Not deferential enough: Mean fomair

Posted Thursday, September 20, 2012 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Mean fomair

by Gina Hamilton

The next stop in the Wheel of the Year is Meán Fómhair (pronounced Mon foorsh, more or less). The word means "middle harvest"; it is the second of the three harvest festivals, beginning with Lammas Day in August, and ending with Samhain at the end of October. Meán Fómhair is the autumn equinox, around September 23.

In the Irish Celtic tradition, the entire month of September was considered holy, and the druidical festival of Meán Fómhair was not observed separately. But in England and in Scotland, it was celebrated as possibly a holdover from the earlier druid festival.

By Meán Fómhair, two of the three hay harvests are completed, the grains are largely harvested, and most of the vegetables and fruits have been gathered in. Half the village stops working on the harvest, and begins the long work of processing the ingathered foods for winter.

Those who will remain in the fields are those who are completing the last haymaking, those who are gathering in the last autumn squash and pumpkins, and the autumn tree fruits, as well as the autumn nuts. Others will begin to put in the winter crops in the now cleared fields, including winter wheat and rye, root crops that will be allowed to winter over, and crops to be planted in the fall for an early harvest in the spring. Work may continue through the night if necessary, by the light of the Harvest moon.

The rest of the village begins work on preserving foods, slaughtering the animals that will not be kept through the winter, and smoking or salt brining the meat. Fruit sauces, jams and jellies, pickles, tomato sauces, and other items that can be canned are processed and stored; some fruit is dried, and other fruits and vegetables are root cellared. Grains not already ground are made into flour. Cider is pressed and wine and ale is made.

But like all the other quarter days, it's time for break and a party.  With the majority of the harvest home, it is time for a feast and dancing into the night, beginning at sundown and ending at sunrise. The marriages that took place on Lammas are finalized completely on the equinox, so it is in some ways a slightly delayed wedding reception as well.

The autumnal equinox is associated with the Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees. It is the festival when the Goddess passes from Mother to Crone.

The Harvest Queen, or Kern Baby, is made from the last sheaf of the harvest. The last sheaf of harvest is called the Maiden, and must be cut by the youngest female in attendance. It is hung on a pole, after being decorated with a white cloth and ribbons symbolic of spring, and left throughout the winter.

The villagers would set aside a tenth of the harvest for the poor and for those who performed religious and medical services for the town. Priests and priestesses, midwives, medicine men and women, and herbalists who may not have taken part in the agricultural year were cared for and their services honored.  The remainder of the stores were used to support widows and orphans and those who were too elderly or disabled to participate in seed-time and harvest.

Another tenth of the harvest went to pay for out of village workers who came to help with the village's harvest. Because each village tried to stagger its harvest, it was likely that villagers from their own village would have helped out other towns, too. But in the event that one village was luckier or more successful than others, the sharing system helped all the local towns survive the winter.

The remaining 80 percent of the harvest, plus the shares brought home by the sharing system, were split among the families in the village, based on the number of people in each household.

As the harvest season rolls on, those in the fields must begin to contend with wetter, colder days, and a watch for the earliest frosts. But with luck, everything will be gathered in by summer's final end.

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