Modern Date : August 15th
Ante Diem XVIII Kalendas September
Eighteenth Day to the Kalends of September
This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.
On this day in 605 BCE, Nabopolossar, the king of Babylon, died.
Octavian celebrated the third of his triple triumphs on this day in 29 BC.
On this day in 383 AD, the emperor Gratian was murdered in Gaul, and Maximus became emperor.
The emperor Honorius died this day in 423 AD.
In 636 AD on this day the Byzantine army was defeated by the Mooslems, who captured all of Syria.
August was originally called Sextilis, or the sixth month (after March). It was renamed in honor of Augustus Caesar, the most revered of the Roman emperors.
Mercury Goes Direct
On this day Mercury "goes direct," reversing his apparent backward movement since July 22. Difficulties in Mercury-ruled areas of communications, transportation and commerce begin to lift now.
End of the Dog Days
In the annual solar calendar this is an important festival day, doubly auspicious this year because the New Moon also falls on this day. 8/15 is a major weather marker because it marks the end of the ferociously hot dog days of July and August, and begins the time of cooling toward the harvest. This day has thus been observed as a major festival in traditions all over the world. Among this day's feasts:
Japanese Obon Festival
People all over the country dance, sing and drink. They also light huge bonfires in the shapes of kanji (Chinese characters) and Buddhist symbols to help orientate and redirect the lost souls who are blowing about in the heavens, and point them toward Amida, the Pure Land, the Western Paradise. Obon is Japan's festival of family reunion and remembrance. Everyone eats the departed ones' favorite foods, and puts out plates for them, sings their favorite songs, tells the stories and jokes about them, and refreshes the family's memory. One may envision Japan as a place where on this day tens of millions of families celebrate by looking up at their ancestors, many millions of whom are using the kanji for the ship or the law to aim themselves once again in the direction of Amida Buddha's Land. Gambarimasu. (They keep going.) They will never give up.
In the Japanese Shinto calendar, this day is Kaze Matsuri, in honor of the Kami (divine principle) of Wind.
Festival of Candles or Torches
Among the ancient Greeks, this is a day of purification. It is the annual feast of the virgin huntress Artemis (Diana), protector of women against rapists and other violent men. In the Greek solar calendar 8/15 is also the second and climactic day of a three-day festival honoring the Erinyes, the Furies who purify the Earth of all murderers and oppressors. The Feast of the Furies was one of several annual cleansing rites done in preparation for the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. This day's special identity as a feast of purity may be one reason why early Christians chose it to mark the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Diana’s chief festival was called the Festival of Candles or Torches. Her groves shone with a multitude of torches on this day. This day is still celebrated as a Festival of Candles, but the Church now claims it for the Virgin Mary.
Feast of the Assumption
Roman Catholics observe August 15th as the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who never suffered physical death and corruption, but was taken directly into heaven.
Very early on, the Catholic church chose August 15th (which would be the full moon of August if the new moon fell (as it did when the months were lunar) on the first of the month) to honor the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was proclaimed a holiday throughout the Roman Empire by Emperor Maurice around 600 in the East, and about 50 years later in the West. The story of Mary's Assumption derives from ancient stories called the Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, which were written in Syria at the beginning of the third century (or about 150 years after the event they relate). The story of "The Departure of My Lady Mary from this World" tells how Mary was lifted up into Heaven bodily, in other words, she did not die, but became immortal. In honor of this event, the Apostles proclaimed a holiday in her honor which is explicitly connected with the very crops which Artemis and Hecate were invoked to protect at the full moon of August:
"And the apostles also ordered that there should be a commemoration of the Blessed One on the thirteenth Ab (August), on account of the vines bearing bunches of grapes and on account of the trees bearing fruit, that clouds of hail, bearing stones of wrath, might not come, and the trees be broken and the vines with their clusters."
Mary's Assumption supposedly took place at Ephesus, where she was living under the care of the apostle, John. Ephesus was one of the most famous sanctuaries of Artemis, the home of the famous statue of Artemis with many breasts, symbolizing the productive and nurturing powers of the earth. Mary, who is also well known for her nurturing and protecting qualities (she is so tender-hearted she cannot deny any sincere request for help), was clearly carrying on this role.
Because of her assumption into heaven, she is the patron of airplane pilots and crews. The Greek Orthodox Church has kept the older name of the feast, the Dormition, which means Falling Asleep, which perhaps makes her the patron of narcoleptics. The Assumption may reflect the earlier legends about the Virgin associated with the constellation Virgo who ascended into Heaven out of disgust for the moral decay of the world.
As early as the 10th century, the aroma of herbs and flowers was associated with Mary's victory over death and people brought medicinal herbs and plants to church (periwinkle, verbena, thyme) to be incensed and blessed, bound into a sheaf and kept all year to ward off illness, disaster and death. Naogeorgus, a Protestant sceptic who wrote many scathing poems about Popish rituals, had this to say about the Assumption:
The blessed virgin Mary's feast, hath here his place and time
Wherein departing from the earth, she did the heavens climb:
Great bundles then of herbs to Church, the people fast do bear,
The which against all hurtful things, the Priest doth hallow there.
Thus kindle they and nourish still, the peoples' wickedness
And vainly make them to believe, whatever they express:
For sundry witchcrafts, by these herbs are wrought and diverse charms.
And cast into the fire, are thought to drive away all harms,
And ever painful grief from man, or beast for to expel
Far otherwise than nature, or the word of God does tell.
In central Europe, this was called Our Lady's Herb Day. Nelson (To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration, Paulist Press 1986), also describes making a special feast for her family on Assumption consisting of food from her own garden, served on a table set with bouquets of garden flowers and herbs. She finds prayers and readings about Mother earth, including anthropological descriptions of people at one with nature and in love with the earth. The meal ends with several rounds of Salve, Regina, a rousing Catholic hymn to the Queen of Heaven. At the community celebration at her church, a special bread is served that is filled with seeds in honor of the fruitfulness of the season: sunflower seeds, soaked wheat berries, poppy seeds, some anise and fennel and maybe even cardamom.
When in 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption, the belief that Mary had been taken up to heaven, there was great consternation. How naïve! How medieval! But Carl Jung understood that this proclamation was one of the most important religious events since the Reformation. It brought the image of the divine feminine back into the light. The Queen of Heaven was being acknowledged once again and given her right place. The masculine Trinity had become a feminine Quaternity. This event preceded the women's liberation movement and the renewal of Goddess worship.
The flower of this holiday is the fragrant virgin's bower (clematis virginiana).
This was the start of "Our Lady's 30 Days", a time when animals and plants lost their harmful qualities and all food was wholesome, which ran until September 15th, about the same time as the constellation Virgo is honored in the zodiac. This period of benevolence coincides with the seven weeks following the full moon of the Jewish month of Av, which were called the Weeks of Comfort . The readings for these weeks are comforting, promising peace and prosperity. They also echo the sense of relief following the dangerous period of the Dog Days which end between August 11th and the 15th.
In Greece, the Assumption, usually called the Dormition or Kimesis (Sleeping), is the most important of the summer holidays, during a month devoted to Mary. Icons depict Mary dead on a bier, with Christ behind her, holding her soul in his arms like an infant.
Patricia Storace's (Dinner with Persephone, Pantheon 1996) friend Stamatis has a cynical and fascinating view of the political ramifications of this holiday.
"This holiday is about the death of woman as goddess, and the appopriation of her divinity by Christ, who becomes a greater mother than his mother, the male mother who gives immortal life, the great gift men waited in vain for women to give, holding his own infant mother in his arms. You can find this appropriation of womanhood in the sacraments—in holy communion, for instance, when Christ's flesh and blood become food, previously the magic of the female mother. But her milk nourishes children who will die, and his blood, replacing her milk, gives immortal life to those who drink it. And baptism, in which the child is reborn, with even the new amniotic fluid of holy water, through a man. Christ, the divine transvestite, is the mother who makes the child live forever. This is why the Orthodox Church—and the Roman—are so vehemently opposed to women priests. It destroys the magic substitution they made to obtain immortal life… If a creature who can become pregnant touches the flesh of Christ, she will render his body mortal, the old failure of her pagan divinity may corrupt his, and return him to manhood from deity, as she was returned to womanhood from deity..."
This is the main attack on woman and paganism by the Christian church and the main justification for denying the divinity of women. In many religious cultures women have no soul. The battle for the world was originally was the battle of the sexes. Once man conquered woman, he set about destoying himself and his environment. The modern pagan movement hopes to restore the balance between masculine and feminine.
Storace debates about where to celebrate the Kimesis, the island of Kefallonia, where in one village dozens of snakes, called "the snakes of the Virgin," slither over the icons, the offerings and the congregation or ceremonies in other parts of Greece where the Dormition is celebrated like Easter with funeral ceremonies and processions for Mary, like those marking Christ's death at Easter. She decides to take a ferry to Militini. In the lounge on the way there, the radio announcer is listing the praises of the Virgin:
She has been the fellow warrior and benefactress of our race, the holy guide and the sweetly kissing one during our struggles and suffering, the tender mother and the fierce defender of whoever needs her. We call her the Guide, the Sweetly Kissing One, the Life Giver, the Portrait, the Athenian Woman, the Woman of the Sea, the Panegyriotissa, the Virgin of the Festivals, the Peoniotissa, the Virgin of the Melons, when her church is near melon patches, the Virgin of the Cold Waters, when her church is near a spring. But whatever name we call her, she is the mother of Greece and of the Greek people.
St Mary's Feast of Harvest
In Scotland, the date of Mary's Assumption is known as St Mary's Feast of Harvest. A special bannock is made from ears of new corn which are dried in the sun, husked by hand, ground with stones, kneaded on a sheepskin, made into a cake and baked on a fire of magical rowan wood. Each member of the family eats a piece of the bannock in order by age and all walk sunwise around the fire. The embers are gathered into a pot and carried sunwise around the farm and field while saying this charm:
I went sunways around my dwelling
In the name of Mother Mary
Who promised to preserve me
Who did protect me
Who will preserve me
In peace, in flocks, in righteousness of heart
Our Lady of the Navigators
In Brazil, this holiday honors the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Navigators. Decorated canoes containing musicians travel through the waterways between villages, providing entertainment and accepting contributions.
The maritime element of the festival also shows up in the Maritime provinces of Canada where the priest blesses the decorated boats of the fleet as they sail past the dock.
Swami Srila Prabhupada
August 15 is also the birthday of Swami Srila Prabhupada, founder of the Krishna Consciousness movement.