In the ancient Roman calendar, October was the name of the eighth month of the year. Its name comes from octo, the Latin word for “eight.” When the Romans converted to a 12-month calendar, they tried to rename this month after various Roman emperors, but the name October stuck.
In Old England, the month was called Winmonath, which means “wine month,” for this was the time of year when wine was made. The English also called it Winterfylleth, or “Winter Full Moon.” They considered this full Moon to be the start of winter.
A warm October is said to be a sign of a cold February. If leaves wither on the trees and fail to fall to the ground in autumn, it indicates a frosty winter with a great deal of snow, alternatively:
“If October brings heavy frosts and winds,
then will January and February be mild.”
The October Moons
The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is called the Harvest Moon, and as such, it sometimes falls in October. This moon is also called the Blood Moon, Hunters Moon, Shedding Moon or the Falling Leaf Moon. Coming right before Samhain, it’s a time when the nights are crisp and clear, and you can sense a change in the energy around you.
The Blood Moon takes its name not from blood sacrifices, but from the old custom of killing and salting down livestock before the Winter months made it impossible to feed them. Only the choicest stock was kept through the cold season.
Today we still subconsciously begin to make preparations for the coming Winter during this time. We check the antifreeze and tires for the car, gather up garden hoses, and make plans to winterize any drafty spots around doors and windows in the house. Some of us do and an ambitious fall cleaning.
Throughout this month, festivals for the dead increase with the waning light, and late harvest festivals continue. The latter often include propitiation to ensure that the Goddess’s abundance will keep people whole through harsh or barren times.
Magical efforts accentuated by October’s characteristics include clearing away old, unnecessary things or habits so that our mind, body, and spirit are prepared for winter. Any spells for memory, especially commemorating loved ones, are apt. Beyond this, metaphysical efforts for health, luck, and debt paying seem common, ensuring that winter, the season of rest and death, will come and go with the least negative effect.
The Greek festival of Thesmophoria came every year in honor of Demeter and was confined to women only. This was a three-day rememberance of Kores return to the Underworld. At this festival the initiates shared a sacred barley drink and cakes. One feature of the Thesmophoria was a deterrent to offenders against the sacred laws against women. Priestesses read a list of the offenders before the doors of the goddesses’ temples, especially the temples of Demeter and Artemis. It was believed that anyone so cursed would die before the year ended.
The first day of the Thesmophoria was the kathodos, a ritual where purified priestesses took sacrificed piglets deep into the chasm where the sacred inner shrine of Demeter was. They left the piglets there and retrieved the remains of the one from the previous year. The second day was Nesteia, during which the remains of the retrieved piglets were displayed on the altar. Courts were closed in honor of Demeter as law-giver. On the third day, the retieved piglets were sown into the plowed Earth as a symbol of Demeter’s fertility aspect.
The Greeks also honored the god Hephaestus with an annual festival called Chalkeia.
In Tibet, the Buddhist Lent occured along with the Descent from Heaven festival which celebrated the end of the rainy season.
The Durga Puja in India honors the goddess Durga for four days beginning on the New Moon. It is a time of family reuntions, settling quarrels, and honoring the parents. In northern India this fesival is known as Dasahara. Durga is considered a matriarchal figure and is very popular with the people. She is shown with many arms and in bright colors.
The Lakshmi Puja, or Diwalii, is a fest of lights in honor of the goddess Lakshmi. It occurs right after the Durga Puja. During this Festival of Lights, lamos are everywhere, good things to eat are produced, and Hindu wives dance for their husbands. Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, is considered the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
In the Pacific Ocean, the ancient Hawaiians celebrated a four-month long festival called Makahiki, beginning of the first Full Moon of this month. The god Lono had a special celebration of five days during this time, filled with games, pageantry, the hula, surfing, feasting, and tax collecting.