The wheel of the year

Autumnal equinox (Mabon)

Author: Jonathan Argento

Within modern paganism, the Wheel of the Year consists of 8 seasonal celebrations, spaced approximately 6-7 weeks apart through the year.  Undoubtedly, our ancestors celebrated some of these festivals, though perhaps not all of them.

Within modern paganism the Wheel of the Year forms a symmetry, each point sitting opposite their counterparts. They comprise of a combination of Solstices, Equinoxes and old European Agricultural festivals. The Autumn Equinox is one of these festivals, celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere somewhere around the 21st of September and is often celebrated as a harvest festival.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Undoubtedly the Autumn Equinox is a hærfest – marking a seasonal transition, celebrated and famed for gathering and plucking in European (and European derived) cultures. The hærfest asks us to consider and value the people and things we have gathered into our lives.

Like the turning of the tide, that liminal point at which the sea appears to pause, the autumn equinox marks the second time in the year when day and night, light and dark are in perfect balance - a time for reflection and recovering equilibrium. It is also the time when we notice the strength of the Sun starting to wane as the equinox heralds the drawing in of the year. This too carries a message of introspection, a reminder that darker days lie ahead. For our ancestors, with limited resources, it was a both a time of thankfulness for the harvest, and a reminder that their survival in winter depended upon it.

In many modern accounts this Equinox is called Mabon, although there is no reference to this title prior to the 20th century. Sorita D’Este accounts for its inclusion as a result of speculation by the American author, Aiden Kelly. As she rightly points out Mabon is a Welsh deity, not a festival and the linking of this god to the Autumn Equinox is somewhat tenuous. In retrospect, perhaps we should credit Mabon for getting a name-check beyond his direct influence.

The Autumn Equinox (often located in the Western quarter of a sacred circle) speaks to us of the need for stillness and balance. Its arrival heralds a season of a gradual descent into the underworld, a turning tide of prophecy and death - secure in the knowledge that, through this, the Spring will return.

This is captured by the poet Shelley in Ode to the West Wind -

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

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