We are in the season of the Autumn Equinox. The Autumn Equinox occurs on a specific day each year, as does the Spring Equinox. While it may be a precise moment in time, it is also a season. Nothing happens quickly in time and space. Without getting scientific as an explanation of what happens at both, here is a quick one – the name ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin aequus, meaning equal and nox, meaning night. Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the sun’s rays equally at the equinoxes. This causes night and day to be approximately equal in length.
Around the world many myths have been told as a way to explain what happens. In some stories the Goddess goes away until the spring and then she returns. In others it is the God who goes away. The Greenman is active when all is green upon the earth and so it would make sense that the Autumn Equinox signals his departure. In other stories it is the Goddess who brings the beautiful, plenteous bounty in the growing season and the Autumn Equinox signals Her departure, a time for rest and repose.
We have the story of Demeter and Persephone. As the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of Grain, Persephone is taken to the underworld. Demeter’s grief was so deep that it caused all the crops to die. When at last Persephone returned as the Kore, in the spring, life was once more restored. Because she ate the pomegranate seeds, however, she had to return for six months every year. Her departure occurs at the Autumn Equinox. From this story, we learn that it is through the love of the Goddess that we have all that we need.
In Inanna’s story, she leaves to go visit her sister, Ereshkigal in the Underworld. As she traveled, Ereskigal required Inanna to strip herself of her clothing and all earthy possessions. At Inanna’s arrival and in her rage, Ereshkigal killed Inanna and hung her on a meat hook to rot. Again, while she was gone, earth ceased to flourish and only upon her return was the earth restored to glory. In this story, one important message is that we need to prepare for the loss of light. That we have accumulated much that we no longer need and to prosper in the darkness we need to shed what is no longer useful.
And now we stand at the Autumn Equinox. The day has shortened and we come to the place again where night and day, darkness and light are equal – the edge of time when the nights grow longer and our days shorter. Each of these occurrences is a liminal moment in time. With them we are at a threshold, moving from one moment to another. In the spring we shift and the sun begins to shine more light and cause the days to lengthen. In the autumn we turn away from the sun and the days begin to grow shorter. For both, at the actual liminal moment, day and night are equal.
There is another little known story that is having a deep impact on me this year. In the stories of the people of Ireland there were five invasions. The one that concerns us now is when the Gaels came to Ireland. They sailed ashore and after time conquered the Tuatha Dé Danann. In the conquest, the Gaels divided Ireland between the two peoples. The Tuatha Dé were given their parts of Ireland and the Gaels, the rest. However, after their conquest the Tuatha Dé, in retaliation, destroyed the wheat and milk of their conquerors. Because of this the Sons of Mil (the Gaels) made a pact with the Dagda, the king of the Tuatha Dé and agreed to give back offerings to the Tuatha Dé for their bounty. Ever since that time their descendants, the people of Ireland, remembering that treaty, have continued to reverence the People of the Goddess Dana by pouring libations of milk to them and by making them offerings of the fruits of the earth. In fact, it is my belief that all of the ancient Celtic laws and customs governing hospitality (hosts and guests) come from this pact.
The one theme that runs through these stories is that the Equinox is about balance. Balance in every aspect of our lives. Balance between night and day. Balance between work and play. Balance between receiving and giving. Part of this is being grateful, but it is more than feelings of gratitude. It must take the form of giving.
I am thinking of something but there is no time or space to explain this fully. I will be brief. I work with the Norse runes as a form of divination. The runes are an ancient alphabet that as symbols, represent stories and the meanings behind those stories. I am thinking of the rune “Gebo.” Gebo means gift. It reflects the values of generosity, openness, and being a good host. Gebo asks us to take an accounting of our gifts, our own talents that we share out in the world. It is also about being aware of our gratitude and examining where we have received gifts from others. From this we are asked to explore our capacity to give. Giving refers to our ability to share ourselves with the world around us. Northern European culture valued generosity as an attitude toward all individuals within one’s tribal or kinship systems. As such it asks us to cultivate a generous way of life.
This is the last harvest of the crops. It is a time of gathering in and preparation for the winter months – the time of darkness is coming. It is a time of celebration for the bounty of all we have reaped in our harvest. It is a time to acknowledge our own personal harvest.
And because it is a time of balance – a time of equal light and equal dark – it is also a time to offer thanksgiving and to renew with grateful hearts by offering back these gifts. And so it is that I hope to apply Gebo to the meaning of the Autumn Equinox, that I not only appreciate what I have received but that I have a sacred responsibility to also give back, not only as offerings to the deities I honor for this harvest, but in any way that shows itself to me, in any way that I am able.
Deanne Quarrie, D. Min. is a Priestess of The Goddess, and author of five books. She is an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College, teaching classes on Druidism, Ritual Creation, Ethics for Neopagan Clergy, Exploring Sensory Awareness and other classes on natural magic. She is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine, as well as The Apple Branch – A Dianic Tradition where she mentors women who wish to serve as priestesses.