Feasts are an important part of the yearly Sabbats as they are used for invoking protection in dark times or as an offering of giving thanks to nature for the end-year harvest of food. One modern celebration that takes directly from these traditions is the Thanksgiving festival that most Americans celebrate with football and turkey.
In the ancient world our ancestors did not have grocery stores, they had to plant and harvest their own food. Times were rough and Mother Nature is relentless with droughts, storms, blistering heat or cold, etc. Each of these characteristics of nature was to some given attributes of men or women and anthroporophosized as a god. When a harvest was being conducted, there were feasts to ‘give thanks’ to the Earth for supplying man with sustenance in the same manner a nursing mother provides her baby with milk from her breast.
Thanksgiving is of course not celebrated as an American Holiday all over the World, but the origin’s of the first Colonial harvest is one that borrows from Native American belifes and much older pagan beliefs. The first harvest at Plymouth Rock was held in 1621 and it was during this time that Governor William Bradford (1590-1657) dedicated the occasion as a special day of prayers and giving thanks. That fall, Plymouth colonists’ and the local Wampanoag Indian tribe feasted for three days to celebrate their first successful harvest. Here we have the Fall Equinox Mabon and the harvest festival of Samhain interlaced with a ‘three day’ feasting festival. Some say the harvest celebration lasted longer as some colonists went from house to house throughout the colony within a weeklong celebration, similar to roaming spirits going to homes and receiving food from fearful or inviting residents; this of course being the origin for one of many modern Halloween (Samhain) traditions.
This one instance of giving thanks in 1621 was probably the first and last time that anyone celebrated what we would consider to be our modern Thanksgiving for years to come though. It wasn’t until around 1777 that the first nationwide celebration of giving thanks was actually observed. But this day wasn’t to necessarily celebrate the harvest as much as it was to celebrate the defeat of the British during the battle of Saratoga on September 19 and October 17th, 1777. The thanks of victory were displayed by a celebratory. One day after the initial battle victory on September 20th begins the Fall Equinox known as Mabon, and October 17th is a week out from the harvest festival of Samhain.
The belief that the Puritans – a person who is strict in moral or religious matters – started Thanksgiving as we know it, isn’t entirely true. Our modern-day view and celebration of Thanksgiving has little to do with Native Americans and more to do with victories during the Revolutionary War. The true thanks were to be given during the victory of battle, not always for bountiful harvests of food, although the victories were celebrated with feasts.
The first official American Thanksgiving was celebrated by the 13 colonies in order to honor the victory at the battle of Saratoga. Congress, in response to the surrender of British General Burgoyne, declared December 18th, 1777, as a national day for “solemn Thanksgiving and praise,” in recognition of the military success at Saratoga. It was the Nation’s first official observance of a holiday with the name Thanksgiving and is almost aligned with the Winter Solstice (Yule) on December 21st.
The very first national day of Thanksgiving was held in 1789 when President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26th, to be “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” to especially give thanks for the opportunity to form a new nation and along with the establishment of a new Constitution.
Yet, even after a national day of Thanksgiving was declared in 1789, it was still not an annual celebration.
On October 3rd, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared a “General Blessing” holiday to be on the last Thursday in November. This became one of the official Thanksgivings as we know it today.
Later, President FDR wanted to make this day a federal holiday. He wanted to move up the date of celebration so that it would allow a longer Christmas shopping season, and hopefully spur economic growth, and thus the birth of the modern Thanksgiving celebration, which ties into the underlying commercialized theme of most Sabbats today such as Samhain (Halloween), Yule (Christmas), Ostara (Easter), and Mabon (Thanksgiving).
When the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620s, they were not fully prepared for the harsh winter than awaited them. During the first meal of thanks, which was anywhere from a three-day to a weeklong festival, the food that was consumed wasn’t necessarily what we expect to be on the table at our modern day Thanksgiving. The menu likely included Seafood such as eel, lobster, fish, clams, and other shellfish, which were likely abundant. Some other meat like venison, which would have been roasted over an open fire, was most likely contributed by the Native Americans. Colonists also ate geese and ducks, which were much more plentiful. Turkey was present, but the term turkey was also used as a term to mean fowl in general. According to the website of the National Museum of the American Indian’s, some of this fowl was probably made into pies with cornmeal crusts.
Since the first Thanksgiving was essentially a celebration of the successful harvest, many fruits and vegetables were consumed. Fruits included currants, plums and dried fruit. There also would have been boiled pumpkin and native vegetables. It is believed that the Indians showed the pilgrims how to grow corn, so corn was used in such things as a flat corn bead, corn pudding and corn mush. Any bread that was eaten would likely have been sourdough or Cheate Bread – A Medieval English term meaning; whole wheat bread with the coarse bran removed.
Water may have been served, but it’s most likely beer was the drink of choice for everyone including the children. Despite the pilgrims’ modern image as being strictly puritan, beer was their main drink for celebrations. Initially, pilgrims made their beer from maize – corn beer – and later they added ingredients like molasses, pine and sassafras.
Certain things we associate with Thanksgiving today were not present at the first Thanksgiving. Most of the sugar and flour supply was gone, so there were no pastries, breads, pies or desserts of any kind. There were no potatoes or sweet potatoes either, and the cranberry was not present.
The cornucopia is strongly associated with the harvest festival and our decorations during the fall. It symbolizes food, abundance, and prosperity, all of which are associated with the bases of the Thanksgiving harvest festival. The cornucopia literally means Horn of Plenty. The horn possibly could be that of a goat, which the infant Zeus used to drink from. In the story of Zeus’ childhood it is told that he was sent away to a cave for safekeeping to prevent his father Cronus (Saturn) from eating him. This is similar to the Roman story of Saturn, where Saturn’s son Jupiter, Zeus in Greek, was foretold to overthrow his father. This only refers to the cycles that lead from birth to death. Eventually the son does overtake the father in the course of life. Sometimes it is said that a goat named Amalthea nursed him and sometimes a nymph of the same name who fed him on goat’s milk fostered that he.
There are various versions of the evolution of the cornucopia from a horn sitting on the head of the nurturing goat. One is that the goat tore it off herself to present it to Zeus; another that Zeus tore it off and gave it back to the Amalthea-goat promising her abundance. Another version is that it came from a river god’s head.
The cornucopia is most frequently associated with the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, but is also associated with other gods, including the Pluto. It is from the Greek mythological story of Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, that the ancients explained the changing of the seasons.
The Roman goddess of luck and fortune, Fortuna, was often depicted carrying a cornucopia and it thus became linked with her image. Lady Fortuna represented how life was subject to the whim of chance, good or ill. In ancient Roman times Fortuna was sought by many seeking good fortune and to avoid bad luck. It was because of this reason that the goddess Fortuna has acquired our modern interpretation as Lady Luck.
The concept of a harvest festival was not established because of the original settlers in Plymouth, the victories at Saratoga, or for any other reason. Harvest festivals and celebrations including feasts are as old as humanity and we have seen this throughout the previous chapters on the origins of modern holidays (ancient Holydays). There are several Native American harvest festivals that include dancing, singing, rituals, and prayer. One is the Green Corn Festival celebrated by the Cherokee, Seminole, and Iroquois, during the first full moon after the corn crops have matured. Again we have an association with the moon. There is even a New Moon Ceremony celebrated on the first new moon of October with feasts in thanks for the harvest.
It is a Cherokee tradition that the world was created in the autumn, which relates directly with the Druidic tradition of November 1st as their New Year.
The Origins of St. Patrick’s even stems from the Roman Catholic feast day of the patron saint of Ireland.
Whatever the origins are, it seems inappropriate to worship material in the way so many of us humans do. We cast out the natural world and replace it with manmade constructions. We are rarely thankful for anything and the best example of this is Black Friday where we will kill each other or fight over saving a few dollars on a television. People will camp out overnight to save money, and some celebrations of Thanksgiving are becoming shorter because people are lining up earlier and earlier every year to get a deal that usually isn’t even a great deal. It’s so sad how we have so much abundance, give no thanks for it, then celebrate a day called Thanksgiving and immediately after go buy more garbage we won’t be thankful for after just celebrating with a feast for things we have now, but we aren’t thankful for.
We pave over the land with roads and buildings and then place artificial grasses and trees in certain areas so that we feel like we really are not destroying that in which truly nourishes us. You may call her Mother Earth, the Goddess, or one of her many cultural names, but she is nature, what some would call god, and she is where we should direct our THANKS for the GIVING we receive from her.
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