Here we are again on the morning preceding the autumn equinox, and here I am again, waxing wordy and thoughtful about a seasonal turning that celebrates natural equilibrium, harvest and community.
The autumn equinox is a pivotal cosmic hinge wearing many names: Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio di Autunno and Alban Elfed, to name a few. Mabon is probably the most common of the bunch on this side of the Atlantic, but the connection between the Welsh hunter god and tomorrow is flimsy to say the least—Mabon's only likely link with the occasion is that it may have been his birth date, but we have no way of knowing. I can't help thinking that Ceres, Demeter, John Barleycorn, Lugh or Persephone would have been better candidates for a tutelary deity presiding over autumn harvest rites. Having said that, I remain fond of the "Great Son" of the Mabinogion, also a knight of the Round Table.
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, also the date of the old Norse New Year. For moderns, the autumn equinox marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. In Christian tradition, tomorrow's 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 (pictured above) is one of my favorite wildflowers. Seasonal patterns are reversed south of the equator, and this is the day before the vernal equinox (Ostara) down below.
The autumn equinox is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance and equilibrium—it is one of two astronomical coordinates in the whole year when day and night are (or rather seem to be) perfectly balanced in length. Like all the old festivals dedicated to Mother Earth, it is a liminal or threshold time, for we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.
One holds out hopeful thoughts on the autumn equinox, that skies overhead will be brilliantly blue and full of singing geese by day, that trees and vines and creepers will be arrayed in crimson and gold, and a splendid yellow moon visible against a blanket of stars by night. This time around, the moon will be a waning gibbous moon and a radiant presence in the sky a little after nine.
There is a yellow chrysanthemum on our threshold, and sometimes the flowers are accompanied by leaves fallen from the great oak nearby. The oak is our guardian tree, and the "mum" is our nod to the season, a homage of sorts. Together, oak trees, fallen leaves and blooms convey a silent benediction on anyone who knocks at our door, treads the cobblestones or just passes by in the street.
Tomorrow, we can be still for a few minutes, take time to think about and savor 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 harvesting and "putting by" to see us through the long winter nights to come. We can celebrate clan, tribe, community and sharing - all the fine old qualities that unite us in a dancing train spiraling on down the years, from our ancestors and their seasonal migrations to present times, and our own tattered motley selves.
Whatever you call it and however you choose to celebrate it (or not celebrate it), a very happy Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio