In late September we celebrate Mother earth in her full maturity: it is the height of the harvest and the land is abundant with crops. In Ancient Ways, Pauline Campanelli reminds us that the English word mother comes from the Latin mater, which shares the same linguistic root as the words material and matter. The earth has been regarded as “feminine” since ancient times, when man worshipped a balance between the masculine and feminine principles that were thought to rule the universe. Nature, animals, the moon and the irrational have traditionally been associated with the feminine principle, while the mind and spirit have been interpreted as masculine. Following this logic, the harvest season marks the peak as well as the fall and the decline of the goddess’ reign. What began at Lammas continues here.
On the Autumnal Equinox night and day are equally long. We experience a brief moment of equilibrium, of perfect balance between the goddess and god, matter and spirit. Summer is coming to an end as we enter a time of shorter days and colder nights. We stand on the threshold of winter. This event marks the symbolic death of the goddess and the birth of the god.
In temperate climates, the land is abundant with grains, fruits, root vegetables, and gourds. In my garden, tomatoes are still ripening on healthy green branches. But the tide is shifting fast, and soon, the first frost will cover the morning grass in an icy crystal blanket.
After the harvest season reaches its zenith nature withers and dies. The Autumn Equinox is a reminder that even mother earth needs to exercise a proper balance between work and rest. As the goddess prepare for her winter sleep it is time for the god to shine. Darkness and night is actually a source of energy for the mind as it offers space for creativity and reflection.
The psychological symbolism of the autumn equinox is balance. Now is the time to celebrate the balance you have created in your life. Honor that which you have sowed and reaped this year, think about how you have prepared for next year, and do the necessary work to ensure you have it all covered for the coming winter – spiritually and emotionally as well as physically. Even if it felt like you did not accomplish much this year, if you sit down and think about it, you will release that you have done a lot. Perhaps you made progress at work, with a project, or with a relationship (including the relationship with yourself). After completing this work, turn your gaze away from the world, from the hustle of everyday life, and begin the process of slowing down. As we go inward we embark on a different journey. Welcome the soothing darkness and rejoice in the inspiration that it brings.
Celebrations & Crafts
At this holiday marks the beginning of the more spiritual and meditative part of the year, I chose to celebrate my spiritual commitment and to nourish my relationship with the divine.
I did not perform a formal ritual for this Sabbat. Sometimes just honoring the season through decorating, spending time in nature, and cooking with fresh, local ingredients, is sacred enough.
Fall is a wonderful time for home decorating. Nature’s own craft shop offers colorful leaves, pumpkins, squash, corn, apples, and berries. It is also the time to bring potted herbs inside, or hanging harvested herbs to dry in decorative bouquets for culinary and medicinal use throughout winter.
A Harvest Wreath
The wreath is a very old symbol. In Antiquity, the geometrical shape of the circle represented eternity. It is also the shape of a wheel – the wheel of the year – spinning forever through the cycles of nature. In the West, the idea that time has a beginning and an end was introduced by Christianity. The philosophers of Ancient Greece believed that the universe had always existed and would continue to do so for all eternity. The conclusions of modern scientists lie somewhere in between. On the one hand, we know that stars and planets have a lifespan, albeit lasting for periods of time that seem like eternity for us. But on the other hand, we also know that nothing is ever completely obliterated, only transformed.
Since ancient times, wreaths have been crafted and worn as ritual jewelry, to indicate social status, and as a symbol of victory ( think of the Laurel wreath used to crown winners of the Olympic games in classical Greece).
The decorative autumn wreath originated in Europe as part of harvest celebration rituals. It is the crown of the harvest season, a symbol of victory offered to mother earth. But it is also amulet of protection, a prayer that the wheel of the year will continue to spin, so that we may enjoy a plentiful harvest next year again.
The wreath can be made from harvest plants, fastened with ribbons and adorned with colorful fall leaves, or with dried or fake flowers and foliage. I used materials from a craft store to make my wreath, including a base wreath made from dried twigs. I wanted to invoke the harvest feast though seasonal symbols: trees, Maple leaves, Sun flowers, berries and mini pumpkins.
Most years of my life, autumn has carried with it a feeling of new beginnings, like the beginning of the school year. This year is different. Autumn still evokes a sense of beginnings, but this time, I truly feel that this season marks the beginning of the end of a cycle. The night of winter approaches. I turn my gaze inward to navigate the darkness with my mind’s eye. I seek permission to ground and center in myself, and despite the uncertain times we live in, with everchanging pandemic restrictions, I find myself less affected by worry. I am no longer alerted by the constant noise of the media. I am dancing to a new rhythm. After almost a year of celebrating the wheel of the year, I move to the song of the seasons, the biorhythms of earth.
Pauline Campanelli: Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions (1991, 2019)
Genevieve Lloyd :The Man of Reason, Male and Female in Western Philosophy (1984, 1993)