The autumnal equinox (otherwise known as the “first day of fall”) is a turning point in the seasons when the sun reaches its zenith over the celestial equator. Or, more plainly, it comes to the midpoint in its journey from north to south. On an equinox, both the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated.
From the Latin word meaning equal (equi) night (-nox), the day of the equinox is a time when there is an equal amount of nighttime to daytime. In recent times, the autumnal equinox happens on the 22nd or 23rd of September depending on the year.
This symmetry between north and south and light and dark reminds us of the need for balance and harmony. This is especially so during the autumnal eclipse versus the vernal equinox in the spring, because the fall equinox is the date and time that the sun enters the astrological sign of Libra. The symbol of a set of scales, the sign of Libra is synonymous with balance, harmony, collaboration and partnership.
Autumnal Equinox Celebration
Less popular for ceremonies than the dramatic winter and summer solstices, equinoxes still do receive some attention. Formerly, in agrarian societies, this time of year was cause for huge gatherings and thanksgiving. Now, rather than the end of November, was typically the time that communities in the northern hemisphere were bringing in their crops for the winter and hosting massive feasts.
As “developed” countries moved into the industrial age, an increasing proportion of the population had little to do with the raising, harvesting and processing of food. Supermarkets and packaging distanced much of the modern world from the rituals of the autumnal equinox. In the United States, Thanksgiving supplanted fall harvest festivals in popularity.
However, the holiday of the autumnal equinox is experiencing a resurgence as more and more people return to the land to grow their own food or at least experience the flood of winter squash and root crops at the farmer’s market.
It used to be that an entire community would gather for the harvest because one family couldn’t collect and handle all the food alone. With the advent of agricultural machinery this vital tradition fell away.
If you are growing your own crops, the day or evening of the fall equinox is a great time to invite a few friends over to help you pick and/or process your fruits and vegetables. The harvest can culminate in a potluck and everyone can take some of the extra crop home to enjoy.
Another great fall equinox ritual is to purchase a bushel or some bulk quantity of a crop and either gather the family together or invite friends over to “put up” the food. Canning salsa, jam, jelly, sauces or pickled veggies is a beautiful art form that benefits tremendously from the help of many hands. My family spends hours in the kitchen all during the month of September processing tomatoes, peppers and pesto and cleaning potatoes for dry storage.
An easy way to participate in the spirit of the autumnal equinox is to find a local farm that hosts a fall festival or pumpkin patch.
Gathering Up the Bounty …
With all the talk about harvest, we are reminded to be grateful for the bounty and abundance in our lives. Many autumnal equinox celebrations include discussion among the members of what they have been able to bring to fruition in their own lives.
This is a time for closure, finishing projects, and taking stock. Like the squirrels that store up acorns and the beavers that stockpile larders in their dams, we are urged to look at what we have manifested in our lives that we are grateful for. What are you gathering together right now?
… And Letting Go
In the spirit of the season of balance, we must too assess what we are ready to let go of. Like the trees that lose their leaves each fall, now is the time to discern what you are ready to release. The “things” you’d like to release should include elements of the costume, the false identity, you wear. The leaves on trees are the “costume” and identity. What do you no longer need to carry that is not yours? Where in your life can you stop trying to impress or appease others?
The flowers are also letting go of their seeds, putting off manifesting new blossoms until next spring. It is important that we too let go of our ambitions for a time and let them hibernate. All good ideas benefit from some soak time.
Symbolically, you can do some fall tidying up to simplify the look and feel of your home and ready it for winter. Just like the trees send their energy into their roots in the fall, so too we can come back to our own roots and the simple life.
With a group during a fall equinox ritual, you can have participants write down what they’d like to release on a piece of paper, or even better leaves, and burn them in a communal fire. Fire can be tricky in dry areas this time of year, so participants can also tear the pieces of paper or crumble the leaves and bury them in the soil as long as the material is compostable.
Coming Together …
The three astrological signs that occur during autumn – libra, scorpio and sagittarius – are about coming into and growing through social and intimate connections. Social gatherings abound from Thanksgiving through to Christmas. Many friend and work holiday parties actually happen before Christmas break when everyone retreats into the more intimate setting of immediate family. In regards to an autumnal equinox celebration, make it a social activity, allowing plenty of time for conversation and merriment.
… And Turning In
The balance to all this outward effort is that fall is also the season for turning inward both literally and symbolically. The chill in the night air chases us inside earlier. We wait for the day to warm up before heading out in the morning.
Symbolically, our thoughts start turning inward, our minds and hearts quiet as our schedules (hopefully) wind down a bit. This is if you are moving with the natural rhythms. If you find yourself still pumping at the pace of summer, be mindful and make a concerted effort to slow down. You may have to decline a few invitations or deadlines, but doing so will provide a hefty immune boost against the upcoming flu season.
All in Balance
So, you can see how the autumnal equinox is a juxtaposition of opposites that could pull you to and fro. What we learn in the melee is the capacity to move seamlessly between the outer and the inner, embracing and releasing, and noise and quiet. It is when we get purposefully attached or accidentally entrenched to one mode of being that we experience suffering. Strive for balance rather than extremes and you’ll find the perfect recipe.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner and Ordained Minister, plans and facilitates ceremonies of all types from house blessings to weddings to life transitions. Many of these ceremonies coincide with either equinoxes or solstices. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and vast knowledge about the natural world, Stacey brings a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective to every ceremony she conducts. Every ceremony is custom-built and includes the valuable ideas and input from those she works on behalf of. Stacey can travel to you to conduct the ceremony in person, or she can meet with you by phone or Skype to work together and help you plan your own ceremony.
To Learn More About Stacey Couch’s Ceremonial Services Visit:
Wedding Ceremony Page
Land & House Blessing Page
or email Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your idea for a unique, personalized ceremony