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Today is our Mary Day celebration. Close to the end of summer, on August 15th, we make time on that day to celebrate and honor the sacred feminine in our home and our lives. Usually it’s late lunch with close friends and family.  It’s a tradition that comes in some part from a catholic education but one that has developed through the years as unique and particular to personal experiences and a clearer understanding of the place ritual holds in our tribe. In Italy, Ferragosto starts today, and marks the beginning of the grand Italian summer vacation season.  Whole Italian cities are deserted as the fuga towards sea and mountains leave unprepared tourists on their own.  And so it is in many areas of catholic Europe.  The origin of the liberating vacation however, is the holy day commemorating Assumption of Mary into the Heavens, a festival that dates back to the 4th century.

In Italy, L’Assunzione is celebrated with great processions, feasts and celebration, especially in the south.  The second Palio of Siena, the yearly horse race around the piazza in that Tuscan city is run in Mary’s honor.

In southern Germany too,  with mid-August comes the Mary celebrations with particular attention to the ancient tradition of herb bundling.  My Bosnian grandmother, already well practiced in herb medicine in her own country, let me help her with preparations for the Bavarian MariaHimmelfahrt celebrations by gathering flowers and herbs, some which came from her garden.   The most important healing herbs are particularly potent and ripe at this time of the year and are harvested days before the Assumption mass. The gathering of herbs in the villages serves as a reminder of traditions with origins in ancient pagan rituals and also their common usage as healing aids. Wise women, have used herbs to heal, ward off bad weather, misfortune and spirits since the beginning of community.

bundle graphic

The consecration of herbs in the church celebrations is an important custom tied to the ancient harvest festivals.  Also, specific for this day Marian legend records state that when the apostles came to Mary’s tomb to collect the body, in its place were flowers and herbs.  The perfume of these was reportedly miraculous and became a symbol of her divinity and so the related herb traditions were set firm in the Catholic church.

Customarily seventy-seven different herbs are to bound together to make the ‘Mary bundle’ for the assumption church altar. The most well known herbs are Mullein, St John’s Wort, Tansy, Yarrow Sage, Marigold, Mugwort, Oregano,

bundle women

 

Master root, verbena thyme,  and horsetail. In addition, cereal grains and garden herbs such as Borage, Tarragon, Lovage, Wormwood, Lemon balm, Lavender and Marjoram are woven into the bundles too. The faithful come carrying the herbs accompanied their families and often bring prized cows and farm animals as well – asking for blessings from the priest.

bundle cow

The cultivation of herbs, though in revival – is mostly a dying art. The wisdom of how to use them has drastically dissipated except in villages. One remaining example of the herb cult is the festival of the assumption. Bavarian village women continue to follow the tradition of bundling the sacred flowers for consecration and as talismans, but as the women pass on, so does the tradition.

As we live lives ever more removed from nature, even the herbs and flowers themselves are hard to find anywhere near our homes or hearts.  In Bavaria, when the official Mary day ceremonies are over, the bundles are put in the attic or basement to ward off disruptive spirits, to dispel disease and unrest in the farm animals and to calm the nerves.

It is also a custom to put a bundle on the grave of a loved one as a sign of love beyond death.

Flower & herb bundle

bundleAre there special rituals you participate in to bring nature and the feminine traditions into your daily life?