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.
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).