Autumnal Equinox: Rest and Repose

By Jesper Toad

21057794_10155821137930116_343506890_oThe theme of sacrifice continues on into the Autumnal Equinox, also referred to as Harvest Home or Mabon. The second of the three Pagan harvest festivals falls equidistant between Loaf Mass and All Hallows and occurs on at the time of the autumnal equinox, when the hours of day and night are experienced in equal measure. Up until the time of the autumnal, equinox the hours between dawn and dusk are greater, and at this point the darkness born at the summer solstice overtakes the light, and the dark rises.

Like the celebrations of May Day and the Summer Solstice, folkloric traditions overlap due to variations in climate, season, and culture. Mabon, the name in common name given to the autumnal equinox in usage with Contemporary Pagans, references the Welsh myth featuring the rescuing of Mabon ap Modron—Mabon, son of Modron, the mother—by the legendary King Arthur. Created by Aidan Kelly in the early 1970s, this myth does not appear directly connected to the phenomenological experience of the season. An in-depth study into the associations between the season and the myth are outside of the purview of this article. For me, the stronger connections are always embedded in the shift of the season as it manifests: the rising tide of darkness as the light declines; the gathering in of the harvest; the empty fields, haunted by a lone scarecrow silhouetted against a full, yellow harvest moon; and the celebration of the spirits of the field, the vineyards, and the orchards that have given of their life force.

If we view the cycle of the seasons in terms of the cycle of a human life, the Autumnal Equinox is a time of rest and repose following the work and toil of life, and preceding the season of death that is All Hallows. Although the harvest is not over, we rest a moment, celebrating the work we have created jointly with the spirits of the land. This is the abundance of Harvest Home.

Harvest Home—harvest from the Old English word haerfest, which means autumn—rejoices the ingathering of the crops from the fields, and occurs at the time of the Autumn Equinox. The lunation occurring nearest to the time of the equinox is referred to as the Harvest Moon. The two elements in common to all harvest celebrations are the time of rest away from the work of the fields and feasting, along with music and dance, against a backdrop of fruits, vegetables, and grains that have ripened at the time of this harvest.

The English harvest festival hymn “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, written in 1844 by Henry Alford, expresses the excitement and celebration of Harvest Home. In this version the lyrics have been reworked to remove Christian reverence, and focus on the reciprocal relationship between the reaper and the field.

Come, you thankful people, come,
We have brought the harvest home!

We have brought the harvest in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
spirits of the land provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Raise your glass high and laugh some,
Raise a drink to harvest home!

Harvest Home, Oh, Harvest Home,
We have plough’d and we have sown,
We have reap’d and we have mow’d.

Bringing in the harvest home!

Scythe and sickle, rake and hoe

Through the ready fields we go
We have brought home every load,

Bringing in the harvest home!

We have brought the harvest home:

Bushel baskets filled with corn,

Shining golden in the sheaf;

Orange pumpkins, yellow squash,

Heads of cabbage, pale and green,

Rosy apples, berries bright,

Verdant grapes, and damson too.

We have brought the harvest home!

Raise a drink, remembering,

The ragged tattie bogle,

The old man of the ravens,

Flapping lonely in the field.

This spirit of the harvest—

Scare bird, hay man, mannequin—

Reigns over his stubble field,

Waiting his rest and repose.

Like the shift from light to dark that occurs at this equinox, the life force also changes direction, turning into the underworld, the otherworld, away from the physical and manifest reality, and into the invisible, un-manifest realm of being. Because of this shift into introspection, we need to foster an awareness of the psychological seeds we have harvested and are now being placed into the storage house of the psyche. Would we prefer that some of these weedy seeds not germinate in the spring and raise their invasive heads into the light of the next year? This is a time examine those unresolved issues—emotional or physical—and give them some of the attention they need before heading into the shadows of the year. If we attend to these issues, whether they are psychological seeds that will germinate into troublesome weeds in the next year, or just things that we need to keep in our awareness, we can manage them responsibly and keep them from running rampant in the gardens of our souls when the year turns round again. However, be mindful that this sort of reflection and action take both time and effort, and being able to identify our emotional responses to situations is both an indication of progress and a step toward wholeness.

Herbal Allies for Deep, Restorative Sleep

by Julie James, Green Wisdom School of Herbal Studies

Among the most common questions I’m asked is “What herbs are good for sleep”. Not surprising, as sleep disturbance is an issue that affects a majority of people in our culture, with severity ranging from occasional sleep disturbances to chronic, debilitating insomnia, which is a serious medical condition. Sleep deprivation can cause or contribute to a host of illnesses in virtually every body system.

There are factors that come into play in all sleep situations, nutrients we all need, practices that help us all. You know the litany: avoid caffeine completely if you can, or limit to mornings only. Turn off the blue screens at 9 pm, lower the lights, draw the curtains, clear the space, clear the mind… all of which are critical. In this article, I want to focus on the use of a few plant medicines, and share how to differentiate between them to find the herb that is best suited to the individual experiencing the insomnia.

Before you jump into using specific Soporifics (herbs that bring on sleep), you’ll have much better results if you cover some foundations: nourish the body, and nourish the nervous system. Depletion or excess in those systems is a major factor in insomnia and is often the root of the problem.

Use herbs that are deeply Nourishing: Oatstraw, Alfalfa, Nettle, Horsetail, Red Clover—there are many to choose from. Use one or two as the base of your formula. For nervous system conditions like this, I particular like using oatstraw as the base, as it has an affinity for that system and is rich in calcium and magnesium (two nutrients in which deficiency is linked directly to insomnia).

Next, choose an herb that specifically restores and nourishes the nervous system, the primary system out of balance in this situation. We use Nervine Tonics or Trophorestoratives for this: Herbs like St. Johnswort, Skullcap, Milky Oats, and Reishi are among my favorites.

Finally, you now add in some Sedative herbs. These are plants that induce sleep, but they work in very different ways, and so looking at them in more detail is necessary.

Some of my favorites are:

-Passionflower. Passionflower is a mild anodyne (pain reliever), and is cooling and calming. Its particular gift as a sedative is that it is really fine in its ability to quiet down a chatty brain. When you’re lying in bed for hours with a body that is achy and tired, but a brain that JUST WON’T SHUT UP, Passionflower is an exceptional choice.

-California Poppy. Another Go-To sedative and anodyne, and it’s a pretty decent muscle relaxant, too. Cooling and bitter and very good for overheated and restless insomnia especially when accompanied by pain.

-Valerian. This is one of the first that folks generally think of when it comes to sleep issues. And for good reason, as valerian is a really exceptional muscle relaxant and analgesic, with a warming and moving energy significantly different from the cooling plants above. Valerian can have a paradoxical effect, causing stimulation rather than relaxation, in about 20% of the population. Best for those with a more cold constitution. Also, it stinks. REALLLY stinks. It’s kind of a cool stink if you’re an herbalist, but for the masses, they just think it stinks.

-Skullcap. A bit milder than some of the above plants, it is nonetheless very much loved, as it is both a nervine tonic and a sedative (fulfilling two of the above three requirements in a balanced herbal sleep blend). Skullcap is restorative to the nervous system while also calming brain function, relieving dull, achy headaches, and improving sleep. Very good for constricted muscles and tension, and sensitivity to light and noise.

-Mimosa Bark. Also known as The Tree of Happiness in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Mimosa is very helpful for insomnia linked with depression, sadness, or anger.