October is my favourite month. It has a ripe fruitfulness no other month has. The smell of the turning leaves is intoxicating; the conkers on the ground are heart-warming; the autumnal sun at its most golden and the Hunters’ Moon is the sign that winter is about to arrive.
In Anglo-Saxon times October was known as Winterfilleth, a name made from ‘winter’ and ‘full moon‘ indicating the end of autumn and the start of hard times ahead. As soon as the full moon appeared, winter had arrived.
The full moon in October was known as the Hunters’ Moon. As the harvest was usually over (or just about save for the nuts) the Dark Ages folk spent their days hunting and hawking as there were no more crops left to tend. At this time meat was important. A lot of vegetables would not last the winter but meat could be dried and salted so a good supply was essential to ensure survival for everyone.
Large herds of deer roamed the Anglo-Saxon landscape, as well as boar. For those who had the skills to hunt these animals, their larders would be full enough to see them and their families through the dark days. However, hunting boar was difficult as they were intelligent and aggressive creatures. Still are, I suppose, although they were hunted to extinction a few hundred years after the Dark Ages, in the thirteenth century. Hunting boar and deer became a sport that involved the skilful use of weapons such as the spear and bow. The hunts numbered many men and horses and deaths were frequent, especially during the boar hunt.
Hawking was definitely a sport for the nobles. Falcons, hawks and eagles (for royalty) caught smaller birds for the rich man’s pot. There was an active trade in birds of prey, too. Vikings captured and trained these birds in Scandinavia and sold them on to the British aristocracy and the royal house throughout northern Europe.
The next month, November, was known as Blood Month according to Bede. This was because the Anglo-Saxon peoples sacrificed their livestock. The chances of them making it through the winter were low because the folk needed any vegetation for themselves. So the logical thing would be to slaughter the beasts (sheep, pigs, goats and cattle) and dedicate them to the gods for safe measure. Could only work in their favour after all. Then the meat would be dried or salted and consumed throughout winter.
No doubt some of it was saved for the Yuletide celebrations at the time of the solstice. But that’s another story.