Passing Time: Autumnal EquinoxGuest Post, · Categories: Passing Time Rituals Series
Welcome to the sixth article in our rituals series. I went with the modern pagan wheel of the year calendar because several of us are familiar with it and it evenly breaks up the twelve months into manageable chunks of time. There will a mix of spiritual and secular practices and observations for each holiday–I can’t promise ahead of time if any will be weighted more one way or the other, but I’ll do my best to include something for everyone. I’ll post these the Wednesday before the holiday date. Thank you to the contributors! You are invaluable.
Autumn always feels like waking up. Summer is a warm comfortable dream that exists in a place outside of time, and follows its own strange dream logic. It lasts ten years or ten minutes. Every movement is fuzzy and syrupy-slow. There are only the endless, all-consuming summer plans. There is no thinking of a past or future outside of summer. But when the weather turns, as it did last week, the new sharpness in the air is like a spash of cold water on the face, and suddenly the present moment is jolted back into temporal context and—oh my god, what have I been doing?
As soon as the air starts to smell like September I feel like I’m 18 again and have just moved away from my parents’ house for the first time to a new town to start university, and I’m finally living in a place that fits me like an old pair of shoes, and I’m starting to make my own life as an adult, and it feels like a different kind of waking up.
Autumn equinox is traditionally a celebration of the abundance of the harvest. About looking back on the hard work of a succesful growing season, and about starting to plant seeds for the future. My autumn equinox ritual is about the abundance of possibility–remembering and seeking out the feeling that the world is a wide open place with endless opportunities.
Looking back: Indulge in nostalgia for a time when you felt expansive—the feeling like you’ve opened up a secret door in the world and finally walked into your real life. Maybe it was your first intense conversation with a friend who deeply understands you? Maybe it was the first time you had a really solid friend group? Maybe it’s a place, or a sport, or an act of creative self-expression that woke up your soul? Find a way to reconnect with that experience—call an old friend, eat or drink something that you associate with that time, go to an old hangout spot, or listen to an album you were obsessed with at that time if your life. Try to remember the shape of that feeling. Also drink coffee, if you can, while you’re doing it. It will help you wake up (metaphorically, as well as literally).
Planting seeds: You can never find secret doors if you’re hunting for them directly. But you can help yourself stumble into them. Walk around in a new part your city, take a Saturday road trip to a small town you’ve never been to before, take a drop in class of dance, or hula hooping, or jiu jitsu, or figure drawing, or pastry making. Or, this one is hard, but if it feels right and they seem open to it, talk to a stranger. I’m going to warn you, most of the time you’re not going to feel anything special. But just maybe, if you’re lucky, a whole new part of you will wake up.
It’s almost Autumn equinox, the time when the amount of dark in the day catches up with the amount of light in the day, and then overtakes it, arghhhh. If this terrifies you, you’re not alone. In Berlin, summer came late this year and stayed away often. But winters in Berlin are so long and so dark, it’s necessary to stock up on as much Vitamin D as you can, while you can—a bear slathering fat on its bones.
I’m worried there’s not enough sunlight in my skeleton yet. I’m not ready to welcome in the dark.
Still, this is the whole point in rituals. The year turns without asking permission and the darkness comes whether you’re ready or not. Rituals are my way of stepping up before nature, taking the tiny power of choice in my fist and screaming I’M HERE FOR YOU DARKNESS, COME AT ME.
Sometimes, the act of doing it makes it come true.
It’s like the Tower card in tarot: do you want to be the lightning, or do you want to be the people falling?
So, Autumn equinox, or Mabon. Let’s be the lightning. Let’s welcome it in.
Mabon is the time of descent into the underworld, the time when Persephone says goodbye to the earth and goes back to her husband, Hades, all because she swallowed six pomegranate seeds.
It’s also the second harvest, the harvest of fruit. This means wine making—Mabon in Ancient Greece was the festival of Dionysus: god of debauchery, ecstasy, and getting really pissed with people you like.
Wine and descent, those are the themes of my rituals for Mabon. Maybe you feel like you’ve been scrabbling and scrabbling recently, trying to climb out of something? This is the time to say fuck it, to stomp down into your own dark and welcome it in.
Ritual 1: Wine and Scrying
Find yourself a quiet place in a dark room. Light a few candles, and some incense too if you like, but keep the main lights off. Isn’t that nice?
You’ll need a bottle of red wine and some large vessel: a bowl or big glass. Pour the wine into it, while thinking about how things come from the earth and are returned to the earth. Then drink half of it, realising it’s your key to the power of the underworld, the hidden city that lies beneath.
The wine that’s left in your glass is a dark mirror you can use to scry in. Scrying just means looking into something reflective (a mirror, a crystal ball) and finding messages inside it.
So: look into your wine, let your mind wander, see what messages it has for you.
Sit quietly for a while.
Then drink the rest and congratulate yourself. Well done! You are a beautiful creature with dark depths, and you are not scared to look inside.
Ritual 2: Unleashing the Maenad
According to some ancient writers it was possible for a woman for whom the pressures of life had simply gotten too great, to take off for a week, month, or more and join with the maenads, the “wild women,” who did indeed run completely wild and totally free in the forest, enjoying riotous, ecstatic dancing, singing, and drinking in the mountain wilderness.
After a woman had “been wild” for long enough and felt that all the stresses of house and family responsibilities had been worked out of her system, she could apparently return home to resume her life as before, no questions asked, dignity intact. Source.
This is a ritual of ecstatic dance and running free.
Gather your favourite women, genderqueers, or even men if you’re that way inclined. Paint your faces together, and draw power from the ancient Glamours. Take your libation of choice. Feel the pressures of your life slackening. Step out into the night.
You need a place for dancing. An underground club is best (stairs = Persephone’s descent into the underworld) but really anywhere is fine. Your bedroom with the stereo is fine.
When you find it, let the music into your bones. Dance and be wild, and notice—really notice—that you can be wild and it has nothing to do with your dignity.
Be there for as long as you like. Take yourself somewhere that could scare you if you weren’t quite so brave and triumphant.
When you return, remind your friends that you love them.
Slip back inside your life with your new knowledge of the night.
Mabon (pronounced MAY-bun, MAY-bone, MAH-boon, or MAH-bawn) is the Autumn Equinox. It is the time when night and day stand equal in duration and is considered the second harvest in the wheel of the year cycle.
The name Mabon is a more recent descriptive and seems to have originated at the beginning of the Neo-Pagan movement. It appears that the holiday is named after the Welsh God, Mabon, son of Earth Mother goddess Modron.
In some Druidic traditions, this celebration is called Mea’n Fo’mhair and honors the Green Man, the God of the Forest. In other Druidic traditions, the autumn equinox was referred to as Alban Elfed, meaning the light of the water. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her Consort, the God, as he prepares for death and re-birth.
A lovely description of the importance of the holiday from website The Goddess and the Green Man: “Here is the other point of perfect balance on the journey through the Wheel of the Year, its counterpart being Ostara or the Spring Equinox. Night and day are again of equal length and in perfect equilibrium – dark and light, masculine and feminine, inner and outer, in balance. But we are again on the cusp of transition and from now the year now begins to wane and from this moment darkness begins to defeat the light. The cycle of the natural world is moving towards completion, the Sun’s power is waning and from now on the nights grow longer and the days shorter. We are returning to the dark from whence we came.
So Mabon is a celebration and also a time of rest after the labor of harvest. In terms of life path it is the moment of reaping what you have sown, time to look at the hopes and aspirations of Imbolc and Ostara and reflect on how they have manifested. It is time to complete projects, to clear out and let go that which is no longer wanted or needed as we prepare for descent, so that the winter can offer a time for reflection and peace. And it is time to plant seeds of new ideas and hopes which will lie dormant but nourished in the dark, until the return of Spring.”
This is an excellent resource for discovering more about this. Patti Wigington offers many suggestions for celebration, protection, and gratitude practices as well as ways to create ritual to mark this time of year and personal transitions.
This moment, paused in balance, allows you to stand still, looking back at the work you have accomplished and looking forward in preparation. Feast, celebrate, honor the dark and the light, create, meditate, give thanks, dream, rest. Breathe. And notice the cycle of life, within you and without.
For Spring Equinox I focused on cleaning and since I didn’t get to write much for Lammas, I’m using this opportunity for cooking. Fall Equinox is one of the harvest festivals (along with Lammas and Samhain), and can serve as a sort of Witchy Thanksgiving.
Early autumn is a nice time to gather friends for quality chill time before the winter holidays overload everyone’s social abilities. Play around with the idea of balance, not just symbolically, but with your menu, too. Since this is an equinox, look for flavor balances (sweet/savory combos), ways to add texture balance (crunch along with tender), and visual balance is nicely achieved by serving red and white wine.
Now’s the time to indulge in the last of the summer fruits and the early fall ones. I noticed blackberries were on sale at my local food co-op this week along with the (finally decent) apples and pears that’ve been somewhat wan and mealy through the summer. Leafy greens are still readily available alongside winter squash. If you’re in an area with radical seasonal change, you’re nearing the end of your window for easy outdoor cooking, so consider baking the apples in the coals of your grill after you take off the dogs and burgers. If you’re not the grilling type, take advantage of the finally cooling temperatures to roast a chicken (I’m eyeing this recipe, which includes oranges and apricots). It’s been a long time since I was vegetarian, but I remember loving Cheese Beans from the original Moosewood cookbook–it’s savory, sweet, and when served over cornbread provides a great texture balance.
The nut seed loaf I linked in the Lammas post would be great for your equinox meal, too–especially if you’re having guests because that thing is dense and filling. I highly recommend adding chopped dates and/or dried figs to it, especially for this occasion. I feel like their sweetness…well, balances the whole thing really well. Or top a slice with some summer berry jam–equally delicious.
If you made ritual candles (from the summer solstice post) lighting one on the equinox could be a nice way to link you back to that warm, nurturing energy if you feel your inner light waning with the shortening days. Heck, light some candles even if they’re not Too Witches. I’m always surprised at how the flame from even a simple tea light can warm my spirit.