Autumn Equinox refers to a time of the year when day and night are equally balanced. The dates vary slightly, falling between Sept 21 and Sept 23. The sun is in the process of crossing the equator and in astrological terms is entering the sign of Libra.
The sun is the focal point of energy (along with the moon) and such; its life force pushes us to discover more about ourselves. This movement into the Libra puts a congenial, cooperative outlook on that time of year, just what was needed by the communities, as they all worked together to complete the harvest.
Other names for the Autumnal Equinox include:
- Alban Elfed
- Equinozio di Autunno
- Fall Equinox
- Feast of Avalon
- Festival of Dionysus
- Festival of Strong Will
- Harvest Home
- Second Harvest Festival
- Wine Harvest
- Winter Finding
Harvest Home is an Anglo-Celtic version of the original Mabon, and fell in-between the First (Lugnasadh) and the Third (Samhain) Harvests. Harvests festivals were a very important part of the pre- industrialized culture. It was a time of relief and of rest. Relief that the crops were in and rest to catch their breath before the work of preparing for winter began. This was a time to give thanks.
- Color of the day: Yellow
- Incense of the day: Coriander
Once again the Sun’s path crosses the celestial equator, and the day and the night are now again of equal length. On the Gregorian calendar this is the first day of autumn, but on the modern Celtic calendar it is midautumn.
Autumn Equinox in Welsh Mythology
This holiday is more commonly known by its Welsh name Mabon. Mabon means “divine youth.” It is the name of a mythic hunter hero whose story is told at this time of year. At the beginning of time, Mabon was born to the mother goddess Modron. That we only know his mother and not his father attests to the matriarchal lineage of the early Celts.
The equinox marks the time when Mabon was three nights old and stolen from his crib. For the next three months, the heroes Cai and Bedwyr will search for him and ask all manner of birds and beasts for help. But, according to legend, it is only the salmon who can give them direction. On Yule, the heroes retrieve the divine child by freeing him from a prison in Gloucester.
Like Apollo, Mabon is a hunter with a bow and a musician with a harp. He is a Sun god. Mabon represents the Sun that is waning in strength during this quarter of the year and that will begin to return only after the solstice. The waning of the light is frightening and depressing, and it is necessary for our own sake to use magic at this time to help in the quest for Mabon.
The strongest act of magic that one can do at this time is to participate in the celebrations of the yearly cycle. As one integrates the yearly cycle deep into one’s unconscious, serenity and confidence are gained. This is the peace that comes from knowing and accepting that the light will return when it is time.
Autumn Equinox in Celtic Mythology
In this variation of the legend of the Autumn Equinox, this is the day of the year when the god of light, Lugh, is defeated by the god of darkness, Lugh’s twin and alter-ego, Tanist. The night conquers day.
The tales state that the Equinox is the only day which Lugh is vulnerable and the possibility of his defeat exists. Lugh stands on the balance (Autumn Equinox-Libra) with one foot on the goat (Winter Solstice-Capricorn) and the other on the cauldron (Summer Solstice-Cancer). He is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).
Two events occur rapidly with Lugh’s defeat. Tanist, having beaten Lugh, now takes over Lugh’s place both as King of our world and lover to the Goddess Tailltiu. Although Tanist now sits on Lugh’s throne, his official induction does not take place for another six weeks at Samhain, the beginning of Winter, when he becomes the Dark King, the Winter Lord, the Lord of Misrule. He mates with Tailltiu, who conceives, and will give birth nine months later (at the Summer Solstice) to her son, another incarnation of Tanist himself, the Dark Child.
Lugh’s sacrifice represents not only the sun’s dying power, but also the cycle of rebirth, his energy remaining within the corn we have since harvested. A incarnate (of Lugh) corn spirit was thought to specifically reside within the last stalk (or stock), which was traditionally dressed in fine clothes and decorations, or woven into a wicker man-shaped form. This symbolic decoration was then harvested and carried from the field to be burned with rejoicing for the spirits release and Lugh’s upcoming rebirth.
The Autumn Equinox in Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, Autumn begins as Persephone returns to the Underworld to live with Hades, her husband.
In short, the myth says that Demeter’s daughter, Kore, had taken a day to pick flowers in a meadow when the Earth opened up, and Hades pulled the girl into the Underworld to become his bride. Kore’s name became Persephone when she married Hades.
For nine straight days, Demeter searched for Kore, with no success. In misery and despiration, Demeter questioned Helios, the Sun God, who informed her that her brother, Zeus, had given the girl to Hades. Furious, Demeter left Olympus to roam the Earth disguised as an old woman, ending up settled in her temple at Eleusis.
Soon after, she cursed the Earth so it would yield no crops. Zues sent her a frantic message inquiring as to why she had prevented growth on the planet. She replied that there would be no regeneration of vegetation on the Earth until her daughter, Kore, was safely returned.
Zeus immediately dispatched Hermes into the Underworld to retrieve the girl. Hades, not wanting to relinquish his bride permanently, convinced Persephone to eat some pomegranate seeds before she returned to her mother, Demeter. Demeter was yet again distraught when she learned of this trickery! Finally, Zeus declared that Kore-Persephone would live with her mother during one half of the year and return to her husband, Hades, during the other half. In thanks, Demeter lifted the curse on the Earth, creating Spring. Every year hence, during her time of greatest sorrow, Demeter renews the curse, as her daughter returns to Hades and the Underworld.