Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

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Not Only Lammas: Other August Harvest Holidays and Traditions in Europe

Grains are goldening, apples and other fruits are ripening, and beehives are thick with honey. The harvest season has come and is rapidly maturing. While Lammas and Lughnasadh have passed in the UK and Ireland, other harvest holidays are still just beginning. Each festival celebrates the culmination of hard work and good luck, and marks the turning of the year, the slow fade of summer into fall, and the gratitude that people still feel for the benevolence of their lands.

Grains, Apples, and Honey

On August 24, called Bartholomew-tide by the Church, the people of Thuringia, Germany, traditionally celebrate the end of the grain harvest with fairs and festivals. At this time, Frau Harke is said to leave her home in the mountains and fly over fields to see that the grains have all been harvested. If not, she might spoil the crop. So the grain harvest is to end then, and the laborers to rest and enjoy themselves, with a stiff penalty for breaking the taboo. Similar taboos are observed around the Yuletide against spinning work, lest Holle (or Perchta in the Alps) curse the fibers.

Harke, like Holle and Perchta, is a native goddess of mountains and the wilderness as well as of agriculture. She was particularly associated with the growing of flax, flying over the fields in spring in the form of a dove to bless them with fertility. She returns at the end of the harvest to see that they've been well-tended. There are a few extant tales about her, often depicting her as a childlike giantess. Like the Cailleach, she threw enormous rocks or dropped them from her apron, marking the landscape. She protects animals from hunters, who must pay respect to her in order to hunt well on her mountain. In one tale, she kidnaps a farmer, his plough, and his oxen in her apron to play with them. Her father scolds her and makes her return them, saying, "If the little ones below yonder do not plough, the big ones up here cannot bake," hinting at grain sacrifices made to land (particularly mountain) deities at harvest time.

There are August harvest festivals in Slavic countries as well. The Honey Feast of the Savior is celebrated on August 14 (August 1 in the Julian calendar observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church). As the name suggests, honey is harvested from hives at this time. According to tradition, the honey cannot be eaten until it is blessed by the church. Honey is then sold and consumed at festivals held for the holiday. The second is the Apple Feast of the Savior on August 19, when apples are plucked from trees and apple-based foods are enjoyed. (There's a similar apple festival in Hendersonville, North Carolina, but it happens a little later, on Labor Day weekend.) The third holiday is the Nut Feast of the Savior at the end of the month. Despite the name, the focus is on bread-making and linen production -- the "nuts" being grains -- although walnuts are also gathered and enjoyed.

Old Summer, Fresh Harvest

August is summer grown old. It's the hottest month in my area, but even so, changes are evident. Though the temperature still reaches the low 90s during the day, I've started feeling a chill some mornings, and the leaves on some of the trees have already begun turning and falling from branches. Autumn, the season of harvest, is truly beginning, just a whisper now but gradually crescendoing. Not too long from now, there will be a rush of color, a snap in the air, a shriek of geese on the horizon. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Image: "Girl with a Rake" by Vincent Van Gogh

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

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