Satellite view of the earth, showing the shadow line perfectly perpendicular to the equator; South America stands out bright while North America, more westerly, lies in shadow.

The Autumn Equinox: beginning, and beginning, and beginning

Three Cranes Grove celebrates the Autumn Equinox in about 5 hours. I should be doing ritual prep right now — gathering music stands, printing programs, preparing offerings, doing some final cooking for the potluck — but I find myself sitting here, instead, thinking about the Equinox and the Wheel of the Year. Blogger problems, I suppose. But it’s exciting to get think about the feastday, because it kicks off a whole series of rebirths and beginnings.

When I first came to paganism, the solstices and equinoxes didn’t mean much to me at all. The Celtic fire festivals (the in-between high days, the cross-quarters, whatever you want to call them) resonated much more strongly: Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane all had distinct flavors and moods, and Lammas/Lughnasa I could get behind as a general harvest/summer celebration. But the astronomical highdays left me cold. They seemed so dry! Here the days and nights are equally long and short. Here the night is longest; here shortest. They seemed merely mathematical. Even their common neopagan names (Ostara, Litha, Mabon, Yule) just fell flat for me: they didn’t ring in my mind. (Well, Yule has a whole set of cultural associations tied to Christmas, but that’s a different matter.)

And I’ll admit, they’re still not the high affective points of my year. But working with Three Cranes Grove, specifically, has opened them up for me somewhat, beginning with the Autumn Equinox. AuEq is our anniversary rite: come to the ritual and there’s even odds you’ll hear Michael and Joe tell the story of the very first ritual they did ADF-style, on the equinox, woefully underprepared. And yet out of that first ritual, absent flashlight and undercooked pork and all, came sixteen years (and counting!) of druidry in Central Ohio. Autumn Equinox is the beginning of a new year of Craning.

And then it kicks off a whole series of new years: Autumn Equinox is the new Crane year. Samhain marks the transition from gaimos, the light half of the year, to samonios, the dark half of the year; just as the Celts reckoned the new day to begin at nightfall, the new year begins as we enter the dark half. The Winter Solstice, longest night and all, marks the new light, rebirth of the promise of spring and warmth and growth. (That it also happens to come only ten days before the civil new year only reinforces that feeling.) Imbolc marks the new spring growth, the first tiny shoots of green and the lambing. Spring Equinox marks the arrival of spring in earnest; no matter how dreary the weather may be on the day itself, it soon turns green and thriving.

This constant restarting, this march from renewal to renewal, is a joy to me. It’s easy to love nature and the bounty of the gods in the summertime, when harvests make tables groan. But in my mid-thirties, when I’m finally feeling solidly in my adulthood (that is to say, grudgingly accepting that I’m not a youth anymore), but also feeling the spurt of change and new growth in my religious and artistic lives, this autumnal and wintry season is the the true gift of the festival year. Though we approach the cold, and the hinge of the year soon will bring us over into darkness and stillness, the calendar is lit with constant renovation. A blessed Autumn Equinox to you; may this new year find you blessed with balance, and may it carry us forward to the next new year, and the ones that follow.

Header image: “GOES Satellite Captures Spring Equinox.” Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. License: CC BY.

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