Mystic Symbols of the Harvest
Even though most of us don’t do any actual harvesting, we place many symbols of the harvest around our homes and tables when we decorate for Thanksgiving and other autumn holidays. Those cornucopias, wheat sheaves, acorns, leaves, and other harvest icons have a mystic significance that goes back many centuries, helping us to connect with the ancient roots of this beautiful time of year.
Find out which symbols invite the mystic power of abundance, fertility, wisdom, letting go, and love into your home this harvest season.
The word literally means “Horn of Plenty:“ from Cornu (horn) and Copiae (abundance, plenty). According to Greek myth, the baby god Zeus was nourished with milk from the goat goddess Amalthea. To reward her, the adult Zeus turned her into a constellation and gave one of her horns to the daughters of the King of Crete who had looked after him as an infant. This magical horn was perpetually filled with whatever food or drink its owners desired. The cornucopia was used to evoke abundance in ancient Greek and Roman art, and was usually shown overflowing with fruit, wheat, and flowers. If you want more abundance in your life, place a cornucopia overflowing with nuts, gourds, and other harvest fruits on your table and meditate on this affirmation: “In this moment, I have everything I need.”
For millennia, the acorn has symbolized the potential for great power in a small but potent package. The shape of the acorn is undeniably male, and it is of course linked to the oak, a strong and virile tree associated with both the Roman god Jupiter and the Celtic Druids. The oak was thought by the ancients to be the only tree that could consistently survive being hit by lightning; this and the abundance of acorns in some years make the acorn a perfect symbol for power, fertility, and survival. If your year was a difficult one, strew a few acorns around your table and take heart: there is great power in those small packages.
When they are no longer needed, the trees drop their leaves so gracefully, having first delighted us with their bright and fiery colors. Although nature seems dead in winter, the fallen leaves remind us that a rebirth in the form of new leaves will blossom once again when the time is right. But for now we can marvel and the intricacy and beauty of the leaves, and the wisdom of letting go of all that no longer serves us. As you place some leaves around your home, you may want to give some thought to any self-limiting beliefs or patterns you would like to let go of in the new year ahead.
Round, sweet, and perfect, with a tiny star of seeds hidden at its heart, the apple was originally an ancient symbol of the goddess of love, and of the sweetness of life. If you want to invite more feelings of love and sweetness into your life, apples are the symbol for you.
To early agricultural people, a good wheat harvest assured plenty of the bread that would keep the community alive throughout the winter. Wheat sheaves became symbols of the successful harvest, associated with all that is truly nourishing and life-affirming. A small sheaf of wheat would be a good choice for your home if you would like to feel more secure.
The kernel of anything is thought to be its most condensed and powerful essence, and nuts have been symbols of deep wisdom to many people throughout the ages. The ancient Celts associated particularly hazel nuts with the salmon of wisdom whose flesh conferred instant knowing of all things. Invite more wisdom into your life by placing a few nuts in a bowl or in your cornucopia.
For a Native American approach to harvest decorating, see the Sacred Four Directions Harvest Table.
You may also want to check out Bringing Autumn Nature Magic In – Decorating How To and
By Cait Johnson, co-author of Celebrating the Great Mother, (Inner Traditions, 1995).