Autumn Equinox: heaven’s wheel turns

earth at solstice

I know, I know, I come late to the equinox. Perhaps it’s the equinox’s fault. All hell broke loose when I should have been sitting down to ponder its significance. Fortunately, the sun positioned itself directly over the equator at right angles to Earth and showered its light equally on both hemispheres without my help. The Russian weather satellite Electro L also got on without me and took this picture of the earth as it can be seen only at the equinox. If I think about this hard enough, I may actually figure out why. (Usually part of it would be in shadow?) But you’re better off if I don’t try to explain that, given my ignorance.

This happened on Sunday, September 22, 2013 around 4:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Coincidentally, the moon had been full three days before and was particularly beautiful from my front porch.

There are four heavenly events that we still note: the vernal equinox around March 21st, the first day of spring when day and night are of equal length; the summer solstice around June 21st, Midsummer Night, the longest day of the year, and the first day of summer after which the days start to shorten; the autumnal equinox around September 21st, the first day of fall when darkness and light are once again equal; and the winter solstice around December 21st, the first day of winter when day begins to lengthen and night to grow shorter. These changes amount to only a minute or two a day, so that spring creeps northward at that daily rate.

The autumn equinox is the festival of Mabon, an early Cornish saint, according to some internet sources. That would be a pagan or Wiccan saint. Some accounts assert that she is female while others say he is male. They all see the festival as a celebration of the second harvest, the first harvest presumably was in July. But whether female or male, the deity is about to descend into the underworld, just as the energy of nature withdraws and disappears from sight in winter.

We feel this in our own bodies and we may even wonder out loud if we really can survive another winter. Chances of such complaining probably relate to how far north we live and how old we are. Me, old and here at 43.7 ┬░ N. But I have observed that those living at 34┬░ N and much younger also dread winter.

To cope with these fears, we have used narrative. Mabon, Persephone or Ianna goes into the underworld sometimes as the bride of Hades. The yearly King Must Die as Mary Renault recounted and Joseph Conrad alluded to in Heart of Darkness. The Green Man is sacrificed. The Straw Man is burned.

On October 31, the third harvest is celebrated, as Samhain, the Celtic New Year. So why do I get so irritated by the appearance of Hallowe’en costumes and God help us- Happy Hallowe’en cards- in stores in September? It’s just humanity acclimatizing to the death of the god, preparing to embrace the darkness by mocking it in scarey costumes and forays into the night in pursuit of sweet solace. November 1st, the Christian church designates as All Saints Day, a day to remember all the dead.

Our goal is to get through to the goddess’s or god’s rebirth, the emergence from the underworld or womb at the festival of light at winter solstice. We hang lights -much too early- and bring evergreens and holly, red with berries, into our houses to assure ourselves that eventually divine forces will bring back the energy of growth and expansion at the spring equinox.

Since I am almost as old as Mabon, I have a 75 year-old memory of one autumn equinox that I recount in Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. (

On September 21, 1934, I was a 2 year-old, seated in a horse drawn buggy between my mother and my grandmother on my way to the church hall in Hereford, Quebec on the Vermont border. There was going to be a chicken pie supper and dance. The pies under the seat were ready to be reheated in the hall stove. They smelled delicious. I never made it. “The wind took my breath away.” Don’t ask. I heard my mother say that. Evidently, the wind was very strong and I couldn’t breathe. So I found myself unceremoniously┬á dumped back home in the care of my great grandmother and mentally challenged cousin. They did their best to comfort me, setting up my little table with tea for my dolls and me, but I was sore aggrieved.

Later that evening, I woke up to an incredible hullabloo, a great wind hammering at the isolated hilltop farm house, my caregivers pushing furniture against the windows, which were bulging inward. My great grammy fell down. She wouldn’t get up. My cousin started screaming. When I went near her, she pushed me away and shouted at me. Things went downhill from there.

By the time my father arrived next day, having chopped his way back up hill from the church hall, I was truly traumatized, Grammy had suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered and my clever little mind had decided to forget the whole thing. It never happened.

Exactly what never happened, I didn’t figure out for 60 years. It was the Great New England Hurricane which whaled up the eastern seaboard without warning. It killed 680 people, destroyed 9000 buildings as well as damns, bridges, roads, and harbours. It leveled whole forests. It did $20,000,000,000 damage in today’s terms. Only one of the great white pines that stood on the road down the hill was left. Although I didn’t remember the event, I loved that tree with inexplicable intensity.

So here we are just past the autumn equinox. The days grow short, but no hurricane is knocking at the door and fortunately, our stories light our way.