In the Northern Hemisphere, the fall equinox is celebrated in a couple weeks (it is September 22nd this year) as Mabon, also called Harvest Home. (Those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate the spring equinox, Ostara, at this time.)
Mike Nichols writes of the day: “Mythically, this is the day of the year when the God of Light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the God of Darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day.” The metaphor for the natural solar cycle is perfectly clear, and easily appreciable by naturalists. Likewise with the agricultural myth of John Barleycorn, personification of the ripened grain:
“Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing.”
Bart Everson observes that the autumnal equinox gets short-shrift in our culture because of our aversion to death:
“Perhaps that’s why this equinox seems like such a blindspot in the American imagination. Themes of loss and darkness don’t fit well with the national narrative.
“Yet there is much to celebrate, if we aspire to a full and comprehensive vision of what it means to be human on this planet. The metaphors of the equinox can work for us, if are open to the possibility. …
“This might be a time for drawing in, for gathering together. The equinox can be a time for reflection, for making changes and starting projects, for setting priorities and recognizing intentions. … For truly darkness and loss, though they present challenges, are not to be feared if we can only gain adequate perspective.
Bart has also put together a great playlist of Mabon/Equinox-themed music.
Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian Cosmology, celebrates this as a time of abundance and thanksgiving, but also of loss. She associates it with the myth of Persephone’s descent into the underworld, ritually enacting a moment of “letting go”. “Demeter” goes to each participant:
”(name), I give you the wheat – the Mystery – the knowledge of life and death. I let you go as Daughter (Child/Mabon), most loved of Mine … you descend to Wisdom, to Sovereignty. You will return as Mother, co-Creator with me. You are the Seed in the Fruit, becoming the Fruit in the Seed. Inner Wisdom guides your path.”
Response: “It is so. I am Daughter (Child/Mabon), becoming Mother – Seed becoming Fruit. I am deepening into/descend to, Wisdom, into Sovereignty. The Mother knowledge grows within me.”
Mark Green, at Atheopaganism, helps show us that this is a time for gratitude as well as feasting.
Harvest—the autumnal equinox—marks a time for celebration and culmination, for reflection on the shortening days and on the balance between light and warmth and cold and darkness. It is an opportunity for us to consider how our plans have worked out, and to bask in the satisfaction of those which have led to positive results. And it is a moment for gathering of families and communities to celebrate the abundance we enjoy, focusing on the positives in our lives.
Harvest is a reckoning, too. Some things we plant just don’t come up, or if they do, they are stunted and useless. Hallows will be the time to turn those failed experiments into the ground, but Harvest is a time for acknowledging them, and taking note for next year’s planting.
The classic Harvest celebration is a communal feast: perhaps a potluck using local produce, or a meal you offer to your family, friends and/or community in your home. Harvest is “Pagan Thanksgiving”: a time to enjoy and reflect on the wonder, the extraordinary magic by which food just arises from the Earth, delicious and sustaining, and on our great good fortune to enjoy it.
NaturalPantheist of the Nature is Sacred blog recites the following from ADF Solitary Druid Fellowship ritual on this day:
“As I stand here on this celebration of Harvest Home, the Autumnal Equinox, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in times to come, I honour the old ways. Today is the day of balance, of equal light and dark. The sun has begun to wane while the nights grow steadily longer and the weather becomes cooler. We head towards winter. It is the time of the second harvest, the harvest of fruits, of apples, nuts and grapes. Change is all around. The leaves are turning beautiful colours, the birds are preparing for migration and the squirrels are gathering their foods for winter. I give thanks for the abundant gifts of the Earth Mother.”
Áine Órga describes the equinox as the beginning of a period of psychological release:
“As the Autumn Equinox marks the second harvest festival on the wheel of the year, like Lughnasadh it represents a time of retrospection, appraisal, and gratitude. But although Lughnasadh was primarily about gratitude for me this year – a time of abundance and joy – the Autumn Equinox very definitely marks the turning point into the dark part of the year, and as such it also signals a time of release and introspection.
“At Samhain, I will fully submit to the dark of winter, fully releasing everything that needs to be released this year as I turn twenty-five. The Autumn Equinox, for me, begins the work of this descent into the dark. I start to assess and let go of what is no longer working.”
Jon Cleland Host of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group describes how his family observes Mabon:
“Fall harvest décor is appropriate, with dried cornstalks, squash, gourds, Indian corn, etc. The social aspect of our lives is highlighted by this harvest theme – a time when friends and family get together for the harvest. …
“Dinner will of course have a harvest theme, including squash, homemade bread, cranberry sauce, etc. … One part of the ritual is often the pouring of a little wine at the base of the trees in our yard as thanks for the summer shade and the coming fall colors. We also have a harvest party – this year will be our 18th annual Equinox party.”
Another great activity, courtesy of Jonathan Blake of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo list, is measuring your latitude on the equinox using only the sun, a stick, and some basic calculations.
John Halstead and his family re-enact the passion of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. They gather grains of corn together, as Isis gathered the parts of her dismembered husband, and then bury an ear of corn wrapped in a black cloth, an effigy of the dying and rising god of the harvest. John explains:
“In rituals like the one we will do today, we identify with the sacrificed God. In doing so, we honor the circle of life. Waxing and waning, birth and death, growth and decline: all take place in nature, in the human life cycle, and in the human soul. Each stage is to be welcomed in its proper time and season, because life is a process of constant change. When we identify with the god, we choose to surrender to the Cycle, to ride the Wheel that is the Goddess.”
This is an updated version of the yearly Fall Equinox post. Feel free to share your own naturalistic celebrations below.