Plowing and Planting
The great and supreme powers of ancient Egypt were the Gods and Goddesses of nature. The coming of the annual flood, the blossoming of the lotus, the rising of the brightest star in the sky, the disappearance of the moon, the eclipsing of the sun, the cutting of the wheat – all were occasions in which the Divine manifested on earth.
The religious life of the ancient Egyptians was marked by the celebration of the following kinds of sacred events:
- Festivals dedicated to a particular god or goddess which honored them through the public remembrance of their mythic lives.
- Festivals which honored the dead, bringing together a sense of the tribal community and the ancestral history and marking the cycles of time.
- Festivals which initiated the agrarian work cycles of preparing, sowing, and harvesting, as well as lying fallow.
In all probablity these seasonal festivals were determined by astronomical markers, such as the equinoxes, the solstices, and the rise of particular stars and constellations.
These were sacred events to which the Great Gods and Goddesses provided their blessings, for they were the manifestations of the cosmic cycle of nature. The will of the Gods was made known through the great pattern laid out in the sky by celestial phenomena.
There earliest festivals were those celebrating the mysteries of the Goddess in her appearance as the day and night sky, as both sun and moon. Most of the original ancient Egyptian feast days were celebrated at the new or the full moon. The ancient hieroglyph for “month” was the image of the moon itself. Apparently, the original festival calendar was lunar.
Of course, many Egyptian feast days are moveable feasts; that is, they are lunar festivals timed to phases of the moon. Thus, their occurrence might slip around from one year to the next. Other Egyptian festival dates were set by the motion of the stars, the planets, and the actions of the sun.
In any true sense it would be impossible for us to know the actual recurring dates of many of the festivals. We can, however approximate the ancient dates, which is what most Egyptologists do.
During the season of Inundation more major public festival occurred than at any other time of the year, most of them related to fertility rites and abundance rituals. The feasts tended to occupy the general public during this time because the land was so flooded that little real work could be done.
By comparison, the Sowing season had fewer festivals. Once the waters receded and work in the fields began, the Sowing season was the busiest time of year. The growing season was quickly followed by the Harvest season. But during the final months of the year, when the harvest had ended and the land was dry, the festivals began again, mostly in anticipation of the coming Inundation.
The festival calendar, as it appears to us now, spans three thousand years of Egyptian history and probably was being recorded, observed, and manipulated many thousands of years before that. In those three millennia a great many political and religious changes affected the designated feast days. Some feasts fell out of favor, others were renamed, a few were entirely forgotten.
From: Feasts of Light
Pomona’s Day of Honoring is often cited as November 1, making it a close match to the Celtic holiday Samhain. But sometimes it’s cited as August 13. Taken together, those days bracket the apple season. The earliest dessert apples begin to ripen in late summer, while the last storage apples finish in late autumn.
Even before the Romans added Pomona to the Samhain festivities, the Celts traditionally roasted apples and nuts in the bonfires. Pomona’s associations strengthened the role and symbolism of this fruit in connection with the holiday. This may be the origin of the modern custom of “bobbing for apples.”
To do on Pomona’s Day:
- Plant an apple tree.
Trees set out during the autumn planting season have a chance for extra root growth before they leaf out in the spring. Invoking Pomona’s blessing for her favorite type of tree will help your apple sapling grow big and strong.
This is especially helpful for grafted trees, which are a little more fragile than self-rooted trees and can use a boost from the goddess of grafting.
- Do some divination.
Do divination or other magic with fruits and nuts. The seeds, peels, and flesh of fruiting plants are useful in many types of divination and spellcraft. At this time of year, the veil between worlds is thin, making divination easier and more effective.
Divination with apples includes such things as cutting the peel from an apple all in one strip and tossing it to reveal the initials of one’s future spouce, placing apple seeds on the coals to see if they lie quietly (fortelling a happy relationship) or fly apart (foretelling heartbreak), and cutting an apple in front of a mirror to scry one’s beloved.
- Practice some Apple Magick.
Another set of practices draws on the apple’s qualities as a magickal fruit with power over the otherworld. These rituals deal with death and banishing. An apple may be cut in half and buried to cure a disease, settle a quarrel, or break a bad habit. Apples are also sometimes thrown to drive away evil spirits, or left out to feed the spirits of the dead so they do not trouble the living.
Ritual for Pomona’s Day
Here is a nice little ceremony to honor Pomona on her day:
- Colors: Red, yellow, green
- Altar: Upon cloth of any or all of these colors, lay baskets of apples (preferably the old Roman variety “Lady”)and other tree fruit, a jug of cider, and a pruning knife.
- Offerings: Water fruit trees.
- Daily Meal: Vegetarian, with any food made with apples.
Invocation to Pomona
Lady of the Apple Tree
Whose red-cheeked visage greets the dawn,
Lady of the Pear Tree
Whose sweetness salves the questing tongue,
Lady of the Peach Tree
Whose blush transforms the morning sky,
Lady of the Plum Tree
Whose scent entices, smooth and smiling,
Lady of the Cherry Tree
Whose scarlet lips are drenched in raindrops.
Lady of the blossoming branch
Who entices bees to dance with you,
Lady of the secret orchard
Where Vertumnus gained his entry,
Where he came in secret, clothed in
Vestments of the ancient Crone,
God of growth, god of seasons,
God of turning, he took you there
As you offered up your nectar
And all the trees above you burst their buds.
Lady of the ancient ones, the Trees
Who give forth their children one by one
That we may know not just mere survival
But sweetness as well, help us to remember
The beauty and abundance of your gifts.
Pomum Pirum Prunus
Pax Pactum Promissio
Thargelia (Greek Θαργήλια) was one of the chief Athenian festivals in honour of the Delian Apollo and Artemis, held on their birthdays, the 6th and 7th of the month Thargelion (about May 24 and May 25).
Essentially an agricultural festival, the Thargelia included a purifying and expiatory ceremony. While the people offered the first-fruits of the earth to the god in token of thankfulness, it was at the same time necessary to propitiate him, lest he might ruin the harvest by excessive heat, possibly accompanied by pestilence. The purificatory preceded the thanksgiving service.
The most important ritual was the following. Two men, the ugliest that could be found (the Pharmakoi) were chosen to die, one for the men, the other (according to some, a woman) for the women. Acting as scapegoats for community guilt, they were draped in figs and led through the city. before being cast out.
Hipponax of Kolophon claims that on the day of the sacrifice they were led round with strings of figs on their necks, and whipped on the genitals with rods of figwood and squills. When they reached the place of sacrifice on the shore, they were stoned to death, their bodies burnt, and the ashes thrown into the sea (or over the land, to act as a fertilizing influence). However, it is unclear how accurate Hipponax’s sixth-century, poetical account of the ceremony is, and there is much scholarly debate as to its reliability.
On the first day of the festival, a sheep was sacrificed to Demeter Chloe on the Acropolis, and perhaps a swine to the Fates, but it is generally agreed that an actual human sacrifice took place on this occasion, replaced in later times by a milder form of expiation. Thus at Leucas a criminal was annually thrown from a rock into the sea as a scapegoat: but his fall was checked by live birds and feathers attached to his person, and men watched below in small boats, who caught him and escorted him beyond the boundary of the city. Similarly, at Massilia, on the occasion of some heavy calamity (plague or famine), one of the poorest inhabitants volunteered as a scapegoat. For a year he was fed up at the public expense, then clothed in sacred garments, led through the city amidst execrations, and cast out beyond the boundaries.
After having rid the city of any ill influences on the first day of the festival, the second day begins with a joyous attitude. It follows the basic structure of any other Hellenic festival. First, there was a procession, which included children who carried the eiresione, an olive branch decorated with woolen fillets, bread, fruits, small flasks of honey, and some with oil. The children would sing the following while carrying this:
“The Eiresione brings figs and fat bread,
honey in pots, and oil to rub down,
a cup of strong wine so you go drunk to bed.”
As they moved through the city, they would collect offerings along the way. Once arriving at the temple, the offering of the first fruits of the grain harvest would begin. From the surviving texts we learn that the offering was of two types: a boiled stew of grains and seasonal vegetables, or the loaf of grain bread called the thargelos. It is from the name of the loaf that the festival takes its name. This loaf was also called eueteria, meaning “good year.”
There would also be libations, hymns, much feasting and other activities during the celebration. Singing competitions were especially popular, in which 50 men from the 10 tribes of Athens participated. All of these were done in honor of Apollo, god of purification.
For a more modern approach, we have this idea:
- Themes: Cleansing; Offering; Forgiveness; Magic
- Symbols: Ritual Tools
- Presiding Goddess: As the Greek goddess who created all sacred rituals and ceremonies, Hosia oversees this rite and directs your magical energy toward successful manifestation.
To do Today:
Follow Greek tradition and leave Hosia an offering of fruit, bread, or wheat to encourage her assistance. Next consider creating a personal ritual for cleansing or forgiveness. Hosia will guide your hand in choosing words and actions suited to the working. Alternatively, take out your ritual tools and ask for hosia’s blessing on them saying:
Hosia, these are the tools of my hand, heart, and spirit.
They symbolize the elements and the corners of creation.
Today I ask that you empower them for working magic,
and regulate their use for the greatest good.
May they always direct my energy in perfect love and trust.
So be it.
In ancient Greece, a scapegoat (often a criminal) was often identified to bear the sins for an entire community, then either sacrificed or banished into the wilderness. A way to adapt this practice is by designing an image of something you need to banish, then “driving it away” by putting it in the car and leaving it in a remote spot. As you turn away, ask the goddess Hosia to witness the rite and to empower your efforts for positive change.
People have been planting by the moon’s phases for centuries, in the belief that something in the lunar light or gravity affects the way plants grow.
The Simplest Rule For Moon Planting is as follows:
The moon planting rule says to plant crops that produce above the ground during the increasing light of the moon (from new moon to full moon) and to plant crops that produce below the ground during the decreasing light of the moon (from full moon to new moon).
A More Detailed Set of Moon Planting Rules:
- New Moon To Full Moon: Sow, Transplant, bud and graft.
- Full Moon To New Moon: Plow, Cultivate, weed and reap.
- New Moon To First Quarter: Good for Planting above-ground crops with outside seeds,
- flowering annuals.
- First Quarter To Full Moon: Good for planting above ground crops with inside seeds.
- Full Moon To Last Quarter: Good for planting root crops, bulbs, biennials, and perennials.
- Last Quarter To New Moon: Do Not Plant
The Cold Food Festival or Hanshi Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated for three consecutive days starting the day before the Qingming Festival in the Chinese Calendar, which falls on the 105th day after dongzhi (April 5 by the Gregorian calendar, except in leap years). It is celebrated in China as well as the nearby nations of Korea and Vietnam. At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies.
The Cold Food Festival started from the ancient tradition of setting fire by rubbing wood pieces together and the tradition of lighting new fires. Due to the change of seasons and the change in the type of wood available, the ancient practice was to change the type of fire-starter-wood used from season to season. Fire is lighted anew upon the start of each season. Before the new fire is officially started no one is allowed to light a fire. This was an important event during that time.
The traditionally practiced activities during the Cold Food Festival includes the visitation of ancestral tombs, cock-fighting, playing on swings, beating out blankets (to freshen them), tug-of-war, etc. The practice of visiting ancestral tombs is especially ancient.
In China ancestral worship used to be practiced during the time of the Cold Food Festival. It was later moved to coincide with the Qingming Festival. However in Korea, where the festival is called Hansik , the tradition of ancestral worship during the Cold Food Festival still remains.
In the modern version of Hansik, people welcome the warm weather thawing the frozen lands. On this day, rites to worship ancestors are observed early in the morning, and the family visits their ancestors’ tombs to tidy up.
Falling on the 105th day after the winter solstice (April 5 by the Gregorian calendar, except in leap years). At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies. The custom of eating cold food on this day is believed to originate from a Chinese legend (see Tomb Sweeping Day), but recently this custom has disappeared.
Since this day coincides with Arbor Day, public cemeteries are crowded with visitors planting trees around the tombs of their ancestors.
In Vietnam, where it is called Tết Hàn Thực, the Cold Food Festival is celebrated by Vietnamese people in the northern part of the country on the third day of the third lunar month, but only marginally. People cook glutinous rice balls (see recipe and more info) called bánh trôi on that day but the holiday’s origins are largely forgotten, and the fire taboo is also largely ignored.
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underworld and cover
blossom by blossom the spring begins.
~Algernon Charles Swinburne
Méan Earraigh marks the spring equinox, when night and day are of equal length and spring officially begins. Birds begin their nesting and egg-laying, and eggs–symbolic of rebirth, fertility, and immortality–are tossed into fresh furrows or eaten by ploughmen. They are also carried by those engaged in spring planting.
A charming custom is painting eggs with symbols and pictures of what one wishes to manifest in the coming year. The eggs can then be buried in the Earth Mother, who hears the cries and dreams of her children. In some communities, eggs are hidden in the stores of seed grain and left there all season to bless the sowing and encourage the seeds to sprout. Dressed as mummers, “pace-eggers” go from house to house and demand eggs and coins in return for a short performance. Men and women exchange clothing for the show.
The eggs given to the pace-eggers have been wrapped in leaves, roots, flowers, and bark before boiling, to impart color. Later the eggs are used in games, such as attempting to strike an opponent’s legs. The eggs might be hidden or rolled down hillsides, after which they are eaten. Blood, ashes from sacred fires, fistfuls of salt, or handfuls of soil from a high mountaintop are scattered on the newly sown fields.
Offerings of food and milk are left for the faeries and other spirits who live in and around rocks and are responsible for the fertility of the land. A few fruits from the previous year’s harvest are left for the nature spirits. Sacred hilltops are visited, and picnics of figs, fig cakes, cider and ale are enjoyed. The figs are symbolic of fertility, the leaf being the male element and the fruit the female.
You can also celebrate the arrival of spring with flowers. Bring them into your own home and give them to others. You do not have to spend a lot of money – one or two blooms given for no other reason than ‘spring is here’ can often bring a smile to even the most gloomy face.
A traditional Vernal Equinox pastime is to go to a field and randomly collect wildflowers (thank the flowers for their sacrifice before picking them). Or, buy some from a florist, taking one or two of those that appeal to you. Then bring them home and divine their Magickal meanings by the use of books, your own intuition, a pendulum, this post on the Magickal Meanings of Flowers, or by other means. The flowers you’ve chosen reveal your inner thoughts and emotions.
In the druidic tradition, Aengus Og is the male deity of the occasion. Son of In Dagda and Boand, he was conceived and born while Elcmar, Boand’s husband, was under enchantment. When three days old, Aengus was removed to be fostered by Midir, god of the Otherworld mound at Bri Leith, with his three hostile cranes. These birds guarded the mound and prevented the approach of travelers, and were said to cause even warriors to turn and flee.
Make an Altar to Ostara.
Ostara, the ancient German Virgin Goddess of Spring, loves bright colors. The light pastels of spring are perfect offerings for Ostara. To represent earth on your altar, choose bright or pastel colored stones like Rose Quartz, Amethyst, or any of the Calcites (blue, red, yellow, or green). If you have some Citrine, be sure to include it. Citrine has long been an aid for mental clarity.
By including an offering of colored eggs on your altar, you will be taking part in an ancient tradition (still performed!) by the Germanic people. Ostara has been honored this time of year with painted eggs for centuries.
To symbolize fertility, in addition to the eggs, you can include seeds or rice on your altar. I like to use rice as a symbol for fertility on my altars.
Incense and feathers are perfect symbols for air on your altar. It is important for Ostara’s altar that you include a symbol for air because Ostara herself is the living symbol for Air. (This must be the way Ostara and Easter became associated with birds, i.e. chickens) Be sure to burn incense at your altar when you are dedicating it to bring in the energy and vibrational qualities of Ostara.
The perfect time to dedicate your altar is at dawn. Choose a day, then plan to dedicate your altar to Ostara at dawn’s first light by lighting incense and repeating an invocation to her as well as a prayer of thanksgiving for all that Ostara symbolizes in your life:
- A clear mind.
- New beginnings.
- Personal renewal.
- Fertility, either for the purpose of bearing a child or for creativity such as arts and crafts, writing, or decorating.
You can include anything you like on your altar to Ostara. You will know by how you feel if an item is appropriate or not. I believe it is important to include symbols for the four elements on my altars. The four elements are Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. The four Calcites on my altar (red/fire, green/earth, yellow/air, and blue/water) represent Mother Earth and the four elements. I have added feathers and other items that symbolize Ostara to my altar as offerings to her.
Last, but not least, it might be nice to include a figure of a rabbit. The rabbit is Ostara’s power animal. I am sure this is because of their propensity for fertility.
The Charming of the Plough, also referred to as Éowemeolc is the Anglo-Saxon early spring or pre-spring festival. It was clearly so early as to be more about seeing signs of spring than celebrating its arrival. The early date serves the purpose of doing the blessing before there is any danger of cultivation starting without it.
Since the Icelandic months had become fixed, while the Anglo-Saxon months were fully lunar, it may not be possible to determine whether the blessing of the plow or earliest harbinger of spring festival was held at the same time in all Germanic areas—tied to the time of Yule—or whether it depended on local agricultural conditions, such as the beginning of lambing or the first partial thaw of the new year.
Whatever the traditional date for Blessing of the Plough, whether January or February, it would be in late winter or very early spring, well before an outsider might expect the first furrow to be cut.
These days we usually celebrate Éwemeolc/Blessing of the Plough on February 2—to coincide with the Celtic Imbolc, and because it is a cross quarter day, midway between Yule and Eostre/Ostara. This is the source of the American Groundhog Day celebration, because the spring equinox is 6 weeks away.
About the Name:
The Anglo-Saxon name refers to ewes (female sheep) giving milk because they have birthed their lambs. The Anglo-Saxons got much of their milk from sheep. This holy day has several names and several possible spellings. First and most obviously, “plough” is normally “plow” in the US. Other names include:
The second month of the Anglo-Saxon year, corresponding roughly to February was called Sólmónað. Bede writes: “Solmónaþ can be called the month of cakes, which [the Angles] offered to their gods during it.” However, no such word sol or sól is recorded in Anglo-Saxon, so some scholars think the month was actually named after the sun, but the sun is sunne in Anglo-Saxon.
So the other theory is that the month-name actually comes from sulh, “plough.” The cakes are presumed to have been offered by leaving them in the furrows; they may have been called “plough-cakes.”
This is one of the reasons modern Anglo-Saxon heathens celebrate Blessing of the Plough at this time. The other is that plows have clearly been blessed (or charmed) in England since at least Anglo-Saxon times.
About the Blessing:
This is a syncretistic charm—a melding of Christian and heathen elements—intended to cause a barren field to grow a good crop, or to reverse a spell that has been placed on the field. It also seems clear that blessing the plow and using it to cut the first furrow and then wetting it with a special milk mixture—which would presumably be ewe’s milk—relate as much to starting off any agricultural year in the best way possible as to reversing a curse.
The Field Blessing Charm:
Here is the remedy, how you can improve your fields if they do not want to grow well or when some harmful thing has been done to them by a wizard or poisonous sorcery. Take then at night, before dawn, four sods from four parts of the land and mark how they were before.
Take then oil and honey and yeast, and milk from each kind of livestock that may be on the land, and a piece of each kind of tree that may grow on the land, except for “hard trees”, and a piece of each plant / herb known by name except for glappan (burdock) alone, and then put holy water theron, and then drip it thrice on the base of the sods, and then speak these words:
Crescite, grow, and multiplicamini, and multiply,
et replete, and fill, terre, the earth.
In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sanctu sit benedicti.
And the Pater Noster as often as the other one. And after that, carry the sods to church, and a mass-priest should sing four masses over the sods, and one should turn the green side towards the altar, and afterwards one should take the sods to where they were previously, before the setting of the sun.
After this, four crosses are made from branches, inscribed with the evangelists names, and buried face-down in the pits from which the sods were taken.
When all that is done, then let someone take unknown seed from beggars and give them twice as much as he took from them, and let him gather all his plowing gear together; then bore a hole into the plow beam putting into it incense and fennel and hallowed salve and hallowed salt. Then take that seed, place it on the body of the plow, then say:
Erce, Erce, Erce, mother of the earth,
may the almighty grant you, the eternal lord,
fields growing and flourishing,
increasing and strengthening,
high shafts, bright fruits,
and the abundant barley-growth,
and the white wheat-growth,
and all growth of the earth
May the etrnal lord grant him,
and all his holy ones, who are in heaven,
that his produce may be defended against all enemies,
and that it be protected against all evils,
against poisonous sorceries sown over the land.
Now I ask that the ruler, he who shaped this orld,
that there may be no speaking-woman or a skilful man
who can turn to naught words thus spoken
Then let someone drive forth the plow and open the first furrow: then say:
May you be well, earth, mother of men!
May you grow in God’s embrace,
filled with food for use by men.
The original text of the charm may be found here: Metrical Charm For Unfruitful Land
Called Feriae Sementivae, this one or two day Roman festival was moveable, but generally began between January 24 and January 26. Sacred to Tellus, and Ceres, this festival was for the protection of seeds, either those sown the previous fall, or those to be sown in the spring. During Sementivae plowing oxen were decorated with garlands, and puppets or masks were hung from tree branches.
This is an excellent time to begin to think about planting a “Witch’s Garden” and to do spellwork involving seeds. Spiritually and metaphysically, this is an optimum time to sow the internal seeds of what we hope to bring forth as the year unfolds.
May 29 is the date given for the Roman festival of Ambarvalia, or the Corn Mother Festival. The Goddess Ceres, the food giver, now has her corn festival, which was the cause of a great deal of festivity. At these festivals they sacrificed a bull, a sow, and a sheep, which, before the sacrifice, were led in procession thrice around the fields. It is from this practice that the name Ambarvalia comes Ambio meaning I go round and Arvum meaning field.
These feasts were of two kinds, public and private. The private were solemnized by the masters of families, accompanied by their children and servants, in the villages and farms out of Rome. Celebrants gathered to walk around the freshly plowed fields in joyous processions, wearing crowns of oak leaves and singing hymns to the Earth.The public festivals were celebrated in the boundaries of the city, and in which twelve fratres arvales walked at the head of a procession of the citizens, who had lands and vineyards at Rome. During the procession, prayers would be made to the goddess.
Gods of our fathers, we purify the fields, we purify the farming folk.
O gods, drive evil outside our boundaries.
Let the crop not mock the harvest with deceiving grasses
nor the swift wolves scare the slower lamb.