Only two times during an entire year are the hours of daylight and the hours of darkness balanced – at the spring and fall equinoxes. On the day of the fall equinox, the sun crosses the equator, providing the earth with 12 hours of sunlight. This begins the changes that result in winter for the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the south. After the fall equinox, the Northern hemisphere of the earth begins to tilt ever so slightly away from the sun, slowly decreasing the amount of sunshine received until winter solstice, after which the days begin to lengthen again.
Spiritual Significance of Fall Equinox
For many who practice an earth-centered spiritual tradition, fall equinox marks a natural time for thanksgiving. In fact, in the Wiccan tradition the autumnal equinox is often referred to as the Witches Thanksgiving. Some Native American traditions call for ceremonies that honor the West direction where the season of autumn lies on the Medicine Wheel. Prayers of gratitude for received blessings and hopes for a gentle winter are offered with the burning of sacred herbs and tobacco.
By the time of the fall equinox, usually on or around September 22, most of the autumn vegetables, fruits and grains have been collected and Mother Earth has once again provided an abundance of food for her children. The busy time of tending fields and harvesting is almost done and though the work of storing and preserving foods for the winter still lies ahead, it is time to take a moment of rest and give thanks for all that has been received. As Diane Stein writes in Casting the Circle, “…with the death of the plants is the birth and the mystery of the seeds. All growth is held in suspension and silence within.”
Observing the Fall Equinox
Most people no longer plant or harvest their own foods. The convenience of a grocery store is a blessing, but the ability to drive to the store any time and buy foods from around the world leads many people to a disconnection with the natural world and her changes. Observing the ebb and flow of the seasons can assist in your personal and spiritual growth by allowing you to reconnect with your internal cycles and acknowledge the birth and death of the seeds you have been planting; seeds of career, family, personal creativity or education.
Taking even a few moments to step outside to watch the sky and breath the air on the four days that mark the seasonal high points, spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox and winter solstice, can open your heart to change, accepting it, celebrating it, and even being grateful for the fact that all life is constantly in motion.
Person Ritual for the Celebrating Fall Equinox
Perform this personal ritual just before dusk on the fall equinox if you can. Remember that no matter when you make the time, the ideas presented are designed to be flexible – adjust them to your own spiritual practices and belief system for the deepest experience.
Adorn your personal altar or meditation space with seasonal elements such as gourds, stalks of wheat, corn, or any items that connect you with the season. Or, if you have a private outdoor space, take a blanket outside and let nature be your altar.
Perform a smudging ceremony by burning dried herbs on an incense briquette in a fire-safe container. Herbs from your garden are best if available. Rosemary, sage or Artemis are especially appropriate for fall. Smudging is a spiritual cleansing ceremony intended to prepare one for deep, spiritual work. Wave the smoke from the burning herbs over all parts of your body as you take slow, deep breaths. After smudging, continue to breathe deeply and enjoy the pungent fall scents until your mind relaxes.
Think of the goals you’ve accomplished over the summer and the people who helped you accomplish them. Thank yourself for your efforts and thank each person out loud by name.
Imagine the sun rising above you, shining bright for 12 hours and retreating again for 12 dark hours. Allow the image to help you feel balanced within and to understand what steps are needed for more balance in your life. More sleep? Less play? More satisfying employment? Give yourself time to explore the concept of personal balance and how you can have more of it.
End your observance by giving thanks for all of the blessings you have in your life. Remember to give thanks for the convenient and plentiful food that is available to you during this season.
Casting the Circle, Diane Stein, 1990
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