The August Full Moon brings a time of reaping. And as the Moon begins to wane, we begin the downward slide towards Autumn. Last Tuesday evening, I stood watching the eldritch beauty of the heat lightning flickering eerily in the distance. Huge banked clouds at the back end of the sky were outlined here and there with snaky, jagged tongues of fire and glimmering flashes of spectral light. And I thought of the coming nights. Nights when cool breezes will begin to waft, apples will tumble from the trees and blankets will be trundled out of closets and cupboards. The shifting tide of the seasons brings an air of melancholy–but it is a sensation I find agreeable.
Hand to hand we pass the blade
Unsheathed by the Ivy Maid
Keen the edge that cuts the hand
Of the dancer unwary
–sang Gwydion Pendderwen long ago in his Harvest dance ballad. The time of Harvest, like all the gifts of the Gods, is a double-edged sword; all that has come to fruition must be gleaned and stored in a timely manner. There is work, diligence, toil; but at the end of it all, merriment and joy. There will be a few delicious frolics before the Winter darkness begins to gather. It is a serene and beautiful moment in the turning of the year.
A book I often revisit in autumn is Arthur Waley’s lyrical and elegiac translation of The Nine Songs, ancient Chinese lyrics of shamanic dream and epiphany. I am vaguely aware that there has been a great deal of scholarly attention devoted to these texts and other relics of shamanic culture in China, but the simplicity and directness of Waley’s translations deserve to stand on their own merits. These lines from the ninth of the songs, “The Mountain Spirit,” always come to mind as the year turns towards Autumn:
Driving red leopards, followed by stripy civets,
Chariot of magnolia, banners of cassia,
Clad in stone-orchid, with belt of asarum,
I go gathering sweet herbs to give to the one I love.
I live in a dark bamboo grove, where I never see the sky ;
The way was perilous and hard; that is why I am late for the
High on the top of the hill I stand all alone ;
Below me the clouds sweep past in droves.
All is murk and gloom. Ch’iang! Darkness by day !
The east wind blows gust on gust, spreading magic rain.
Waiting for the Divine One I linger and forget to go back.
The year is drawing to its close ; who will now beflower me ?
I pluck the Thrice-blossoming amid the hills,
Among a welter of rocks and vine-creeper spreading between.
He of the hills is fragrant with the scent of galingale,
He drinks from a spring amid the rocks,
He shelters under cypress and pine.
His chariot thunders, the air is dark with rain,
The monkeys twitter; again they cry all night.
The wind soughs and soughs, the trees rustle ;
My love of my Lord has brought me only sorrow.
Now to the measure of the drums we have finished our rites,
From dancer to dancer the flower-spray has been handed,
Lovely ladies have sung their slow measures.
In spring, the orchid, in autumn the chrysanthemum;
So shall it be forever, without break.
Words like gems found in a hilltop field, reminding us that if autumn is the season of the “dying fall,” it is also a time of beauty and richness–in its own way, blessed by the Gods. And Samhain, perhaps the most important sabbat of all, comes at the close.