Moon Cake Recipe

For serving on the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
From Chinese Seasons by Nina Simond

Filling
1/2 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped dried apricots (softened in hot water for 1 hr before chopping)
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the ingredients and mix well.

Crust
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 t vanilla extract
2 T water

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a large whisk or an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar for about 10 minutes, until a ribbon is formed. Add the melted butter, the vanilla extract, the water and the dry ingredients and stir until a rough dough is formed. Use your hands to press the dough into a ball. Form the dough into a long snakelike roll about 1-1/4 inches thick. Cut into 24 pieces.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using your hands, press each dough section into a 3-inch circle, with the edges pinched thinner than the center. Place a portion of the filling in the center, gather up the edges of the dough to meet in the center and pinch to seal. Roll the cake into a ball and flatten it to a 3-inch round. Carve a decorative design on top or press the cake, joined edges up, in a lightly floured moon-cake mold. Invert the molded cake onto a cookie sheet. Continue until done. Arrange the cakes 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Prepare a glaze (by beating one egg) and brush the surface of each cake lightly with it. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove, cool and serve.

From my Harvest Holiday guide, available from my store.

Photo taken by Junelee. I found it on Wikipedia.

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Summer Celebrations: Assumption

(Photo of the Barley Moon by Catherine Kerr)

by Waverly Fitzgerald

The Full Moon Festival of August is one of the oldest continuous holidays of the Goddess. At this turning point in the year, between the yang energy of summer solstice and the turning inward of the autumn, the Goddess comes into her own as protector, provider and mediator between the worlds.

Known by many names, at this time of the year she is revered as Artemis, Hecate and the Blessed Virgin Mary. All three are moon goddesses: Artemis as crescent moon, Hecate the dark moon and Mary is often depicted standing on the crescent moon.

Known by many names, at this time of the year she is revered as Artemis, Hecate and the Blessed Virgin Mary. All three are moon goddesses: Artemis as crescent moon, Hecate the dark moon and Mary is often depicted standing on the crescent moon. All three are invoked for protection of the grain and the fruit which is so vulnerable to storms in these weeks before harvest. And all three are mediators between the worlds: Artemis in her origin as Goddess of the shamanistic cultures of the North (see Geoffrey Ashe’s book Dawn Behind the Dawn), Hecate as the one who stands at the crossroads between life and death, who goes down into the darkness of the Underworld with her two torches blazing, and Mary as the mediator between Earth and Heaven.

Below I trace the way this holiday developed and provide links to articles about how it is celebrated around the world.

Ancient Greece: Artemis-Hecate

This feast of the goddess was first celebrated in Greece at the full moon of Metageitnion. In Erkhia, Artemis (as Hecate) was invoked, along with Kourotrophos, and beseeched for protection summer storms, which could flatten and destroy the crops. This image from a Greek vase (ca 440 BCE) shows Hecate lighting the way with her torches as Persephone emerges from the Underworld to be reunited with her mother while Hermes looks on.

Rome: Nemoralia

In Rome, the Greek lunar festival honoring Artemis-Hecate was placed on the fixed solar calendar on August 13th and called the Nemoralia, also known as Diana’s Feast of the Torches. Roman women made torchlight processions to the temples of Diana and Hecate or visited the groves of Diana with their hunting dogs leashed. Hair-washing was an important ritual activity.

Early Christianity: Assumption

The story of Mary’s Assumption derives from ancient stories called the Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, which were written in Syria at the beginning of the third century (or about 150 years after the event they relate). The story of “The Departure of My Lady Mary From this World” tells how Mary was lifted up into Heaven bodily, in other words, she did not die, but became immortal (a goddess). To commemorate this extraordinary event, the Apostles proclaimed a holiday in Her honor:

And the apostles also ordered that there should be a commemoration of the Blessed One on the thirteenth Ab, on account of the vines bearing bunches of grapes and on account of the trees bearing fruit, that clouds of hail, bearing stones of wrath, might not come, and the trees be broken, and the vines with their clusters.

According to the story, Mary’s Assumption took place at Ephesus, where she was living under the care of the apostle, John. Ephesus was one of the most famous sanctuaries of Artemis, the home of the famous statue of Artemis with many breasts, symbolizing the productive and nurturing powers of the earth. Mary, who is also well known for her nurturing and protecting qualities (she is so tender-hearted she cannot deny any sincere request for help), was clearly carrying this role.

Ab is the Jewish lunar month of Av and the thirteenth of Ab is therefore a full moon. So quite early on, long before Emperor Maurice proclaimed the Assumption a Church holiday during the seventh century, the apostles chose the full-moon feast honoring Artemis-Hecate as the time to honor Mary, as protector of the crops and mediator between worlds.

Wherever this holiday is celebrated, and it is a major holiday in many parts of the world, it is blended with native customs to produce a unique celebration.

Celtic Scotland

In 19th century Scotland, this holiday was called Great St. Mary’s Feast of the Harvest. It’s probable that many of its customs were once those of Lammas Day. Women made a magical bannock (a kind of cake) on this day, from ears of new corn which were dried in the sun, husked by hand, ground with stones, kneading on a sheepskin and toasted over a fire made of magical rowan wood. Each member of the family ate a piece of the bannock, in order by age, and all walked sunwise around the fire. Then the embers were gathered into a pot and carried sunwise around the farm and field, while reciting this charm:

On the feast day of Mary the fragrant, Mother of the Shepherd of the flocks, I cut me a handful of the new corn, I dried it gently in the sun, I rubbed it sharply from the husk, With mine own palms.

On the feast day of Mary the fragrant,
Mother of the Shepherd of the flocks,
I cut me a handful of the new corn,
I dried it gently in the sun,
I rubbed it sharply from the husk,
With mine own palms.
I ground it in a quern on Friday,
I baked it on a fan of sheepskin,
I toasted it to a fire of rowan,
And I shared it round my people.
I went sunways round 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,
In labor, in love,
In wisdom, in mercy,
For the sake of Thy Passion.
Thou Christ of grace
Who till the day of my death
Wilt never forsake me!
Oh, till the day of my death
Wilt never forsake me!
– Carmina Gadelica

Poland: Blessed Mother of the Herbs

Virgin of Czestochowska

Virgin of Czestochowska

As early as the tenth century, the aroma of herbs and flowers was associated with Mary’s victory over death, and people brought medicinal herbs and plants to church (periwinkle, verbena, thyme) to be incensed and blessed, bound into a sheaf and kept all year to ward off illness, disaster and death.

In Poland, this holiday was called Matka Boska Zielna, Blessed Mother of the Herbs. Women gathered the plants growing in their gardens and brought them to church to be blessed. The blessed flowers were then tucked behind icons and over doorways in the house, and scattered into the seed sacks and feed bags, to bless them as well. Today August 15 is the day when pilgrims process to the shrine of the Virgin of Czestochowska.

In central Europe, August 15 was called Our Lady’s Herb Day. Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s mother kept this holiday alive by taking her daughters on walks, gathering wild grasses, a custom I’ve adopted in Seattle. It’s amazing how many kinds of wild grass grow on my city block.

If you like charming little stories written in a rural, 1950’s folksy tone with lots of references to Scripture, you will like this story about a Catholic family gathering flowers and herbs by moonlight in honor of Our Lady.

Armenia: Blessing of the Grapes

In central Europe, it was called Our Lady’s Herb Day. Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s mother kept this holiday alive by taking her daughters on walks, gathering wild grasses, a custom I’ve adopted in Seattle. It’s amazing how many kinds of wild grass grow on my city block.

In Armenia, the Sunday nearest the Assumption is called Blessing of the Grapes. None are eaten until this day when every churchgoer gets a cluster as she leaves church. This is also the name day for women named Mary, who host parties in vineyards or at their homes. The Syrian festival is characterized by offerings of new wheat and small three-cornered cakes.

Brazil: Our Lady of the Good Death

In Bahia, where Christian customs are mingled with African traditions, and the orixas are honored on the feast days of Catholic saints, a group of women created a lay sisterhood called the Sisters of the Good Death which worked to free slaves. Their descendants still celebrate the Festival of Our Lady of the Good Death today. Paola Gianturco who has been photographing women’s celebrations all over the globe has a photoessay about this festival at her web site.

Bolivia: The Virgin of Urkupiña

In Bolivia, August 15 is the holiday of the Virgin of Urkupiña and combines pagan and Christian traditions. There is a parade through town with dancing and costumes reminiscent of Carnival celebrations, followed the next day by a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin, where people leave items that represent their wishes. I learned about the holiday from Paola Gianturco, but also found descriptions of how it is celebrated at this blog and slide show at the Democracy Center web site.

Today Where You Live

Do you have any traditions you celebrate on this day? Or any customs you want to adopt? Will you pick herbs and flowers from your garden on August 15? Or do, as I do, and gather wild grasses? Will you wash your hair like the Roman women did on August 13? Will you leave an offering for Hecate on a crossroads on the full moon? Will you eat grapes for the first time on Sunday, August 16? Will you bake a magical bannock with ingredients you grew yourself? Let me know how you plan to celebrate this holiday.

First published July 21, 2009

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Ides of March

When the Roman months began on the new moon, the ides of March would have fallen on a full moon.

Ovid in Fasti mentions the procession of Anna Perenna on this day, in which a drunken old woman known as the Petreia, is dragged along the streets by a drunken old man, who may represent Mamurius Veturis. Both of these figures seem to represent the old year, much like modern American depictions of Grandfather Time on New Year’s Eve.

Anna Perenna is a goddess of annual return. In one legend, Mars asks her to help him seduce Minerva but she takes Minerva’s place and then mocks the god when he recognizes her. This accounts for the bawdy songs sung at her festival.

The common people of Rome picnicked in a grove and amused themselves by singing, dancing and drinking a cup of wine for each year of one’s age. Obviously the tradition of getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day (or near the equinox) has ancient roots.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

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New Moon in Libra: Comparisons are Odious

by April Elliott Kent

There is a popular expression that warns, “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides,” and it’s particularly good advice for this Libra New Moon season. [The new moon of October 16 was in Libra.] Libra, as the relationship sign, symbolizes a keen awareness of others that can work to our advantage in relationships and in certain careers, too. But that same awareness can become a liability when it leads us to draw comparisons between ourselves and others – comparisons that can damage self-esteem and breed envy.

All aggression comes from comparison. The Dalai Lama

We humans are social animals, and we take our cues about what to do and be and desire from watching the people around us. The problem is that we rarely have access to the full story behind their outward appearances. We may envy a man for driving a new, expensive vehicle, yet for all we know he may park that car in front of a dumpy apartment building each night. Most of us admire the sleek figure of a supermodel, but is there a healthy, happy woman inside that beautiful body? Possibly not, if rumors about eating disorders in the modeling business are to be believed.

Born with the Moon in the seventh house – the house associated with Libra – I confess that I spend a lot more time and energy than I should comparing myself with other people. This friend has a more graceful home; that one has a sweeter personality; the other, more clients. All that energy wasted on anxiety, envy, and guilt! It’s as disempowering as when I used to leaf through fashion magazines in my twenties and compare myself to their unrealistic images of feminine beauty.

I wasn’t always this way, though. Years ago, before I became an astrologer, I was a musician. I never recall looking over my shoulder to figure out which musicians were better or more successful than I was; all I cared about was expressing myself exactly the way I wanted to. But as I developed more musical skill, I occasionally dealt with fellow musicians who were envious of me. I always wondered: why were they so focused on what I was doing instead of simply concentrating on sharpening their own abilities?

Now that I’ve moved on to a career that is less suited to rugged individualism and much more Libran in its emphasis on counseling and salesmanship, I understand envy a bit better. It’s all good and well to become skilled at the technical parts of my job, but it’s not enough; to make a living, an astrologer has to become skilled at reading people, not just their charts, and to market herself in a way others find appealing. Somehow I’ve gotten it into my head that my colleagues have figured this stuff out in a way that I haven’t, and I can’t seem to stop comparing my achievements with theirs. Are their websites more popular than mine, their mailing lists larger, their resumes more impressive? What do they know that I don’t?

Being ruled by comparisons is odious. But is it ever a good thing, a healthy thing to cultivate a heightened awareness of other people? Of course. Being sensitive to others is the basis of a society’s laws and rules of etiquette. Growing up, we learn social skills by comparing ourselves to our parents, our brothers and sisters, and our playmates, who show us how to behave and let us know when we’ve stepped out of line. In astrology, this civilizing process is symbolized by Libra. How attuned are we to the needs of others? How adept at blending into society, at least to the extent necessary to stay out of jail and enjoy the occasional dinner party?

Looking back at my musician days, it’s clear that while I didn’t suffer the pain of constant comparisons and envy, my lack of social grace made me an insensitive and ineffective collaborator. I often made tactless comments, insisted on having my own way, and generally played poorly with others. Had I made a career in music, I’m not sure I’d have developed any social skills at all; I might well have ended up with success in my work but none at all in my personal life.

When you spend too much time looking through another's eyes, it can be all too easy to lose track of your own truth.

Becoming an astrologer has civilized me a bit, even if (and perhaps because) it has made me more vulnerable to criticism and comparisons. To be of any value as an astrologer I’ve had to nurture the promise of my seventh house Moon, with its ability to get inside another’s skin and see the world through their eyes. But developing a heightened awareness of others can be a difficult skill to switch off at the end of the day. When you spend too much time looking through another’s eyes, it can be all too easy to lose track of your own truth.

As the (very Libran) adage goes, “Moderation is best in all things.” Marching to the beat of your own drum, Aries-style, is vitally important, but so, too, is knowing how to appeal to your audience and how to connect with other people in an effective way. Most of us are a little more comfortable at one end of the spectrum than the other, but each of us can learn to navigate the balancing act more deftly.

The Full Moon in Aries earlier this month offered valuable preparation for this New Moon season by reminding us to love what we are, pursue our dreams, and let our individual lights shine. A strong self of self makes us less vulnerable to Libra’s shadow side of envy and of comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. At this New Moon, let the Libra spirit add the polish of sensitivity and balance to your Aries self-confidence – a lovely lampshade that needn’t obscure your individual light in order to soften it to a warm, inviting glow.

scalesApril Elliott Kent has been a professional astrologer since 1990 and is a longtime member of both ISAR and NCGR. A regular contributor to Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Book and The Mountain Astrologer magazine, she has also contributed articles to the websites MoonCircles.com, Beliefnet.com, and AOL Horoscopes. Her first book, Star Guide to Weddings, was published in 2008 by Llewellyn Worldwide. April lives in San Diego with her husband of 15 years and their two cats. She can be reached by email; enjoy her web site Big Sky Astrology.

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