The Gathering Moon
A gorgeous full harvest moon has just passed here in the Canadian part of the Northern Hemisphere. The autumn equinox which just occurred, is part of the solar not lunar cycle, part of the relation between the sun and earth’s axis. This slow rotation between the dark part of the year and the light part of the year creates the seasons, more pronounced further away from the equator. Twice a year, no matter where any of us live, we have approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.
Equinox and harvest time, the solar and lunar cycles, are ineluctably linked. The moonrise coming over the horizon is closest in time to the sunset, giving it the large size and orange coloring for several evenings. This phenomenon enabled those working in the fields to have extra harvest time, in the days before electrical lights. The color of the moon can be accentuated by the dust of harvest time, particularly if you are near grain farms, as you are looking at the moon through a denser atmosphere with more suspended particles.
In the autumn season, growth slows all around us. While the sunlight has been decreasing since the
solstice, it is far more noticeable now. Many changes are triggered at this time…from the color of the leaves when the shorter days signal a slowing and end to chlorophyll production…to the harvesting of animals as they prepare for a long winter. For instance, trees shed leaves that could be damaged by frost and snow and send the sugars and nutrients down into the roots for storage until warmer weather and both rain and melting retriggers sap flow.
Today, we were thrilled to see a family of black bears, a mother and two rotund cubs, up in a big old apple tree, eating off the tree as well as swatting branches of apples down to the ground. They moved up and down the trunk and as far out on the limbs as they could. Mama bear even stood on the top board of the yard’s fence with all four paws and like a gymnast, went up on her two back paws to reach the apples with her fore paws. When they had their feed, part of their winter preparation, they moved over the fence effortlessly and onto the next yard.
Some years, I sit watching squirrels knocking down cones - gathering up their edible treasures and moving them into enough hiding places to last the winter. Their scolding when you invade their workspace, sitting too close to their falling zone and impeding the efficiency of their movements, certainly creates respect. Late winter, the midden mounds emerge from the shrinking snow indicating all their food storage locations.
If you are still connected to the land and the cosmic cycles, you will naturally feel the time for fall cleaning, gathering of stores, and creating good winter storage for the needed resources of living.
The act of harvesting — food, fibres, medicines — feeds our lives physically and spiritually, putting us in sync with the cycles and rhythms of the Earth. The joy of harvest not only feeds our bodies, it nourishes our soul, as our soul is so vitally linked to the Earth. In fact, as Martin Prechtel (2012) suggests, growing one’s own food has traditionally not been a choice or a career, but what it meant to be human. In many societies, in addition to growing one’s food, one would also hold some other kind of occupation within the village. So, growing one’s own food was not an optional activity but a human-making activity. Even a patio garden can keep us in touch with the cycles of the land. My Dad, in his nineties, who grew up barefoot on a pioneer farm, still spends his days monitoring the cycles of the plants, his way of keeping time.
The autumn equinox and harvest have typically been surrounded with ceremony, from Stonehenge in Britain to the Chichen Itza pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula. But, in individualist societies, there are few natural gathering places to celebrate harvesttime. Such spiritual, ethnic and seasonal events brought communities together. For instance, in south India during Pongal, cows are decorated with flower garlands and beads which have been collectively made.
We still have some placeholders, such as fall harvest fairs, historic or regional fall events, sporting and music events, but few of these take us into the deeper spiritual reality. Part of task of living sustainably, in harmony with the Earth, is linking spiritual life with surface life, or life lived on the apparent level. Traditionally, all surface level activities were imbued with deep spiritual significance, yielding a rich, purposeful life.
This has been part of the old ways. Even the powwows around Turtle Island (referring to North and Central America) were only developed in the 1950s, after the deeper spiritual events to which the dances and ceremonies were linked, were all but extinguished by settler societies. Powwows were one way to keep the dances, songs, music and spiritual regalia alive in a now parched land. Traditionally, these elements would have occurred as part of the cosmic calendar, guided by spiritual leaders. Some of these practices have been hidden for centuries but are in resurgence, recapturing their original meanings.
Settlers have come from societies who lost these elements many centuries ago, with fewer threads to find and build from. And so, this is a syncretic time, where a recovery and blending is occurring. However, we must be vigilant not to engage in cultural appropriation, only participating in or emulating that which we have been given permission for or have been taught. Listening to the spirits of the land where you live who can teach how to show gratitude and respect, seeking out some practices from some of your own ethnic lineage, and blending this with practices from other lineages, from Celtic to Asian, can help us delicately re-weave an honoring life. In addition to all the obvious aspects of living sustainably, we need to relearn cyclical living, cognizant of the seasons, species cycles and Earth cycles. We need to re-engage ritual to honor these life-giving cycles, life-giving on so many levels.
Some would say our Western civilization is stuck in adolescence, resistant to maturing into adult responsibilities. We would rather stay in the bold, adventurous and constant growth of teenagehood, or perennial economic growth. We would rather build and expand rapaciously rather than taking the time to rest and enjoy. We need to understand the wisdom of gathering and storing resources – not only national resources but individual