The Witch’s Harvest

The Witch’s Harvest October 6, 2017

For many Witches, including myself, the autumn equinox is experienced as a time for harvesting. As we move closer towards the darker half the year, this is a time for both literal and metaphorical reaping. We harvest the herbs which were planted in the spring and cared for through the summer. They are dried and then stored away for use in magic and medicine throughout the coming year. We also harvest the results of the goals and intentions we set in the spring and cultivated during the summer.

This year was the first time, in a long while, that I’ve been able to have a sizeable garden bed (as opposed to a few pots) of herbs. In the spring, I planted: Mugwort, Peppermint, Licorice Mint, Catnip, Wormwood, Lemon Balm, Lavender, Rosemary, Clary Sage, Foxglove, Chamomile, Belladonna, Sage, Bee Balm, and Henbane. Throughout the summer I spent time a lot of time in the garden with the Plant Spirits, conversing and making offerings. However, over the months, despite the closeness I felt with my plants, I noticed that they were growing rather slowly in comparison to previous years. I began to worry that perhaps I had lost my green thumb. Of course, it could have something to do with the weather we’ve had this summer, but I couldn’t help feeling like there was something else going on. In terms of the metaphorical, or personal harvest, I’ve gone through a lot of changes this summer (both good and bad). As we’ve approached the harvest season, I also began to wonder if I’ve accomplished the goals I mapped out during the springtime. Like my plants, I know that I’ve grown at least somewhat. But in a way, I felt like I had let myself down for not having met my goals. Thus, going into this harvest season I had an overall sense of stunted growth.

Clary Sage (author's photo)
Clary Sage (author’s photo)

On the morning of equinox, I prepared my garden for harvest. I greeted the Plant Spirits and explained my intentions of harvesting, to which they consented. My cauldron was lit with sweet incense, burnt as an offering to my verdant friends. I worked my way around the garden, giving thanks to each plant, and then collecting what I needed. I quickly noticed that, despite what I had thought previously, there was plenty of each plant to be gathered. Each herb was bundled up with twine, ready to be hung and dried. When all the harvesting was done, I gave a final ‘thank you’ and sprinkled the garden with tobacco and blood meal. Then, I sat amidst the fallen leaves and bundles of fresh herbs, feeling immense gratitude for the abundance that the partnership between the Plant Spirits and I had yielded. Not only abundance in terms of the physical plant material but also in the lessons which they had taught me. This is when they spoke up, offering my one more piece of insight.

Many of the herbs planted in my garden this year were brand new, some of which are biennials. What this means is that in their first year, these herbs focus almost exclusively on developing their root system. They grow low to the ground, producing a few leaves, while filtering resources down into the ground. During the winter, they sleep before emerging in the spring when their stem bolts upright, growing tall and producing a bounty of leaves and flowers. The Plant Spirits reminded me (much kinder than I probably deserved in this instance) that even though they didn’t produce big flashy leaves and flowers didn’t mean they weren’t working incredibly hard. Much of the transformative work going on was happening deep below the surface. Not only was this an affirmation of their own growth but of my own. I simultaneously realized that, while I maybe hadn’t achieved the goals I had originally set, I had grown tremendously within myself. The changes I’ve experienced since spring have obviously shifted the trajectory of my path. Instead of focusing so much on manifesting in the external world, I needed to work on strengthening my own root system.

Mugwort and Peppermint (author's photo)
Mugwort and Peppermint (author’s photo)

I think that we, as a society, are conditioned to view goals dichotomously: you either succeed or you fail. But what does it mean to succeed? What does it mean to fail? What do either of those concepts look like? On one hand, it could be said that my plants weren’t very successful this year because they remained relatively small. Yet, on the hand they produced more than enough for what I will need and taught me many lessons along the way. On one hand, it could be said that I wasn’t very successful this year because I didn’t accomplish my original goals. Yet, on the other hand I have made choices that will help fortify my physical, mental, and spiritual health.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s important to make room for the fact that goals change and success comes in many forms. Don’t fall for the either/or mind trap in assessing the outcomes of your work. Instead consider the bigger picture, look past the surface and explore the ways in which you have succeeded. At first glance they may seem like small achievements, but don’t discount them. These small achievements add up quickly. And if you weren’t successful at achieving something, consider what meaning that holds for you. Perhaps it will take more time to get to where you’d like. Perhaps there are smaller steps that need to be taken before you get there. There are a lot of possibilities, so don’t sell yourself short.

In sum, this harvest season, remember to be kind to yourself and your plants.

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