Essay – Fall Feast

The last of the harvest festivals marks the end (or beginning) of the agricultural year and the turning point from which a period of fertility, growth, and abundance gives way to a fallow time of rest, darkness, and regeneration. The festival is most commonly referred to as Samhain, and the mythology, lore, and customs most commonly associated with the season and its secular counterpart, Halloween, are derived from Celtic and Germanic Pagan traditions.

For most Neopagans, the Fall Feast is a fire festival which marks the end of summer and preparations for the perilous winter to come. In earlier agrarian societies, harvests were stored and animals are slaughtered in order to ensure survival through the long, cold season. Of course these cycles are still repeated, but 21st century Neopagans such as myself are no longer as spiritually connected the agricultural processes or animal husbandry which lie at the heart of the feast.

In the spiritual sense, the Fall Feast is generally celebrated by Neopagans as the time when the division between life and death is least pronounced. Put another way, the Fall Feast brings into sharp relief the frail nature of life and its dependence on the cycles of life and death. Animals must be slaughtered for food, vegetation must succumb to the cold in order to regenerate, and the question of whether or not one will survive the coming winter surfaces.

The idea that the spiritual world or realm of the dead is accessible to the living at this time derives from Celtic tradition, and this concept has heavily influenced spiritual and secular celebrations of the feast. Ancestor worship, divination, and magic are common themes for this High Day. Masking, revelry, and fear of the restless dead are also elements of the broader celebration.

A direct and commensurate celebration to the Fall Feast of the Celtic and Germanic traditions is elusive within Hellenic Paganism. The agricultural cycles of the Mediterranean do not align closely to those of cultures in the more northern or western regions of Europe, so Hellenic Druids are forced to make a choice: recreate (as best we can) the culturally-appropriate festivals of Thesmophoria or perhaps the Eleusinian Mysteries (of which we know virtually nothing), or adapt the practices of the Ancient Greeks to the rubrics of the more widely-celebrated Fall Feast. I choose the latter option.

In my practice, the Fall Feast occurs within an agricultural cycle and climate similar to that of Northern and Western Europe. By the end of October, the frosts have arrived, the fields are harvested, and meteorological winter has begun.  The days are noticeabley shorter, and it is nearly dark by the time I arrive home from work everyday at 5PM. This trend of decreasing sunlight is dramatic this far north, and it has a pronounced effect on my mood. I know that it will be almost two months before the light begins to increase, and I settle into a habit of sleeping longer and spending much more time indoors.

For my Fall Feast, I honor Demeter, the Goddess of grains, fruits, and cultivated vegetation, as well the myth of Kore/Persephone and Hades, which for the ancient Greeks explained the seasonal change from summer into winter. I embrace the dying of one year and the rest that must come before the commencement of the next. I find it natural and fitting to also celebrate my ancestors at this time. I also lean into the magical and divinatory significance of the season because this is a liminal time and the hinge upon which the agricultural season changes.

 

 

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