Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumnal Equinox

As a solitary, my celebration of the equinox is, of course, idiosyncratic. There are two main parts to my celebration of the quarter days; lately, I've been able to spread that into the half-quarter days as well, as I get more conscientious and dedicated.

The first part is meditation and ritual. I put down a favorite cloth, wash myself, and strip. (I've done these while clothed, too, but I prefer the vulnerability and change in nudity.) I set a circle and invoke the directions, reflecting on each with the appropriate tool. Then I sit and either pray aloud, offering thanks for the things I've been given, happiness in the joys that I have, and praise for the start of this next quarter.

(One thing I don't do is talk about things I've done wrong or faults I want to overcome. Though after reading Velveteen Rabbi's teshuvah poem and discussion of the Days of Awe, I think that needs to change.)

Then I move to silent meditation. Most often this is an internal trance, tending my internal landscape; sometimes it takes me out of myself and into the larger world, into the black earth or the sky. Finish, offer thanks and honor, hug myself, and open the circle.

The second part of my equinox celebration is something like sympathetic magic, and it takes place over the whole course of the day. Each quarter is a new beginning, even as it is a return to an old familiar cycle, and the first day thereof marks a change in tone. I want my actions during that day to be the setting for the rest of the quarter, and try to change what I do to make that day an exemplar.

Today, for example, I'll be doing academic work once I finish my meditation. Working on the grad school applications, reading more commentary on Genesis, setting up my calendar for the fall semester. Then I spend time with my lover planning our wedding. Then we spend time with the family. And before I go to bed, I'll meditate again, briefly. Throughout the day, I'll try to be clear and concise, but not harsh, to keep my emotions under control while making sure I show those close to me how much I love them, and to remain focused on whatever task is at hand.

In contrast, I spent Midsummer and Lughnasa on entirely different projects: creative and hand-work, most often, but also loving and self-care. This bit of sympathetic magic (the small affects the whole, the first affects the later) has worked well for me.

So what does the Equinox mean, other than its position as one of four splits in the year? Sojourner has an evocative post about food (harvest time) and balance. The Wild Hunt has collected a great array of writing about it. And for a lovely visual take on it, Hoarded Ordinaries has some pictures that make me want to go leaf-peeping.

This year the holiday has another set of associations, because it overlaps with Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year and the Days of Awe, and the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan. All of which, in a way, describe a new start. (And it makes for good interfaith blogposting!)

Some of it is balance: equal day, equal night. It is also a change from starting things--planting, watering, giving birth--to drawing back in. That means feasting (woo! pumpkin pie!), but also recognizing that some of what we loved so much in the summer, thick green leaves and bright flowers, are on their way out. We draw our own strength back in to direct it toward the things that will survive the winter, and in the process we will lose things that brought us joy. But they're not lost yet! The summer is waning but not gone: this makes them sweeter, like the last picnic or the last walk-on-a-warm-evening. We start hoarding for the skinnier times we know will come, but they're so far away; it's worth celebrating what we have now, knowing that "nothing gold can stay."

Of course, as my Australian friends remind me, this view of the wheel of the year is only good in certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Over there, they are tipping into spring, looking ahead to a hot Christmas season and thinking about when swimming might be possible. And it bears mentioning that the feeling of September as a start to the year is a by-product of 16+ years of school, during which the year really began in September and ended in June, leaving summer outside of time. The language of harvest and leaves turning looks a little arbitrary.

Why, then, do I use nature terms to describe how I feel about the turn of the equinox? Does this mean that my Paganism, as far as it gets defined at all, a nature-based religion? I'm not the first one to ask whether Paganism is nature-based, and I won't be the first to say "sort of." If you dropped me alone in the woods, I'd probably panic and do something unpleasant. I live in a built-up city, not surrounded by nature. I walk on concrete and watch inclement weather from inside my study with a mug of cocoa. How does this count as nature-based?

Even though the full variety of the seasons doesn't penetrate the city, they do change, and force us to change to adapt to them. Even though the cycles of the seasons are different from place to place (monsoons, anyone?) , the cycles of nature are bigger, stronger than us. They are the clearest place to look for Her, who is everywhere, because they are both constant and constantly changing, because they don't have the distractions that human-created things and human beings sometimes have when we look for Her in them. The cycles of the year are different in every place, but they are present, and they are shared among us and among all things.

Blessings on you and those you love, in harvest and in abundance. May you celebrate the things among you that will sustain you, and the things that will soon depart.


At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

This is a fabulous post; thank you so much for this. I'll be chewing on this one for a while.

I'm especially intrigued by the way you intentionally spend your cross-quarters doing things you want to resonate in the season to come. And in the difference between the tasks you do at Lammas and the tasks you find yourself doing today.

I'm glad my posts about teshuvah and the internal processes I'm focusing on at this season have resonated for you, and I'll be curious to see how and whether they percolate into your life and your practice over time. :-)

And thank you for that closing blessing!

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Found you thru Velveteen Rabbi, natch.

And this is a wonderful sharing. Thanks.

Wishing you and yours all sweet good things in the ever-unfolding now of a new cycle.

At 6:18 AM, Blogger alto artist said...

What a beautiful post... Thank you, and wishing you all the best in this new, abundant season!



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