HARVEST HOME: THE END OF SUMMER, THE BEGINNING OF AUTUMN

In less than a week, July ends and August begins.  In the Hokku Calendar, summer ends with the last day of July, and the first of August is Harvest Home, as it was commonly called, or in older speech, Lammas, and in Gaelic Lughnasadh (Loo-nuh-suh).  Harvest home is the beginning of autumn in the old calendar.

Harvest Home comes halfway between Midsummer’s Day and the Autumn Equinox.  It is so called because in old times it was when the harvest is “brought home” to barn and house.  Prominent in this harvest is the ripened grain, and that leads us to its second name, Lammas.

Lammas is a slurring of the words “Loaf Mass,” so called because that was when the first grain was brought in, ground to flour,  and a loaf baked from it and taken to church.  So we can think of it as the first baking of bread from the new harvest.

All of this connects us to the earth and to very ancient times, because this harvesting of the grain was ritualized as the annual death of the Spirit of the Grain.   Through spring and summer it grows and flourishes, dressed in green, and at summer’s end it matures and is cut down and partly ground to flour, but later the “body” is also placed in the earth at spring planting (as seed grain), so the Spirit is resurrected and dies each year.  In later folk tunes with liquor in mind, the Spirit is called “John Barleycorn.”

But the Spirit of Grain was generally seen as female, and stalks of grain would be woven into an ornamental shape kept indoors through the winter, called in some places a “corn dolly” — “corn” meaning grain in the British Isles.  

 There were many variations on this practice.  In one, the last tuft of grain was woven into a human form, decorated with ribbons, carried into the farmhouse, and seated in a chair of honor at the Harvest Supper.  Other regions had other customs relating to the “corn dolly,” and even other names and forms for it.

In any case, the “power” of the grain, its “spirit” was felt to be preserved over winter in the corn dolly  until the time of spring planting.

 

 

So Lammas, Harvest Home, is an old harvest festival that we would do well to bring back into celebration.  I am in favor of anything that reminds us that our lives depend on the earth and its produce, and that we should respect it.

 

David

 

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CANDLEMAS: SPRING BEGINS

Tomorrow is Candlemas — Imbolc — the old beginning of spring. Yesterday was the lunar New Year, celebrated in Asia, which is also the traditional beginning of spring. So we can see, as I have said before, that if one follows the old European seasonal calendar, with its quarter and cross-quarter days, one is, with only slight variation, following the same calendar as the old hokku writers of Japan.

Here is a hokku for the beginning of spring, written by Gyôdai:

Snowmelt;
A crow cawing
In the cloudy hills.

The Wheel of the Year has turned, and whether or not there are signs of spring where you are, the Yin forces of Nature have begun to diminish, and the Yang forces are growing. Where I live, snowdrops have already sprouted their short green leaves above the earth and have put forth their drooping, snow-white blossoms. The days are growing longer, the nights ever shorter.

In today’s hokku, we see the increase of Yang and decrease of Yin in the melting of the snow. And by a happy chance, in the repetition of the same initial consonant in “crow,” “cawing,” and “cloudy” we also hear the cawing of the crow.

David

THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR: SUMMER’S END

Hassam

Every year I like to post this article again, with slight variation, to mark that time when one senses the change in the air that marks the beginning of summer’s wane into autumn. It is a time when one palpably feels that suddenly the energies of the season have weakened, that the active Yang energy of summer has begun to give way to the growing Yin energies that will take us first into autumn, then winter. It happens at different times in different places. I never know ahead of time on what day it will come, but I certainly felt it recently. The Wheel of the Year has turned; the decline into Fall has begun.

In her bittersweet children’s book Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt writes:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn.

It is the way of Yin and Yang — whenever one reaches its maximum, it begins to turn into its opposite. And that is where we are now in the turning wheel of the year. The hot and bright summer having reached its peak — “the top of the live-long year” — the days have now begun, almost imperceptibly, their decline into autumn — the time of growing Yin.

This is when the hokku of Kyoroku comes to mind,

August;
First on the ears of millet —
The autumn wind.

We stand looking out on a field of millet still in the quiet midst of August. Suddenly a cool wind, almost a mere hint of wind, stirs the heavy seed heads that bend in a gentle wave. And we suddenly realize that it is the wind of autumn, and summer is ending.

What a world of significance in that verse!

That is the subtlety of hokku. We express all of Nature in a single, small thing-event. And in expressing Nature, we express our own nature as well.

You will find that I repeat certain things again and again, and one of those things is the importance of harmony and unity in a hokku. In this verse the maturity of the summer matches the maturity of the ears of millet, and suddenly we see a manifestation of this aging — the first sign of decline, the first coolness of the wind that speaks of autumn.

When I say the wind “speaks of autumn,” I mean that in hokku, when the writer gets out of the way, removing the ego from the verse, Nature is able to speak, sometimes in the wind, or the water, or the rain, or any number of things.

Returning to harmony, here is a hokku I wrote some time ago:

The tall tree
Cut up in a heap;
Summer’s end.

When you read it, see it — feel it. Can you sense the harmony of elements, the ending of summer, the formerly tall and green and growing tree all cut up into a drying heap of wood? Can you feel the change in it, the transience that is inseparable from existence?

That transience is an essential element of hokku. It is what makes Babbitt’s book so filled with that mixture of near sadness and almost lonely wistfulness that the Japanese called sabishisa. It is the knowledge that nothing in life is permanent, that everything changes, that nothing abides, that all of existence is in constant movement and transformation from one state to another, endlessly being born, growing, dying, changing. It manifests in the withering of a leaf and in the eons of evolution that have carried life through ceaseless transformations, as Loren Eiseley reminds us in his book The Immense Journey:

The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.”

We find the same feeling in Marcel Pagnol’s comments that sum up the ending of his childhood in Le Château de ma Mère My Mother’s Castle:

Le temps passe, et il fait tourner la roue de la vie comme l’eau celle des moulins.

Time passes, and it turns the wheel of life as water does that of a mill.

And he finished with these words:

Telle est la vie des hommes. Quelques joies, très vite effacées par d’inoubliables chagrins. Il n’est pas nécessaire de le dire aux enfants.

Such is the life of man — a few joys, very quickly erased by unforgettable sorrows. It is not necessary to tell that to the children.

So now we must prepare ourselves, as summer moves toward an end, for the arrival of autumn, a season filled with the sense of things passing and aging and changing, and thus filled with the spirit of hokku.

David

THE TIME OF HARVEST IN THE HOKKU YEAR

In our busy modern world, particularly if we live in a heavily urbanized area, it is good to pause from time to time and reflect on where we are in the Wheel of the Year — the cycle of the seasons.

Astronomically, Midsummer’s Day is precisely that — the middle of summer, when the longest day of the year occurs.  We might think that is the most Yang time of the year, but  actually the real effects of these astronomical events are not felt until about a month later.  Remember that.

Strangely enough, this year near the end of July I began to get a very peculiar but obvious and persistent feeling of a “weakening” in the air, as though the high point of summer had already been passed.  I even mentioned it to a friend who said she had sensed the very same thing.  So for some reason — at least where I am —  the transition time when Yang reaches its maximum and a tiny bit of Yang begins to grow within it seemed this year to be very evident.  harvesters

If we look at the old Hokku Calendar as it manifests in the European-American tradition, we have just passed Lammas on August 1, also called Lugnasadh (pronounced “LOO-nuh-suh”).   In “farm speech” it is called Harvest Home, and it marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  So it is very appropriate that the feeling of the presence of Yin energy  has already been in the air.

In the old days, Harvest Home was an important country festival celebrating the bringing in of the wheat from the fields, which provided bread, “the staff of life.”  It was the first of three harvest festivals.   The second, now commonly just called the “Harvest Festival” comes near the Autumn Equinox, and the third comes on Samhain, November 1st, the day after Halloween.

In the British Isles it was common in post-pagan times to celebrate the second harvest festival about a week after the Autumn Equinox (September 21/22), on the day called Michaelmas (pronounced MIK-uhl-muhs), which was the feast day of the Christian angel Michael, but it had pre-Christian significance.  The Autumn Equinox is the last day when the length of night and day are equal.  Then the darkness (Yin) begins to overwhelm the light (Yang) as the days grow shorter.  Given that Michael was a powerful symbol of the victory of light over darkness, it was no doubt a common hope that celebrating it on Michael’s day would help ordinary folk through the dark days of winter.

The celebration of the Harvest Festival close to the Autumn Equinox accounts for why the full moon closest to that equinox is called the Harvest Moon.

Well, all of this may or may not be interesting to you, but my point in mentioning it is that the Yang energies in Nature have begun to wane and the Yin energies are increasing.  That will continue and become ever more obvious as we move through August and into September, October, November, and December.  We will feel the changes in the air and in our bodies, and if we follow the old ways, we will adjust our behavior and our food accordingly.

Why our food and behavior?  Because in the time of year when Yin energies increase, our bodily energy, instead of moving outward in exuberance and activity (Yang), begins to move inward (Yin).  So traditionally, we gradually bring what we do and what we eat into correspondence with that inward tendency.  There is a whole system of dealing with the interaction of food and the seasons, which is best exemplified today in Chinese medical theory.  I won’t go into all of that now, but you have probably noticed that people who live close to Nature change their diet somewhat depending on the season and on what is naturally available.  It is good to keep that correspondence in mind as the Yang energies in Nature continue to wane with the season.

You will recall that I told you to remember that the effects of events in the astronomical calendar — the main four points on the old Hokku Calendar –tend to be felt a month later.  We can apply that to the differences in general between the old Hokku Calendar and the modern calendar.  Doing that, we would expect the common notion of the end of summer in our modern calendar to take place about a month after its Lammas or “Harvest Home” ending in the old calendar.  And that is just what happens.   We tend to commonly think of summer as ending with September 1st (or on Labor Day shortly after), a month after Harvest Home.  Of course technically, in the modern calendar, the end of summer is placed on the Autumn Equinox ( September 21/22).

David

THE SPRING HOKKU CALENDAR

Because the practice of hokku is so intimately connected with the seasons, I like to regularly remind readers where we are in the “old” hokku calendar in its traditional Western version, the Wheel of the Year, which very closely approximates the old hokku calendar of Japan in its times.  We are in the spring phase:

Spring:

Begins with Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st. 1st week of February.
Midpoint: Spring Equinox — Even-night — March 20/21.
Ends the evening before May Day (Bealtaine pr. BYAL-tuh-nuh), 1st week of May.

Summer:

Begins with May Day (Bealtaine), 1st week of May.
Midpoint: Midsummer’s Day — Sunstede/Sunstead, the Summer Solstice, June 20/21.
End: The evening before Lammas (Harvest Home — Lughnasa pr. LOO-nuh-suh), August 1. 1st week of August.

As you see, we are coming up on the midpoint of spring, the Spring Equinox. Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (and they may be our ancestors either biologically or linguistically or both) called the Spring Solstice Emniht, pronounced “EM-nicht,” with the “ch” like the “ch” in German ich.  It is a short form of Efn-niht, “Even-night”; that time of the year when the hours of day and night are equal.

Emniht in spring — Even-night — is one of the four “Quarter Days.” Think of the year as a great wheel with four spokes dividing it into four quarters. The two vertical spokes are: Midsummer’s Day- Sunstead (the Summer Solstice) attached at the top of the wheel, and opposite it, on the bottom of the wheel, is the Winter Solstice, Yule.  Then there are two crosswise spokes: that at mid-right is the Spring Solstice, the spring Even-night, that on the mid-left is the Autumn Solstice.

A sun cross-like symbol with six or eight arms...

So we are coming up on the spring Even-night — the Spring Solstice. The next great quarter day after that will be the Summer Solstice, which the Anglo-Saxons called Sunstede — Sunstead — that time when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, stands there in its place (stede/stead), and then begins to decline again in its arc across the sky.

Halfway between the “Quarter Day” spokes on the great wheel of the year are the “Cross-Quarter Day” spokes. the next one we will encounter will be May Day, Bealtaine as our Celtic ancestors called it ( pr. BYAL-tuh-nuh), sometimes written as “Beltane.”

In simple hokku usage, we can think of these spring quarter and cross-quarter points loosely in these terms:

Spring:

Begins with Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st: 1st week of February = “Spring begins.”

Midpoint: Spring Equinox, — Even-night: March 20/21 = “Spring deepens.”

Ends with the evening before May Day (Bealtaine): 1st week of May. – “Spring departs.”

I very much enjoy keeping these old traditions and old names and their variations, but if you prefer a simpler version, then you may stick to the looser hokku periods shown in bold type above, keeping in mind that they refer to general periods of days rather than to the more precise names and dates of the old “Wheel of the Year” calendar. It is good, however, to be at least familiar with the old calendar, even if you prefer the simpler approach in practice.

David

THE OLD YEAR NOW HAS PASSED AWAY

For some of you, it is already the New Year — 2011.

In the old hokku calendar we are still over a month away from the New Year, which comes on February 4th — just at the edge of spring.  But our Western New Year, oddly, comes shortly into winter, and one might think it is a beginning more by the calendar than by natural events.  It is after the Winter Solstice, and nowhere near the Vernal Equinox.  But actually, we are really still within the Twelve Days of Yule, which begin on the Winter Solstice — so in that sense, I suppose, we can consider our New Year the end of the Solstice Season.

If you want to take a look at the differences between the old and new calendars, you might want to revisit this earlier posting:

https://hokku.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/its-still-the-same-old-story/

That will show you that the old Western calendar and the Japanese hokku calendar were not much different, but of course our modern “official” calendar is considerably changed.

In any case, this is a good time to wish all of you who read this site a very happy New Year.

David

IT’S STILL THE SAME OLD STORY

Yesterday I discussed three “Western” calendar systems relevant to hokku — the traditional calendar, the meteorological calendar, and the “natural” calendar.  The first is astronomical, and depends on the relationship between the sun and the earth; the second shows us the times of the actual affects of the solar-earth relationship; and the third is based on observation of what is happening in Nature and when it is happening — the sprouting of things, their growth and maturing, their withering, their dying.

After reading that article, some of you may have found the astronomical traditional calendar interesting, but perhaps you thought it a bit irrelevant to hokku.  But it is not.  Let’s take a look for a moment at the calendar actually used by those who originally wrote hokku in old Japan, and simultaneously I shall show you how it relates to our old and traditional Western calendar with its “quarter days” and “cross-quarter” days.

On comparing our old traditional calendar with the old calendar of Japanese hokku, we find something very interesting.  They go together very well, like this:

SPRING:
Our calendar begins with  Candlemas on February 1/2; speaking more generally, spring begins the 1st week of February.
In the Japan of old hokku writers, spring similarly begins on February 4th, and these are its divisions:

Risshun, (立春): February 4 — Spring begins;
Usui (雨水): February 19—Rain water;
Keichitsu(啓蟄): March 5—Insects awake;

The spring Midpoint in our traditional calendar is the Spring Equinox:  March 21 /22.  In the Japanese hokku calendar it was similarly:
Shunbun (春分): March 20— the Spring Equinox, the middle of spring;
Seimei (清明): April 5—Clear and bright;
Kokuu (穀雨): April 20—Grain rain;

Our traditional spring Ends on the evening before May 1st; then comes May 1st, which is May Day (Bealtaine) and the first day of our summer:

SUMMER 
begins for us on:  May Day, May 1st, 1st week in May.  Similarly, for old Japanese hokku writers, summer began thus:

Rikka (立夏): May 5—Summer begins;
Shōman (小満): May 21—Grain sprouts;
Bōshu (芒種): June 6—Grain in ear;

Our summer Midpoint happens on  Midsummer’s Day — the Summer Solstice, June 20 /21.
The old Japanese hokku Midpoint happened on:

Geshi (夏至): June 21—Summer Solstice, the middle of summer.
Shōsho (小暑): July 7—Small heat;
Taisho (大暑): July 23—Great heat;

The End of our summer happens on the Evening before Lammas; then comes Lammas — Harvest Home — Lughnasa, August 1st, 1st week in August.  On Lammas our autumn begins.

AUTUMN/FALL
For us it begins with Lammas — Harvest Home (Lughnasa), August 1st.  1st week in August.
Similarly, for old Japanese hokku writers it took place thus:

Risshū (立秋): August 7—Autumn begins;
Shosho (処暑): August 23—Heat finishes;
Hakuro (白露): September 7—White dew;

Our Midpoint is the Autumn Equinox, September 21/22.
The old Japanese hokku Midpoint was:

Shūbun (秋分): September 23— the Autumn Equinox, the middle of autumn.
Kanro (寒露): October 8—Cold dew;
Sōkō (霜降): October 23—Frost descends;

Our autumn has its End at the Evening before Samhain, November 1st.  1st week in November.  Then on Samhain our winter begins.

WINTER:
Our winter begins with Samhain, November 1st, the 1st week in November.
Similarly, for old Japanese hokku writers, winter began thus:

Rittō (立冬): November 7—Winter begins.
Shōsetsu (小雪): November 22—Small snow;
Taisetsu (大雪): December 7—Great snow;

Our winter Midpoint is Midwinter’s Day — the Winter Solstice — Great Yule, December 21 / 22.
Similarly, the old Japanese Midpoint was:

Tōji (冬至): December, the Winter Solstice — the middle of winter.
Shōkan (小寒): January 5 — Small Cold—also called 寒の入り (Kan no iri) The Entrance of the Cold’
Daikan (大寒): January 20—Great Cold;

Our winter had its End on the evening before Candlemas, February 1st, 1st week in February.
Similarly, as we have seen, for the old Japanese hokku writers, winter ended on February 3rd.

And here for us the cycle begins again with Candlemas (Imbolc) February 1st.
For the old writers of Japanese hokku, it began again similarly with Risshun (Beginning of Spring) on February 4th.

Now, what does all this mean to us today?  It means simply that if we follow the old and traditional Western calendar, we shall essentially and with only slight variation be following the same old calendar by which hokku was written in Japan.  And incidentally, that old Japanese calendar was actually borrowed from the Chinese, so the Japanese hokku calendar was the same as the Calendar used by Chinese poets.

So when we use the old and traditional Western calendar, we are, with little variation, following the same general calendar as the ancient poets of China and Japan.  The names vary from place to place, but the times are essentially nearly the same.

David