Or, the Equinox as a Necessary Breathing Space
As of my writing this, on Sept. 25, the Equinox has come and gone, though for many of us, stuck between tropical storms and perhaps even hurricanes, we still feel balanced between two winds pushing us in opposing directions. I, like many folk, observe the equinoxes, but perhaps in vaguer, and less powerful, ways than it deserves. So I thought I’d write about what I think it is and what it can mean to us. It’s the pause between things, after all — and I wonder if our cultural assumption that we have to be "always on" affects our enjoyment and use of what turns out to be a cosmic day of rest.
What’s the Equinox Anyway?
You can skip this if you want, I promise to avoid anything other than a simple explanation. But I did think it might be necessary.
The earth rotates at an angle to its revolution through space, which means we have seasons. When a portion of the earth is at the point where its tilt makes it face the Sun directly, it’s in summer — though that lags a little, as a lot of the heat in the seasons comes from latent heat that builds up in bodies of water. That’s why it gets colder after the Winter Solstice, for example.
The Solstices are the "ends" of the cycle: they mark the moments when the locale is getting the longest daylight periods and longest nighttime periods. The Equinoxes are in the middle of those poles: day and night are equal in length. The Solstices mark extremes and the Equinoxes balances.
So What to Do for an Equinox?
OBOD focuses their Autumnal Equinox ritual on the idea of harvesting. I don’t want to say too much about that, as the order asks us not to talk too much about the private work in the course. But the idea of harvesting on its own is not exactly rare for this time of year. It’s when the crops are all coming in. A good deal of Equinoctial celebrations emerge from traditions based on agriculture. Whether or not we actually harvest our own food, herbs, or flowers, paying attention to the rhythms that agriculture moves within is a good idea. It’s always good to know where the food is coming from.
However, it can be a little difficult to really vibe with that. I did grow up in an agricultural community, so it’s not too difficult for me. But not everyone has that background.
The Equinoxes always fall along astrological lines as well: the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere comes when the Sun enters Libra. So solar things (as with all the solar festivals), Libra things, Venus things, they all work too. Foliage takes on beautiful hues, which one might think of as an honoring of Venus, just as the weather cools enough to wear something apart from t-shirts and shorts.
But Some Folks Miss Out
Having said all that, it’s worth acknowledging that a lot of people don’t really do much for the equinoxes. And I think that’s a shame, even though I don’t do a lot myself in a really formal way. I always reread this poem by Tolkien. I walk the edges of the place on which I live, and I observe that despite the season turning, the bees are still awake, the dragonflies are still hunting, and the wind is talking in the trees. Even as the foliage thins, revealing the river in the distance, all the walnuts and other trees are still awake, just beginning to think about a winter’s sleep.
Here’s where I think the value of the equinox is: the world takes a breath before changing its tasks for the season. The Solstices are busy, both culturally (Christmas, right?) as well as ecologically. Winter may seem very quiet, and it is, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the quiet of the spring tightening before its energy is released all at once. The equinoxes are like the moment when a ball hangs in the air before falling — a great big pause. The moment in which everything is balanced, there’s a brief second where nothing moves. Everything is at rest, but the situation is dynamic overall. Just because the Jenga blocks sit still for a moment doesn’t deny that they’re going to fall over soon.
I recommend rethinking the Equinoxes. If you already celebrate them and are satisfied, then you don’t need to change anything at all. You might consider adding a few simple observances in the vein of what I’ll suggest, but that’s it.
If you don’t observe the Equinoxes and are firmly convinced that you don’t want to, that it’s unnecessary to you, consider this advice as possibilities, things to try once and see what happens.
These aren’t great big magical rituals you’ll notice.
Go outside and do something without people
Just saying "go outside" is trite and sort of overdone. You may live in a city and not like your neighborhood, for instance. I’m not saying to go outside in order to encounter nature. I’m just saying you should get out there and feel how the season is actually changing. And another person will distract you. Again, maybe you can’t be alone, because there are always people on the sidewalk or in the park. In that case, read a book for a while.
Write down everything you accomplished since the last equinox
There’s that idea of planting/harvesting in the agricultural cycle. Even the Golden Dawn has its semesters roll over on the Equinoxes. It’s a good time to contemplate what you’ve been up to.
Wait for something
Pick something you need to do, be it cooking an egg or catching a bus. One time — just once, for the equinox — don’t do anything while you wait. Just meditate and sit, or stand I guess, and live in that moment where things have been put in motion but you can’t do anything to affect them.
Have a bit of a party
Again, we tend to think of the Solstices as the big party times (as well as the cross-quarter festivals such as Beltane I suppose), but aren’t the best parties the slightly quiet ones? Have a pot luck with a handful of friends. If you’re observing pandemic safety guidelines, do a group call while everyone drinks coffee some afternoon near the Equinox, rather than a late night movie marathon where everyone’s drinking wine. And, I mean, you can do that too, if you want.
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