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.
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.
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.
‘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:
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!
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.