October – Persimmon

October (Mensis October) is named for the Latin word “Octo” meaning “eight”. Its name dates back to the ancient 10-month lunar Calendar of Romulus (c. 738 BCE) when the year began in March and October was the eighth month. In 153 BCE the new year changed to January, October became the tenth month, but its name remained the same. This may be due to the fact that eight is a universal number of balance, transformation and infinity.

The most popular persimmons in the world (Diospyros Kaki) originated in China 10,000 years ago. It was domesticated around 200 BCE and brought to Japan and Korea in 600 CE. Asian persimmons, known as Kaki, are the national fruit of Japan. The cross-section of a Diospyros Kaki reveals an eight-pointed star or octagram. Eight is a universal sign of divine intervention and good fortune. In Buddhism, persimmons are symbolic of transformation.

Cross-section of an Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki).

Persimmons belong to the Diospyros genus within the Ebenaceae (ebony) family. The Diospyros genus features flowering trees with edible fruit (berries) and valuable wood (ebony). These trees are commonly known as persimmon or ebony trees. Persimmon trees offer a wide variety of edible fruits with light-colored wood or “white ebony”. Ebony trees like Diospyros ebenum also have small edible fruit, but they are more valued for their dense black wood, which is now endangered.

Persimmon trees with fruit in late October.

In 1775 Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thurnberg, a student of Carl Linnaeus, documented the plants of Japan. When he met the beloved persimmon tree, known as “kaki“, he noticed that they were often planted by temples and shrines. He officially named the genus Diospyros, based on the Greek words dios (divine) and pyros (food), meaning “divine food”.

Picking Persimmons (Kaki-mogi)– By Kitagawa Utamaro – c. 1802, Japan.

Edible persimmons are defined as astringent or non-astringent. There are at least 700 species in the Diospyros genus. Most edible species grow in the wild, while a few select species have been cultivated into different varieties that grow in sub-tropical or temperate regions of the world.

American persimmon – Diospryros virginiana.
  • Diospyros virginiana – (American persimmon) is native to eastern North America. It grows in the wild and produces small astringent fruit with seeds that ripens after the first frost. The name “persimmon” originated with the native Powhatan people of Virginia, who called it pasimenan, “dry fruit”. When English Colonists landed at Jamestown, VA in 1607, these Algonquian-speaking people helped them survive their first winters by introducing them to corn, squash and pasimenan. The English named it “persimmon”.
Date-plum – Diospryros lotus.
  • Diospyros lotus – (Date-plum or Caucasian persimmon) is native to the Caucasus region (area between Russia and Turkey), India, Pakistan and southeast Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain). It also grows in the wild and produces small astringent fruit with seeds, that ripen after the first frost. The date-plum is considered the “type species” within the Diospyros genus. It may be the fruit of the “lotus-eaters”, a race of people in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey – Book IX. The ancient Greeks also called it Dios pyros (Zeus’s fruit).
  • Diospyros kaki – (Kaki or Asian persimmon) is the most widely grown persimmon in the world. Due to its long history of cultivation, there are nearly 2000 varieties of Kaki growing in sub-tropical and temperate regions around the globe. The most popular varieties are the non-astringent Fuyu cultivar and the astringent Hachiya cultivar, which are considered seedless.
Asian persimmon – Diospryros kakiFuyu variety.

Persimmons may look like a cross between an apple and a tomato, but it’s not related to either one. When ripe, its flavor can be compared to pears, dates, apricots, gingerbread and pumpkin. They are filled with nutrients such as: Vitamins A, B, C, E, K, plus Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

The non-astringent Fuyu variety resembles a pumpkin, with its round-orange body and green stem. Fuyu’s are seedless and can be eaten directly from the tree like an apple, even before the first frost. Fuyu persimmons are always sweet vs astringent, making them a perfect fruit to slice into salads or served with yogurt, cheese, nuts, chocolate etc.

Sharon persimmon – Diospyros kakiSharon variety.

The larger, heart-shaped Hachiya persimmon, is an astringent variety that is higher in tannins, which gives it a dry, bitter taste. Hachiya aren’t edible until they are fully ripe, which occurs in late October thru November. In Japan, unripe Hachiya are dried into a sweet treat known as Hoshigaki. Hoshigaki “dry persimmon” is given as gifts to family and friends for longevity and good luck.

In China, astringent varieties of persimmon are ritually eaten during the festival of “Frost’s Descent” in late October. The astringent taste disappears after the first frost, making them sweet and soft. “Frost’s Descent” is also a final warning to farmers to harvest their crops, because the “death of the year” is upon them.

Persimmon tree during “Frosts Descent” in Beijing In China.

American persimmons have been harvested after the first frost for thousands of years by the Algonquin, Cree, Delaware and other native people. They knew to wait for the fruit to mature into a sweet ripe persimmon that could be eaten directly or turned into puddings. The pulp was mixed with corn meal and ground acorns to make breads and soups. The bark and syrup were used as medicine for sore throats and colds, while the wood was used to make longbows and arrows.

American persimmon seed (Diospyros virginiana).

Persimmons were used to “divine” the weather in the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. This was done by cutting a persimmon seed in half and observing the image inside. If it was spoon-shaped the winter would bring heavy wet snow. If fork-shaped the winter would be mild with light snow. A knife-shape indicated a winter with icy sharp winds. The art of “divination” is an ancient practice of “seeking knowledge of the unknown by supernatural means”.

Twilight hours of Samhain – All Hallow’s Eve – Halloween.

In Northern Europe, “Summer’s End” (October 31) was called Samhain (sah-win). It fell directly between the Fall Equinox (September 22) and the Winter Solstice (December 21). It defined the end of the lighter-half (summer) of the year and the beginning of the darker-half (winter). The evening of Samhain was a time when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest. This “thinning of the veil” allowed spirits to travel back to their homes and land for one special night. Candles were lit and food was set out to welcome the spirits/souls of loved ones. In contrast frightening faces were carved into root vegetables to ward off unwelcome spirits. Bonfires were lit in fields and hilltops, families drank ale and danced around the fire to honor their dead ancestors and rid the land of evil spirits.

Samhain is one of eight spokes in the “solar wheel” or “wheel of the year”. It’s based on the four directions of the Solstices and Equinoxes and the four “in-between” points. This eight-spoked wheel is similar to the eight-pointed star found in the cross-section of a persimmon, which resembles the sun.

The solar wheel represents at least 2000 years of shared stories between Celtic, Gaelic, Germanic, Norse, Welsh and Anglo-Saxon people. Many of their old traditions still exist today.

  • Samhain (Halloween) – October 31-November 1 – Northwest
  • Yule (Winter Solstice) – December 21 – North
  • Imbolc (Candlemas) – February 1-2 – Northeast
  • Ostara/Ostre (Spring Equinox) – March 20 – East
  • Beltane (May Day) – May 1 – Southeast
  • Litha (Summer Solstice) – June 21 – South
  • Lughnasadh (Lammas) – August 1 – Southwest
  • Mabon (Fall Equinox) – September 22 – West

By 43 CE, the Roman Empire combined their celebrations of the dead with Samhain, along with a harvest festival in honor of Pomona (goddess of fruit trees). Apples were the “fruit of immortality” to Northern Europeans, and sacred to Pomona. Since apples were the last tree fruits to be harvested, they were often used in divining rituals and games.

Pomona – by Nicolas Fouche. – c. 1700

After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE, the Roman Catholic Church emerged as a strong governing force in both political and religious affairs throughout Europe. The Church began to usurp “pagan” feast days into Christian holy days.

Note: A “Pagan” is a country dweller. “Feast Days” became known as festivals. “Holy Days” became holidays.

In 609 – the Church declared November 1 as “All Martyr’s Day”. Eventually 1000’s of Catholic saints and martyrs were canonized by popular demand. This created 1000’s of “Feast Days” that commemorated the day a saint or martyr died.

In 837 – Pope Gregory IV declared Nov 1 as “All Saints Day”, also known as “All-Hallows mas”, to allow all saints to be honored in one day. This was followed by the creation of “All Soul’s Day” on Nov 2. All Soul’s Day was a day to pray for the “faithful souls” who were in purgatory.

All-Saints Altarpiece – by Fra Angelico – c. 1420, Italy.

By 1471, the Church officially designated Allhallowtide, (All Holy Time) as a three-day festival dedicated to honoring all deceased “holy” saints and all “faithful” souls. All Hallows Eve (Halloween) was the official name of the evening before All Saint’s Day.

  • October 31 – All Hallows Eve – an evening of prayer and preparation.
  • November 1 – All Hallowsmas (All Saints’ Day) – a day to honor holy saints.
  • November 2 – All Souls’ Day – to remember the faithfully departed.

Note: Die de los Metros, or Day of the Dead is also observed on Nov 1-2.

October 31, 1517, is also known as “Reformation Day”, when the Protestant Reformation officially began. Martin Luther chose this day to nail “The 95 Theses” on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He believed that neither the Pope nor the Church had any authority over a person’s soul. He challenged the Church’s concept of purgatory and the selling of indulgences to “buy a soul’s salvation”. He also challenged the idolatry of saints.

The Catholic Church responded by commissioning “Counter-Reformation” art to quell Protestant accusations. This included austere paintings of St. Francis of Assisi (b. 1181 – d. 1226) as a symbol of humility and devotion. These paintings had St. Francis gazing at a skull or standing with a skull near his feet. The skull represented death and the sacrificial choice between heaven and hell.

St. Francis in Prayer – Painting by Caravaggio – c. 1606.

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII chose October 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis, to implement the Gregorian calendar. The outdated Julian calendar of 45 BCE, had drifted by ten days (due to the precession of the equinoxes). The fixed date of the Spring Equinox (March 21) no longer aligned with the true astronomical date (March 11). To keep the Spring Equinox on March 21, ten days were removed, which meant that Thursday, October 4, 1582 was directly followed by Friday, October 15 in 1582. That year, the date of All Hallow’s Eve on October 31 remained the same, creating the illusion that ten days just disappeared into “thin air”.

Snap Apple Night (Festival of Hallow Eve) – by Daniel Maclise – c. 1833, Ireland.

In England, All Hallow’s Eve was a time of “souling” when children went door-to-door begging for “soul-cakes” apples or nuts. In return, they recited a prayer or sang a song. In Ireland and Scotland people played a variety of divination games, including “snap-apple” and “apple bobbing”.

When the English and Dutch moved to the America’s in search of religious freedom, the native people introduced them to new foods such as pumpkins, squash, corn and persimmons.

By the 1800’s, a flood of Irish, English, Scottish and Germans arrived. They transformed Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve into Halloween. Pumpkins were now carved versus turnips. Children began to dress in costumes looking for candies, apples and other goodies.

Halloween pumpkins are carved into glowing jack-o-lanterns.

The traditional colors of Halloween are orange and black, which happen to be the colors of persimmon and ebony. It’s not hard to imagine bringing persimmons into our late October festivities.

Ripening persimmons in late October.

October is a month of honoring those who have passed before us, and to care for those who are among us. It is also a month of good fortune as we harvest the fruits of our labor and prepare for the year ahead.

Gathering persimmons.

Samhain chant: “A year of beauty. A year of plenty. A year of planting. A year of harvest. A year of forests. A year of healing. A year of vision. A year of passion. A year of rebirth. This year may we renew the earth. Let it begin with each step we take. Let it begin with each change we make. Let it begin with each chain we break. And let it begin every time we awake.” 

Ideas for October:

  • Make an altar to honor your deceased loved ones.
  • Place their favorite fall foods and flowers on the altar.
  • Light a candle in their honor.
  • If you haven’t eaten a persimmon now is the time.
  • Eat a persimmon with your eyes closed.
  • Create a new tradition by bringing persimmons into your home.
  • Make persimmon bread, cake or smoothies.
  • Talk a walk or ride to enjoy all the colors of fall.
  • Breathe in – the beauty of this sacred time of year.
  • Breathe out – with the intention to transform.
  • Connect with your infinite and divine essence.
  • Reach out to those who are feeling alone or lost.
  • Seek the wisdom that is waiting in the dark corners of our life.

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