I am thrilled to say that Autumn is officially here...as of 5:04 AM/EST....so they say. The air will get crisper. The leaves will turn and fall. The mood will calm. The over all energy will shift into a state of creative inspiration...wrapped in a comfy sweater. It will for me, anyway.
Different countries the world over have festivals on the Autumnal Equinox, but I'm going to make mention of a couple that relate to pagan celebrations, the main one being the celebration of Mabon.
During each year, we have two Equinoxes and two Solstices. The Autumnal and Vernal Equinoxes signal the beginning of Fall and Spring respectively. There are also the Summer and Winter Solstices. Friday, September 23rd, is the official first day of Autumn in the northern hemisphere, as it is the day of the Autumnal Equinox. (The southern hemisphere will be experiencing their Vernal Equinox, with the first day of their Spring.)
What is an Equinox...what happens at an Equinox? Hopefully I will be able to explain this without causing major confusion. The Sun crosses the 'Celestial Equator' (an imaginary circle in the sky that sits directly above the Earth's equator), and moves southward. When looking at the Earth (see above diagram), when the sun is directly overhead at solar noon, this is known as the 'subsolar point'. This occurs on the Equator during the September/Autumnal Equinox. Earth's axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the Earth and the Sun. This causes a long day, and long night. (Throughout the year, the Sun moves between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, creating longest and shortest days. The Spring Equinox also has a long day and night.)
(This is a Pagan "Wheel of the Year"; please note that the dates for most of these celebrations shift within the span of a few days from year to year...ex: one year the Autumnal Equinox might fall on September 20th, then the next year fall on the 22nd)
The Equinoxes and Solstices are an important part of the Pagan/Wiccan 'Wheel of the Year' calendar. The 'Wheel' is comprised of eight festivals spaced evenly over the year. The Autumnal Equinox is called Mabon on the Pagan 'Wheel', which means "son" in Welsh. Mabon refers to the son of the Welsh goddess, Madron. The term of 'Mabon' was started in the 1970's by a man named Aidan Kelly, as part of a religious studies project. How Kelly was able to influence Neo-paganism as a whole to use the term, I couldn't really find anything about that.
Mabon is the second of three pagan Harvest Festivals. Lammas (the beginning of the time of harvest) precedes it, and Samhain (the pagan New Year) follows it. It is the pagan time for Thanksgiving, and a time for sharing so as to insure the blessings of the Goddess and God during the winter. It is a time of balance, with equal daylight and darkness.
While giving thanks for what the earth has given, it is also acknowledged that the crops are becoming dormant/dying. The days will start to transition from warm to cold. Some symbols of Mabon that can be used as decoration for the special day are apples (and anything made with apples), gourds, squash, grapes/wine, seeds, baskets to symbolize the gathering of crops, and sickles or scythes.
There are various rituals and ceremonies one can do to celebrate Mabon. One of the more popular ones is to create a Mabon altar. Use symbols of the season: the colors of autumn leaves-orange, red, yellow, and brown; use cloths to cover the altar base; place root vegetables, wheat, corn, on your altar; add a basket, sickle, etc.; include something to signify the balance of light and dark (long day and long night) by having two candles, one white and one black; use scales to show balance. Be creative and add other items that pertain to the harvest, the balance, or even the Goddess. Maybe a tree branch, some autumn scented incense, etc.
(A burning wicker man at a UK equinox celebration)
Bonfires are also a tradition, as is the burning of a wicker man. The Celts would dress the last sheaf of harvested corn in clothes, or would weave it into a wicker-like man or woman. The wicker man represents the sun/corn spirit. When the woven figure is burned, it is said to release the trapped spirit. The ashes are then spread over the fields. (Some believe that this practice is behind the misconception that Druids engaged in human sacrifice.)
(The Goddess, and the crone)
Wiccans celebrate the Goddess as she passes from mother to crone. They also celebrate her consort, the God, as he readies for death and rebirth.
Druids celebrate, and they call the day "Mea'n Fo'mhair". They worship the Forest God known as 'The Green Man'. Libations are offered to trees in the form of herbs, wine, cider, and fertilizer.
Whether you celebrate in some fashion by way of a bonfire or altar, or you are just a fan of Autumn...
Wishing everyone a lovely Equinox!