Moon(cake) Magick

I used to pay attention to the cycles of the moon but in recent years I fell out of the habit.  Celebrating the 8 festivals (Wheel of the Year) became more important to me. I began exploring Chaos Magic alternatives, linking the festivals to the 8 colours of magic. Doing so definitely added a breathe of fresh air to my magic. I can not stick to doing the same thing over and over too many times. I like change, innovation and creativity. I also realised that I miss something about playing with the moon even if all it means is having a dedicated glass of wine. I used to like the sense of timing and rhythm that came with it. I decided to rekindle my relationship with the Moon and September proved an excellent time to do it.

dscf1518In China and few other Asian countries people celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival around the time of the full moon each September. One of the main traditions is baking mooncakes and they became so strongly associated with the festival that many know it as Mooncake Festival.

dscf7187I tried them last year during the moon eclipse. I was passing through Bristol and visited my favourite Asian Supermarket late in August. The cakes were displayed together with paper lanterns and few other festive specialities. I bought couple and really enjoyed the  experience of celebrating an eclipse with them.

dscf7189Traditionally mooncakes have an egg yolk in the centre to symbolise the full moon. In addition to eating them  people  go outside to drink tea and watch the moonrise until they see the moons reflection in their teacups. They also light up lanterns, special fire structures and play games re-enacting different elements of the Legend of Chang’e and the Jade Rabbit.

Like many legends these stories seem pretty strange and have many alternative versions. I found some really good ones on youtube. The Legend of Chang’e tells a story about an Archer who shoot down 9 suns from the sky in order to save the earth from scouring heat they produced. In return for this he was offered an elixir  or a pill of immortality but his wife Chang’e drunk the elixir /ate the pill instead of him and she flew off to the moon where she still l lives.

Another associated story tells how the Jade Rabbit got its name and ended up living with Chang’e on the moon.

After baking the cakes myself and Anton decided to set up the altar. We chose a selection of moon cards from different tarot decks and combined them with a selection of seasonal magical object we like to take out of the cupboards this time of the year. We had just enough time to light up all the candles and lanterns before the moon began to rise.

dscf1520We raised a cup of ritual sake to honour the moon and admired its golden round shape travelling through the sky. The evening birdsong and scent of fresh garden herbs added to the magick. Soon we had bats flying over our heads and the chill of an autumn night chased us back inside where we could gorge ourselves on the lovely mooncakes.

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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 02

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The roots of Dożynki date back to Slavic pagan times and the key similarities remain the same. Slavs would cut the last sheaf of cereal and weave a wreath decorated with nuts, berries, fruits, flowers and ribbons. The most experienced female reaper would carry it, in her hands or on her head, to the richest house where feast and party would take place.

Like with many local traditions, the Church found it impossible to convince people to abandon them, so it decided to embrace them instead. As long as the wreath visits the Church and gets the priests blessing before the celebration begins it’s all right. The pagan flavour to the festival remains unchanged.

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The modern festival begins with a procession around the church. People wear their local traditional festive outfits. The procession is opened by women carrying the wreaths (notice that the female also carried the wreath in pagan times),  loaves of bread and other local produce.

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We looked at the symbolism of the wreaths in part one. It’s also interesting to notice the loaves of bread. This one says ‘ar Zimei’ which translates as “Earth’s Gift”.

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The most popular design appearing on the loaf is a cross. Interestingly the loaves seem always to be round. We know the cross and a circle represent the sun. Here we see one adorned with wheat.

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The shape and symbolism alludes to nature worship in its every aspect.

Once the procession encircles the church they place the offerings in front of the altar where they will be sprinkled with holy water. We rarely can see the connection with pagan culture more clearly than this.

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Once the mass is over the celebration begins. A huge parade leads through countryside and streets of the town to the chosen locations where the party will take place. People carry the tools of their trade and this tradition extends to farm vehicles decorated with straw, ribbon, leafs and flowers…

0011907002korowod33Dożynki powiatowe 2012maxresdefault This side of the festival has very little to do with Christianity. It’s usually organised by the local council and it’s ‘secular’ in nature (as much as harvest festival can be said to be so!)

Wonderful hay bail sculptures advertise the event…

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Once the parade is over the party begins. Folk groups sing traditional songs often about life in the countryside and the joys and hardships of farming. The songs should mock and reflect current affairs.

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They perform traditional, local folk dances…

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There is also a contest for the beast wreath….

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136d426747f3d9897573bed800431ab8The performances are usually accompanied by a food market, stalls selling arts, crafts and nibbles.

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The fact that these celebrations persist illustrates the inherited need to celebrate life and changes in nature. I remember going to events similar to this as a child. I felt excited, I was going to take part in something special and important but once at the event I was usually disappointed. All the fun, it seemed. was contained in the performance. As a spectator there was very little to do. This was also my experience with the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh. It was a fun event but I was truly able to appreciate it only once I took part in the performance. That seems to me a more important difference than what gods people choose to worship.

In the past  people celebrating  Dożynki were the same people who prepared it. It was a small festival with family, friends and neighbours. What people celebrated was the actual survival of their community. As we see the symbolism and themes stay the same but with festivities like this one the true meaning is not religious but personal. It’s about being together and sharing the adventure of life. People rejoiced the harvest because they sweated in the fields together, they helped each other and they succeeded at sustaining themselves. Nature provided them with right conditions to grow food and they got ready to face the adversities of winter with confidence.