Sauntering into September

September is the ninth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is also the third month to have 30 days and the month with the longest name – having nine letters.

September in the Northern Hemisphere is the equivalent of March in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, September 1 is the beginning of the meteorological autumn and in the Southern hemisphere, the beginning of the meteorological spring.

The word September comes from old Roman word, Septem, which means seven. September was the seventh month in the then Roman calendar. The Romans believed the month was under the care of Vulcan, the god of fire and forge – which led to their belief that the month would be associated with fire, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Vulcan. Roman god of fire and forge

The Anglo Saxons called it Gerst Monath, or Barley Month. September was the time for harvesting the barley and making barley brew. Another name they gave to the month was simply, Haefest Monath, meaning Harvest Month.

These are  a few of the customs associated with the Harvest:

1. Calling the Mare. When the last crops were being gathered in, farmers had a custom called ‘Calling the Mare’.  The last sheaf gathered in on each farm was made into the rough shape of a mare and sent round to any farmers who hadn’t yet finished harvesting. This was a way of warning them that any crops not yet in were in danger of being eaten by wild horses. Reapers from farms that had finished would run round to fields where the reapers were still working and throw the ‘mare’ over the hedge into  the field, shouting, ‘Mare, Mare’ before running away. In turn, when those reapers finished harvesting, they would run and do same to others not finished.  The last farmer to finish kept the ‘mare’  all year as a sign he was the slowest farmer of that year.

2. Making Corn Dollies  A corn dolly was said to house the spirit of the corn goddess and the custom of making them dates back hundreds of years. People believed the corn goddess lived in the corn and would die unless some of the corn saved and made into a corn dolly for the goddess to rest in until next spring.

Note: Corn dollies, or corn mothers are a form of straw work, traditionally made as part of the harvest. The term ‘dolly’ did not mean the same as it does to us today and the ‘dolly’ could be any number of shapes/designs. ‘Dolly’ may be a corruption of the word ‘idol’, or it may have come directly from the Greek word eidilon (apparition) meaning ‘something that represents something else’.

3. Michaelmas Day – the feast of St Michael, the Archangel, was celebrated on September 29 and represented the last day of the harvest season. The Harvest began on August 1 and was called Lammas (loaf mass) as I described in my August post.

Michaelmas Day was also the day for the winter night curfew to begin. It was the first hint that winter was on the way. It involved tolling of the bell (usually the church bell): one strike for each of the days of the month that had passed in the current year, and was generally rung at 8 pm.

Curfew bell iat Leadhills, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Author: Rosser1954 Creative Commons

The actual word, ‘curfew’, is thought to be derived from the French ‘couvre feu’ meaning fire cover’. It was the time for fires to be doused or covered before people went to bed.

Couvre feu utensil for extinguishing the fire in the fireplace. Date 1891. . Public Domain

‘Curfew’ lasted throughout the winter until Shrove Tuesday, which was, and still is, 6 weeks before Easter – usually in February or early March.

Michaelmas Day was also sometimes called Goose Day – the time for goose fairs to start in some English towns. Goose fairs are still held in places, the most famous one being the Nottingham Goose Fair, now held around October 3. Of course, geese are no longer sold and modern fairs consist mostly of various rides and stalls:

Nottingham Goose Fair at night, October 2007.  A view from the Ferris wheel Author: KickingKarl Creative Commons

The custom of goose fairs is said to date back to time of Queen Eiizabeth 1 (16th c). It is said that Elizabeth was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her – and the custom of eating goose as part of a celebratory meal stuck.

The Michaelmas Daisy, a type of aster (Aster novi-belgii), which has small pink to lavender flowers, obviously got its name from this time, as it is flowering then.

Some Michaelmas Superstitions:

1.  The devil stamps (or spits) on bramble bushes after Michaelmas, so don’t pick blackberries after that date.

2.  The Victorians believed that a tree planted on that day would grow very well.

3. In Ireland, finding a ring in a Michaelmas pie meant you were soon to be married!

September’s gemstone is the sapphire and the flower for September is the aster:

The astrological signs for September are Virgo and Libra:

Virgo (zodiac element, earth) is the sign from August 23-September 22. It is represented by ‘The Maiden’ and symbolises knowledge, shyness, clarity of thought and introspective behaviour.
Libra (zodiac element, air) is the sign from September 23-October 22. It is represented by the scales symbol because the Romans saw it as the sign during which the seasons are the most balanced. It symbolises people who are active, love being in the open, who are peaceful and fair and hate being alone.

Festtivals & Traditions associated with September include:

  • The Game of conkers. Conkers are the fruits of the horse chestnut tree and children have being playing games with them for years. Conkers are threaded with string and the object of game is to hit – and hopefully break or crack –  your opponent’s conker:
  • The Horn Dance is an English folk dance dating back to the Middle Ages held at Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire. It is s performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and stop to perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village to the tunes played by the musician. These include ‘The Farmers Boy’ and ‘Uncle Mick’. The modern version involves reindeer antlers, a hobby horse, Maid Marian and a ‘Fool’!
  • The Gurning Competition at Egremont Crab Fair in the English Lake District.  To gurn means to distort the face – so the object is to see who can pull the most awful face!

A man ‘gurning’. Originally posted on Flickr and uploaded to Creative Commons in 2009. Author: Mark

September Anniversaries:

There are dozens of anniversaries celebrated in September worldwide, so I’ve just picked a few British ones here. I’m sure you can all can think of lots in whichever part of the world you live in. (Not all anniversaries are of happy events, of course, and I’ve use the word ‘celebrated’ in the sense of something being ‘remembered’.)

  • September 1 1939: Germany invaded Poland, so beginning the Second World War.
  • September 2 1666: A fire started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in London. It spread rapidly and almost completely destroyed all of the old city of London. This became known as The Great Fire of London.
  • September 3 1928: Alexander Fleming returned to his laboratory after a holiday. He noticed that staphylococci bacteria growing on pieces of apparatus he’d left unwashed had been killed by an unidentified mould. This was the first step in the discovery of penicillin.
  • September 6 1997: The funeral of Princess Diana took place in London.
  •  September 22 1880: Christabel Pankhurst, the future leader of the suffragette campaign in Britain, was born at Old Trafford in Manchester.
  • September 27 1825: A steam engine called Active pulled the first passenger train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
  • September 29 1066: William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey with a Norman army. At Christmas he was crowned King of England.
  • September 29 1929: Under the direction of the home secretary, Robert Peel, Britain’s first professional police force, the Metropolitan Police, is formed. The force is based in Scotland Yard in Westminster, London.

To finish with, here are some photos of our garden and the lanes around the village as we stroll into September. First, the lanes, which are showing signs that leaves are now past their best and beginning to fade, while colourful autumn fruits are in abundance. Most of the wheat and barley has been harvested and bales of straw stand in the fields of stubble. Conkers and acorns are not yet ripe:

Our garden doesn’t look much different to the way it looked for my August post a month ago, although the apples and pears have grown and ripened and foliage in general has lost some of its vibrancy. The colours of the flowers are still good, although they will undoubtedly die off over the coming weeks.

And absolutely last, here’s a YouTube video of the beautiful song, Try to Remember… Unfortunately, it always makes me weepy – just like the willow in the song. (Too many memories…) The song was written by Paul McCartney and Harvey Schmidt and this version is sung by US folk-singing foursome, The Brothers Four.

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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40 Responses to Sauntering into September

  1. MG WELLS says:

    A brilliant post! Thanks for sharing all the amazing info and pictures. I love the gurning ;O)

  2. J.C. Wolfe says:

    Fascinating post, Millie! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Hi J.C. There are lots of interesting things to write about for every month, and I’ve found a (sort of) regular pattern to follow now. October will be my sixth month and I’m determined to do the whole year. 🙂

  3. draliman says:

    Beautiful photos and lots of facts 🙂 (I think you have a small copy-paste error in your Libra dates.)

    I wish the devil would come and stamp on my brambles – darn things are everywhere!

  4. afairymind says:

    Fascinating post! That horn dance sounds like an interesting thing to go and see… 😀

  5. Joy Pixley says:

    What fascinating traditions! I guess I should stop being surprised that I learn something new every time I read one of your posts, but I still am – and happily so. I’d never heard of “calling the Mare” or the background behind corn dollies: interesting!

    • milliethom says:

      Since starting these monthly posts in May, I’ve learnt a lot myself, Joy. I didn’t know many of these old traditions until I started looking them up. I’m intrigued myself, and look forward to finding out what October’s all about! (On the down side, these posts do take ages to put together. It’s a good thing they’re only once a month.) 🙂

      • Joy Pixley says:

        I can see why they take so long — you cram so much interesting stuff into them! You know, you could always hold some stuff back for next year and we’d never even know. 😉

  6. arv! says:

    Quite insightful. Never knew so much about seventh month. Thanks Millie

  7. You do such a good job of telling us about Sepember and your traditions. I just had to reboot this on my new site, Susans Soul (Susan’s Thoughts… broke beyond repair). Anyway, I’ve missed talking with you via blogs. Susan…

  8. Just my reblogged. Luv you.🤓

  9. Loved this post, those fruit trees look great, my parents have a conker tree and we used to pick them up and have conked fights until school banned them.

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Charlotte. Yes, all my children collected wheelbarrow loads of conkers (literally!) when they were young and spent hours stringing them all. We lived next to an open field where there were several horse chestnuts and all the local kids collected the conkers. I was teaching myself when conkers were banned, and although I could see the reasons for it, it seemed like the end of an age old tradition in school playgrounds.

  10. Susans Soul says:

    Reblogged this on Susans Soul and commented:
    I just had to share this great blog by Millie Thom. She is a friend InThe UK as well as blogger and author. While you’re there check out her blog and books. Susan…

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you so much for that, Susan, I really appreciate it. It’s a while since we chatted. I haven’t been on my bog a great deal this year due to many things, mostly family ill health, but we’re gradually getting back to normal. I hope you have had a great summer and done everything you wanted to do. I’ll pop over to your blog as soon as I can. Take care of yourself. ❤

  11. A beautifully written post, Millie! So interesting to read about the various traditions related to this month. I can’t believe it’s September already, time goes by so quickly.

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Daniela. I find all the traditions so interesting, too, and I learn so much myself by doing these monthly posts. I can’t believe it’s already September, either. It seems that every year goes faster than the one before.

  12. anroworld says:

    I love autumn months, I adore first colorful leaves, I enjoy chilly morning air, September is my beloved month! Wonderful post, my dear! Enjoy this September!

    • milliethom says:

      I agree, Ann, Autumn is a beautiful season and September is the golden month. I suppose all seasons are lovely in their own way, but autumn seems to be many people’s favourite. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely video of all the wonderful colours on your blog soon, so I’ll look forward to that.

  13. Always enjoy your posts, milliethom. Wonderful pictures with fascinating facts.

  14. milliethom says:

    Hello Jack. Long time no see, as they say. I hope your summer was wonderful and you are ready for the lovely autumn ahead. And thank you for liking my rambling post – it’s so hard to draw the line when faced with such a barrage of information. Hope all is well with you, and your book is moving along (preferably at a faster rate than mine!).Talk again soon.

  15. Interesting post, it was like a little history lesson in itself😄

  16. Thanks for this lovely September post. A lot of interesting information! I got in contact with conkers for the first time this year. A very old game. The children did not play like they should they only threw it on the concrete because it bounces high when still fresh.

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks Ineke. I’ve not been well all week and haven’t looked at my blog for days, so I’m sorry for the late reply. I’m glad you like the post. Conkers was always a great game. I played it when I as young and so did our children. It was banned in school playgrounds n Britain as a danger to eyes. Conker bits could fly off in all directions when hit with force by another conker. And kids were always good at hardening conkers (various methods!). I can understand the ban, but it was sad for those of us with memories of great times.

  17. inesephoto says:

    Millie, thank you for this splendid post! September is my favorite month, and I am excited that I have learned so much today 🙂

  18. milliethom says:

    Thank you, Inese. I’m not ‘properly’ back to blogging yet, other than doing these monthly posts and odd posts about places I’ve visited. I’ve tried to get back to people who have commented, but even that’s difficult. I do intend to get back to normal soon, now that the situation with our daughter has eased, but I’m also working a lot on my book – which has moved on little since April. I’ve missed your wonderful posts and will visit asap.
    We cancelled all our holidays this year, other than brief visits to family. We didn’t even manage our yearly visit to Malta. If all goes well we hope to get to Ireland next year! Lots of hugs and best wishes and many thanks for liking my post. 😀

  19. Really enjoyed this post. You have an amazing garden. I believe, however, it was Tom Jones — not Paul McCartney — who wrote the lyrics to “Try to Remember” for the The Fantasticks (1960). I agree that it is a lovely song.

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Anna. Thank you for the lovely comment about our garden. My husband’s the gardener, not me. I just like to enjoy it! 🙂 As for the lyrics to the song… I’ve just looked it up on good old Wiki and you’re absolutely right! When you said the name, Tom Jones, i thought you meant the Welsh singer, but I see it’s and American lyricist. Thank you for pointing that out. I got the (obviously incorrect!) information from one of the many videos I looked at on YouTube. I’ll pop into the post and edit it later on. I do really love that song! 😀

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