The Pagan Experience: “E” is for “Erntfescht”

cornucopiaThis post was inspired by a prompt at The Pagan Experience suggesting writing for the letters “E” or “F”.

The calendars of many polytheistic religions are filled with agricultural rites, and Urglaawe is no exception. The holiday of Erntfescht, celebrated on the Autumn Equinox, is known as “Harvest Home” in English. You’ll find this holiday still celebrated today in Deitsch communities, by Christian and Heathen adherents alike. This “original Thanksgiving” was a time for communities to come together, celebrate the harvest, and share with one another what they had to give. This was particularly a time for the community to assist those who were less fortunate, such as families whose crops had failed, or who had lost a family member over the past year.

In modern Urglaawe celebrations, there is a focus on donations to food banks and the like to help those in need. The deities honored at this time tend to be those associated with the fields and the harvest, including Dunner (Thor), Siwwa (Sif), and Idunn (Idunna). For those who are following along at home regarding my Butzemann, Schaeffer, this would be a great time to make some special offerings to him for all his efforts through the year, because he may be ritually retired and burned any time between Erntfescht and Allelieweziel (October 31). During this time overall, between Hoietfescht (Haymaking, August 1) and Erntfescht, the spiritual focus in Urglaawe is on celebration of hard work and gratitude for the gifts of the land, its spirits, and the deities.

So that’s the official take. What about my experience and how I’m observing this time? Agricultural holidays are difficult for me personally. As an urban apartment-dweller, I don’t have access to any kind of land to care for outside of my own four walls. My houseplants are decorative rather than nourishing–I don’t have the right indoor conditions for growing say, veggies or herbs. Since I work from home, there are more days than I’d care to admit where I never even set foot outdoors. In Urglaawe, there’s importance to setting your life with the rhythms of the natural world, reflected by the traditional activities of the agricultural calendar, in order to work with them, not against them, and to make yourself healthier and more joyful. I agree with this philosophy, but I struggle with implementation in my current circumstances. My own personal harvest on hard work this year isn’t lining up perfectly with the expected harvest dates of crops, and sometimes it feels a little odd to try to act as if it is. I feel like the celebration is just a little bit premature for the personal harvest I’m anticipating.

One aspect of my life, I’m surprised and pleased to discover, has lined up rather nicely with Erntfescht. Recently I’ve become interested in minimalism. Those who know me well are probably laughing pretty loudly at this point–I’m a lifelong packrat, descended from packrats, and also a passionate collector of many different types of things (including playing cards, umbrellas & parasols, postcards, and model horses, just to name a few). But I also live in that aforementioned teeny tiny apartment, and I’ve found that stuff has been taking over my very limited living space. Minimalism is a philosophy that can be implemented in a lot of different ways, but essentially, it’s about removing things from your life that aren’t priorities, so that things that are priorities can take more of your time, energy, and focus. The essential steps of applying minimalism to your life are:

  1. Identify what is and isn’t essential to your happiness and well-being
  2. Get rid of all the junk–often physical items, but can be applied to things like excessive commitments or the intake of media garbage
  3. Commit to not bring in more junk–without this step, your minimalism is just a temporary purge of possessions, rather than a change in lifestyle

So what to do with all those items I don’t need or want any longer? Some may wish to throw them out or to sell them, and those are perfectly valid options. But in the spirit of Erntfescht, I am donating as much as possible, so that others have a chance to use those items. This embodies several Urglaawe virtues, including Verwalting, or Stewardship, which means tending well to the Earth and all living things within it, and Edelmut, or Generosity, related to reciprocity and giving “a gift for a gift”. I have the items that I have because the Gods, the land, family, and friends, have all been generous and gifted me. By sharing that gift forward, I strengthen the community around me.

One thing that has been surprising about applying minimalism to my life is how much gratitude and perspective it has given me. I’ve been having a very tough 2015, marked by hardship and loss, and it’s hard to feel generous and celebrate the harvest from that place. But by starting to give things away, I am seeing how much I do have, and how much I have been blessed, in ways that I haven’t always stopped to appreciate. So by giving to others, even when I am struggling, I have found myself to be prosperous in ways I didn’t realize.

With temperatures soaring into the 90s in my part of the world, it’s hard to believe that Erntfescht is just a few short weeks away! In my mind, and the world around me, it’s still the height of Summer. But after a long and difficult year, I have hope that a harvest in my personal life will soon be on its way.

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