Autumn is a time for transition, to release the levity of long days and short nights, to integrate the lessons of the light-loving summer and prepare for the cold months ahead. The equinox occurs when the visible Sun is positioned directly above the Earth’s equator—it’s generally regarded as the moment when the Sun can be measured longitudinally as 0º and 180º. It’s the tipping point of the Sun’s quarterly passage over the planet; the transition of our star from north to south.
It is no coincidence that fall is also when we physically begin to reap what was sown in the fertile spring; what we tended to with the joy and passion of summer. Just as leaves in the Northern Hemisphere begin to take on these richer, ruddier colors of ripened fauna, we too can look to the season as a time to evaluate our own transitions; to consider the fruit of our spiritual harvest. What seeds of our practice did we plant in the spring that we now look to harvest energetically?
This desire to take stock in where we’ve been and where we’re going during the changing seasons is not unique to modernity. Autumnal equinox celebrations have long been a significant part of spiritual life. Looking for ideas to spruce up your own? Drawing from history may help.
Pagan rituals around the equinox vary from one tradition to the next, but all revolve around the harvest season, and the exploration of transition from the levity and vitality of summer to the metaphoric weight and death of winter. Autumn is considered a time to close the cycles of hope and aspiration begun in the seasons of Imbolc and Ostara, and the second harvest following the summer haul known as Lammas. Wicca tradition examines the aging of the Goddess from Mother to Crone; the transition of moving from one stage of life to the next.
In Japan, Buddhist tradition dictates both a vernal and an autumnal celebration known as Ohigan, a time to honor ancestors and lost loved ones. The red spider lily—a flower with a very short bloom period that coincides with Ohigan—is named for the time of year, and tends to bloom in and around graveyards, and is also called the “ghost flower” or “death flower.” To mark Ohigan, Japanese tradition dictates the visiting of family graves to leave flowers or other mementos.
East Asian Moon Festival
Though it doesn’t correspond exactly to the equinox on the Northern Hemisphere calendar, the East Asian Moon Festival is celebrated in from Japan and China to Vietnam and South Korea. While customs vary, it is marked on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, and is a time to elevate vitality and bask in the light-giving glory of the full moon. This is done by giving thanks, and making sacrificing to the moon—thought to be the bearer of good luck and tidings. Mooncakes are a popular dish, even in expatriate communities in the American South.
Druidry Alban Elfed
Modern-day Druidry is a spiritual practice that emphasizes connection to—and reverence for—the natural world, and the exploration of the creative self. Alban Elfed is the stage on the Wheel of the Year that, similarly to Pagan traditions, highlights the second harvest and celebrates abundance of the summer as we begin to prepare for the darkness of winter. Traditional celebrations are held at Stonehenge.
Western Harvest Festivals
Apple picking, hayrides, pumpkin patches: These fall traditions can very much be modern ways to celebrate this balancing day of the year. Recalibrate autumn outings like these to honor the equinox by weaving in goal-setting and personal reevaluation. Giving thanks for the bounty of the fruit on the trees—and then creating something to nourish your body from it—can be a nice way to consider transition and to honor the Earth’s natural cycles.
How do you choose to celebrate the equinox?
Lisette Cheresson is a writer, storyteller, yoga teacher, and adventuress who is an avid vagabond, homechef, dirt-collector, and dreamer. When she’s not playing with words, it’s a safe bet that she’s either hopping a plane, dancing, cooking, or hiking. She received her Level II Reiki Attunement and attended a 4-day intensive discourse with the Dalai Lama in India, and received her RYT200 in Brooklyn. She is currently the Director of Content at Wanderlust Festival. You can find her on Instagram @lisetteileen.