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The equinoxes are the solstices are harbingers of the changing of the seasons. Twice a year the earth tilts to a right angle to the sun and the sun is directly over the equator. Basically this configuration of earth and sun means that both hemispheres receive almost the same amount of light as they do dark.
In fact, the word equinox translates to “equal night.” The spring equinox falls around March 21 and the autumn equinox falls around September 21. Days grow shorter and nights grow longer for those living in the Northern hemisphere. The reverse is true for those living in the Southern hemisphere.
The tribes and clans of ancient times saw this day as the second harvest. The last of the summer crops would be harvested at this time. The month ahead would be spent drying and preserving vegetables and meats for the cold months ahead. One more harvest lay ahead at the end of October. After that, many of the tribes would be leaving their summer hunting grounds to make the long trek to their winter lodges.
Imagine, if you can, a life without electricity, plumbing, supermarkets, or any of the other modern day conveniences. People were much more aware of the rhythms of the earth and the movement of the stars. Everything revolved around the harvest. Modern day society has all but lost the basic skill of survival. We have forgotten how to feed ourselves.
During this time of giving thanks for the harvest clans and tribes would gather together. For some, it would be their last chance to see one another until spring. Food, dance and ritual were shared and enjoyed by all.
Our modern day equivalent, known as Thanksgiving, originally fell on October 2, a date which makes a lot more sense on an agricultural level. Abraham Lincoln was the first one responsible for changing the date of Thanksgiving. He issued the “Thanksgiving Proclamation” in 1863, which changed the date to the last Thursday in November. Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed it once again, making it the second to the last Thursday in October. He did this in the hope that changing the date would boost post Depression holiday sales. Two years later the final change was made by Congress, and the fourth Thursday of November officially became Thanksgiving Day.
The autumn equinox is definitely a time for gratitude for the bounty and abundance that summer brought our way. It is a time to stop and reflect on what we want to accomplish in the year ahead. The crisp autumn air and the smell of bonfires and the smell of apples and spice in the air are a welcome change from the hot muggy days of summer.
As a practicing Witch, I am profoundly aware of the old harvest calendar. Pagans see the autumn equinox, or Mabon as it is called by some, is a time as a time to gather together and share our adventures from the summer. We create corn dollies and other harvest based crafts and share a feast. As in days of old, it is our Thanksgiving.
As I join in the sacred circle, call in the elements of the earth, and allow the spirit of gratitude to flow through me I am once again aware of the changes I feel within as well as the changes I see reflected all around me. I am in the autumn of my life now, caught between the summer of my youth and the winter of my old age. But, autumn has always been my favorite season, and I am quite sure that this autumn of my life is going to be my favorite season too. All I have to do is paint the beautiful hues of orange, yellow and red on my inner canvas.
Life is good.