After a week at a dead run (productive, but busier than I anticipated) I am headed off to Manchester, NH today to attend a lore meeting at Grove of the Golden Leaves, Druidic Association of North America.
The Dean of the Grove is a flame haired woman who is retired, a former college professor and practically life-long student of the Irish language, history, culture, and pre-Christian beliefs. For all the years I’ve known her – at least 15 years in person and longer online – she’s taught Irish Gaelic as an avocation.
Our esteemed Dean holds sumptuous Irish High Teas. She’s humorously commented that perhaps she should charge for the Irish High Teas and throw the language lessons in as a perk since the tables groan with Irish smoked pork loin, Irish boiled bacon, Atlantic salmon in two forms – smoked and also baked, roasted fowl – from chicken to duck, roast lamb, usually 9 types of freshly baked bread and a full assortment of vegetables and fruits.
Today, though, we meet for lore and hear the tales of our ancient Irish Celtic ancestors regarding the turning of the seasons of the year, commonly called Samhain (Harvest Home). Our Irish ancestors were largely farmers and at this time of year they were working themselves to nubbins bringing in the final harvest. Harvest Home lasted nine days.
During this time last of the fresh fruits were picked and either dried or eaten. The animals identified to be wintered over were separated from the ones to be slaughtered and the slaughter commenced with the meat salted, smoked, or dried to sustain the people through the winter months. The last of the cereal crops were gathered in and threshed, then set aside in various ways – brewed into beer, distilled into whiskey, set in containers where it was protected from vermin, and so on and so forth.
For nine days the villagers and their nobles, warriors, and merchants (no one was exempt unless infirm, aged, or infant) worked to bring in all the food. Each night they feasted. Each following day they worked again and counted up the precious food to get them through the winter. No going to the local grocery store for these folks. Winter was long and hard and if you didn’t have sufficient food the young, old, and infirm were likely to die during the winter and often the able bodied as well.
Today many folks think Halloween (a secular holiday mostly honoring the candy companies) is the ancient Pagan holiday, but the reality is that it is a far cry from the turning of the wheel from the fecundity of summer to the cold and barren days of winter. In ancient Celtic times this was year’s end. The end of the harvest was the end of their agricultural year and the final night of harvest was the time when the veils between this world and the next were considered thinest and they acknowledged their Honored Dead, the Nature Spirits who gave their lives for the people to live and the High Ones (formless and without name save those given by men) were thanked for a good year. Hence the neo-Pagan acknowledgement of Samhain being New Year’s Eve.
There were certainly parties and young people did go door to door and ask for food. There were no pumpkins (those are New World) but there were carved turnips with candles in them carried as lanterns. People gave their best to the young folks as an offering (a gift requires a gift).
So, today we remind ourselves of how our ancestors lived. It is a time to remember that all things have a time and a season and we are still dependent on the Earth, our Mother, to provide for us. And we wait for that first killing frost to tell us that harvest is over and winter has come.