Autumn Equinox magick

As I finish writing my short exploration of Dożynki Harvest Festival I am left with different thoughts. Living in modern, western society, a poor harvest hardly impacts our daily life, let alone survival. We live an illusion in which human ‘mastered nature’. The sense of dependence so strongly present in rituals of the past disappeared from our daily consciousness. That’s probably why we seem to be so shocked when a tsunami or earthquake wipes out an entire region.

Since I moved out of big cities and live on the edge of a forest I feel a much stronger part of nature and its cycles. I can go on foraging trips and do gardening and they again visibly affect my life.  I no longer need to ponder what harvest means to others. As I make another jar of jam made from fruits I collected in my garden I feel spontaneous gratefulness to the weather, the trees, the sun and everything that made this jam possible.  When I celebrate like this I feel I honour something primeval and that this means the plums will be back on my tree the next year. I do not care about whether science or gods lie behind it. Magic and life can not be separated and I feel part of them both. This experience seem inherent in the process of growing your own food.

When I lived in a rented room and had no garden my celebration of autumn equinox could be going to a club or meeting friends and watching a great movie. Our culture, the things we create, be it a poem, a rave party or a new furniture in the living room, all come from our hard work. Celebrating the harvest ultimately celebrates our achievements, big and small. It celebrates the fruits of our work.

Many jobs we do these days seem pointless and not worth living for. Doing them we can end up feeling frustrated, unappreciated and empty. We feel trapped and begin to believe our life will never change. The celebration acts as a reminder of constant changes in the world around and in ourselves. It can be a good time to do spells enchanting for a new job and changes to our life in general.

For people working in the fields, the end of harvest marked a transition into a more relaxed  and quiet time of the year but also a time when death becomes more tangible. I find early autumn a perfect time for holidays for that reason. I can step out of my daily routines, be quiet, relax and perhaps do something that feels exciting and dangerous so I feel the rush of life again. I can re-think my situation with a fresh mind afterwards. I see this as part of equinox magic. I make sure that during this holiday (even if it’s only one day off) I do something different than usual, go outside my comfort zone. I do something that makes me feel more alive.

One year I was preparing to move to another city and for my autumn holiday I visited Alton Towers and had a ride on the Nemesis roller-coaster (my first time on one). This was symbolic of the upcoming changes. It was terrifying but really fun too. I felt ready for everything afterwards! The move was swift and comparatively easy.

This year my equinox travel was to Pieniny in south Poland where myself and Anton had a  great and magickal time involving rafting a mountain gorge, taking a chair lift up a nearby hill and having many chilled out walks in beautiful local parks. The focus of this travel was reorientation after our wedding.

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Dożynki Slavic Harvest Festival pt 01

Wierusz-Kowalski_Dożynki_1910It’s a cloudy and warm day here in the Highlands. Moorlands are covered with purple heather blooms, some leaves begin to redden, forests are full of berries and mushrooms. As I seal another jar of jams and pickles from this years yield of plums and apples my thoughts drift towards Autumn Equinox celebrations. I am reminded of the Slavic pagan harvest festival and its more modern, Christianised version Dożynki. 

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The festival has been celebrated for over 1000 years. The key ingredient of the celebration constitutes making of a wreath that traditionally was done with the ritualistically cut last sheaf of grain from the fields.  This was done at the end of harvest and in pagan times connected to Autumn Equinox celebrations.

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This would have been followed by a parade, a feast, a dance and party. The celebration although both Christianised and secularised still remains very popular. The simple wreath became more and more elaborate. Each year people organise local competitions for the best one. Making it can be a rather laborious process.

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The most  traditional shape of a circle, like an ouroborus represents infinity. This was often topped up with a crown which nowadays seem to be the most popular design. The symbolism of the crown has to do with leadership and rule. The crown symbolised the dependence of humans on nature.

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Amongst other popular shapes are religious icons, church buildings and angels. These appeared fairly recently as additions to traditional crown, circle and hay bail. I can not help but see so much pagan influence on all these creations. They must be one of the best existing examples of modern, European folk art and they seem steeped in folklore magic.

The many different Mother Marys weaved from cereal grasses bring to mind fertility goddesses. They look weirdly non Christian, as if taken out of Slavic celebration and dressed with some insignia to pass for ‘Mother of Christ’.

They somehow resemble Marzanna, the Slavic goddess of underworld associated with death and rebirth of nature. The straw figures of Marzanna are burned and drowned each spring to chase away winter and welcome the new season. Interestingly the wreath from Dożynki celebration would have been kept till spring. Could it be that same wreath would then be made into a Marzanna doll?

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3495829_wieniec-dozynkowydebowiec-18092011Many designs incorporate religious paintings.  Madonna’s are very popular. Here we see the Black Madonna. This could as well serve greatly in a Vodou ceremony to Ezili Dantor.

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This one could be the mitochondrial eve, the first alien-human hybrid with its grey alien son.DSC07234 [1280x768]

Another common motif revolves around the Eucharist and the chalice. The pagan heritage of them becomes more obvious when looked at in this form.

Here we have Holy Grail surrounded by what seems to be Nehebkau, the Egyptian double serpent deity of protection and magic. This god protected Ra during his travells through underworld. This symbolism makes a lot of sense in celebrations associated with Autumn Equinox when we enter the dark part of the year, the underworld. This symbolism has been enforced by sun entering the chalice (sunset). Interestingly the central sun seem to be a multi petal flower, a lotus perhaps….

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I could not help myself to add this one of its kind Jesus. If you ever wondered if he was really a Hippie this will remove any doubts. I have not seen one with dreadlocks until now. He looks like a cheerful sun god.

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We will also find some bizarre representations of temples…

ponice-195562033_wieniec-dozynkowyAnd angels….

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The religious themes become even more obviously pagan when we consider an array of other wonderful creations that accompany them.

Salwator’s Lajkonik (Krakow’s own Hobby Horse)

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A water lily or perhaps lotus flower…

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A fish…

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and an impressive collection of birds.

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Basket full of grapes, chillies and bread….

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And a happy couple bringing to mind god and goddess of the harvest.

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All these creations celebrate nature’s abundance and diversity as well as local culture. The Church seems to be more incidental in all this as we will see in the next post, exploring the ritual itself.