So last week was the autumn equinox… or was it the week before already? I’m still working on coming up with a personal cycle of special days and festivals and stuff, but the equinoxes and solstices are easy places to start. I like how they’re astronomy-based and not strictly agriculture-based, since I don’t have a garden so agricultural festivals don’t mean much to my life (for now! I might be able to set up a vegetable bed next year).
The autumn equinox is sometimes called Mabon, but fun fact, there wasn’t an old autumn equinox festival in the British Isles–the closest event would be Michaelmas on the 29th or festivals for the Harvest moon, celebrated on the Sunday of the full moon closest to the equinox. I learned this from reading the zine “Autumn Equinox Folklore” from Through the Hagstone; here’s a quote about the origin of the name Mabon:
“The Wiccan name for the autumn equinox, “Mabon”, is relatively modern. It was chosen in 1974 by Aidan Kelly, a Wiccan initiate who aimed to balance the names of the old Irish fire festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain) with Anglo-Saxon festivals in between. However, there is no known ancient British festival around the date of the equinox.”
Neat, huh? Check out the zine for info about where the name Mabon came from! (Also I think it’s kinda hilarious that the eight-spoke wheel made up by white British hippies in the 60s and 70s has been so enthusiastically adopted by Wiccans and non-Wiccans alike. Wonder how much of that is because people don’t realize that. No judgment! …Okay, well, some judgment. But what do I know, the gender term I most identify with was made up by kids on tumblr ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
Anyway, there’s a bunch of autumn equinox/Mabon symbols and activities that don’t fully click with me. Like one is the cornucopia, the horn overflowing with freshly harvested food. Maybe it’s just because I have a hard time seeing something especially significant about an autumn harvest in particular. I guess it’s when grain is harvested? But I don’t grow grain. So now I just think of the cornucopia as a kindergarten decoration along with construction paper leaves. Nothing wrong with it I guess, but it doesn’t feel especially real or help me connect to the season.
Another popular thing is to align goal-setting with the seasons, and I don’t know that I like that. Maybe because I don’t always like contextualizing things in terms of “goals”. It feels like just another word for “achieve”. I’ve never done new year’s resolutions either. I mean, I have goals I guess, but for me the reason I don’t achieve goals (there’s that word again) doesn’t have to do with being focused on them or needing to align or realign, it has to do with having unrealistic expectations or needing to split them into smaller pieces. I don’t like all this aligning and realigning with goals, as though my actions and successes are determined by my intentions. That’s such an industrial, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps thing. And yeah, I know not all seasonal goal-related endeavors are about setting intentions, it’s just that… there are better things than goals that I’d rather be reminded of or refocus on during special days. I want to align and realign with values. That’s what helps me set more realistic goals in the everyday.
Anyway, I thought I’d just do a big list of what the equinox feels like to me, symbols and images I like, that sort of thing. Enjoy!
Werewolves. Transformation, the balance between animal and human, the dark and the moon, the supernatural and the natural apex predators. The tension between independence and loneliness and exclusion with connection and nature and the pack dynamic. It is not “exuberant”, it is feral, though not thoughtless. Quiet and silent stalking, loud and boisterous howling. Frightened and frightening.
Books. Fall is the time for reading, learning, deep and curious thoughts.
Coffee. When natural energy wanes (less sun, less exuberance, getting sleepy earlier along with the light and the colder weather), it’s time to invoke the warm comforts of coffee and chocolate.
The feeling of a really good itch. When you can actually feel the dead skin scratching off your body, shedding the old in such a physically satisfying sensation.
Acorns. Acorn caps, chewed acorns, acorn parts strewn everywhere across the ground.
Crickets. Crickets are the end-of-summer noise, everything leading up to the equinox, when they are mating and coming out of their holes with dramatic flair. Sort of like cicadas in some regions. When the crickets are gone, that’s when it starts to be fall.
The moon. A year-round friend, but it takes on a special orange feeling in the fall.
Fantasy and sci-fi. Discworld, Futurama, The Twilight Zone. Imagination and fantasy, indulgence in the mystical-magical, both the frightening elements and the playful ones. Escapist and yet hauntingly familiar.
Music. If the seasons were different arts, I would say Fall is Music. Emotional, thoughtful, structured but universal, layered and independent and communal. The symbolic geometry of the universe at work in such a natural, intuitive way. (Winter would be writing, solitary and deep. Spring is painting, flowing and life-giving. Summer is theatre, playful and communal).
On that note, one album I think captures the autumn equinox and the fall really well for me is Polka’s Not Dead by The Dreadnoughts, and I don’t know I could even tell you why. I’ve also liked listening to the sort of early rock/doo-wop songs. You know, like the stuff they’d play in the prom in Back to the Future. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has been grabbing me in particular. Fall proper is when I’ll get more in the mood for trad goth songs (I’ve got “The Killing Moon” by Echo & the Bunnymen queued)–we’ll get there soon!
Image from English Book-Plates, Ancient and Modern (1893). https://archive.org/details/englishbookplate00castrich