Agrarian cultures, from Abraham to Selu have always celebrated the harvest season.
Around October, to me at least, the moon has always seemed a little closer and a little brighter. It is a time of plenty, and of sharing, and of thanksgiving.
Those familiar with the Jewish tradition will remember the Feast of Tabernacles, the other religious traditions of the world have their own versions of celebration and giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. In today’s society we have parades, county fairs, and carnival midways, a sort of modern and abstract version of the old rituals, given that most modern people have no clue where their food comes from.
Among the Cherokees of ancient times there was something called the Festival of Friendship. In some places it was also called the Festival of
Forgiveness. In those days, every Cherokee town had its own government and its own way of doing things but all fit within a common tradition. Cherokee towns in ancient times were by necessity very co-operative places due to the clan system and the influence of women in the general society.
But as with any small town, hurt feelings, general slights, and petty jealousies inevitably develop. If these hurts and jealousies are permitted to fester, they will eventually corrode the very clan system that made the Cherokee town such a co-operative place to begin with. We see this sort of division in our own time, in this time of polarization and division, where families and communities are so divided, and demagogues agitate political differences into personal hatreds for their own selfish ends. These rapids and eddies in the rivers of thought and experience have been with us since the dawn of time. The twin dykes of philosophy and theology coupled with the sandbags of tradition and law are what keeps these rivers (we hope) from flooding and destroying a society.
It is to this end that the socio-religious festivals centered around the harvest were developed. As a general rule, people are more forgiving when their bellies are full. The peace, friendship, and goodwill developed during the harvest festivals would, it was hoped, carry through the dark and cold days of winter. The blanket under which the whole of the society sought warmth and shelter was kept tightly woven with equal parts of thanksgiving to the Deity and forgiveness to one’s neighbors. We do not know from whence the Cherokee Festival of Forgiveness came.
There are various legends and stories of course, but we will probably never know for sure. We do know that traditional Cherokee theology tended to the practical rather than the dogmatic. We also know that the foundation of
Cherokee spiritual tradition was based on a concept of harmony and balance in all of creation, and since personal hatred and spite will throw a society out of harmony and out of balance, we can safely assume that the festival developed from a desire to restore harmony and maintain balance within the general society.
It is often the case that so-called “sophisticated” people and “advanced” societies forget the wisdom of the old traditions in their pursuit of false preachers peddling a gospel of lies, and politicians hustling the heroin of hatred. It may be worth remembering that with all the arms and ammunition in the world, what the warrior desires most is a good friend and a faithful lover.
We are coming to harvest time again. It will be different this year of course. There is anger and mistrust in the political arena, and a new variant of the virus, fear and uncertainty pervade, but perhaps we are seeing some light dawning, we can only hope.
Many, if not most, of these problems are manmade of course, and the people are still angry and stressed. Into this manmade hell the harvest moon returns once again, reminding us of what is important, reminding us that we cannot eat ideology and we cannot drink politics. The harvest moon reminds us of what is real, food, drink, and fellowship. Tradition, community, the fabric that binds us together.
Let us take a moment to honor that tradition, take a moment to give thanks for what you have. Take time to volunteer with the charity of your choice, forgive a neighbor, share a beer, or a pone of corn bread and a pot of beans. Take time to forgive your neighbor, take time to forgive yourself.
Above all, remember to give thanks, because the food we eat comes to us by the grace of Father God and Mother Earth.