"The moon was created for the counting of days." - Hebrew midrash
Yesterday, I published the "A Year of Moons" diary for September - the Harvest Moon. And as I wrote in that diary, because the Harvest Moon is always the closest full moon to the Autumn Equinox, it usually falls in September, but will occasionally fall in October (as it did in 2009, and will next in 2017).
So what is September in those years? Well, it varies. You could call it the Full Corn Moon (follow-up to the Grain Moon's alternate name of Green Corn Moon). It was called the Singing Moon by the Celts, and in some places is also called the Elk Moon. The Cherokee called it the Nut Moon, while to the Choctaw, it was the Mulberry Moon.
But to my coven, the rare non-Harvest September moon has another name: the Wine Moon.
Read on . . .
“Wine is bottled poetry.” - Robert Louis Stevenson
Wine is ancient, so ancient we don't really know where it came from first, or how. In the Vayots Dzor province in Armenia, remains have been found of a winery that operated six thousand years ago.
Persian folklore told a story about the ancient (and quite possibly mythical) King Jamshid. A girl, banished from his harem, tried to kill herself by drinking "spoiled" grape remnants that were presumed to be poisonous. But it wasn't poisonous - just fermented. Not only did she not die - her spirits lifted. She brought this magical drink to the king, who reinstated her - and commanded that all grapes grown in Persepolis be devoted to making more.
There's no reason to believe it happened that way - but something like it probably did. Juice left in a skin or a jar just a little too long, until it was found by a wild yeast culture, and . . .
To our distant ancestors, it was magical, divine - created by a process they didn't understand. It altered their mood, their perceptions. So it's not surprising that wine features prominently in the world's mythology.
"May [Osiris] give water, a cool breeze and wine to the spirit ..." - from the stela of Thothmose the doorkeeper, 18th Dynasty
Osiris, god of agriculture (as well as the Egyptian symbol of the life-death-rebirth cycle), was said to have given wine to man as "the sweat of Ra". Ra himself used it to save mankind from a raging Sekhmet, who began killing faithless and faithful alike - he filled a lake with red wine, and she drank herself into a harmless stupor thinking it was blood (neither the first nor the last wine/blood parallel in mythology). During the annual flooding of the Nile, the river became red-tinged by the soil, like wine. In ancient Egypt, this set of a literal Festival of Drunkenness, in which Egyptians gathered to honor Osiris and Hathor (goddess of love), but mostly just got blasted. For days.
The Greeks believed wine was a gift of Dionysus, who - like his Roman doppelganger, Bacchus - was associated not only with the fruits of the vine, but also with ecstatic madness, frenzy, the unexpected, and all that which is alien. But he was also called Health-Giver, and a god of resurrection, and called wine a medicine in moderation.
"[Wine] makes the person who drinks it more jovial than he was before, and the more he imbibes it, the more he becomes filled with high hopes and a sense of power, till finally, puffed up with conceit, he abounds in every kind of license of speech and action and every kind of audacity, without a scruple as to what he says or what he does." - Plato
"When men drink, then they are rich and successful and win lawsuits and are happy and help their friends. Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever." - Aristophanes
In the Hindu story of the Samudra Manthan, the goddess and creator of wine, Varuni, is one the 14 treasures or "jewels" created by the Churning of the Milky Way (by the Devas and Asuras in a rare alliance, to create a nectar of immortality). Wine figures prominently in Hindu stories, often as the same sort of double-edged sword the Greeks knew it to be. While it was said to be useful in "divine meditation", there are also frequent tales of it leading to violence and destruction.
“Wine is wont to show the mind of man.” - Theognis
To the Hebrews, wine was first made by Noah after the flood. Despite his getting loaded at the first tasting, with unfortunate results (Gen. 9:20-27), wine has been deeply embedded in Judaism. Four cups of wine are drunk at the Seder, each one symbolizing an episode of redemption ("I will bring you out . . . I will deliver you . . . I will redeem you . . . I will take you to me for a people"). Like the ripe vegetables growing from a humble seed, wine fermenting from grapes represents a transformation - touching again on the Kabbalistic notion of the “rectification of chaos”.
And of course wine holds a prominent place in Christianity, highlighting the blood/wine symbolism known to the ancients. Jesus' blood was said to be caught in a wine cup at the resurrection, harkening back to Egyptian and Greek stories of soldier's drinking their enemies' blood mixed with wine. And by the act of Communion, wine brings the faithful into contact with divinity - as it did in many earlier faiths.
"We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!" - Benjamin Franklin
So what is the message of a Wine Moon? Well, "moderation is a virtue" is a good message any time of year. The idea that something that bring both joy and anger, peace and violence, unity and division is another. Both those concepts tie into the idea of balance, which is of course a fundamental Pagan idea.
But, as an amateur vintner myself (six gallons of blueberry wine, fermenting right now), I take what I think is a season-appropriate lesson from the process of wine. Wine is created when a yeast acts on the sugars in fruit juice. The yeast consumes the sugar and produces carbon dioxide and, more importantly, alcohol. It's a simple enough process, but I can tell you it takes work, preparation and ooooh, so much patience. But is it ever worth it.
The sugars in a fresh grape or berry or other fruit are delicious - it may be Nature's best trick for getting us dumb animals to spread its seeds around. But that sugar only lasts so long. Ferment that juice, though, and the resulting wine, depending on its acidity, can last for years - and in fact, often improves with time. The wine pressed from the grapes of a single season will live long past the day when that season’s grapes are rotted away - and may outlive the vineyard itself.
Wine preserves, by its transformation, the fruits of a past year.
The harvest season is a time of celebration - the year's work is done, and the tables are weighted down with Nature's bounty. But Winter looms, and there are long, lean months ahead. Our ancestors feasted at the harvest, yes, but they also stored up. As best they could, they tried to safely preserve what they knew they would need later. So, in those years when the Wine Moon shines in September, keep that in mind - it is a season to enjoy what we have (with some moderation), but also to set aside and preserve, however we can, what we may need in the days and months and years to come. It takes work, preparation and ooooh, so much patience.
But is it ever worth it.