All Hallows Day – a Midpoint

Halloween is the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ or Hallowmas) on November 1, and All Souls’ Day on November 2. Halloween, the modern popular cultural holiday, is also called All Hallows’ Eve.

It is not hard to see how this three-day observance of Allhallowtide that was dedicated to remembering the dead was popularized into our modern Halloween. Hallows are saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed and they are supposed to be remembered now. That is an idea found in almost all religions, though marked in different ways and on different dates.

Many Halloween traditions originated from Celtic harvest festivals which may have pagan roots. Many pagan practices, such as the Gaelic festival Samhain, were appropriated and Christianized as a way to bring pagans into the church.

Samhain is celebrated from sunset on October 31 until sunset on November 1st. That time was chosen because it was the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

In Ireland, it is known as Samhain and in Scotland as Samhuinn and both translate as “summer’s end.” In Wales, it is Calan Gaeaf meaning “calends of winter.” In Cornwall, it is Allantide.

It marks the end of the green season. It is also a time when bare boughs make it easier to hunt and see your prey.

corn mask
American Indian Iroquois corn spirit mask

It was a time to appease the shadowy powers with offerings. A sacrificial victim may have once embodied the corn spirit of harvest or with the beating of the grain (threshing). Slaying the corn spirit was in earlier times the slaying of a tree or a vegetation spirit embodied in a tree or in a human or animal victim. American Indians had their own end-of-harvest corn spirit beliefs. It is ironic and gruesome that a human victim may have once been regarded as a “king” much like the mock kings or queens chosen at winter festivals.

With the rise of Christianity, a slain human or animal sacrifice became regarded as wrong and even as an offering to evil powers. Effigies of the corn spirit or even some saints were made but not sacrificed as part of the festival.

Lammas Day

sickle and wheat harvest

First fruits
of the grain,
on ‘loaf mass’ day-
the autumn harvest has

August first is Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass”). It is sometimes known as Loaf Mass Day and is now a rather obscure Christian holiday still celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

The name originates from the word “loaf” in reference to bread and “mass” in reference to the Christian liturgy celebrating Holy Communion with bread. In the early Church, it became the time for the blessing of the First Fruits of harvest. People would bring a loaf of bread made with the first harvested grains to the church for this purpose. The loaf of bread was to be made with grain harvested at Lammastide, which falls at the halfway point between the summer solstice and autumn September equinox.

I don’t recall ever celebrating this in any religious manner and my first memory of the day came when I taught Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is one of the few Shakespearean characters whose age and date of birth we know exactly. We are told that the coming Lammas Eve (July 31) would be her 14th birthday.

Juliet by J.W.Waterhouse, 1898
Young Juliet as illustrated by J.W.Waterhouse, 1898

I also learned that Wiccans use the names “Lughnasadh” or “Lammas” for the first of their autumn harvest festivals. It is one of the eight yearly “Sabbats” of their Wheel of the Year, following Midsummer and preceding Mabon. It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for handfasting, the other being at Beltane.

Handfasting is something I have seen in ceremonies that were not at all Wiccan. Handfasting is an ancient Celtic ritual in which the hands are tied together to symbolize the binding of two lives. It has become more mainstream and is used symbolically in both religious and secular wedding vows and readings.

Indian Corn


I always knew it as Indian corn, but this year I wondered if that was politically correct or even accurate.

It would more accurately be called Flint corn (Zea mays var. indurata) and sometimes as calico corn. It is a variant of maize, the same species as common corn. For this variety, each kernel has a hard outer layer that is compared to flint.

Flint corn has become a symbol of harvest season and these multicolored ears often adorn doors and centerpieces.

Did you know that corn does not grow wild anywhere in the world? It is a domesticated plant that evolved sometime in the last 10,000 years. Its original form was teosinte, a form of wild Mexican grass.

Good old troublemaker Christopher Columbus brought corn to Europe in the late 1400s. The American Indians used it as a dietary staple and the colonists learned how to cultivate it from them.

The most commonly grown kind of corn in America is dent or field corn which is used to feed livestock, for the manufacture of industrial products and processed foods. It is a yellow or white corn and it is called dent for the indentation that appears on the outside of its mature kernels.

We eat sweet corn (also yellow and white), which can be cooked and eaten right on the cob, and is also sold canned or frozen. Like dent corn, its kernels are usually yellow or white.

Flint corn, or Indian corn, is one of the oldest varieties of corn and is white, blue and red. It has  very low water content and so it is more resistant to freezing than other vegetables. The kernels have a bit of soft starch surrounded by hard starch, so they dry and shrink uniformly and are less prone to spoiling. It is type of corn ideal for harvesty décor, but it is also consumed by livestock and for people it can be used for hominy and polenta.

Popcorn is Zea mays everta meaning “corn turned inside out” and is considered a variant of Indian corn.

And Indian corn is a historically accurate name.

The Boundary of What Was and What Is To Be

It’s the Feast Day of Saint Michael or Michaelmas.

In the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches, it was once a very important day. It falls near the equinox and so marks the fast darkening of the days in the northern world.

This boundary of what was and what is to be, was the end of the harvest and the time to calculate how many animals could be feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered.

It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider.

Some people made this a night for a goose dinner, as an old English proverb says: “If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you will never want money all the year round.”

Michaelmas (mɪkəlməs) is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel also knowns as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.

In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Satan in the war in heaven.  He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland as one of the quarter days.

Old Michaelmas Day falls on October 10 or 11, depending on the source, and a according to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date. This is because, so folklore goes, Satan was banished from Heaven on this day, fell into a blackberry bush and cursed the brambles as he fell into them. It is said that the devil had spat or urinated on them.

Moon of Dying Grass

fall moon

October 8th is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is usually called the Harvest Moon and most years, including this year, it occurs in September.  The first full moon after the equinox is often called the Hunter’s Moon. The name was given because it was the preferred time to hunt summer-fattened deer and also for the “sporting” hunts of the fox who has a harder time hiding without the cover of baring fields. Many states still have their deer hunting seasons timed around these dates.

If Hunter’s Moon doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities, then you also might not want to use the other popular name for this month’s full moon: the Blood Moon. That name comes from the old practice of killing and salting down livestock before the winter months made it harder or impossible to feed them.

The Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon seemed to be particularly bright and long in the sky. Any bright, full moon will give hunters a better opportunity to stalk prey at night. It also suited the hunting of migrating birds in Northern Europe. American Indians also had names based on this time of the hunt in autumn moonlight, as they needed to stockpile food for the winter ahead.

The Cherokee people called this a Harvest Moon (Dunin[i]di) because it was the time of the harvest festival called Nowatequa.

I have collected many names for this full moon used by the ancient Druids, Wiccans and American Indians. Most are less brutal than hunting and blood names: Travel Moon, Moon When the Water Freezes, Moon of the Changing Seasons, Leaf Fall Moon, Basket Moon, Big Wind Moon, Shedding Moon, Winterfelleth (Winter Coming), Windermanoth (Vintage Month), Ten Colds Moon, Moon of the Changing Season and Moon of Falling Leaves.

For 2014, I have chosen the name Moon of the Dying Grass. This year the full moon is early in the month and not so long after the equinox (September 22), so trees in most of the U.S. still have leaves full of brightening colors. But the grasses are beginning to yellow and their growth has started to slow down as they prepare for winter.

This month’s full moon also coincides with a total lunar eclipse of an unusual nature, and a full moon and lunar eclipse usually does give the moon a reddish tint which will a bit more literally suggest that Blood Moon.

A Moon of Harvest Before the Equinox


At 9:38 tonight the Moon will be full in Paradelle and because it is the full Moon nearest the autumnal equinox, it is a Harvest Moon.

I have written about that before, so I won’t go into much detail here again. You can read the earlier Harvest Moon posts, but this moon is the one that occurs at the time of some harvests and its light once helped the harvest by providing more light on fields.

If this was a year when the Harvest Moon falls in October, then this September full Moon would likely be referred to as the Full Corn Moon. That is another harvest reference to the time of harvesting corn. An alternate name is the Barley Moon which would also be harvested and threshed now.

Tonight is the third in a trio of Supermoons (read more about them) we have had and tonight will be the brightest of the three, although it is not an effect that is really perceptible to us.

The zodiac is the band of constellations through which the Moon travels from night-to-night. The full Moon travels through a section at the start of autumn that forms a very shallow angle with the eastern horizon. For several nights near the full Harvest Moon, the Moon may rise as little as 23 minutes later on successive nights (at about 42 degrees north latitude). This brings a lot of bright moonlight early in the evening. By the time the Moon is in its last quarter, the light will have diminished. The effect is less noticeable the farther south you go and going north makes the effect more extreme.

We brought the Harvest Moon concept to the New World from Europe where this Full Moon rises only ten to 20 minutes later each night, and it must have seemed rather miraculous that while days were getting shorter with less sunlight, the Moon was extending the light into the evening.