In the Northern Hemisphere, the equinox is celebrated as Mabon, also called Herfest, Halig, and Harvest Home. (Those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Eostar at this time.) Astronomically, the event falls near September 21 or 22. The precise date and time can be found at archaeoastronomy.com.
Mike Nichols writes of the day: “Mythically, this is the day of the year when the God of Light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the God of Darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day.” The metaphor for the natural solar cycle is perfectly clear, and easily appreciable by naturalists. Likewise with the agricultural myth of John Barleycorn, personification of the ripened grain:
“Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing.”
Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian Cosmology, celebrates this as a time of abundance and thanksgiving, but also of loss. She associates it with the myth of Persephone’s descent into the underworld, ritually enacting a moment of “letting go”. “Demeter” goes to each participant:
”(name), I give you the wheat – the Mystery – the knowledge of life and death. I let you go as Daughter (Child/Mabon), most loved of Mine … you descend to Wisdom, to Sovereignty. You will return as Mother, co-Creator with me. You are the Seed in the Fruit, becoming the Fruit in the Seed. Inner Wisdom guides your path.”
Response: “It is so. I am Daughter (Child/Mabon), becoming Mother – Seed becoming Fruit. I am deepening into/descend to, Wisdom, into Sovereignty. The Mother knowledge grows within me.”
[PaGaian Mabon 2009]
“As I stand here on this celebration of Harvest Home, the Autumnal Equinox, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in times to come, I honour the old ways. Today is the day of balance, of equal light and dark. The sun has begun to wane while the nights grow steadily longer and the weather becomes cooler. We head towards winter. It is the time of the second harvest, the harvest of fruits, of apples, nuts and grapes. Change is all around. The leaves are turning beautiful colours, the birds are preparing for migration and the squirrels are gathering their foods for winter. I give thanks for the abundant gifts of the Earth Mother.”
“Perhaps that’s why this equinox seems like such a blindspot in the American imagination. Themes of loss and darkness don’t fit well with the national narrative.
“Yet there is much to celebrate, if we aspire to a full and comprehensive vision of what it means to be human on this planet. The metaphors of the equinox can work for us, if are open to the possibility. …
“This might be a time for drawing in, for gathering together. The equinox can be a time for reflection, for making changes and starting projects, for setting priorities and recognizing intentions. … For truly darkness and loss, though they present challenges, are not to be feared if we can only gain adequate perspective.
Bart has also put together a great playlist of Mabon/Equinox-themed music.
“As the Autumn Equinox marks the second harvest festival on the wheel of the year, like Lughnasadh it represents a time of retrospection, appraisal, and gratitude. But althoughLughnasadh was primarily about gratitude for me this year – a time of abundance and joy – the Autumn Equinox very definitely marks the turning point into the dark part of the year, and as such it also signals a time of release and introspection.
“At Samhain, I will fully submit to the dark of winter, fully releasing everything that needs to be released this year as I turn twenty-five. The Autumn Equinox, for me, begins the work of this descent into the dark. I start to assess and let go of what is no longer working.”
“Fall harvest décor is appropriate, with dried cornstalks, squash, gourds, Indian corn, etc. The social aspect of our lives is highlighted by this harvest theme – a time when friends and family get together for the harvest. …
“Dinner will of course have a harvest theme, including squash, homemade bread, cranberry sauce, etc. … One part of the ritual is often the pouring of a little wine at the base of the trees in our yard as thanks for the summer shade and the coming fall colors.”
Another great activity, courtesy of Jonathan Blake of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo list, is measuring your latitude on the equinox using only the sun, a stick, and some basic calculations.