1st Month of Autumn

  1. In the first month of autumn, the tail of the Great Bear points to the west.
  2. Autumn occupies the west. The fullness of power is in Metal.[i] Its will of life is grief, its power balance and its virtue is justice.
  3. The correspondences of this month are the days geng and xin, the Sovereign Shaohao, his assisting spirit Rushou, the creatures that are hairy, the musical note shang, the pitch-pipe known as Tranquil Pattern, the number nine, the taste of pungent, the smell of rotten and rank, and the sound of weep. The domestic animal is the dog; the weapon is the halberd.
  4. Sacrifices are made to the spirits of the gate[ii]; in sacrifice, the liver is offered first.
  5. The trigram of the West is Tui, Lake. “The Joyous is mid-autumn, which rejoices all creatures…[iii] The Joyous…is a sorceress [a woman who speaks]…It means smashing and breaking apart; it means dropping off and bursting open.”[iv]
  6. In the period of Beginning of Autumn, cool winds arrive, the white dew descends and autumn insects sing their last songs. In the period of End of Heat, hawks hunt songbirds, punishments and executions begin and corn is harvested and offered to the spirits.[v]
  7. The Son of Heaven is the Wolf.[vi] He wears white robes and white jade pendants. He rides in a chariot pulled by white horses and flies a white banner. He resides in the chambers of the west. He drinks waters gathered from the eight winds and cooks with fires kindled with cedar branches. His dishes are angular and deep; from them, he eats hempseed and dog flesh.
  8.  His consorts also wear white garments and play upon bells, gongs and cymbals.[vii]
  9. On the first day of autumn[viii], the Son of Heaven leads the ceremony known as “Establishing the Autumn at the western altar. Upon his return to the court, he rewards his warriors and their leaders.
  10. The Son of Heaven commands his officers to seek out the most valiant warriors. Their work is to punish the oppressive and cruel thus encouraging the ‘waxing of the baleful qi’.[ix] These orders and their influence must extend to the furthest reaches of the land. At this time, laws and regulations are codified. Prisons are repaired, criminal cases are judged and depravity no longer tolerated.
  11. The hexagram of this month is P’i, Standstill. “Heaven and Earth do not unite.[x] The shadowy is within; the light without; weakness is within, firmness without; the inferior within, the superior without.”[xi]
  12. In this month, the farmers present newly-harvested grain to the Son of Heaven. In ritual, he tastes the new grain after first offering it to the spirits.
  13. The Son of Heaven commands that his officials begin to gather and store the harvest, that dikes and embankments are made strong, and walls and structures, great and small are put in good repair.
  14. In this month, there may be no grants of titles or costly gifts. Land may not be partitioned nor diplomatic missions sent abroad.
  15. Heaven and Earth now begin to be severe; it is no longer permissible to act with mildness. If the ordinances for this month are enacted, cool winds will arrive in thirty days.
  16. If in this first month of autumn, the rituals of winter were enacted, Yin would prevail, bringing devouring insects and invading armies. If the rituals of spring were enacted, Yang would prevail outside of its season, bringing drought and dearth. If in this month, the rituals of summer were enacted, wild fires would rampage, cold and heat would know no limits and the people suffer fever and sickness.
  17. The tree of the seventh month is the basswood.[xii]
  18. Its medicinal plant is boneset.[xiii]
  19. The messenger of Heaven is the sharp-shinned hawk.[xiv]
  20. This month is governed by the Armory.

[i] This reference is found in the Yueling.

[ii] While the Yueling refers to the god of the door (the same as in spring), this is a mistranslation of the character. In spring, the character is hu [door], in autumn men [gate]. This is consistent with the association of the Po with doors and Hun with gates hence the sacrificial offerings of lung and liver respectively.

[iii] I Ching, p.272.  References to the trigrams were not included in the original almanacs.

[iv] I Ching, p. 279

[v] In all the almanacs, there are references to “Omens and portents from the world of living creatures: signs of the changing year [monthly]. See p.220 of Major, J. S. (1993). Heaven and earth in early Han thought: Chapters three, four and five of the Huainanzi. Albany: State University of New York Press. I have modified the omens and portents through personal research and observation of Nature in these periods as well as reference to Heiner Fruehauf’s “Correlative Cosmology in Chinese medicine”.

[vi] Given that the original texts describe the thearch’s steed as a dragon, I have continued this “aura of ritual magic” (Major, p.226). The emperor in each season is represented by a resonant North American species.  The creatures of autumn are hairy, thus the wolf.

[vii] The Yueling cites bells- I have included two other traditional instruments made from metal.

[viii] The Yueling refers to this ceremony occurring on the first day of autumn (which is logical). On the other hand, the Li chi and the Lüshi chunqiu speak of this ceremony occurring at some point in the first month. In all likelihood, there is no conflict as the first day of each season would be calculated anew each year rather than having a set date.

[ix] Yueling, p.241

[x] I Ching, p.53

[xi] I Ching, p.447. While references to the hexagrams relating to each month were not included in the original almanacs, I believe they bring another layer of understanding to the movement and manifestations of qi in the relevant month.

[xii] Basswood is also known as lime or linden. The wood of this tree is similar in nature to the tung tree found in the original almanacs.

[xiii] The addition of medicinal plants is purely my own- it is based on the actions of the plants and their resonance with the season. Boneset blooms at this time- it is a febrifuge and diaphoretic, acting upon the Lung’s control of the pores.

[xiv] The ‘messenger of Heaven’ is another addition based on personal observation of Nature. Birds are chosen by their arrival times, characteristics and resonance with the season. Sharp-shinned hawks love bird feeders because they provide birds (not birdseed). This predilection is resonant with the movement of the first month of autumn.

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