To the ancient Greeks, the September equinox marked the return of the goddess Persephone to the darkness of the underworld, where she is reunited with Hades, her husband.
Famously, Persephone was abducted from her mother, the goddess of harvest Demeter, and taken to the underworld to become the wife of Hades.
After a period of mourning and despair, Demeter eventually won her daughter back, but only for a number of months out of the year – the exact number varies between six and nine months. When Persephone is in the underworld, Demeter refuses to use her divinity to make crops grow, explaining why we have winter.
The word “equinox” comes from the Latin words “Aequi”, which means equal, and “nox”, which means night. On the equinox, day and night are almost equal in length across the planet.
Traditionally it is a time to honor the harvest, and the Greeks weren’t the only ones celebrating the end of summer.
In Mayan culture, at the precise moment of the equinox, an enormous snake of sunlight slithers down the staircase of the main pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico – an incredible feat of construction and astronomical calculations.
In Japanese culture, the autumn equinox is celebrated by Buddhists with the tradition of “Higan”, a festival lasting for seven days and a time to remember deceased relatives, as well as the passing of the seasons. The word Higan actually means the “other shore”, referring to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana.
The day also has roots in Paganism, with druids still gathering at England’s Stonehenge every year to mark the equinox, watching the sun rise above the famous towering stones. As part of the pagan festival of Mabon, animals would be slaughtered in order to provide enough food for the winter.
According to modern pagan tradition, Mabon was named after a character from Welsh mythology, considered to be the god of light and the son of Earth Mother Modron. Hundreds of pagans still gather in forests or at home, as well as sacred sites, marking the day with their family and friends using seasonal foods, such as root vegetables, apples, grapes, and other seasonal products.
Even if trekking to a sacred site is a little bit too much effort, there are still multiple ways you can celebrate the equinox – which falls on September 22 - and make it meaningful to you.
Make a gratitude list; the equinox is a time to feel grateful for the harvest but you can also show gratitude for things in your life. Gratitude brings abundance, and so it’s a great way to bring more good things into your life.
Restore balance; especially at home. It’s a great day to reinstate equilibrium in the home and have a clear out, making space for other things to grow over the winter.
Tend a fire. It could be as little as lighting a candle, or as big as hosting a bonfire (in accordance with city regulations of course), to acknowledge the light within the dark. Write things you wish to let go of and things you wish to move forward with long term. Winter is a time for hibernating, for rebuilding energy for the spring, so it’s important to do this intentionally.
And once you have your intentions, you can write them on a piece of paper and throw them into the fire, or whisper them into your candle flame.
However you choose to celebrate this equinox, gratitude for what the year has brought is the key theme and one that has remained a tradition for centuries.