The Thanks of Harvest

It is that time of the year where many polytheistic cultures celebrated the harvest. In Hellas the entirety of the summer and into the early autumn was the season of harvest. Grains were harvest in the first half of summer which also saw the festival of Kronia honoring the golden age of men and Kronos. The prelude to the harvest time was the Thargelia of Apollon in which the green grains were offered to Apollon in preparation for the harvest season, likely so that sunny dry weather would prevail in order for the grains to successfully ripen. Many crops rely on dry sunny periods in order to ripen, not only grains but also grapes. The initial harvest of which, like with the grain, involved the honoring of Apollon who sustains the crops. This Karneia is an interesting festival as a culmination of summer festivals to the god during this harvest period. The death of Hyakinthos in Sparta and his relation to the wheat bread the harvest of which occurred roughly around the time of his festival has a strong suggestion of agrarian sacrifice and receiving the divine blessings. The Gymnopaideia which honored the youths who have matured into radiant young men who danced unarmed for their society which no bachelor was permitted to witness, which may not only have to do with the societal obligations but symbolical of the propagation of nature and as a festival during the summer harvests it may have some relationship to honoring the propagation of the harvest which has successfully matured and whose grains would not only feed the society and sustain its continuance but also be sewn in looking towards the future. The Karneia which followed was also the shepherd harvest where spring lambs that had been reared were often butchered in thanksgiving. Thus the grains and vineyards were followed by the sacrifice of flesh. The bread, the wine/drink (keeping in mind that during this period that drinking water was often not very clean and so people depended on the bacteria killing spirits, watered down, as a drink) and meat. The very basis of sustenance.

Although many regions, especially in the further north, do not experience this summer long season of harvest (here in Alaska you don’t really see much of harvest until the end of August and early September before everything goes crashing down into an abrupt winter). All the same, August has for many cultures of Europe been a time of thanks to various gods who preserve the harvest and are responsible in some manner for it thriving. Right now may who honor Celtic gods are celebrating the festival of Lugh with the bounties of ripe fruits and grains. For Hellas this is the time of winding down towards the Eleusinia in September around the time of the Autumnal Equinox is an excellent example of the importance of harvest in the honoring of the departure of Persephone. It is proceeded by the festival of Zeus Epoptes which may have relevance to the beginning of the rainy season and the conclusion of the harvest as Zeus the overseer who plans out the proceeding events of the marriage of Persephone, as the grain is planted within the earth to germinate once more to bring plenty to the world. I have expressed my thoughts on an old website of mine that I recently refound/remembered here in which I discuss further my thoughts of Zeus Epoptes.

The Eleusinia couldbe considered the high harvest festival in all its grandeur. It honored not only Demeter and Persephone whose mysteries are the very continuance of all things in blessing of plentitude, but also as what was a time for honoring those gods who are instrumental in these mysteries. They who receive special acclaim for the blessings of the harvest. As far removed as most of us are from the important reverence of spirit of thanks for the harvest in our high tech world in which  we can get all manner of foods available at any store at any time of the year, we don’t perhaps quite understand that feeling of having your societies entire health and welfare dependent on successful crops. Most of us in first world countries don’t know what it is like to experience famine from failed crops (and pray that we never do experience it’s devastation!) It is quite understandable that during the harvest festival Apollon himself would receive two offerings. One, a goat, likely dealing with his blessings as seasonal lord of the dry warm harvest season that permits the successful maturation of the crops (more the point than the weather, but related to the weather for its necessity to this case). And the latter, a pig, something which was sacrificed to not only Apollon Noumenios but also to certain aspects of Apollon as a helper of men, like to honor him as a god of plague (ie famine in most cases).  Zeus is the only other deity that I am aware of who gets two offerings at the Eleusinia.

But that aside, there was a host of numerous deities which by necessity must be given honor to. We know of the Calydonian Boar which was sent to plague men when Artemis was forgotten during the harvest sacrifices, which could be a mythic signifier of how serious and important the role of each the deities take in providing for the dietary welfare of the people. It is more than a grain mother and daughter which gets the most emphasis, but rather a time of true thankfulness for an entire host of gods in a spirit of reverence for survival of one’s household and offspring that will not face starvation. It is not the platitudes of the American Thanksgiving  in a very generic spirit of thanks in a rather abstract way that most tend to celebrate, but a knowing and fending off of hunger that looms ever threatening. They are the gods who are by their grace the sustainers of life. Each culture has them and gives reverence to them for their mercy and kindness. It is of no wonder that the agrarian cult of Demter and Persephone which feeds and sustains mankind as a mercy and blessing would translate into the spiritual world in which souls are saved even as the crops save us from hunger.

I would recommend in all earnestly that before celebrating the end of the harvest and the gifts that the gods have so generously endowed us with a short period of fasting for those who are able to remind us how much a divine blessing food is for us as a true gift from the gods. I think that this year I must give special thanks to Annapoorna-Artemis with her lovely spoon/ladel, nurturer of life,  who extends her hand to nurse mankind until we have reached the end of our age and are ready for her arrows.

Artemis who is not only a goddess who is a divine nurse but also a provisionary of the fields by holding off the wilderness from encroaching into the fertile fields and the blessings of wilderness displaced for crops, is understandable how grievous it was to forget her, and how her mercy was instantly revoked as the very agent of the wilderness, the Calydonian Boar. was sent forth into human habitation and fields to bring death and destruction. Ever ought one by thankful of her. For Annapoorna dispensing out food, for Artemis who provides. This is especially relevant for Alaskans where given how harsh a wilderness we are surrounded with and with comparably very limited spaces for crop growing or viable for supporting herds of livestock, many people find what provisions they can in the wilderness. The wild berries, the salmon runs, the hunt. She is important not only for what the wilderness provides but for the viable spaces too that she establishes for us. Thanks be to all the gods during the time of the harvest.

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