Saturday, September 21, 2013

High Day Essay: Autumnal Equinox

In contemporary neo-pagan communities the holiday activities associated with the autumnal equinox typically focus around harvest duties.  Many participants complete a gathering of produce from the garden (or farmer's co-op or store) and take time to acknowledge and express gratitude to the gods and goddesses for these blessings.  Some neo-pagans may manifest ritual which addresses the balance between light and dark as at this time of year, as after this day the rhythms of the sun's movement leaves little doubt that we are sliding into the dark time of the calendar.  Many neo-pagans call this holiday Mabon, following the tradition of Aidan Kelly's naming of the holiday after the Welsh mythological hero Mabon ab Modron.

Autumnal equinox celebrations in antiquity can be difficult to discern today.  Written records describe harvest activities and celebrated breaks from working in the fields, but often lack direct acknowledgement of religious ties connected to these practices. Furthermore, the date of these festivals varied greatly from one region to another, dependant upon local weather and types of crops.  In fact, linguistic evidence suggests that there may not have been major religious observances at the autumnal equinox among most ancient Indo-European cultures; autumn is the only season that does not have a common root word amongst Indo-European language families.

In historical records of Slavic cultures the celebration of Dozynki (Polish; Dozhinky in Russian, literally "little sheaf") notes the end of the harvest period.  Depending on the region this festival can fall anywhere from mid-August through mid-September.  During Dozynki the last sheaves of grain are harvested from the field with the exception of the last corner, which is tied together and bent towards the ground.  This practice, which still occurs today, is referred to as "curling the beard (of Weles)."  Weles is a cthonic Slavic god of cattle, deep waters, and the dead as well as music and magic. It is thought that this reuniting of the grain with the earth transfers the energy from the harvest back into the earth.  Oftentimes this "beard" is bedecked with ribbons and trinkets and left offerings.

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