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Rituals to Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

Rituals to Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

What is the Autumn Equinox?

The Autumn Equinox, known as Mabon in pagan traditions, mirrors the Spring or Vernal Equinox. It can fall between 21st and 24th September each year and marks the second day of the year when day and night, light and shadow are equal in length, perfectly balanced. 

Whereas at Spring Equinox, the length of the days is increasing, at Autumn Equinox, the days are shortening and the light waning in the approach to the Winter Solstice. And just as fire is symbolic on the shortest day (Winter Solstice), so it is in Autumn Equinox rituals, offering a torch to guide us through the colder, darker months until spring returns.

Why do we celebrate it?

All the Equinoxes and Solstices mark a moment for reflection, a pause in the changing seasons, and the ideal time to carry out some rituals. Throughout history and across cultures, there have been powerful fire rituals and ceremonies to celebrate Autumn Equinox. 

Traditionally, this time of year in Europe would be the harvest, so ceremonies would give thanks to the land and prepare for the winter ahead, acknowledging the harmony between dark and light. The fruits and vegetables of the harvest would be stored and preserved through making pickles, jams, chutneys, beers, ciders, and wines to see communities through the shorter days that stretched ahead.

In Greek mythology, this is the time when Persephone (who represents the spring) enters the underworld to be with Hades. Her mother, Ceres is the goddess of agriculture, grains, and fertility, and negotiates with Hades to allow her daughter to return above the ground for half the year ~ her return is when we celebrate spring.

In modern Paganism, Autumn Equinox is also a kind of thanksgiving celebration and is known as Mabon. It is the second of three harvest festivals, the first being Lughnasadh or Lammas, and the third, Samhain – which holds some parallels with All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween. 

In Native American cultures such as that of the Hopi, the approaching of the equal day and night is celebrated with the Snake Dance, which honours balance in nature, venerates the ancestors, and encourages rainfall in the high desert of what is now northern Arizona. 

In China, the Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival falls around the time of the Autumn Equinox and is also a harvest festival, where it’s traditional to gift friends and family mooncakes.

Rituals to honour the Autumn Equinox

At each quarter-turn of the year’s wheel (Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice), there is a natural pause in nature’s rhythms. This allows us to take stock of what’s changing around us, look back at where we were three months ago, and think on what has happened since ~ the wins, the losses, the moments of contentment and balance. 

Rituals don’t need to be grand or elaborate and they don’t need to follow a particular spiritual or belief system if you don’t have one. Many people are fascinated by the magic of these turning points, but nature truly provides all the magic we need when we take the time to look. Here are just a few ideas for creating your own personal rituals…

Start the day with a walk to look out for those signs of autumn 

An autumnal walk is a perfect way to enjoy the changing season. Mushrooms are beginning to pop up, and the leaves are turning gold and russet. Conkers and beechnuts carpet the woodland floor and if you’re lucky, you may find a jay’s feather or a particularly beautiful pine cone. In Japan, the golden leaves of the Gingko are revered and part of Momiji-gari (autumn leaves viewing) similar to the spectacle of cherry blossom in spring (Hanami). If you find a fallen Ginko leaf, add this and the other items you may have collected to an autumnal altar, a display of the natural beauty all around.

Create an autumnal altar

Creating an altar where you can place your finds from nature walks is a wonderful way to chart the change in seasons. Always collect things that have fallen to the ground already and if you take cuttings, be sure to take from a wide area so as not to cause damage to plants in one spot or one particular tree. Add candles to your altar ready to light as the nights draw in. Rosemary is a herb of remembrance and protection and by cutting some now (or simply adding some left over from your food shop) and placing it on your altar, it will be dry by the time Samhain arrives, when remembrance of the ancestors is marked by other festivals such as Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead.

Collect leaf rubbings

If you’ve collected leaves on your walks, make some rubbings by placing them beneath a clean sheet of paper and rubbing a crayon over them. The different shapes of leaves from different species of trees are fascinating and are examples of sacred geometry. If you have a sketchbook, you can take it with you on your walks and rub over the last of the leaves on the trees as a memory for your journal. You could even get crafty and cut out the leaf rubbing to make an autumnal wreath for your door or some seasonal bunting.

Make an Equinox feast using local and seasonal food 

If it’s been a mild September, Equinox is a good time to enjoy the last of the summer bounty with runner beans, chard and fennel all available, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cavolo nero. Autumn is the season of the root vegetable, symbolising a time to feel grounded and stable, so enjoy carrots, parsnips, and beetroot, raw or roasted. The pumpkin season runs from September through October and bright orange pumpkin flesh is the obvious choice for hearty, warming soups, stews, and curries as the days become cooler. As for fruit, apples come into their own at this time of year ~ seek out heirloom varieties to broaden the diversity of your body’s microbiome.

Make a bonfire

Fire is a symbol of transformation, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, fire burns away the old and clears the way for the new. Many Full Moon rituals also call for burning ~ whether it’s writing down unhelpful and repetitive thoughts or habits you want to break and then burning the paper, or simply lighting a bonfire to burn and release everything that no longer serves you, fire is cleansing. Before lighting an outdoor fire, whether it’s a bonfire or in a fire pit, make sure that it’s a day or evening with low wind, to avoid the smoke becoming a nuisance to neighbours or drifting on to roads. Always check that there are no creatures like hedgehogs amongst the logs before lighting the fire and be sure to put the fire out fully before leaving it unattended. Alternatively, burn some incense indoors and open the windows to symbolise the releasing of the old.

Adorn yourself with an autumn scent

Autumn has a back-to-school feeling making it perfect for seeking out a new coat, new boots, or even a new fragrance. The cooler temperatures call for something with more depth and, depending on your preference, something more smoky or earthy. 

MAGICIAN is rich with aromatic spices like black pepper and clove, and woods such as cedar, as well as resinous labdanum and myrrh. SAGE is floral and powdery, but with warm undertones of vanilla and sandalwood, making it deeply comforting ~ Glamour U.S described it as smelling “like a late afternoon walk through the woods”. EXPLORER is sweet and earthy with zingy grapefruit and cardamom, expertly combined with frankincense (Boswellia), patchouli, and incense.

As with all the seasons, take time to notice the changes, ease into them, and enjoy them ~ they all have characteristic and different rhythms, and by following them, we find balance and harmony.