Tuesday, September 22, 2009

For the Autumn Equinox

Today is the Autumn Equinox, and it marks the second of three observances dedicated to the harvest, the other two being the earlier Lughnasadh on August 1 and Samhain (or Halloween) which follows on October 31.

We know this day 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 these days, but the connection between the Welsh hunter god and this day is flimsy to say the least. Mabon's only discernible link with the Autumn Equinox is that he is reputed to have been born on this day. Lugh, Demeter, Ceres, Persephone or John Barleycorn would have been better choices as a deity presiding over the Autumn Equinox. South of the equator seasonal patterns are reversed, 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, 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, known for obvious reasons as Michaelmas.

The term "equinox" describes an astronomical co-ordinate, and the expression "Autumn (or Fall) Equinox" describes the day on which the sun seems to pass directly over the equator on a long journey southward, moving away from our northern hemisphere. Of course, things are actually the other way around, and it is the earth which is in motion, with the northern hemisphere tilting away from the sun at this time of the year. The tilting is caused by a slight wobble or in astronomical lingo precess, and as a result, the earth is actually about 23 degrees and 27 minutes off true perpendicular as it spins merrily on its own axis. Earth's wobble determines how many hours of daylight and darkness we receive at various times of the year, and it gives rise to the four glorious seasons which constitute our calendar year.

The day is about abundance and harvest, but it is also about balance, for 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, this is a liminal or threshold time, for we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.

Autumn skies overhead are brilliant blue and full of singing geese; the leaves of tree and vine and creeper are turning ruby, russet, burgundy and gold. There is vibrant color everywhere, and wherever I turn, I am dazzled and entranced. My larder is slowly filling up with quart sealers of tomatoes and squash, wax beans and pickles, relishes and preserves, and those who know me will probably not be surprised to learn that the pantry is arranged by color and designed to be a feast for the eye as well as the palate.

On this day of color and richness and equilibrium, we can be still for a moment and acknowledge our bond with the hallowed earth. We can offer up thanks for the dear little blue planet which is our home, and for the autumn bounty bestowed by Mama Gaia, that which we are reaping and "putting by" to see us through the long nights of winter. On this day, we may also rightfully celebrate clan and tribe and community and sharing - all of the fine old qualities which unite us in a dancing chain 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.


Pablo said...

Happy Autumn Equinox to you, too.

SunTiger said...

I liked your entry so much I provided a link to your blog from http://CyberCoven.blogspot.com. Thank you for such interesting reminders about what Mabon is all about.

Shell said...

Happy Harvest Home to you too. I love this season so much.

Delphyne said...

Joanna had a link to this article on FB - so glad she did. I enjoyed reading this and will be back!

All the best this beautiful season!