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We are now at the autumn equinox where once again the days are held in balance before the dark wins; ‘hærfestlice emniht’ being Old English for Autumnal Equinox  The harvests are nearly done and the hedgerows are full of fruits; sloes, hips, rowan berries, elder berries, hawthorn berries, quince and of course, crab apples to name but a few! We at Wytchenwood have been very busy harvesting the hedgerow fruits and our cupboard is well stocked with bottles of Elder Rob (elderberry cordial) and rosehip syrup.

We now start to turn inwards and take a look at ourselves.  The magic we work takes on a different hue and a different way of working.  The “sight” begins to increase again and the Wee Folk begin the job of packing up their belongings ready for their retreat back into the hollow hills for the winter.  The spirits of the land begin to change too; as we go into autumn and then winter, they become the harsher “no-nonsense” teachers and guides who do not suffer fools gladly.

But in less than a week it is also Michaelmas and to the rural folk, it has always been important and is still marked today with fairs, merriment and traditional activities.

The Michaelmas daisies are out in full colour now and looking beautiful. A local garden has such a wonderful display of them, the owners open the gardens to the public at this time of year, just for everyone to be able to enjoy the Michaelmas daisies they grow there.

Michaelmas daisies growing in abundance in a local garden.

Michaelmas daisies growing in abundance in a local garden.

Michaelmas Day is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, celebrated on 29 September but Old Michaelmas Day is October 10th and is traditionally the last day of the harvest season.

The harvest season used to begin on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning ‘loaf Mass’. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season near Michaelmas Day.

Michaelmas Day is sometimes also called Goose Day. Goose Fairs are still held in some English towns, but geese are no longer sold. A famous Michaelmas fair is the Nottingham Goose Fair which is now held on or around 3 October.

A Great custom in England was to dine on goose on Michaelmas. One reason for this was said to be that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her. In celebration she said that henceforth she would always eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Others then followed her lead.

On the day after Michaelmas, every year agricultural labourers presented themselves, along with their tools, at the nearest market town. There they offered themselves for hire for the coming year. A fair followed the hirings and this was called a ‘Mop Fair’.

Farm workers, labourers, servants and some craftsmen would work for their employer from October to October. At the end of the employment they would attend the Mop Fair dressed in their Sunday best clothes and carrying an item signifying their trade. A servant with no particular skills would carry a mop head – hence the phrase Mop Fair.

Employers would move amongst them discussing experience and terms, once agreement was reached the employer would give the employee a small token of money and the employee would remove the item signifying their trade and wear bright ribbons to indicate they had been hired. They would then spend the token amongst the stalls set-up at the fair which would be selling food and drink and offering games to play.

Michaelmas Day is celebrated on the 29th September but Mop Fairs were tied to the seasons and the harvest, not the calendar. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752 and 11 days dropped from that year events associated with the end of the harvest moved 11 days later to the 10th October. This date is known as “Old Michaelmas Day” and since 1752 has been the date Mop Fairs take place.

Tewkesbury Mop Fair is the largest street fair in Gloucestershire and one of the oldest fairs in the country, that takes place annually on October 9th and 10th. Earliest records so far date the origins of the fair to the 12th century.

Mops are still held in some English towns and usually last for 2 days and take over the centre of the town, they attract thousands of visitors.

Michaelmas weather-lore, beliefs and sayings:

He who eats goose on Michaelmas day shan’t money lack or debts to pay.

If St Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow.

Folklore in England holds that the devil stamps on bramble bushes or as they say in some areas, spits on them. Therefore one must not pick blackberries after Michaelmas.

The reason for this belief has ancient origins. It was said that the devil was kicked out of heaven on St Michael’s Feast Day, but as he fell from the skies, he landed in a bramble bush! He cursed the fruit of that prickly plant, scorching them with his fiery breath, stamping on them, spitting on them and generally making them unsuitable for human consumption. Legend suggests he renews his curse annually on Michaelmas Day and therefore it is very unlucky to gather blackberries after this date.