons. The reason for the shorter-than-usual rising time between successive moon rises around the time of the Harvest and Hunter’s Moon is that the orbit of the Moon makes a narrow angle with respect to the horizon in the evening in autumn, leading the Moon to higher positions in the sky each successive day.

The Hunter’s Moon was traditionally a feast day in parts of western Europe and among some Native American tribes, called simply the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, though the celebration had largely died out by the 18th century.

The Cherokee Moon Harvest Moon, Dunin(i)di, is the time of the “Harvest Festival” Nowatequa. The people give thanks to all the living things of the fields and earth that helped them live, and to the “Apportioner” Unethlana.  Cheno i-equa or “Great New Moon” Festival is customarily held at this time. Ritual fasting would be observed seven days prior to the festival.

Other names for this moon are: Travel Moon and the Dying Grass Moon, Moon of Falling Leaves, Moon When the Water Freezes, Blood Moon, Moon of the Changing Seasons, Leaf Fall Moon, Basket Moon, Big Wind Moon, Blood Moon, Shedding Moon, Winterfelleth (Winter Coming), Windermanoth (Vintage Month), Ten Colds Moon,  and the Moon of the Changing Season.

Two Eastern summer Moon festivals share a common theme of marking those who have departed.

In the Chinese Moon calendar, on the 14th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, the Gates of Hell open, and ghosts pour forth from the Nine Darknesses into the sunlit world. This Hungry Moon is the reason for Hungry Moon festivals and traditions.To placate the dead, Hell Money (fake paper money) is burned, offerings are made, and paper boats and floating lanterns are set out to give direction to wayward spirits.

Though many spirits simply seek out the comforts of their former homes and the company of their loved ones, there are some rancorous spirits also roam the streets, seeking revenge on those who have wronged them, before and after their deaths.

Offerings of ginger candy, sugar cane, smoky vanilla and rice wine might appease the ghosts who give off their own scent of white sandalwood, ho wood, ti, white grapefruit, crystalline musk and aloe.

These hungry ghosts are often thought to be lost or disturbed souls. Unlike normal spirits, a hungry ghost is thought to have been greedy in life or to have been forgotten by his or her descendants.

In some traditions, these ghosts are the spirits of those who have died tragically, violently, or wrongfully. They are hungry during the time of the seventh moon to seek revenge against those who have wronged them.

On the seventh lunar month, hungry ghosts are free to actively haunt or harass the living for up to a month-long period.

There is a 2008 film, Seventh Moon, which follows an American newlywed couple as they face the horrors of the seventh lunar moon of Chinese myth. The filmmaker Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) used many of the actual legends and much of the folklore surrounding the seventh moon and the Hungry Ghost Festival, the exotic locales of rural China, and his own interpretations of the Hungry Ghost.

Lanterns floating in Hawaii

In Japan, this month brings Obon, the 3-day Festival of Lanterns. This Buddhist and Shinto celebration honors the dead, and homes, altars, shrines and tombs are cleaned and decorated. Gardens are hung with lanterns to light the way of the dead so that they can join their families for the festival.

Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Obon celebrations vary in different parts of the world. In many regions of Japan, Obon is celebrated from August 13 to 16. In some areas in Tokyo, Obon is celebrated around July 15th, and it is still celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar in many areas in Okinawa.

Obon (also just Bon) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed but has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. The spirits of those ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.

In the United States, the “Bon season” is an important part of the present-day culture and life of Hawaii. Bon Odori festivals are also celebrated in North America, particularly by Japanese-Americans or Japanese-Canadians affiliated with Buddhist temples and organizations. Buddhist Churches of America temples in the U.S. typically celebrate Bon Odori with both religious Obon observances and traditional Bon Odori dancing.

Pagan circle for the Autumn Equinox (UK)

With the Full Moon and Equinox occurring on the same day this month, I think about how important these events were to ancient cultures.

I found a Pagan calendar online that shows Pagan, Witch, Druid and Heathen festivals, dates and events. Important Neo-Pagan festivals and religious holidays are included even if research into the origins are sketchy, as they are important in modern paganism.

Even if Paganism is far from your own beliefs, the stories of the fire festivals, the Celtic tree calendar, Pagan carvings, pictures, artifacts and writings are interesting to read in a historical context.

I will post this weekend, as I do each month, on the Full Moon and also on the Autumn Equinox, but here is some perspective on the equinox as viewed by Pagans.

The Autumn Equinox is called either Mabon, Harvest Home or Alban Elfed. On the autumnal equinox, there is a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and God during the winter months.

The use of the name Mabon is more prevalent in America (the calendar site is from the UK). In Britain, many Neo-Pagans of today dismiss Mabon as an unauthentic name. There is a good general introduction at wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabon

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