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
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.
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
Alban Elued, Mabon, Autumn Equinox, about 22nd
September till September 24
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
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.
Reconciliation, assessment, storing assets
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.
Copper coloured yellow or orange leaves, willow boughs, harvest fruits
such as apples, berries, nuts, copper or bronze coins and pottery geese
Incenses, flower and
Ferns, geranium, myrrh, pine, sandalwood and Solomon’s seal. Michelmas
daisies and all small petal purple and blue flowers
Blue for the autumn rain and green for the Earth Mother.
Blue lace agate, chalcedony, Aqua aura, also rose quartz and all calcites
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
initiated during the September rites. A sacred marriage between Zeus and
Demeter was also re-enacted
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
Give up a bad habit or
activity to overcome a fear or phobia that is holding you back from
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
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
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.