As I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, the midpoint between the summer solstice (Midsummer) and the autumnal equinox (Harvest) is Summer’s End. I call it that because this is the moment when Autumn first becomes detectable in my region: in the angle of the light, in the hard blue of the sky, in the sputtering of the fog cycle to bring searing hot days, and in the first turning of early leaves.
Summer’s End’s metaphorical meanings relate to work and craft, to technology and toolmaking and effort. It is the time when the harvests of hay and blackberries and early summer vegetables are at their height, so there is a lot of work to be done. Gardens are producing and gophers are marauding and the relaxed waiting of Midsummer is gone as the fruits of labor begin to come to ripeness.
This holiday has been a “lost Sabbath” in the Pagan Wheel for many. With summer travels leading folks away from their homes and a kind of mystifying lack of definition of what the holiday means in a modern context, it’s easy just to slide by it. For some, it simply doesn’t have meaning at all; for others, it may be a long stretch to find them when the traditional meanings are rooted in agriculture, but most of us now live in cities.
Still, I find myself getting that seven-week itch to do a Sabbath celebration around this time of year, and accordingly, to contemplating the meanings I have ascribed to this one. I very deliberately created Summer’s End as a Sabbath not only of “early harvest”, but of technology and work: the traditional Pagan Wheel of the Year doesn’t really have a holiday that embraces these, yet they dominate our modern lives.
Summer’s End is a good time to consecrate and place a little trinket on your desk at work to remind you of your religious life, or even (if you can get away with it) to do an “office blessing” in the name of productive and satisfying work. You could ritually clean your mobile phone by smudging with sage smoke or incense, invoking clear and respectful communications. Likewise something you take with you to work every day, like a briefcase or laptop computer. Blessing the tools of our work can help to imbue them with a sense of being a part of the Sacred, of the contiguous fabric of wonder that is All That Is, even in the prosaic, quotidian work world.
As for ritual celebrations at home, I like to bake bread at this time of year. Here is a lovely recipe from Pauline Campanelli, the late author of Ancient Ways and Wheel of the Year—two very charming books which, though certainly not atheistic, contain many projects and traditions that are fun to incorporate into your religious practice:
Summer’s End Rye Bread
In a large mixing bowl, combine two cups of milk warm to the touch with two packages of dry baking yeast, one teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup honey and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. Cover bowl and set aside in a warm place until it has doubled (about 1/2 hour). Add 3 tb softened butter and 2 cups unbleached white flour, and stir until bubbly.
Mix in 1 cup rye flour and 2 cups stone-ground wheat flour. With floured hands, turn dough onto floured board and gradually knead in more white flour until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your fingers.
Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it so the dough is greased, then cover with a clean cloth and keep in a warm place to rise until doubled (about an hour). Then punch it down and divide in half. Shape into two round, slightly flattened balls, place on greased cookie sheets. Cover and return to a warm place until they double again.
When the final rising is almost complete, use a ritual knife (or just any knife) to cut any symbol that is meaningful to you into the top of the loaves, saying a wish for the coming harvest. Beat a whole egg and 1 tb of water together and brush over the tops of the loaves. Bake at 300º for about an hour or until they are done (sound hollow when tapped).
“Bless” the bread with words of gratitude, and eat while still warm. Delicious!