Fall is my favourite time of year and often finds a place in my writing…it is a time of change, balance, and reflection, of celebration in the fruits of our labor over the past year. The earth itself transforms in a dramatic symphony of fiery reds, oranges, and golds– a regal raiment to celebrate the cycle of life and the bounty of earth’s harvest before the long sleep of winter.
This season has inspired us for centuries, not just because of the life-sustaining harvest, but also because of the myths and stories shared all over the world. Here are a few of the most common ones:
The Corn Mother
The Corn Mother is honored in many Native American stories as a harvest goddess who sacrifices herself for her children and is resurrected each year with the return of the harvest. She is a maternal deity, sometimes born from the harvest itself, sometimes created by a more ancient god, who brought the knowledge of planting, growing, and harvesting the corn which sustained her people for generations.
Harvest and Earth goddesses like the Corn Mother are a pretty universal theme, and ceremonies, offerings, and effigies are enjoyed every year in both western and eastern traditions.
The Spirit of the Harvest
The Spirit of the Harvest resides in the last sheaf of corn at the end of the harvest. It is usually saved and dried through the winter, and the kernels are scattered in the fields the following spring. This is believed to return the spirit to the earth and bless the next harvest. This is connected to much older stories of the cyclic death and rebirth of harvest gods and spirits.
The Harvest Moon
The Harvest Moon is the full moon that appears closest to the Autumnal Equinox, and named not only for its seasonal association, but because it is also the largest, brightest, and most colorful full moon of the year, bringing extra light to farmers and setting the night sky aglow with its amber light. Several cultures around the world celebrate the appearance of the Harvest moon with festivals, music, dancing, and traditional treats (like mooncakes).
It also has a few other names: The Singing Moon, Wine Moon, Elk Moon, Full Corn Moon, Gypsy Moon, and Chrysanthemum Moon.
Constructed from wood, straw, or old clothes, Scarecrows have been protecting fields and crops for centuries and finding representation in stories like The Wizard of Oz and even older Japanese tales with the wise Kuebiko. Although many farmers now use chemicals or machinery to protect their crops, this stalwart protector is still a timeless symbol of the harvest season today.
The association of pumpkins with Fall is a predominantly North American custom, as the gourd didn’t originally grow elsewhere, though now it is harvested in several other continents as well. It long ago became a symbol of the harvest and agricultural life for native tribes and early settlers, and now has grown into the crazy phenomenon fueling pumpkin madness every year.
The tradition of using pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns actually stems from an old Celtic tradition which originally used turnips to frighten away unfriendly spirits during Samhain.
On the note of Samhain, All Saints’ Day, and Halloween…I’m not going to talk about that in depth for this post. I’d rather save that one for later 🙂
My family’s Fall traditions typically involve the baking and consuming of copious amounts of baked goods, hiking and spending more time outdoors, and shamelessly succumbing to the pumpkin craze with coffees, pies, and scented candles…
What are some of your favorite traditions?