November in the Wheel of the Year Part 2: Sacrifice and Remembrance - By Lucya Starza
November is Blood Month. At least the Anglo-Saxon name it was Blod-Monath according to the Venerable Bede. Professor Ronald Hutton in Stations of the Sun writes that this is because it was when cattle that couldn’t be kept over winter were slaughtered. Much of the meat was salted to preserve it, but at Martinmas, on November 11, the last of the unsalted meat was cooked for a feast to honour the necessary sacrifice in the farming year.
We no longer make much of a deal about Martinmas, but Remembrance Day, also on November 11, honours those who died in war. Even during World War One the idea was that the loss of life should be remembered as sacrifice and redemption rather than a celebration of victory. Armistice Day, which later got called Remembrance Day, commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany to end hostilities on the Western Front. It took effect at 11am – the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” – in 1918. It’s an important day to remember fallen heroes the world over, for Christians and pagans alike. For heathens, 11 November is Heroes Day, also remembering those who died in battle.
Poppy Symbolism and Magic
The corn poppy has become a symbol of Remembrance Day because the battlefields of France bloomed with them after fighting churned up the ground. The flowers also proliferated over soldiers’ graves. Each year in Britain, red artificial poppies are sold by the British Royal Legion charity to raise money for war veterans. Other colour poppies are worn to represent various causes. Purple poppies remember animals that suffered in wartime. Many horses were injured or died in the First World War. War Horse Memorial sells enamel brooches and supports charities including World Horse Welfare. Black poppies specifically remember the People of Colour who served in wars, while white poppies were designed by the Co-operative Women's Guild in 1933 to remember all victims of war. They are now given out by Peace Pledge Union with a focus on peace.
You can make your own poppy in your choice of colour and perhaps avoid buying anything plastic. There are lots of free patterns and templates online whether you prefer knit, sew or craft paper. It can be an upcycling project reusing envelopes, scraps of wool or old clothes. You can then make a donation to a charity of your choice.
Real poppies bloom in July and August in England, but with its blood-red colour and short life – the blooms last only a day – the poppy is a suitable flower to symbolise the loss of young life. Poppies had been associated with death and battles long before WW1. In the battle of Waterloo it was said that poppies grew from the blood shed by soldiers. The flowers were considered suitable offerings for the dead as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. The twin gods Hypnos and Thanatos, Greek deities of sleep and death, are often depicted crowned with poppies.
In folklore, poppies symbolise sleep as well as death, and peering into the black centre of a red poppy is a folk remedy for insomnia. There are hundreds of different types of poppy, and the Class A drug opium is only extracted from the opium poppy, although others have uses in folk medicine. Poppies have, for thousands of years, been used to induce sleep and numb pain as well as for magical and religious purposes. Although they don’t bloom in November, you could put poppy seeds into poppets, jars and sachet spells to honour and remember the dead or to help ease suffering.
This is part of a series of posts I’m writing for the Moon Books Blog on the theme of the Wheel of the Year. They will be compiled and edited into a book: Pagan Portals – Wheel of the Year. Other books by Lucya Starza in the Pagan Portals series include Candle Magic, Guided Visualisations, Poppets and Magical Dolls, and Scrying. Lucya edited the community book Every Day Magic – A Pagan Book of Days.
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