Day and night are in balance twice a year, at the spring and fall equinoxes. (The word “equinox,” of course, comes from Latin words meaning “equal” and “night.) I think most of us will agree that balance is a good thing—after all, many of us are writing these blogs at Feminism and Religion to bring some balance to the ideas and institutions of religion. Many spiritual teachers in many faiths tell us that it’s good to bring ourselves into balance—our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies are healthier and we’re happier when they’re in balance. This is one reason we try to live healthy lives. Note that the fall equinox is also the day the sun moves into the astrological sign Libra, the symbol of which is the scale with its balance pans.
Working on achieving personal balance is a way we can act locally as we think globally. If we can get ourselves into balance, then maybe our personal balance will ripple out into our family, our extended family, our community, our church, our workplace…heck, maybe eventually into local, state, and federal governments. In this age of civil wars, terrorists, drones, and what seems like universal spying, balance is something devoutly to be wished for. And worked for. To celebrate the equinox (September 22), therefore, let’s do a modest ritual of balance.
1. Examine your holy book to find verses that suggest balance to you. They don’t have to use the word “balance,” but see what ideas you can find. In the Authorized Version of the Bible, for example, we find Job speaking these words: “Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity” (Job 31:6). Find a verse in your holy book and copy it out. Also find something in your home that means balance to you.
2. Consider the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. We know Ma’at by the feather on her head. This is the ostrich plume she lays in one pan of the scale of justice when we come before her after we die. She lays our heart in the other pan. If in our life we endeavored to live in accordance with Ma’at’s principles of justice, truth, and law, then our heart is light and the scale of justice will balance. Osiris will say to us, “Depart in victory. Go and mingle with the spirits of the gods and the dead.” But if the scale doesn’t balance, and our heart is weighed down by injustices, lies, and law-breaking, then we’re in big trouble. The monster Ahemait will devour our heart. It’s a good thing we have reincarnation so we have more lives in which to learn the lessons of divine order. Ma’at didn’t have temples of her own, and rituals to her seem to have been modest.
3. Find a quiet, private space in your home or garden where you can hold your modest ritual. You can do it alone or invite friends and ask them to bring small symbols (which can include pictures cut out of magazines) that either mean balance to them or represent something that needs to be balanced. If you don’t have a figure of Ma’at, find a photo of her and lay this on your altar, which can be a small table in the center of the circle you and your friends will cast. Set one white candle and one black candle on the altar to symbolize the balance of day and night on the equinox. Then lay your symbols of balance in a circle around Ma’at and the two candles. If you have Tarot decks, get out the Justice cards and lay them on the altar, too.
4. If you’re alone, sit facing Ma’at. If you invited friends, sit in a circle around your altar. Light the candles (and be sure that nothing will catch fire!), take a few deep, easy breaths, and enter a meditative (alpha) state where you are relaxed and alert at the same time. Speaking aloud or in your mind (if you’re alone), cast the circle and invoke the goddess by saying, Blessed Ma’at, Goddess of Justice and Balance, we are here to consider balance in our lives and the world. Teach us what true balance is. Teach us how to come closer to true balance. Lead us to radiate balance into our family, neighborhood, community, church, and city. Gentle Ma’at, how does humanity bring balance into a trouble world? Sit quietly for a minute and ponder how light and dark (both real and symbolic) can come into balance.
5. Read the verse about balance from your holy book. Invite your friends to read similar verses and/or speak about balance—what kind of balance they are seeking, where they might find it, the effects balance may have on our community and the world.
6. The fall equinox is also a harvest festival. How has your life been since the summer solstice? Ponder the truths and untruths in your life. You’re in a safe place in this circle with Ma’at in the center. It’s safe to speak deep truths because (as in group therapy) it’s against the rules to carry what is spoken as gossip into the outside world. Taking turns, and not interrupting each other, consider questions of balance. What have you done that you’re proud of? Is there anything you’d rather hide? Remember, it’s not possible to hide from Ma’at. But we can nearly always correct our mistakes! What changes will you make?
7. Going around the circle, ask, What do I need to set right? Let each person answer the question. You can do something very modest or go for a grand action, but keep in mind that mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns. Any small thing you do will have consequences. Aim for good consequences and try to anticipate possibly unintended consequences.
8. If there is a chant or hymn or folksong you like, join hands and sing it aloud. Consider songs from the Civil Rights Movement (“Turn, Turn, Turn”). At the end of the song, hug each other, then face the altar again and say, Gracious Ma’at, we thank you for blessing us and our work today. We open our circle and go into the world knowing that balance and blessing are possible.
9. Finally, repeat these words of Dame Julian of Norwich (a medieval English mystic). All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
When modern pagans hold rituals, we almost always have a potluck afterward. You can do that, too! Bright blessings for the equinox.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.