Welcome back to the Caravan! Last week we discussed the importance of noticing the signs that nature leaves behind…sometimes there are hidden meanings, after all. I entreated you to look up and notice some of the stories the sky may have to tell. Did you listen? Did you note the rising of the full moon last week? That was the Flower Moon (northern hemisphere) or the Hunter’s Moon (southern hemisphere). Each month’s full moon carries a specific name (or names, depending on where you live), and our ancestors relied on these lunar signs to know when to plant, when to harvest, and when to hunt. Perhaps we can still take some knowledge from our predecessors…
For example, Appalachian lore suggests you should plant according to the phases of the moon. That is, above ground crops should be planted under the new of the moon. Below ground should not be planted until closer to the full moon. If planting isn’t of concern to you, perhaps you would be interested to know that Appalachian wisdom dictates wooden shingles should be put on a house during the week around new moon (the ‘dark of the moon’) or they will turn up and be ruined. Likewise, one should cut tobacco near the new moon if you want it to cure well.
According to a tale recounted by Michael Rivers, being aware of the types of full moon can save not only your life but also the life of your hunting companions. The Hunter’s Moon, which is in October in the northern hemisphere, is not always as enticing as it may seem. During the light of this moon, a bear may appear that is so alluring that you will follow it for miles and miles, unwittingly risking your life in the process. It is important, therefore, to not only know the world around you; but also, it is respectful to know the lore native to the area you currently inhabit.
We can look to our ancestors for interpretations of other astronomical phenomena as well. Appalachian lore dictates that the appearance of comets and shooting stars can be prelude to disaster. In similar fashion, history tends to paint the appearance of such wonders as portents of war or doom. My heart, however, has always been attached to the appearance of a comet as a sign that deification has occurred. You see, Julius Caesar was assassinated at Pompey’s Theater (the Senate house was under construction at that time) on the Ides of March in 44 BCE. Aside from his murderers, much of Rome was plunged into great mourning after his passing. A few months later during Caesar’s funeral games, an astronomical wonder shown in the sky that would be unrivaled for millennia. Caesar’s comet, Sidus Iulium, was so bright that it was visible even in the middle of the day, and this brilliant magnificence lasted an entire week. This was a sure sign to the Roman people that Caesar had ascended to the heavens as a god. This event was later used by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, as he won over the populace of Rome by emphasizing his familial connection with a deity. We have evidence of Caesar’s comet on Roman coinage minted under Augustus’ reign, proving that he utilized such an extraordinary event for his own gains.
All of this Roman lore is being mentioned to bring you, dear reader, back to current day events. Right now, if you live in the southern hemisphere, you should be able to step outside during the evening this coming week, look up, and spot the SWAN comet before it breaks into several pieces. If you aren’t able to see this before it fades out of view, or you are on the opposite side of the planet for this spectacle, no worries. In July, the northern hemisphere should see the appearance of Comet С/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). Now we can be left to wonder, based on ancient Roman beliefs, who might be ascending to deification?
Until next time,
Gainer, Patrick. Witches, Ghosts, and Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians.
Montell, William Lynwood. Ghosts Along the Cumberland: Deathlore in the Kentucky Foothills.
Moser, Heather. From Tyranny to Clemency: How Julius Caesar's Memory has Fluctuated over Time as a Reflection of Imperial Sentiment.