The festival of the Autumn Equinox is a harvest festival. It is a continuation, in part, of our Lammas celebration, for the theme is still rest. Rest after our labours, and the reward for those labours. Harvest festivals were held upon the first full moon nearest the Equinox. It is a joyous and grateful festival. But as with all religious matters, there is more to it than just a party. Fittingly it is celebrated under the sign of Libra the scales; and as with day and night it is a time of Balance, Audit and Assessment. These three predicate a further three; Justice, Equity, and their concomitant, Mercy. It is therefore time to seek out the harvest of ourselves, considering how we have managed ourselves and our life in the year up to this point.
Before long, darker days will herald the first of Winter’s wild-hunting gales, but for this moment we should strive to become at rest with our-selves after a candid assessment of our endeavours. Then we can partake of the feast, our celebration looking backwards but also forwards to the legendary Golden Age, where, in the land of Cockaigne, plenty fills the plate, and love, harmony and friendship rule.
We shall approach the feast with full awareness of both its aspects, the self-scrutiny and the judgement; the celebration and the joy; make our observances and obeisances, pour our libations and listen to the Sermon, which, for once, comes midway in ritual, for who wishes to be sermonised at the end of a feast? Care should be taken over the practical matters of this rite, for there are various adjuncts which should, if at a11 possible, be provided or adequate symbols of them. Suitable foods should be prepared beforehand. It would be helpful, as we shall see, if a sword, or symbol of one such as a long knife be placed at the entrance to the ritual area. A balance or pair of scales should also be represented. Dress for the personators of the Lady and the Lord is important, and, before the ceremony, an early apportioning of any roles should be made to remove uncertainties on the ritual path. For once, timing should be precise. If at all possible the ceremony should start at 5 pm GMT, for as the dusk falls the Lady will change Her aspect from the red Mother of the Harvest to the Winter’s Crone, a change symbolised by turning Her cloak from red to blue. This is traditionally achieved by Her wearing a red cloak with a blue lining. The Lord should wear a purple cloak, perhaps have His hair silvered, and, if possible wear a wreath of vine or blackberry leaves.
Our ceremony is in two balancing parts. The first is finely structured and deals with the solemnities of the Mysteries. The second is a feast of gratitude and joy for the harvest bounty. It follows that each attender should provide some seasonal contribution to the feast. Also, if at all possible poppies and cornflowers should be carried or worn by the Ladies; the significance of the red and blue we have already seen. The men should provide dark coloured fruits: plums and black¬berries are traditional, it being held that up until this date they provide wholesome foods, but that after this time they are the property of the Lord of the Dead. This is an old country superstition that still lives on in some parts, the black fruit being considered to belong to the Devil, at least by the Christianised peasantry. Its symbolism, of course, lying purely in their hue; an early example of colour coding, to which, for ritual purposes, we accede.
The ritual has little in the way of a set beginning. Upon arrival each celebrant goes straight to the ritual area, where each is seated in a circle and given wine or beer to drink. When all are gathered the ceremony commences.
The Lord and Lady stand together in the centre of the circle, surrounded by the elements of the feast. The Lady then chooses one of the men to come forward and make his presentation of food and drink before Her. The Lord then does likewise with a lady. The presentation then goes forward, lady and man going alternately. The libation bowl is then passed round in similar fashion, each going forward to make obeisances and pour libations.
The Lord then presents the Lady with Her harvest crops of wheat and barley. This can be in the form of a wreath which She can wear. The set part of the ritual follows as He addresses the assembly:
“You have come to My land as the Lady came. She, by Her coming made the harvest possible. She has given the seed into my keeping.(Here He holds up an ear of wheat for all to see). This is my charge, to keep it in my bosom till once more it grows to full maturity. That bounty you now see around you and you can reckon up its plenty and Her care.(He pauses for a minute). This is the time of reckoning and assessment. We can see our crops and glory in them, but can we see into our hearts? What is our audit there? Before our feast step forward all who are prepared to stand in judgement of themselves.”
The Lord then hands the Lady the sword of Judgement.
The Lady’s Speech
“The swaying balance stills and settles on this even day and marks its magic. Justice and equality shall reign. Weigh your own hearts in its scales, you who would learn wisdom, and take my reckoning of the balance of your deeds. Come forward each of you who will and kneel.”
Each attender goes forward and kneels. The sword is held above their heads, the tip pointing downwards. The balance is held before their eyes. Each attender is found wanting, the balance being tipped against them. They are told to consider the errors of their ways, to return to their places and face outwards. When all have been so served, the Lady speaks again.
The Lady’s Second Speech
“If Justice were done, none here would escape the rigour of its laws; but Justice, like its sword, should be tempered with mercy and forgiveness. If you have erred, now is the time to set the balance anew, with repentance and dedication. The Gods are kind. Come, each of you! Grasp this sword blade pointing at your heart. You have accepted Judgement and only you know of its truth. Accept in your heart also the Mercy of the Gods and the love of the Lady.”
To each celebrant in turn the test is given. The blade is withdrawn, the scales are balanced, and the celebrant returns to the original place and faces inwards.
When all have been so charged the Lady goes around the circle and presents each person with hazel nuts. She tells each person:
“Take and eat for this is the fruit of the lesser wisdom as the apple is of the greater”.
As soon as the distribution is over the Lord speaks.
The Second Invitation and Sermon
“Let not wisdom hide like a hermit in your hearts. Take off the cloak of ignorance. Light the candle of self-knowledge. Seek out yourself. Time is short. Do not prevaricate. Examine your deeds and thoughts and where necessary mend them. You are never so ripe in judgement that you need scry your soul no more. Live not in the past, your mind iced up with self-regarding pride. Learn of the hazel wisdom even in small things. Another year will come and another harvest and another judgement of your crops. In wisdom accept maturity. Ripeness brings reckoning and leads to that last reckoning. How will you face your last harvest in death? And as the corn is reborn but is not the same corn, so it is with you. Let us be even-handed with ourselves, resolving these matters with ourselves in all humility. Let there be no public ceremony of soul searching, for such displays of breast-beating are worthless exhibitions and unwise.
Now I invite you to our feast. Remember my words but put aside your cares. Eat of my fruit and drink deeply of my wine.”
The Lord processes round the circle feeding His followers blackberries and then bowls of wine or beer. The Lady follows Him with bread and cake. If possible She gives each attender seasonal tokens as well as flowers and fruit.
The Lady then retires momentarily, the Lord meanwhile pressing more food and drink upon the celebrants. After all have been served He strikes three times on the ground with a staff. All should fall silent: The Lady reappears. She is seen to have changed Her cloak around to show the blue. She should carry a sickle held in the old moon position. As She processes round the circle she gives each attender a corn dolly or ear of wheat or barley. Each attender should then strew flowers around Her. These should be blue, the cornflower being the most suitable. The feast resumes and all take part. The solemnities are over. It would be useful if there were a Ringleader or M.C. who could suggest dances and other seasonal diversions to the company.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White
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