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Ways of Marking the Festival in the Modern world    

The Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere this year occurs at 21:18 on September 22 (GMT). The date does vary slightly year to year and the best site to explain how the date and times are calculated is http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.3843#equinox

This site is run by the Greenwich Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum in London. 

As we greet autumn the Wheel of the Year turns ever faster and makes the odd lurch and groan as the world’s economy worsens and oil prices soar. In the northern hemisphere the wheel descends all through September towards the autumn equinox, the time of equal day and equal night. On this day according to the old myths the god of light lost the fight against the twin god of the night and dark nights move in earlier and earlier. Of course in the southern hemisphere, it is the brother of light who wins and the same equinox marks the beginning of springtime.

Unless you work on the land or live in deep countryside it is easy for the seasons to blur. Overhead power lines ensure we have heat and light 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, give or take the odd power cut. Until a flood strikes, storms rip down power lines, or an earthquake or hurricane remind us that what we have built on Mother Earth and she is not as invulnerable as we may believe, in our electronic cocoon night can be day: at the flick of a switch our winter can be summer. We can even holiday under huge heated glass domes and with the present appalling UK summer weather one might argue that that at least is a blessing.

Revisiting the old ways

The leaves change colour and a sudden shower of rain or the soft radiance of early spring or autumn sunshine, find echoes within our own inner life cycle. These changes in nature may explain fluctuations in our own energy patterns from one week to the next. Even though many of us no longer make offerings and prayers in the orchards and fields for gentle weather and a good harvest, we need to recognise our personal inner seasonal clock. Autumn is especially appropriate to acknowledge those times when we need to let matters lie fallow or to ask for payment or recognition for what we have sown in the previous months if this is slow in coming.

If you live in the southern hemisphere you may want to reach across the wheel to absorb from the autumn energies for the strength to leave behind things that will hold back your new springtime beginning. Those of us greeting the autumn may need to look forward six months to the new spring to give us the confidence to get through the approaching winter and even in autumn to nurture longer term seeds of new beginnings to replace what we let go of now.

Alban Elued, Mabon, Autumn Equinox, about 22nd September till September 24

Focus: The completion of tasks, the fruition of long-term goals, for mending quarrels and forgiving yourself for past mistakes, for receiving money owed, for assessing gain and loss, for family relationships and friendships; for material security for the months ahead, for abundance in all aspects of your life (a credit crunch festival), for issues of job security or the need to consolidate finances; all matters concerning the retirement and older people; the resolution or management of chronic health problems.

Globally, rituals concentrate on positive steps to ensure enough food, shelter and resources for vulnerable communities and individuals,  relief of flood and famine, protection of endangered water creatures, dolphins, whales and fish whose death involves great suffering; also for peace especially where initiatives are already in motion.

Keywords: Reconciliation, assessment, storing assets

Element: Water

Direction: West

Cycle of the Year: Ancient tales tell of the death of the old Horned God at the hands of his successor or by offering himself to the huntsmen at the beginning of the hunting season in the form of a mighty stag.

The old sun and grain god, now the Dark Lord of death and winter is in the Underworld, the womb of the Mother awaiting rebirth, after he offered himself as a willing sacrifice for the growth of the grain at Lughnassadh, the first harvest around August 1. 

While the Goddess mourns for her love she must prepare for the harvest over which she presides. But she is tired herself and getting heavier with the new sun child within her womb who will be born in December at Midwinter.

The Dark twin challenges and kills the Light brother who returns to the Earth/the womb, becoming one and the same with the Dark Lord.

Energies: Balanced

Symbols: Copper coloured yellow or orange leaves, willow boughs, harvest fruits such as apples, berries, nuts, copper or bronze coins and pottery geese

Animal: Salmon

Tree:  Apple

Incenses, flower and herbs: Ferns, geranium, myrrh, pine, sandalwood and Solomon’s seal. Michelmas daisies and all small petal purple and blue flowers

Candle Colours: Blue for the autumn rain and green for the Earth Mother.

Crystals: Blue lace agate, chalcedony, Aqua aura, also rose quartz and all calcites

Celtic Tradition:

Alban Elued means in Gaelic, light on the Water and the sun is moving away over the water to shine on the Isles of the Blest, the Celtic Otherworld leaving the world with encroaching darkness. 

The gathering of the second or green harvest of fruit, nuts and vegetables and the final grain harvest marked the storing of resources for the winter and barter for goods not available or scarce.

Feasts of abundance and the offering of the finest of the harvest to the deities was a practical as well as magical gesture, part of the bargain between humans and deities. Rotten fruit and  vegetables were where possible fed to animals or left to form compost to enrich the soil.

In traditional celebrations a priestess would carry a wheat sheaf, fruit and vegetables and distribute them to the people.

A priest representing the slain God given the name of John Barleycorn, would offer to all present at the harvest feast, wine or ale, made from the fermented barley cut down at Lughnassadh, the first grain harvest at the beginning of August.

The autumn harvest feast served as a magical rite. The festival bread was made from the flour preserved from last grain to be cut down in August that was like the wine, said to contain the spirit of the grain god. Both bread and wine or ale symbolised the people’s thanks for the sacrifice of the grain/old sun god to feed them through the winter.

Some Druidesses and Druids still climb to the top of a hill at sunset on the Autumn Equinox day to say farewell to the Horned God, Lord of Animals as he departs for the lands of winter.

Mabon, after whom the festival is also called, is another name for the divine son of Modron, the Great Mother and another form of Llew, the sun god.

Norse and Anglo Saxon Associations

This second September harvest recognised that winter was not far away. The finest of the crop and fruits and the first meat of the hunting season that began at this time, were offered in sacred feasts to be shared with the deities in a request for a gentle winter and enough food to last through the cold times.

The Anglo Saxons called September holy month.

The Autumn Equinox in many lands in the Northern hemisphere still signals the  beginning of the hunting season and in Scandinavia huntsmen leave the entrails of slain animals on rocks in the forest as a relic of the ancient offering of the first animals.

Christian

In Christian times God rather than the Goddess, was traditionally thanked for the harvest, though this is changing in some modern churches. The finest of the fruits and vegetables and bread baked from the grain, would be set on the altar as an offering and afterwards distributed to the needy. 

Michelmas, the day of St Michael, the Archangel of the Sun was celebrated on September 29 with a feast centred on geese. Since St Michael was Patron Saint of high places and replaced the pagan Sun deities, he was an apt symbol for the last days of the summer sun. Goose fairs were held and workers in the fields often paid with slaughtered geese.

Mediterranean

In Ancient Greece, the rites of the Greater Eleusinian mysteries took place at this time in honour of Kore/Persephone and her mother Demeter.

The harvested grain represented the divine child, union of Persephone and Hades or in earlier Mother Goddess worship Persephone herself reborn as the harvest. The grain was placed in a basket and bread baked from it. Corn was eaten in honour of Demeter.

Candidates were initiated during the September rites. A sacred marriage between Zeus and Demeter was also re-enacted

Ways of Marking the Festival in the Modern world

  • Make a list of what needs to be done urgently, a second list of less pressing but necessary tasks and the third those matters that are best left, some of which may be things you did not want to do anyway. Throw away the third list and draw up a realistic time scale for the completion of the other tasks.

  • Contact an old friend or a family member with whom you have lost touch. At the same time,  decide if there is anyone with whom you would like to reduce or cease communication with who is undermining your confidence or making you feel unnecessarily guilty.

  • Give up a bad habit or activity to overcome a fear or phobia that is holding you back from doing things.

  • Buy or make seasonal fruit jam and hold an old-fashioned  tea or coffee party to bring different generations together.

  • Visit a seasonal farmers’ market or art and craft fair and maybe take along something you have created to sell.

  • Have a sale on E Bay or local car boot sale or set up a garage sale to offload items you do not want to dust or store though the winter (a pre winter clear out).

  • Alternatively hold an auction of hoarded personal treasures and send the money to a charity that relieves famine.

  • Stand by the sea or any flowing water at sunset and cast pebbles or shells into the dying light on the water to cast off all regrets, resentments, sorrows, failures and unfinished business from the previous months that you do not wish to carry forward into the winter. Look for something on the shore or river bank to take home as a token of the gifts you carry forward with you from the previous months.

  • Take a bowl containing equal numbers of nuts or berries and seeds and work outdoors. Name a success or achievement from the previous months that has materialised by the Autumn Equinox and eat a nut or berry; then name a failure or loss and cast a seed into the ground. Continue until you have eaten and shed the same number and can think of no more; bury the rest beneath a fruit or nut bearing tree.

  • Sweep up autumn leaves into a pile; jump up and down in it as you did when a child, expressing joy at the promise of the coming days, naming opportunities and all you can and will achieve in winter. Finally scatter the leaves and let the good and the bad, the gains and the losses be carried equally on the wind.

  • Prepare a feast of fruit and vegetables, of bread, cider and barley wine or fruit cup and warming soups and hold an Equinox party. Make offerings to the land of barley wine, ale, or mead and bread by scattering a little on the ground. Pass round a communal cup to everyone present or fill everyone’s glasses and ask them to drink and make a blessing on the occasion or to people and places where there is hunger or poverty.

  • Contact anyone from whom you are estranged, sending autumn flowers or a plant you have nurtured or a small basket of produce as a peace offering; if your reconciliatory gestures are rejected, at least you can move forward, knowing you tried. Alternatively help an organisation concerned with peace.

  • Climb to the top of a hill at sunset on Equinox night and as the ancients did say goodbye to the animals who will be soon hibernating and to any birds or wildfowl who are or will be migrating and wish them well.

May your autumn bear all the fruits you deserve and more.

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