Sharing the harvest

You can tell it’s fall . . .

  • Through observation: see the trees changing color, feel the temperatures dropping, notice the days shortening and the nights growing longer
  • Through research: look up the date and time of the autumnal equinox in a calendar, almanac, or ephemeris
  • Quantitatively: count the growing number of charitable solicitations in your mailbox

As I understand it, charitable giving follows its own seasonal pattern, just like the agricultural cycle so many of us Pagans base our spirituality on. Whether it comes from holiday cheer or a last-minute attempt to get a tax deduction, we’re entering the time of year when people are most likely to donate to charities, and recognizing that fact, the charities are bumping up their efforts to attract those donations.

Mabon often serves as a Pagan Thanksgiving, and a common theme for the sabbat is giving thanks for what you have harvested from your efforts this year. And as you’re rejoicing in the abundance—if you’re among those fortunate enough to enjoy abundance—you’re often advised to think of those whom the charities serve. I saw that touched on in Ann Moura’s Grimoire for the Green Witch. Her Mabon ritual calls for the celebrant to put canned goods on the altar and bless them as offerings during the ritual. It’s a cool idea, and it got me thinking.

See, while the fall equinox is the “natural” time to share good fortune, be it through canned goods or other donations, need is year-round. And at some point it occurred to me that there were seven other sabbats that could inspire me to donations if I’d just let them. So here’s my plan for the year to come: make a donation at each sabbat, ideally tied to the holiday in some way.

Some were fairly easy to come up with ideas for:

  • Mabon: Give to a food shelf. After talking to a friend who knows about such things, I’m opting for a cash donation rather than canned goods. I bet they can stretch the money further than I can at a grocery store, and maybe they can even use it to buy something like fresh fruit and vegetables, which are difficult to give in person.
  • Samhain: Giving to a grief support center is one possibility. Or perhaps knitting or crocheting a prayer shawl for someone who’s grieving.
  • Yule: Sometimes the easy option is a good one; in this case, giving to an organization that provides toys for children who might not otherwise get any.
  • Imbolc: Around here, January and February are brutal. A donation for winter clothing—coats, hats, scarves, gloves/mittens—will probably be more useful than trying to think of something related to, oh, say, lambing. (Of course, lots of winter clothing is made out of wool…!)
  • Beltane: I’m thinking a donation to Planned Parenthood or a similar organization may be in order here.

Which, yes, still leaves me with three sabbats unaccounted for, but I have time to come up with ideas. And (unfortunately) there’ll always be something that needs donations, whether or not they’re thematically related to anything.

Having taken a liking to Moura’s Mabon ritual, I used it with a few adaptations this year. For one thing, instead of canned goods, I put my credit card on the altar and blessed it. It’ll be doing things it hasn’t done before.

The first hints of fall

Wicca’s harvest festivals can be a little hard to connect to if you live in the city. Certainly backyard gardens produce harvests, but trying to stay on top of the zucchini isn’t the community-wide affair that harvesting an entire crop of oats or barley was in our agricultural past. Three of Wicca’s eight sabbats are harvest festivals, and while that certainly stresses the importance of agriculture, it has always left me wondering how to distinguish them in my own practice. Samhain, of course, is Halloween in the secular calendar and you’re not likely to overlook it. Mabon isn’t celebrated on any grand scale, but the weather forecast is likely to mention that it’s the fall equinox and talk about how the nights are getting longer. Lammas? It’s not well-known outside of the Pagan community nowadays, which means that unlike Yule or Samhain, most of us who come to Wicca from another faith or from none at all have no traditions to build upon when trying to celebrate it.

Lammas, or Lughnasadh, marks the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.* I understand that traditionally Lammas (“loaf-mass”) is celebrated with bread made from the first wheat harvest of the season. But most of us are fortunate enough to find flour on the grocery store shelves year-round, and much of that flour is a blend of wheat from all over the country: different types, different growing conditions, different hardnesses, and probably different harvesting dates.

But modern urban life does have its own signs that fall is coming. Sweet corn is appearing in the grocery stores and farmers markets around here—it seems later this year than usual, but we had a late spring and a wet summer that may have slowed it down. Cherries, peaches, and plums are beginning to inch up in price as their season winds down, and apples grown somewhere closer than Chile are likely to appear soon. Even if you don’t have children, you can’t help but notice that back-to-school items are appearing in catalogs and local stores, while lawn furniture, shorts, and sandals are on closeout sales. State and county fairs are in full swing. The sun is rising later and setting earlier—it’s been doing that since the solstice, of course, but by now it’s really becoming noticeable. The temperature begins to drop to the point that you can leave the air conditioner off for days on end.

I can list all these things and still wonder what might connect me to the harvest, the spirit of Lammas. But even though my life isn’t nearly as tied to the seasons as might be considered ideal, there are still some connections. For most of my life, I’ve entered my knitting and crochet in county and state fairs, which means that that year’s entries need to be ready to be turned in at the end of summer. Farmers race to beat bad weather to bring in the crops; I race in a much, much, lighter sense to finish that last seam and get that sweater blocked. And although I may not have had any dedicated summer projects, I still find myself at the beginning of the end of the season thinking back over the past couple of months and mentally checking things off: did this and this; never got around to that.

Still, I wonder if I can get herbs to grow in this apartment…

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*Sort of. Most Wiccans celebrate Lammas on August 1; however, the midpoint falls on August 6 or 7. The difference may be related to the switchover between the Julian and Gregorian calendars centuries ago.