Opiconsivia

A Roman harvest festival in honor of Ops Consiva, the old Italian goddess of fertility, who was the mate of Consus (see August 21).  Her name means Wealth from Planting.

Worshippers invoked her by touching the ground. Her altars were, and should be today, heaped with flowers, wine and fresh-baked bread. She is both a goddess of sowing and reaping. From her name, we derive the word opulent. Her medieval name was Habondia or Abundance.

Farias, Helen, Calendar Notes, The Beltane Papers, 1992

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St Bartholomew

detail from Michelangelo's Last Judgment

detail from Michelangelo’s Last Judgment

One of the twelve apostles, according to legend, he was allegedly martyred by being flayed alive. Hence he is the patron saint of butchers and leather-workers and tanners. The painting of St Bartholomew in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment shows Bartholomew holding his own skin. The article at Wikipedia mentions that the cult of Bartholomew began in Avezzano, which was the site of an earlier temple to Heracles, who is usually represented holding the skin of the Nemean lion.  So as with many Catholic saints (see St Lucy and St Agatha), symbols associated with the earlier deity are explained by stories about the saint, for instance, the gruesome story of St Bartholomew holding his own skin

It’s less clear why St Bartholomew is also the patron of plasterers. My friend Pandora likes to serve vanilla pudding on his feast day to represent the plaster, although Bartholomew was more usually honored with pork dishes.

His symbol is the butcher’s knife. In Bologna, August 24, is the Feast of the Pig and a pig is carried through the streets, roasted and distributed to the waiting crowds.

There was a famous fair at Smithfield in London on St Bartholomew’s Day, which featured conspicuous consumption of ale and pork. Apparently it was fairly licentious, judging by this statement from Brathwait, Whimzies 117 (1631):

No season through all the yeere accounts hee more subject to abhomination than Bartholomew faire: Their Drums, Hobbihorses, Rattles, Babies, Iewtrumps, nay Pigs and all, are wholly Iudaicall. The very Booths are Brothells of iniquity, and distinguished by the stamp of the Beast.

This was also a day for weather oracles.

If Bartlemas Day be fine and clear
You may hope for a prosperous autumn that year,

Some say he brings in the cooler autumn weather, as in this proverb “St Bartholomew brings the cold dew.” Some say he ends the forty days of rain presaged by a wet St Swithin’s (see July 14).

Attwater, Donald, Dictionary of Saints, Penguin 1965
Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, Morrow 1990
Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 198

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Sun enters Virgo

Virgo is one of the biggest constellations of our solar system, and represents the harvest goddess presiding over the sky at the time of shooting stars, vacations, heat waves and the grain harvest.

According to Allen, Eratosthenes and Avicennus identified Virgo with Isis, holding the young Horus, or the wheat ears that she dropped to form the Milky Way. Neumann believed that Inanna was the grain goddess depicted by the stars. Virgvirgoo was known in the Attic dialect as Kore, the Maiden. In Ionia, she was called Spicifera Virgo Ceres, the Wheat-Bearing Maiden.

Depictions of the constellation Virgo show a woman holding an ear of wheat in one hand and a palm branch in the other. In the sky, she is flanked by two serpents (Hydra and Ophiuchus), so it’s possible the famous relief of Demeter is an image of Virgo rising.

The constellation was known by many other names including Persephone, Demeter and Ceres (the confusion of these names is not surprising since Demeter and her daughter were sometimes called the Two Goddesses and seen as doubles of each other). She was also known as Arista, Harvest or Arista Puella, the Maiden of the Harvest.

The brightest star in the constellation is Spica, ear of corn, which is found by following the curve of the Dipper through Arcturus (the first bright star after dusk, overhead); at the end of the arc on the southern horizon is Spica.

In August, the constellation sets in the west just after sunset. Helen Farias writes:

Though invisible during the sunny hours, she peers down upon the earth during the hot days of August First Fruits, showing herself in the cool evening, slipping quietly into the western sea.

Allen, Richard Hinckley, Star Names, Dover 1963
Neumann, The Great Mother, Bollingen, Princeton University Press 1955

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Queenship of Mary

ImmaculateHeartofMary-241x300In 1942, Pope Pius XII proclaimed this day in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and in 1945 he established this holiday of devotion to Mary in her compassionate aspect. Both were acts of spiritual warfare, designed to pose Mary and Catholicism as supreme weapons in the battle against godless Communism.

In 1954, the same Pope, who was clearly a Mary worshipper (see the Assumption, August 15) proclaimed Mary the Queen of Heaven, honoring her with the title once associated with Isis.

Hoever, Reverend Hugo, Lives of the Saints, Catholic Book Publishing Company 1955
Warner, Marina, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, Vintage 1983

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Consualia

The summer Consualia of Consus. He’s the god of good counsel, secret deliberation, stored (conserved harvests) of the grain and the underworld.

The altar of Consus was buried underground in Rome, since he ruled the subterranean world (where grain was stored–see Portunalia, August 17). The altar was uncovered twice a year, once in August for the harvest, and again on December 19th, and the high priest of the god Quirinus made a sacrifice.

This was also a holiday for horses and other beasts of burden who did not have to work today. Instead they were decorated with flowers and raced in the Circus Maximus.

Farias, Helen, Calendar Notes, The Beltane Papers 1993
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

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Vinalia Rustica

grapeharvestThis was the second or rustic Vinalia, when the priests plucked the year’s first ripe grapes and asked Jupiter to protect the growing vines. Houses and gardens were dedicated to Venus. It’s interesting that it falls so close to the Blessing of the Grapes, done under the auspices of Mary. Venus was invoked with this prayer, “I beseech Minerva and Venus, of whom one protects the olive yard and the other the garden.” It was celebrated as a holiday for all vintners and kitchen gardeners and a time for picnicking outdoors.

It was also the dedication day of the temple of Venus Libitina, which was the headquarters for Roman undertakers and the poor people’s burial ground, which also became a gathering place for undesirables.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Farias, Helen, Calendar Notes, The Beltane Papers 1993
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

 

August 19 St Sebald

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Portunalia

An obscure Roman festival associated with the harbor god Portunus, whose symbol was the key. He may have been a god of gates, or the keys that secure grain storehouses. Until AD 17, this was also the dedication day of Janus’s temple.

Considering the value of stored grain, which is both food in winter and seed for spring, it makes sense that blessing the keys or transporting the grain to the storehouse at harvest time would become a sacred ritual.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

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St Roch

strochA travelling pilgrim he contracted the plague and was succored by his dog who brought him food in the forest. Thus the dog is his symbol. During the Middle Ages he was invoked against the plague, and also by all those suffering from skin diseases. In Calabria, people offer up ex-votos of panpepat, spicy bread shaped like parts >of the body that need healing. In Tarija, Bolivia, dogs are invited to join in the festivities at the San Roque fiesta.

For more information on St Roch, I recommend the website, Saints Preserved, which offers icons and spirit stones for St. Roch, along with links to other websites which offer information about him, including the idea that he might be the original figure for the Fool in the Tarot deck.

Attwater, Donald, Dictionary of Saints, Penguin 1965
Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, Morrow 1990
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

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St Mary’s Feast of Harvest

In Scotland, the date of Mary’s Assumption is known as St Mary’s Feast of Harvest. A special bannock is made from ears of new corn which are dried in the sun, husked by hand, ground with stones, kneaded on a sheepskin, made into a cake and baked on a fire of magical rowan wood. Each member of the family eats a piece of the bannock in order by age and all walk sunwise around the fire. The embers are gathered into a pot and carried sunwise around the farm and field while saying this charm:

I went sunways around my dwelling
In the name of Mother Mary
Who promised to preserve me
Who did protect me
Who will preserve me
In peace, in flocks, in righteousness of heart

Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gadelica, Floris Books 2001

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