22nd September marks the Autumn Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere, a moment in time when day and night are of equal length, and it is a great moment to reflect on all that has been achieved throughout the long summer months. Soon the shorter days and longer nights of Winter will draw in upon us, and it will seem as if the Earth herself has fallen asleep, but before then she will shower us with beautiful gifts as the world around us shines in golden hues and we reap the rewards of the fruit harvest.
It is a time of joy and, thanks to our modern school calendar, a time of new beginnings for many of us as our children return to school and focus on a new year of learning. This ties in quite beautifully with the forthcoming Samhain, known as the Pagan New Year, at the end of October and reminds us of the cycle of life that brings new beginnings even when we think everything is ending. But it's often hard to keep that in mind as the days grow shorter, the trees more bare, and the temperature cools. Which is why celebrating each turn of The Wheel of The Year can be so glorious, as it keeps our minds and hearts focused on the continuing cycle.
What is The Autumn Equinox?
The Autumn Equinox is one of the 8 Sabbats celebrated in the modern Pagan calendar, known at The Wheel of the Year. Within this calendar, the year is split into 8 equal parts, to help mark the passage of time through the seasons. Traditionally it begins at Samhain (or Halloween), which marks the third and final harvest at a point when we begin to draw within in order to survive the darkness of Winter. This means that the Autumn Equinox is the 7th Sabbat in the Wheel, close to the end point in the year.
However the world is far from bleak right now. We are reaping huge rewards from the seeds we planted so many months ago, in the form of fruits and vegetables. It is no coincidence that Harvest Festivals are celebrated at this time of year in the Christian calendar too - we really are filled with abundance right now. And it is a time to be thankful to the Earth for that bounty.
However, there must always be caution, a balancing of the splendour with that of preparing for the coming months, for if we do not save enough now we may not survive the Winter. This balancing act is so beautifully expressed within the Autumn Equinox itself, as it marks the moment when the day and night are of equal length - perfect balance! If we can live out that same balance in our lives, everything will be so much easier.
So in giving thanks to the Earth for her bounty, we can also remember that it is by working together that we have received these gifts. It takes a whole community to put food on our table - from the farmers who plant the seeds and nurture the crops, through the drivers who take the food from farm to shop, and even the work we do in society in order to earn the money to pay for the food we eat. And it is important to remember that if any single part of that community falls, we will all suffer.
5 Easy Ways to Celebrate The Autumn Equinox With Your Kids
1. Buy seasonal produce from a farmer's market or local farm shop (and make something special).
Right now there is an abundance of fruit and veg that is in season - not only will it be more cost effective to buy seasonal produce grown locally, it will also be much tastier. Why not make the most of all the fruit and make a delicious apple pie, plum cake, or if you prefer savoury to sweet, get out the slow cooker and make a delicious root vegetable stew!
2. Go for a walk in the woods and collect conkers and fallen leaves.
Once you're home, you can display them on your altar or nature table, or use them to make an Autumn collage, leaf mobile, or even suncatchers.
3. Make a gratitude collage (or share what you're thankful for with each other)
If you fancy getting crafty, why not get a great big piece of card and write, draw, or glue pictures of all the things you feel thankful for right now. If you're not feeling quite so crafty, you could take time out to sit together with your kids and take it in turns to share what you're grateful for.
4. Donate to a Food Bank (or the collection at your local church or school).
With Harvest Festival coming up, many schools and churches will be collecting food items to pass on to their local Food Bank or Community Larder. Share your blessings and abundance with others who are less fortunate, by finding out what they need and then donating what you can. This teaches our kids to be thankful for what they have and that giving can be just as wonderful (if not more wonderful) than receiving.
5. Create your own Autumn Equinox Ceremony
There is nothing more special at each of the 8 Sabbats than creating a ceremony that reflects who you are and what you believe. Ceremony draws the family closer together, brings out the best in us in terms of creativity and giving thanks, and gives us all a reason to celebrate.
Ceremony doesn't have to be grand and ornate, it doesn't have to follow any specific creed or structure, and it certainly doesn't have to be created by someone "in the know". These are all things I used to think about ceremony, and I was so wrong! Ceremony can be as simple as sitting down together with the intention to honour the earth. You could light a candle, write some words, say a prayer, or sing a song. It doesn't matter... all that matters is that it means something to you.
That being said, if you're struggling for ideas why not consider some of the following to get you started:
- Buy a large pillar candle that you can light every day throughout the long nights ahead (you could specify you'll do this until the Spring Equinox when the sun begins to dominate the sky once again) and say a little prayer or blessing over it to set the intention that it will remind you that even in the darkest night a light can be found.
- Put together a gift box for someone in need (warm clothes, food supplies, etc) and together, as a family, imagine all your love flowing through your hands and into the box so that the recipient may feel that love and share in your abundance
- Change your bedding, putting away the summer duvet and getting out the winter blankets, preparing your home for the cold months ahead. As you do so, you could light some incense or play some music, to help recognise the shift in energy.
There really is no limit to what you can turn into a ceremony, so please have fun with this.
Want to know more about The Autumn Equinox?
There are some fantastic guides available online for those interested in learning more about the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and here are some of our favourites:
The Goddess and the Green Man have written a fantastic page all about The Autumn Equinox (and it's more modern name of Mabon)
The Paganism/Wicca Expert on About.com has created a page explaining the 8 Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, including The Autumn Equinox.
And if you're looking for a more detailed resource, you might like the book Celebrating The Great Mother by Cait Johnson. It is such a beautiful book, easy to read, and full of great ideas for each stage of life.