The Autumn Equinox

Equinox = ‘equal night’~ from Latin‘aequus’ and ‘nox’.

During the September equinox, which takes place around the 21st September, the sun crosses the celestial equator, moving southwards in the northern hemisphere and northwards in the southern hemisphere.

The September equinox is a sign of autumn in the north and of spring in the south. During the equinox, the length of night and day across the world is almost equal and this occurs in the astrological sign of Libra, where the sign of the scales represents the balance between day and night.

In the northern hemisphere, the Autumn Equinox signifies the ending of summer and the days have been getting progressively shorter since the Summer Solstice, around 21st June. The sun continues to wane as the nights continue to get longer and the days shorter, leading up to the Winter Solstice around 21st December. In Greek mythology, autumn begins as the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to live with her husband Hades. Animals associated with the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere are dogs, wolves and birds of prey. Mythical creatures associated with this time of the year include gnomes, minotaurs and the sphinx.

As with all annual cycles, the Autumn Equinox was a sacred time to ancient peoples. The Welsh Celts called this day ‘Alban Elfed’, meaning ‘Light of Autumn’ and it was recognised as the first day of Autumn. It has also been known as ‘Harvest Home’ and was a time when farmers brought in their harvested goods to be weighed and sold.

This is the second festival of the season of harvest, the first being Lughnasadh, at the beginning of August.  Magically it was believed to be a good time to enact rituals for protection and security.  At this time, Celtic communities would reflect upon successes or failures from the previous months, celebrate and give thanks for the fruits of nature.

In the Buddhist tradition in Japan, the September and March equinoxes are times of national holiday, which are festivals of their imperial ancestors. The equinoxes were considered to be times when the spirits of the dead were able to reach Nirvana after crossing the river of existence, leaving behind the world of suffering, to reach the world of enlightenment.

In the Christian tradition, Michaelmas (the Feast of Michael and All Angels) on 29th September, falls close to the autumnal equinox. Pagans celebrated this time in preparation for the winter, by giving thanks to the sunlight before the impending time of darkness. From the Middle Ages until the 18th century, it was observed as a holy day.  Today it is still celebrated by some as the ‘festival of strong will’ or as Thanksgiving.

In China, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Festival and dates back more than 3,000 years. It is celebrated around the time of the September equinox and of the full moon, giving thanks for the abundance of the summer’s harvest. At this time, families get together to decorate streets with lanterns, to perform dragon dances and to make mooncake with lotus, sesame seeds, duck egg or dried fruit. This is a tradition that originates from making offerings to the sun in the spring, in celebration of resurrection and to the moon in the autumn, known in the West as the Harvest Moon.

At this time of harvesting, the produce from the summer months is gathered and stored in preparation for the winter cycle. The Autumn Equinox is at the cusp of the end of the Virgo cycle and the beginning of the Libra cycle. Virgo, the Virgin, is depicted with a sheaf of wheat in her arms and Libra is represented by the scales of cosmic justice.

The sign of Virgo represents the Spiritual Mother, whereas the sign of Cancer represents the Earth Mother. Virgo here represents the ascent of the soul towards the purity of virgin consciousness on Earth, through the daily discernment and refinement of consciousness. The Virgo experience is a process of learning to discern the chaff from the wheat – what is pure and what is impure; what to accept and what to reject; what is of use and what is no longer of use. Virgo represents the interface between body and soul.

The job assigned to Virgo is to undertake the task of daily life with a consciousness of spiritual awareness and understanding – a living demonstration of the awakened soul on Earth, raising the seeming mundane to a higher spiritual level of existence, allowing the spiritual to influence the physical.

Listen to an Autumn Equinox Meditation

Harp music by Rebecca Penkett

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