‘O ‘tis the Sun that maketh all things shine.’
William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Once known as ‘Sextilis’, as it was the sixth month of the Roman year (from March). The month was then given the name of ‘Augustus’ in 8 BC, later changed to ‘August’ and is said to derive from honouring the Roman Emperor ‘Augustus Caesar’. As part of the seasonal calendar August is the time of the ‘Corn Moon’ according to Pagan beliefs and the period described as the ‘Moon of the Black Cherries’or‘Moon when the Cherries Turn Black’ by Black Elk (Black Elk Speaks, Neihardt). August has also been known as:
‘Oostmaand’ (Harvest month)
‘Weod-monath’ (Weed month, vegetation month)
August has historically been considered to be a lucky month. This is the first month of ‘Lammas’ (August - October), commencing on August 1, a time of harvest before the winter onset of ‘Samhain’ (beginning in November). The first day of August was a date for the Druid festival of ‘Lughnasadh’, dedicated to the ‘God Lug’ with celebratory dances which evidence suggests reflected the everyday activities such as cutting the corn, ploughing and weaving. The baking of bread, on August 1, made from the first flour after the first harvest, was used in the ‘Hlaef-mas’, made into the ‘Mass loaf’ as a central part of the Druid ceremonies.
From the fields, the hedges to the orchards everyone would be involved and busy. A vast array of foods would be brought in, and as Lammas progressed to a close both the Celtic and pagan year would end with thanksgiving ceremonies to the God Bel, the earth goddess for the fruitfulness of the land. Luke of the four gospels, his symbol being the haloed calf, is associated with the period of Lammas.
‘Grant, harvest-lord, more by a penny or two,
To call on his fellowes, the better to do;
Give gloves to thy reapers a largess to crie,
And daily to loiterers have a good eie.’
The in-gathering and storage of grain actually began in early June ‘By Barnabas put scythe to the grass’ but it was not until this time that the major ceremonies and offerings were made of corn to the gods. A residual of this can still be seen today in the common rural practice of making the intricately designed ‘Corn Dolly’ or ‘Kern Dolly’ at this time. These were traditionally made from the new grain and decorated with prayer rags or red thread and ribbon which was believed to ward off negative forces, and in some cases witches. Working in ever decreasing circles the workers would clear the fields, leaving the ‘Corn-spirit’ safely in the middle for capture in the few remaining ears. The daring would throw their scythes into the centre together to cut down the last few stalks. This ritual action known as ‘Crying the Neck’ of the corn-spirit, also ‘Crying the Knack’, or ‘Crying the Mare’. The kern-dollies, as already mentioned, were made from these last few stalks, woven and plaited into ritualistic representations of the ‘Maiden’, the ‘Ivy-girl’ or the ‘Baby’. Placed in the home these were seen to provide protection against negative forces and believed by some to keep the corn-spirit ever present, although this meaning has been disputed. The last sheath of corn was preserved and carried home by the ‘Harvest Lord’, wrapped in a ribbon and handkerchiefs and presented to the women, this ritual being a reminder of the precious need of man for corn, and a lasting trophy of his achievement.
The tradition of selecting a harvest-lord to oversee the gathering-in, and his role of presiding over the ‘Harvest-home’ feast was still common place in the British Isles in the early part of this century. This feast was also known as the ‘Mell-supper’ and the ‘Feast of in-gathering’. Adorned with a rush hat dressed with red poppies and greed bindweed (For plant folklore see Mystical WWW Plants) , he had set the pace of work, and so was served first at the feast and according to custom addressed as ‘My Lord’. The majority of the harvest days would have started at dawn, with the tin horn blown to signal the sunrise, and it would have finished at dusk. The harvest-lord had been responsible for co-ordinating the harvest, and finally to ensuring that a feast was ready for all to enjoy together. This time of celebration was a time for all to praise the work of the harvest-lord and to remember him as they cheered the sounding ‘Harvest-home!’.
‘Here’s a health unto our master,
The founder of the feast,
God bless his endeavours and give him increase,
God send him good crops that we may meet another year,
Here’s our master’s good health boys,
come drink off your beer!’
Amidst the activity in the field there was always an air of unease lest the weather should turn foul. If all was safely gathered then the home-feast would be one of huge celebration. With the corn scythed, the reaping was complete only the trampling of the stalks remained to gather the grain. Ale and gloves were customary gifts to those who travelled in specially to help at this time, together with payment for their labours. With days growing shorter, time was precious, and man was reminded of the long darkness ahead, but for the short term the smell of wood smoke and bread baked from the fresh corn mixed with the fragrances of the flora, feeding the spirit.
‘Come Sons of Summer, by whose toile,
We are the Lords of Wine and Oile:
By whose tough labours, and rough hands,
We rip up first, then reap our lands.
Crown’d with the eares of corne, now come,
And, to the Pipe, sing Harvest home...’
Robert Herrick, Poems
As part of the astrological calendar, August has many associations. This is the month of the house of Leo (July 23 - August 23) and the house of Virgo (24 August - September 22).
Leo is the fifth sign of the zodiac symbolised by the ‘Lion’, the ‘King of beasts’,the ‘Great Light’ and the‘Nemean Lion of Argolis’(this is the lion that only Hercules could defeat as the first of his twelve labours).Since ancient times the lion has been associated with fatherhood, religion and kingship. The mystical symbol of the Sun is also strongly connected with Leo representing primal life carrying the seed of life in its centre.
The Sun is the ruling planet of Leo, known as ‘Sol’to the Romans, bringing a sense of creativity and continual activity. It is important to be aware that the ruler of this sign has been worshipped since ancient times, reflected in all major deities. In ancient Egypt ‘Ra’ was the ‘Sun God’, in ancient Assyria ‘Shamash’and to the Persians the ‘Sun God’ was ‘Mithras’. So also we can find in ancient Greek mythology ‘Helios’, who came from the Heavens providing light for the day, believed to disappear into the sea at night. The Roman ‘God Apollo’ too provides vital clues as to the strong temperament of this sign. The qualities associated with the Leo are that of leadership, dignity, pride, ambition, high constant energy, self-confidence, enjoyment and satisfaction. They are also known to be extremely loyal in friendship, indeed honourable to a fault, and faithful in love. Leo will defend a loved one almost to the death abhorring injustice. Here we can see the possibility of danger, as Leo has also been thought to suffer with obstinate fixed attitudes but try to remember they have a big heart. The fifth phase of the journey of the Sun is experienced here, that of the mature adult with a clearly formed personality. Leo is a fixed and positive fire sign associated with the statements ‘I create’, ‘I am number one’,and ‘I am magnificent’.It rules the heart and spine.Leo has many floral associations, with the Celandine, Chamomile, Holly, Lavender, Marigold, Passion Flower, Sunflower and all green vegetables (See Mystical WWW Plants, & Language of Flowers). Leo is further associated with the Almond, Apple, Bay, Hazel, Laurel, Palm, and Walnut (See Mystical WWW Trees). Colours associated with Leo are golden hues, ochre, orange, shades of yellow and browns. The main stone associated with Leo is the Ruby, whilst the main stone associated with the month of July is the Moonstone (See Mystical WWW Mystical Time : Rhymes & Time - Language of Gems).Lucky number is one, lucky day Sunday (See Mystical WWW Mystical Time : Days of the Week). Metal associated is gold.
‘She found herself at last in a beautiful garden,
among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains.’
Virgo is the sixth sign of the zodiac symbolised as the ‘Virgin’ and has been closely connected to the Christian ‘Virgin Mary’, mother of Jesus Christ. In ancient Greek mythology Virgo was the last deity on the earth, known as ‘Astraea’ the ‘Goddess of Justice’. On her ascension to the Heavens she became known as Virgo.
‘Mercury’ is the ruling planet of Virgo and unlike the qualities of Mercury in other realms, here, Mercury is seen as a force that is brought to earth, where ideas are grounded and rooted embodying the systematic, analytical, discriminating Virgo who is also modest, gracious, eloquent, diplomatic and yet surprisingly secretive. Virgo must be careful not carry anxieties with them as the depth of their concerns can cause psychological illnesses such as paranoia and depression (often known as the worrier). Mercury affects communication and so Virgo is associated with a rapid speed of learning. In ancient Egypt Virgo was known as the ‘Goddess of the Grain, Nidaba’, whilst in Roman mythology she is ‘Justitia’ who was believed to have existed before mortals and the existence of sin. The sixth phase of the journey of the Sun is experienced here, that of the mature adult who encounters many problems and delights and steadily develops strategies to anticipate or deal with these as they arise. In this sense we can see the rounding of the individual, and hence those born in this house are seen as intelligent with a strong sense of free will and control. Virgo is a mutable and negative air sign associated with the statements ‘I check every detail’, ‘I serve’ and ‘I strive for perfection’.It rules the intestinal tract and powers of assimilation. Virgo has many floral associations, with the Blackberry, Grapevine, Privet, Sage, Wintergreen and all vegetables grown under the earth (See Mystical WWW Plants, & Language of Flowers). Virgo is further associated with all nut bearing trees and more specifically with the Almond, Apple, Aspen, Chestnut, Hazel and the White Poplar (See Mystical WWW Trees). Colours associated with Virgo are brown, shades of green, indigo, silver, slate, dark violet and any colour combination of spotted patterns. The main stone associated with Virgo is the Sardonyx, whilst the main stone associated with the month of August is also Sardonyx (See Mystical WWW Mystical Time : Rhymes & Time - Language of Gems).Lucky number is five, lucky day Wednesday (See Mystical WWW Mystical Time : Days of the Week). Metal associated is quicksilver or mercury.
‘John Barleycorn must die. The harvest begins in earnest.’
St. Wenn and district, Cornwall, England : Traditional ‘Cornish Wrestling’ Championships.
Fort William, Inverness, Scotland, & Portree, Isle of Sky, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, & Isle of Arran, Bute, Scotland : ‘Highland Games’.
May to end of August
Wye Dale District, Derbyshire, England : Traditional ‘Well-dressing’.
First week of August
Different place each year, Wales : Royal National Eisteddfod.
A Wednesday in August
St. Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland : Traditional ‘Boys' Ploughing Match’.
Second week in August
Queensferry, West Lothian, Scotland : The ‘Burry Man and Ferry Fair’.
August 1 or near
London Bridge to Chelsea Bridge, London, England : ‘Watermen's Race’.
Saturday nearest to August 5
Grasmere, Westmorland, Scotland : Traditional ‘Rush bearing Procession’.
Saturday of week including August 19
Cilgerran, Cardigan, Wales : ‘Coracle Race’.
Thursday nearest to August 20
Grasmere, Westmorland, Scotland : Annual Sports and events.
Third Saturday in August
Irvine, Ayr, Scotland : Traditional ‘Marymass Fair’.
Fourth Saturday in August
Strathdon, Aberdeen, Scotland : Lonach ‘Highland Gathering and Games’.
Unlucky August Dates
1. 19. 20. 29. 30.
According to the English historian Richard Grafton these certain dates of the month were unlucky as published in the ‘Manual’ in 1565. Days throughout the year were identified and of course could have related to any day of the week. The date was the most important point to consider. The work was reputed to have some credence with support given by astronomers of the day. Exactly why these dates are unlucky is unclear today but by looking at the calendar of days an idea of the major occurrences can be seen.