A tree of apples — great its bounty!
Like a hostel, vast!
A pretty bush, thick as a fist, of tiny hazelnuts
A green mass of branches.
—-from Dillon, Early Irish Literature
The autumn equinox is a special moment when night and day are of equal length, and we pause to pay respects to the impending dark. Equally so, we pause to thank the waning sunlight for its life-nourishing gifts — the harvest that we can see around us and the abundance and wealth of our family and clan.
An ancient symbol for the wealth of the harvest is the cornucopia — the horn of plenty — which is both male (phallic) and female (hollow and receptive). Hermaphroditic images were familiar ro the ancient Europeans; images such as the one found at the Bell Trackway in Somerset, England, were figures with both breasts and a phallus. Horned Goddesses have been discovered in European excavations.*
At Meán Fómhair we honor also the God of the forest, the Green Man, by offering libations to trees. Such gifts as cider, wine, herbs, and fertilizer are appropriate at this time. Offerings are scattered, in a spirit of thanksgiving, over the harvested fields.
The essential nature of this feast is the drawing together and drawing in of the family as it prepares to face the chaos of the season of Samhain. Meán Fómhair provides a last chance to finish the old business of summer so that the dark season can be passed as a time of reflection and peace. At this festival, it is appropriate to wear lavish finery and rich fabrics in sumptuous settings. The best tableware and the finest foods are displayed as mead and music fill the house with cheer.
We bid farewell to the strength of Lugh and welcome once again the power of the Cailleach, the Old One, the hag and the crone. She is the Sark Woman who visits us with gifts of wisdom and insight. She is the triple Goddess who appears at the deaths of kings, queens, and heroes. She is the Great Queen who gives birth and reaps death; the mystical embodiment of the land.
—-Ellen Evert Hopman, A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year
*For an excellent discussion of these, see Marjia Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe, 7000-3500 B.C.