Change is in the air: The days are ending earlier, the summer heat is dying down, and these are only signs of bigger things to come. The autumn season officially starts Thursday, September 22, a.k.a. the fall equinox, or the holiday of Mabon in the Pagan calendar. Despite what you heard in middle school, this holiday isn’t just about balancing an egg on a flat surface. In fact, people have celebrated the equinox since way back in Ancient Greece, according to Fred Jennings of Catland, Brooklyn’s go-to occult bookshop. It’s one of the two days out of the year that the night and the day are equal in length, signifying that the balance between light and dark is shifting — in this case, the darkness of winter. Over email, Jennings describes the fall equinox as “a moment in the year that used to mean a massive change in human survivability.” Once upon a time, Mabon rituals focused on more fundamental needs, with people stocking up and steeling themselves for the hardships of winter. Today, those who celebrate the equinox make preparations that are more symbolic than practical, Jennings says, but the need to observe the changing of the seasons — and how that change affects us personally — remains at the heart of the holiday. Translation: As the weather cools and we move from shorts to sweaters and from cold brew to limited-time-only lattes, we must be mindful of these changes and take time to reflect on them. We also spoke with faerie shaman and best-selling author Francesca De Grandis, who echoed the importance of moving mindfully into the colder months. Below, check out five ways you can celebrate the equinox for yourself, including altar-building, self-care during the holidays, and how to get ready for the seasons to come.
Let Nature Inspire You De Grandis suggests some simple altar-building to kick off your celebration. For newcomers to Pagan practices, don’t panic. According to De Grandis, putting together an altar for the equinox can be as easy as making your own fall decorations: “It can be very simple — maybe just an altar that has some fall leaves and some acorns, just as a way to help you tune into the seasons.” You know those autumnal displays that are in every Pottery Barn storefront right now? They most likely have roots in altar-building — your mom’s decorative bowl of pinecones is probably more meaningful than she thinks. This isn’t just a time to bring nature into your home life, but to consider your place within nature, too. De Grandis says: “Watching nature is a way to get in touch with ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be a laborious study of what’s going on around us.” Rather, simply reading outside or pausing to look at the changing leaves during a stroll through the park can be enough to center yourself. Listen To Yourself “The days are starting to get shorter and we’re starting to look more inward,” De Grandis says. Even beginner Pagans can take this opportunity for self-exploration: “Paganism is a religion of trusting yourself, rather than having somebody tell you what to do.” So once you’ve gone with your instincts, put together that altar, and taken a second look at your natural surroundings, you should have a better idea of what you need to do for yourself before the winter months. This is pretty central to how Paganism is supposed to work, De Grandis says: “When you listen to your own reactions and honor them as sacred, you eventually find out that they’re in keeping with traditional lore [anyway].” De Grandis describes most Pagans as “independent thinkers,” so it only makes sense that observing the equinox has more to do with your specific needs and feelings as the seasons change than any particular form of worship. Taking this time to check in with yourself will set the stage for you to start thinking practically about how far you’ve come this year and get ready for the next big thing.
Reflect On Your Progress “The equinox is one of three harvest festivals in traditional farming cultures and hunting-foraging cultures,” De Grandis explains. “Not all crops and edibles come to fruition at the same time.” In fact, the equinox is only the second harvest, with Samhain in October closing out the harvest season entirely. With this in mind, the equinox is a perfect time for a progress check — not just for crops, but for any goals you might have set for yourself earlier in the year. “We can look at what we have worked toward over the past and acknowledge what we have achieved so far toward our goals. We may not have achieved them, but [we] might be close,” she says. Remember that this should be a judgment-free reflection — focus on what you’ve accomplished, rather than what you didn’t get done. Make A Plan Wonderfully enough, the fall equinox is an opportunity for both reflection and practical forward thinking. “One of my personal equinox practices is that I plan my winter...to get more centered after the busyness of the past year,” De Grandis says. “People get so swept up in holiday insanity,” so consider staging a preemptive strike against your holiday stress — long before it even sets in. “I’ve learned that if I can get in touch with myself at the equinox and think [about] what I really want to do in the winter ahead — Do I want to do presents this year? Do I want to do a Christmas dinner? Do I want to go on a ski trip? — then, come knee-deep into winter, I have that plan to refer to,” she shares. “I don’t have to stick to it rigidly, but I have it as a reference point.” Finally, Relax & Actually Look Forward To Winter Again, De Grandis looks to tradition for modern-day inspiration: “In some traditional farming cultures and ancient hunting-gathering societies, there was often no free time in the warmer months. They were working constantly, harvesting, planting, gathering. But,when winter came, the harsh weather would have them stuck indoors. So most of their time might be spent socializing, relaxing, doing ceremonies, and making things. We can learn from that. We can have a more balanced life by taking time to rest and play.” So, remember that taking any opportunity for self-care you can get will pay off immensely. You can use your downtime to journal, make a gratitude list, or anything that will help you settle your thoughts. De Grandis reassures us that celebrating the equinox in these ways will help us, against all odds, transition smoothly into winter and end the year with a bang.