Spokes of the Great Wheel: Autumn Equinox

The time of the autumnal equinox is known by various names among different Pagan traditions: Mabon, Alban Elfed, or Harvest Home.

The year’s cycle of seasons is divided into four quarters,  marked by the solstices (June 21 and Dec. 21) and the equinoxes (March 22 and Sept. 22) The actual dates may vary as to when the precise astronomical event occurs, but it’s generally accepted that anywhere between the 20th to 25th of these months is appropriate for recognition and celebration. These are typically referred to as the Lesser Sabbats or Quarter days. Around halfway between each of these are the other four holidays, known as the Greater Sabbats or Cross-Quarter days.

To Witches, the Sabbats represent markers along the seasonal wheel and peak cycles where we strongly align ourselves with the natural energies and give special reverence to our gods. The myths that overlay the natural cycles provide us with a colorful and insightful way to connect with this energy.

It seems the most common name among Witches for this holiday is Mabon. This name comes to us through Welsh mythology where Mabon is a godform: the son of the great goddess Modron. Modron means ‘mother’ and may be interpreted to mean the Great Mother or Great Goddess – Mother Nature, or the Earth itself. In the story, Modron gives birth to Mabon, but three nights later he is taken from her. Mabon is the Great Son who stands on the threshold between life and death. The thing is, this isn’t even his festival day or historically connected with The Mabon… So there is some questionable scholarship on the term being associated with the Sabbat.

But to more to the point: What is a threshold? It is a gateway, which is what the equinoxes are.

The autumn equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. Astrologically, this is represented by the sun entering the sign of Libra – the scales – on this day. The myth or story chosen as a focus for each Sabbat varies from tradition to tradition and from Witch to Witch, but since the energy of the day is the same, there are key points that are focused on for each sacred time. With the autumnal equinox, the focus is on balance, equality between light and darkness, harvest, hospitality, thanksgiving, recognizing the end of earth’s verdant bounty and the approaching season or energy of death, and preparations being made for the winter.

This time is recognized as the Second Harvest. The first was at Lughnasadh on August 1st. This was the harvest of bread and grains. The autumn equinox is the harvest of fruits and vegetables. The third harvest is Samhain on October 31st the harvest of blood when herds were culled. Animals were killed and their meat cured and salted for sustenance through the winter.

Of the three harvests, the autumn equinox is the only one where something doesn’t have to die. At Lughnasadh, the grain falls to the reaper’s blade in order to be ground into flour. At Samhain, the animal’s throat is cut or its heart pierced by an arrow, spilling its blood in order to prolong the life of the herd and human population when food becomes scarce. But this harvest, where it is fruit and vegetables that are claimed – especially apples – the tree or vine need not die to offer sustenance to mankind. So there is also a sense of freedom or liberation where the seeds of the fruit are liberated (by the fruit being eaten and the seeds spit out) that continues life. Mabon is not condemned to die, unlike other harvest gods.

Personally, I like to watch the sunset and sunrise on the day of the equinox and perform a meditation of balance. I also offer prayers of thanksgiving at my altar. Because a harvest is about reaping what has been sown, I focus on being grateful for goals that have come full circle into fruition. If I have goals that have still not been met, I pour extra energy into them so that they may be reached in time for Samhain.

I like to share a big meal with friends or family. Some Pagans, including myself, focus on this holiday as our religious observance of Thanksgiving and the fourth Thursday of November as the holiday to be celebrated with non-pagan friends and family. Sometimes the ritual for autumn equinox is just something being done between myself and the gods. I will include cider, red wine, fruit juice, grapes, apples, vegetables that must be drawn up from the earth like carrots and potatoes, and pomegranate seeds. A bit of this small feast is buried, and a libation of drink poured, along with the seeds from the fruits and a prayer offered for blessings throughout the coming season.

Here is a favorite recipe of mine for this special season:

  • Baked apples with raisins – 6 large baking apples (I like granny smith – if you use golden or delicious, they will be very sweet)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Wash and core apples, then remove a 1 inch strip of peel around the middle of each apple; place in a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Combine sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar in a small bowl; fill the center of each apple and dot with 1/2 teaspoon of the butter. Add just enough water to baking dish to cover the bottom of the dish; bake, uncovered, at 350° for about 30 minutes, or until apples are tender. Baste with juices occasionally. Serve warm with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Have a safe and blessed holiday.

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