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Four Seasons Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

September 16 St Ninian's Day
St Ninian was a British Bishop, supposedly educated in Rome, who was much venerated in Scotland. Pilgrims flocked to his shrine at Whithorn and still visit his cave at the nearby seashore. His plant emblem is the southernwood, a strong-smelling member of the artemisia family, called "apple-ringie" in Scotland and pressed in bibles to perfume them. The Romans believed it protected men from impotence. The English called it "Lad's Love;" it was given as a love token.

Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of the Saints, Penguin 1965
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson, 1987

September 16 Birthday of the Monkey God, Ts'oi T'in Tai Seng Yeh
The 16th day of the eighth month is celebrated in Singapore as the birthday of the Monkey God. Although his shrines are often small and humble, they are popular with the people who come to consult the mediums attached to them.

Comber, Leon, Chinese Temples in Singapore, Singapore: Eastern University Press, 1958, p. 35.

September 17 God of Thieves
On the 17th day of the 8th lunar month, the Chinese honor the God of Thieves. Blackburn and Holford-Strevens who provided the date, don't offer any further elaboration, so feel free to make up your own celebration.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

September 18 St Sophia
My Lives of the Saints says "Nothing is known about this saint who is commemorated today, except her baptismal name…found inscribed on a tomb in a cemetery reserved for martyrs." In her pictures she is shown with her three daughters: Faith, Hope and Charity. Attwater lists her feast day as September 30. It is appropriate that her feast day falls in the same month as so many holy days honoring Mary, for she represents the feminine principle, otherwise missing in Christianity. She's the saintly version of the great goddess of wisdom, Sophia, praised in Proverbs (3:13)

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.

Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of the Saints, Penguin 1965
Hoever, Reverend Hugo,
Lives of the Saints, Catholic Book Publishing Company 1955

September 20 St Eustace
According to the Attwater, "it is probably that Saint Eustace is an entirely fictitious character." His legend is similar to that of Saint Hubert, in that both of them were converted to Christianity while hunting by the sight of a stag with a luminous cross between its antlers. St. Hubert (whose feast day is May 30th) is a patron saint of hunters. Although the same claim is not made for Saint Eustace, it would make sense since this is the height of the hunting season.

Attwater, Donald,
The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin, 2nd edition 1983
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

September 21 St Matthew's Day
As with other holidays, the Catholic Church assigned the feast day of a significant saint (St Matthew, one of the original Apostles and the writer of a Gospel) to a date near the pagan celebration (the Autumn Equinoxin this case September 21). For some reason (perhaps because Matthew is the patron saint of tax collectors and bankers), his holiday never became wildly popular. Instead all the seasonal customs one might expect to find on this day (like the harvest feast) migrated to the feast of St. Michael on September 29th.

However, the English note St. Matthew's Day with a few weather predictions:

St Mathee, shut up the Bee;
St Mattho, take thy hopper and sow;
St Mathy, all the year goes by
St Matthie, sends sap into the tree
St Matthew
Brings the cold, rain and Dew

In the Midlands, St Matthew's Day is viewed as the first of three windy days, also called "windy days " windy days of the barley harvest."

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, Yearbook of English Festivals, H W Wilson 1954

St Sophia
St Sophia

September 22 Autumn Equinox

September 22 Shobun No Hi
Japanese Buddhists view the equinoxes as bridges, times when the dead can cross the mythical waters between here and higan, the far shore. The whole week surrounding the equinox is a special time called higan. On the day of the autumn equinox, the Japanese visit cemeteries, where they sprinkle water on the graves of their ancestors to cleanse them and leave behind food, flowers and burning incense sticks.

A Japanese proverb says: "No summer heat lingers beyond this equinox day."

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994


September 24 Our Lady of Ransom / Obatala
Commemorates the founding around 1218 of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy in Barcelona. She is also known as Our Lady of Ransom because the main purpose of the order was to ransom captives from the Moors. I just love the name. She is depicted sheltering sinners under her outspread cloak.

Perhaps a day to ask for the mercy of the Goddess or to promise payment of some kind (ransom) to her if she will release you from captivity. Warning: you must then pay the ransom.

Obatala: The supreme deity of the Yoruba pantheon, an androgynous creator god, usually pictured as an ancient wo/man dressed in white cloth and having white hair, was conflated with Our Lady of Ransom. Obatala lives on the top of the mountains, as high as the clouds. She is the judge and the keeper of the peace.

For more ideas on how to work with Obatala, check out Luisah Teish's
Jambalaya (Harper San Francisco 1979).


September 27 Maskal
In Ethiopia, the Feast of the Holy Cross is celebrated on the 27th rather than the 14th of September; "Maskal" means cross. People build huge structures called demera in a meadow, basically teepees made of logs and decorated with yellow Maskal daisies. There is a feeling of spring in the air (even though Ethiopia lies north of the equator, the summer rainy season is called "winter" because it's so cold.) In the late afternoon, the priests bless the demera, and everyone circles them three times (for the Trinity). At sunset, the demera is lit on fire. Then the people feast and sing and dance into the night. The following day, they draw a cross on their forehead with the charcoal from the demera fire, but this is not a solemn day but a day for feasting and visiting.

Levine, Donald, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture, University of Chicago Press, 1965, p. 62
Perl, Lilia,
Ethiopia: Land of the Lion, William Morrow 1972, pp.72-3

September 27 Ss Cosmas and Damian
According to legend, these two twin Arabian brothers who were famous healers, were martyred in Syria because they were also Christian. Some scholars believe they inherited some of the qualities of the Dioscuri, the twin sons of Zeus (also known as Castor and Pollux, the twins of the constellation Gemini).

Popular throughout the Middle Ages, Cosmas and Damian were known as the "holy moneyless ones" because they cured without charging for their services and invoked as the patron saints of doctors (which seems contradictory). For many centuries, invalids made a pilgrimage to their shrine where they would fall asleep and the brothers would appear to them in dreams, diagnosing and curing them. One famous miracle that was recorded in many versions, told of a man who went to sleep in a church dedicated to Ss. Cosmas & Damian who dreamed that the saints replaced the diseased flesh of his thigh with a thigh from a black man recently buried in the churchyard. When he awoke, with his leg healed, the corpse of the black man was exhumed and it was noted that his thigh was missing.

In Sicily, bakers make special bread called pace rimacinato, shaped like the two brothers, hand in hand, on their feast day.

For more information and beautiful art see:

Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin, 2nd edition 1983
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

September 28 Gathering St Michael's Carrots
In the Hebrides, on the afternoon of the Sunday preceding Michaelmas, women and girls gather St. Michael's wild carrots in a ritual manner. They dig triangular holes (signifying Michael's shield), with a three-pronged mattock (to represent Michael's trident), and tie them into bunches with a triple red thread. These are given to visitors on Michaelmas Day (see September 29). Forked roots are considered especially lucky.

In the 19th century, Alexander Carmichael collected many folk customs and prayers (that are more like spells) from the Scottish highlands and islands. Here is a charm that was recited during the gathering of St. Michael's carrots:

Cleft, fruitful, fruitful, fruitful
Joy of carrots surpassing upon me
Michael the brave endowing me
Bride the fair be aiding me

Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Lindisfarne Press 1992
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson, 1987

September 28 Michaelmas Eve, Crack Nut Day
In the Scottish highlands and islands, an unblemished ram lamb called the Michael Lamb is killed for tomorrow's feast. Women make special cakes called struan Michael or Michaelmas cakes, from equal parts of all types of grain grown on the farm, kneaded with butter, eggs and sheep's milk, marked with a cross and cooked on a stone heated by a fire of sacred oak, rowan and bramble wood. A piece of the cake is thrown into the fire as a tithe to St. Michael's opponent, the Devil. Other cakes are made for special people, for the family and for the community. Cranberries, bilberries, brambleberries, caraway seeds and wild honey are baked into the cakes. Clearly part of the purpose of this charm is to take the bounty of the farm's harvest and use it to fashion an offering of thanks.

It is OK to steal horses on the eve of Michaelmas so the men sit up and watch their horses.

In Surrey, this day is known as Crack Nut Day and nuts are cracked and eaten in churches (see September 14). In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, people build bonfires on the Eve of Michaelmas and scatter grain for the wild birds to bring luck to the farm.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987

September 29 Michaelmas
This is the feast day of St. Michael and all the Angels. It is the most ancient of all the angel festivals. The Anglican church celebrates all angels, both name and unnamed on one day. Roman and Orthodox Churches separate them into two categories (with the unnamed angels having their feast day on October 2nd).

From fairly early on, Michaelmas was an important holiday, the religious or Christian equivalent of the autumn equinox. In England, it was considered the start of a new quarter. It marked the start of a new business year, a time for electing officials, making contracts, paying rent, hiring servants, holding court and starting school. Obviously we still see the remnants of this in the timing of our elections and school year.

This is also a time when the weather is known to change. In Italy, they say "For St. Michael, heat goes into the heavens." In Ireland, people expect a marked decrease in sickness or disease. The Irish also consider this a lucky day for fishing:

Plenty comes to the boat on Michael's Day.

Barolini records a nursery rhyme about hours of sleep:

Nature requires five,
Custom gives seven,
Laziness takes nine
And Michaelmas eleven.

Michaelmas became the fixed date for the feast otherwise associated with Autumn Equinox or the harvest. As early as 1014, the laws of Ethelred in England prescribe a three day fast for all Christians before the feast. Servants weren't allowed to work during these days. Michaelmas was a time when rents were due, and rents were often paid in food. The traditional rent for Michaelmas was a goose.

Eating something rich like goose at this turning point of the year brings good luck. In Nottingham they say "If you eat roast goose on Michaelmas day, you will never want money all year." In Norfolk, they say, "if you don't baste the goose on Michaelmas Day, you will want money all year." In Yorkshire, they use the condition of the meat of the goose to predict the weather:

If the goose breast at Michaelmas be dour and dull
We'll have a sour winter, from the start to the full.

Fitzgibbon says the Irish used to stuff the goose with potato to cut the grease and absorb the flavor. This is like the traditional onion sauce served with goose in the 18th and 19th centuries and made from onions cooked in half milk and half water, with a slice of turnip, then mixed with butter, nutmeg, cream, salt and pepper and mashed. Apple sauce is the most common topping today.

In Italy, where this is clearly considered a harvest festival, they say "For St. Michael all the last fruits of the year are honeyed and ripe."

Cosman says that it is traditional to eat ginger on Michaelmas. She mentions ginger ale, beer and wine, gingerbread, ginger snaps, fish baked with ginger and two ginger desserts: charwardon (made with large succulent wardon pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger) and ginger caramels with curls of ginger-root shavings on top.

Michaelmas daisy is the name given to flowers of the aster family which bloom at this time. I've seen it applied mostly to purple asters but Barolini says she used to pick yellow Michaelmas daisies on the beaches near Rome. She also made a yellow sponge cake called "Margherita" (daisy) on that day.

St Michael
Michael is a warrior angel often pictured poised with a sword over a dragon (or demon) that he tramples underfoot. Other times he rides a white steed, and carries a three-pronged spear in his right hand and a three-cornered shield in his left. He cast Lucifer and the other evil angels out of Paradise. Thus, in the Middle Ages was invoked as the patron of knights and warriors.

He's been honored since ancient times as a protector. Most of his churches are on high places, for instance, Mont St. Michel in Brittany, the church on the tor at Glastonbury, the church on the tumulus at Carnac. They were often built on the sites where Lugh, the Celtic God of Light, was worshipped earlier.

Although all angels are sent as messengers from on high, Michael has a special task. He's sent to fetch the souls of those who have died for judgement. For this reason he is also considered the patron saint of all trades that use scales which mean he looks after pastry chefs and weighers of grain.

My friend Carolee Colter translated this Litany of Saint Michael from the French prayer card she purchased while visiting Mont St Michel in Brittany:

Saint Michael, archangel, pray for us.
Saint Michael, chief of all the angels, pray for us.
Saint Michael, filled with the wisdom of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, very glorious prince, pray for us.
Saint Michael, strong in combat, pray for us.
Saint Michael, terror of demons, pray for us.
Saint Michael, vanquisher of Satan, pray for us.
Saint Michael, our support in the fight against evil, pray for us.
Saint Michael, prince of the celestial militia, pray for us.
Saint Michael, faithful servant of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, messenger of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, angel of peace, pray for us.
Saint Michael, guardian of Paradise, pray for us.
Saint Michael, support of the people of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, guardian and patron of the church, pray for us.
Saint Michael, benefactor of people who honor you, pray for us.
Saint Michael, whose prayers reach to heaven, pray for us.
Saint Michael, who introduces souls to the eternal light, pray for us.
Pray for us, Saint Michael, archangel.

For more information about St Michael, see the images and information at this website:

Elegba: In the voodoo tradition, Michael is equated with Elegba, the messenger god. All ceremonies begin and end with petitions to Elegba, the god of the crossroads, whose shrine is behind the door.

Barolini, Helen, Festa: Recipes and Recollections of Italian Holidays, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1988
Cosman, Madeleine Pelner,
Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations, Scribners
Field, Carol,
Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Fitzgibbon, Theodora,
A Taste of Ireland: Irish Traditional Foods, NY: Avenel Boosk 1978, p 105
Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, Penguin 1955
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
Yearbook of English Festivals, H W Wilson 1954
Teish, Luisah,
Jambalaya, Harper San Francisco 1979
Tickle, Phyllis,
Ordinary Time

September 29 New Moon in Libra
The new moon of the ninth month in the Chinese lunar calendar is called the Chrysanthemum Moon. It’s Pyanepsion in the Greek lunar calendar and Tishri in the Jewish lunar calendar.

September 29 Navratras
In India, the start of the bright fortnight of Asvina, is the first day of a nine-day festival honoring the goddess Durga, who is worshipped under nine names or aspects. This holiday honoring the Great Mother happens in the middle of autumn when the Gods of the Hindu pantheon are in divine hibernation.

A very popular festival in India, it resembles Mardi Gras in both exuberance and execution. Various clubs and committees exist to provide the essentials needed for the celebration and to rival each other in outdoing themselves. They set up displays of twinkling lights, outlining buildings and creating special effects and erect pandals (which sound a lot like sukkahs (see the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth), shrines made by draping cloth over bamboo. Some of these shrines are elaborate reproductions of famous buildings, like the Taj Mahal. Inside are images of the Divine Mother, made from dried clay applied to straw and wood skeletons. These are life-size images that often display the goddess slaying the demon Mahisha or granting power to Rama. In Bengal, she is often accompanied by her sons (Ganesha and Kartikeya) and daughters (Laxmi and Saraswati). The current trend is to depict her in traditional Bengalese style but in previous decades she was often portrayed in contemporary clothing, for instance wearing jeans or riding a dinosaur at the time Jurassic Park came out.

In Punjab, the nine days are a period of fast. In Gujarat, women perform the Garba dance on each of the nine nights, dancing around an earthen lamp placed on a stand, while singing and clapping hands. In Tamil Nady, the first three days of the festival are dedicated to Laksmi, the next three to Shakti (Durga) and the last three to Saraswati. People recite the Durga Saptasati or go to the temple to hear it recited. There are dances and plays commemorating the victory of Durga over the buffalo-demon Mahishasura and the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana.

Two weeks before the festival begins, beggars and singers begin chanting the Agamani (or coming in advance) hymns. The radio stations also begin to play the sacred chants honoring Durga. On the first day of the festival, people start noratras, sprouted barley. Every home has an altar on which clay figures of the gods and goddesses are placed. In the main room, a pitcher of silver, copper or clay, with a coconut on it, symbolized the goddess Durga and girls sing and dance before it. In Nepal, Anderson mentions the holy water vessel which represents the Goddess Durga which is covered on the outside with cow-dung designs. Grains are sown in the dung and in piles of sand surrounding the jug. The sand is dampened with holy water every day. By the tenth day the seeds have sprouted and the pale yellow sprouts are picked in small bunches and worn in the hair or behind the ears.

In an article written for the Web, Rohit Arja describes the festivities in Bengal. A week before the actual day, an announcement is made that the Divine Mother has left the Himalayas and is traveling to Bengal. A radio programme broadcasts hymns praising the Divine Mother. For the three and half days of the festival the city of Calcutta shuts down. This is the time yearly bonuses are paid so sales are booming. It is also a time for heightened cultural activity. Every publication brings out a special issue and new songs are released. During this period, night and day are reversed. People sleep during the day and come out at night, in the millions, all dressed up, to go from pandal to pandal praying to the Divine Mother. At the end of the three days, the images of the Divine Mother are immersed in the waters of the Ganga, representing her dissolution into the Universe and reminding us of the impermanence of things.

Ramchandani, Anita, Dussera,

September 30 St Jerome
The patron saint of translators, lived during the fourth and fifth centuries and was the first person to translate the Bible, which he did into Latin.

Buy a book that has been translated from a different language. Or read something in a different language.

St Michael
St Michael sculpture by Patricia Banks of Saints Preserved. Used with permission.

September 30 Rosh Hashana begins
The Jewish new year begins on the first day of the seventh lunar month, Tishri. Some scholars believe it was derived from a Babylonian post-harvest holiday, when Babylonians were required to pledge their allegiance to the throne. The Jews changed this to a pledge of allegiance to God.

Here's what God had to say about this feast when he spoke to Moses (Leviticus 23:24):

In the seventh month on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solem rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work; and you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.

This is the start of the Seven Days of Awe or the Days of Tshuvan (repentance, turnabout). By 200 BCE, it was seen as a time of judgement. It was said that at Passover, God's judgment was expressed through lack of grain, at Shavuot, through lack of fruit, at Sukkot, (the full moon festival after Rosh Hashana) through lack of rain.

The rabbis wrote, "one is judged on Rosh Hashanah and one's doom is sealed on Yom Kippur." Four things cross out the doom of a person: righteousness expressed through gifts of charity; prayerful supplication; change of name and change of conduct." Some Jews rename themselves on this day.

Elul, the month before Tishri, is known as the month of Making Ready. Jews spend it, like the period before any New Years, in preparation and purification. It is a time for evaluation, self-examination and study, often in study groups.

As with other New Year celebrations, the food you eat on Rosh Hashanah is significant. The main qualities sought in food at this ritual feast include sweetness (for a sweet year), roundness (for the cycle of the year) and abundance (for prosperity). For Eastern Jews, a beet means "so that our enemies may be beaten," apples in sugar "a sweet year," a pomegranate for multiplicity, a fish for fertility and a lamb's head "so we may be the head and not the tail." On the second night, one should eat a new fruit not yet eaten this year.

Hacobem, Devorah and Menachem, Our People: The Story of the Eastern Jews, New York, Sabra 1969, p. 71.
Waskow, Arthur,
Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays, Beacon 1982

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