For ancient people, the harvest festival was one of the biggest events of the year.
What is the autumnal equinox? For the Northern Hemisphere, it is the point when the sun crosses the celestial equator. We experience equal night and day, and from that point forward, nights are longer. As of this Friday, summer is officially over and fall has begun.
Pagans around the world have many names for this equinox—Witch’s Thanksgiving, Mabon, and Haleg Monath are just a few. But the sentiment is nearly the same in most traditions: a celebration of the glorious bounty the Earth and Sun provide as the summer crop season comes to a high point. People also shift from reveling in the heat and abundance of summer to witnessing the shutting-down of Earth as the Northern Hemisphere begins its journey through winter.
For ancient people, the Mother Goddess was reality. This is not hyperbole. People truly believed they came from her and went back to her; were made of her, ate of her; built their homes, wove their clothing, molded their pottery from her. The harvest festival was for many civilizations a tremendously powerful union with this deity. People lived in the fields as they worked the harvest, reflected in the Jewish holiday Sukkot. The last stalk of each crop was treasured. Called “crying the neck,” it was a blessing and a curse to be the one to cut it.
That stalk would be brought back and sometimes made into a “corn dolly” of The Goddess. She was kept in a place of honor in the home, only to be placed in the first furrow cut into the ground the following spring. This was seen as a way of bringing all the power and energy of the previous harvests into the upcoming season. The gods or archetypes that pagans sacrificed at Lughnasadh (Aug. 1), symbolically or otherwise, are dismembered or burnt and the ashes scattered over the fields—a way of “planting” the solar-deity energy directly into the ground where it would be needed most in the coming months.
Much of the symbolism of summer is thrust, push, intensity. In my lectures, I often say summer is the push before the baby comes, and the fall equinox is the baby. What are you pushing out into the world? What are you about to deliver? Interestingly, the world’s rivers crest at this time of year and typhoons and hurricanes abound; perhaps these are Mother Earth’s waters breaking as she gives us another year’s harvest?
I always recommend walking outside and eating seasonal fruits and veg as ways to celebrate a season, but one of my favorite fall traditions is to collect seeds, here in the heart of the harvest. It’s a reminder that all I harvest this season, whether riches or suffering, is intended to help me create a better tomorrow for me and my community. They are a reminder of what all this work, this sweating, this labor, is for: tomorrow.
Originally published at Seattle Weekly