This is September 21, traditionally celebrated as Mabon or the Autumn Equinox and one of the three observances dedicated to the harvest, the other two being Lughnasadh (or Lammas) which fell on August 1 and Samhain (or Halloween) which will follow in a few weeks time on October 31. This year, the actual astronomical date of the Equinox falls on Friday, September 23, but many celebrate on September 21 year in and year out, and so here I am this morning, waxing thoughtful about a cosmic event that celebrates natural equilibrium, harvest and community.
Today goes by many names: Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio di Autunno (Strega), Meán Fómhair, and in Druidic tradition, Alban Elfed, to name just a few. Mabon is the name by which Autumn Equinox ritual observances are most widely known, but the connection between the Welsh hunter god and September 21 is flimsy to say the least - Mabon's only discernible link with the Autumn Equinox is that it may have been the date of his birth, but we don't know for sure. Lugh, Demeter, Ceres, Persephone or even John Barleycorn might have been better choices as a deity presiding over autumn equinox rites. South of the equator seasonal patterns are reversed (of course), and this day is celebrated as Ostara or the Spring Equinox.
In the old Teutonic calendar, the Autumn Equinox marked the beginning of the Winter Finding, a ceremonial interval lasting until Winter Night on October 15, and it was also the date of the old Norse New Year. In Christian tradition, the festival is closely associated with St. Michael the Archangel - his feast takes place a few days from now on September 25 and is known for obvious reasons as Michaelmas. The purple Michaelmas Daisy with its golden heart is one of my favorite flowers ever. Today is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance - this is one of only two days in the whole turning year when day and night are perfectly balanced in length. Like all the old festivals dedicated to Mother Earth, this is a liminal or threshold time, for we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.
A ballad by Bob Dylan always comes to mind around this time of the year: "The Times They Are a-Changin". Written for Dylan's third studio album in 1963, his anthem of change was an inchoate expression of the tumult of the times and particularly the civil rights movement, and it presaged by only a few weeks the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The lyrics were inspired to some extent by the Book of Ecclesiastes, and Dylan added a reference to Mark 10:31: "But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." Critics claimed that Dylan's creation was outdated the minute it was published, but his words have always seemed timeless to me, as appropriate for present seasonal turnings as they were for the turbulent social and political movements of the sixties. Dylan's friend Pete Seeger later adapted passages from Ecclesiastes to write his own folk anthem "Turn, Turn, Turn!.
One holds out hopeful thoughts on the day of the Autumn Equinox - she hopes that the skies overhead will be brilliantly blue and full of singing geese, the confetti clouds high and the waxing moon visible as the sun goes down, that trees and vines and creepers will be arrayed in ruby and russet and gold. As always in this season, there is a bronze chrysanthemum on our threshold, and this morning it is graced by a single fallen oak leaf. The plant is my own nod to the seasons and a homage of sorts.
On this day of color and richness and equilibrium, we can be still for a moment and acknowledge our bond with the place where we have been planted this time around. We can offer up thanks for home and hearth, for the bounty we are reaping and "putting by" to see us through the long nights of winter. We can celebrate clan and tribe and community and sharing - all the fine old qualities that unite us in a dancing train spiraling on down the years from the ancestors to the present day and ourselves.
Whatever you call it, a very happy Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio di Autunno, Meán Fómhair and Alban Elfed to you and your clan.