Fall…the time of falling leaves, longer nights, cooler weather, pumpkins, and Halloween. This is my favorite season. It could be because my birthday is in September, but I also like the change, the transition, the colors, and the mystery.
Today is believed to be a balanced time when night and day are equal. You may be able to balance an egg on its end.
In Jewish tradition this is the day Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac and blood appeared on his knife. Also during the September equinox a mysterious rain poisoned the water, which you could not drink.
The Greek Goddess Persephone now returns to the underworld. Magically, it is a good time for rituals for protection, as well as to reflect on the previous months. Animals associated with the Autumnal Equinox are dogs, wolves, and birds of prey. It is also a time for gnomes, minotaurs and the sphinx.
Higan is a week of Buddhist services observed in Japan. Both the spring and the fall equinoxes have been national holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912). Higan means other shore and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana by crossing the river of existence. It is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning and decorating the graves of their ancestors. Prayers, rice balls and sushi are offered.
In the Christian church many of the early pagan equinox celebrations were replaced with Christian ones. Michaelmas, on September 29, was celebrated as a holy day in the Middle Ages, but that tradition waned by the 18th century. However, some still celebrate the “festival of strong will” at this time. Pagans celebrate Mabon, or the second harvest and the beginning of winter preparations. Animals were slaughtered and the meat preserved for the winter. All the crops need to be harvested by this full moon. The Church of England still has a second harvest festival when farmers bring their bounty to be blessed by the church. Harvest Festivals have been celebrated for millennia. In ancient Greece Oschophoria was held in the fall to celebrate the harvesting of the grapes for wine. In the 1700’s, the Bavarians started Oktoberfest. China’s festival is celebrated at the Harvest Moon and called the Moon Festival. Special mooncakes are eaten at this time. The American Thanksgiving was originally celebrated on Oct 3, which made more sense, as it was closer to the harvest.
The length of night and day is nearly, but not entirely, equal on this day. The day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator, because the sun takes longer to rise and set farther north.
The equinox dates differ in the Gregorian calendar. Most western countries use the Gregorian calendar of 365 days, or 366 in a leap year.
Have you ever visited Stonehenge? Well, this is a special day when Druids and Pagans gather to celebrate the equal times of day and night and the descent into winter. This is the time of Libra, the scales, again dedicated to the equal hours of night and day. (There is a tour company that will take you to Stonehenge on this day. English Heritage allows the tour company to bring people into the inner circle of Stonehenge, which is not usually allowed. Check www.stonehengetours.com )
So this is a time to feast, to celebrate with family and friends. How about squash soup, beef stew, apple pie, apple cider (hard or soft), and plenty of wine or beer! Light the candles, strike up the band and get ready to give thanks for all you have, before the winter night’s cold takes hold of the earth.