Wow, where did that summer go? Whoever you are, I hope your summer was good. We are now approaching Mabon, the Fall Equinox already! Here are some online ritual opportunities, and below that, Fall Equinox celebration ideas. Plus, the growing darkness brings many changes to our lives – the feel of the fleeting day, the urgency of preparations for winter, and more time to see the wonders of our sky. That sky has greater potential now for auroras with sunspot cycle 25 roaring to life (more on that later), and the question of what the new Bluewater3 satellite will bring.
Wait, the what? With the successful launch of the Bluewater3 test satellite this past Saturday (September 10th), this speculation is about to get clear answers. The huge satellite (see the picture here for just how big it is compared to the people near it – about as big as a small house) is a test before launching a series of similar satellites to be used for cell phone transmission – bringing communication to at least millions of people. That’s a pretty major good thing.
At the same time, there are questions about how much these satellites may obscure our view of the Universe. We don’t know exactly how bright each one will be – perhaps as bright as the planet Venus or brighter, and some people are concerned that this may hurt nighttime dark sky astronomy, especially for distant objects like nebulae. I’m glad that people are thinking about concerns like this.
But help me out here. These satellites will orbit at just 500 km about the Earth. That sounds like a lot, but it’s about the same close to Earth orbit as the International Space Station. Consider the diagram below as I walk through this. Using the Earth’s diameter of 12,700 km, I made a scaled diagram of the orbit below (Earth in green, satellite orbit in blue) to visualize how far into the night this would be visible. Looking at the yellow “sunbeam” line tangent to the Earth (as it is exactly at sunset), we can see that the satellite will be illuminated by the Sun for a little time after sunset, until it reaches the orange spot (still in sunlight), then to the white spot (now in the shadow of the Earth). Hence, the only part of the night in which the satellite is “bright” is shown on the ground by the purple line. Compared to the full length of the night (180 degrees around the green circle of the Earth), that’s very, very short. This is why the International Space Station is only bright just before sunrise or just after sunset – up to maybe 90 minutes or so on the “dark side” of the sunset or sunrise. During that time, the background sky is too bright for dark sky observation anyway, because the Sun is just below the horizon. Am I wrong? If I’m right, than these satellites won’t hurt the dark sky, and will still have the benefit of being a fun thing to observe in the night sky, much as the International Space Station does today. I hope so!
In any case, I’ll be among those watching to see how this turns out. This test launch near Mabon, when the night sky is darkening for those of us in the Norther Hemisphere, is yet another reminder of our turning Wheel of the Year, and the Fall Equinox in particular.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Fall Equinox is celebrated next week (it is September 22nd this year) as Mabon, also called Harvest Home. (Those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate the Spring Equinox, Ostara, at this time.)
Fall Equinox Celebrations
First, here are some online opportunities for those of us without a local Pagan group (whether a member or a visitor). Wow, there are a lot of them already! I’ll check again in a week and update the post (there are several that seem to be pending).
Mike Nichols writes of the day: “Mythically, this is the day of the year when the God of Light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the God of Darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day.” The metaphor for the natural solar cycle is perfectly clear, and easily appreciable by naturalists – as is the promise included within the metaphor that the darkness is temporary, and the light will return. Likewise with the agricultural myth of John Barleycorn, personification of the ripened grain:
“Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing.”
“Perhaps that’s why this equinox seems like such a blindspot in the American imagination. Themes of loss and darkness don’t fit well with the national narrative.
“Yet there is much to celebrate, if we aspire to a full and comprehensive vision of what it means to be human on this planet. The metaphors of the equinox can work for us, if are open to the possibility. …
“This might be a time for drawing in, for gathering together. The equinox can be a time for reflection, for making changes and starting projects, for setting priorities and recognizing intentions. … For truly darkness and loss, though they present challenges, are not to be feared if we can only gain adequate perspective.
Bart has also put together a great playlist of Mabon/Equinox-themed music.
Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian Cosmology, celebrates this as a time of abundance and thanksgiving, but also of loss. She associates it with the myth of Persephone’s descent into the underworld, ritually enacting a moment of “letting go”. “Demeter” goes to each participant:
”(name), I give you the wheat – the Mystery – the knowledge of life and death. I let you go as Daughter (Child/Mabon), most loved of Mine … you descend to Wisdom, to Sovereignty. You will return as Mother, co-Creator with me. You are the Seed in the Fruit, becoming the Fruit in the Seed. Inner Wisdom guides your path.”
Response: “It is so. I am Daughter (Child/Mabon), becoming Mother – Seed becoming Fruit. I am deepening into/descend to, Wisdom, into Sovereignty. The Mother knowledge grows within me.”
[PaGaian Mabon 2009]
“As I stand here on this celebration of Harvest Home, the Autumnal Equinox, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in times to come, I honour the old ways. Today is the day of balance, of equal light and dark. The sun has begun to wane while the nights grow steadily longer and the weather becomes cooler. We head towards winter. It is the time of the second harvest, the harvest of fruits, of apples, nuts and grapes. Change is all around. The leaves are turning beautiful colours, the birds are preparing for migration and the squirrels are gathering their foods for winter. I give thanks for the abundant gifts of the Earth Mother.”
“As the Autumn Equinox marks the second harvest festival on the wheel of the year, like Lughnasadh it represents a time of retrospection, appraisal, and gratitude. But although Lughnasadh was primarily about gratitude for me this year – a time of abundance and joy – the Autumn Equinox very definitely marks the turning point into the dark part of the year, and as such it also signals a time of release and introspection.
“At Samhain, I will fully submit to the dark of winter, fully releasing everything that needs to be released this year as I turn twenty-five. The Autumn Equinox, for me, begins the work of this descent into the dark. I start to assess and let go of what is no longer working.”
“Fall harvest décor is appropriate, with dried cornstalks, squash, gourds, Indian corn, etc. The social aspect of our lives is highlighted by this harvest theme – a time when friends and family get together for the harvest. …
“Dinner will of course have a harvest theme, including squash, homemade bread, cranberry sauce, etc. … One part of the ritual is often the pouring of a little wine at the base of the trees in our yard as thanks for the summer shade and the coming fall colors. We also have a harvest party – this year will be our 18th annual Equinox party.”
Another great activity, courtesy of Jonathan Blake of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo list, is measuring your latitude on the equinox using only the sun, a stick, and some basic calculations.
John Halstead and his family re-enact the passion of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. They gather grains of corn together, as Isis gathered the parts of her dismembered husband, and then bury an ear of corn wrapped in a black cloth, an effigy of the dying and rising god of the harvest. John explains:
“In rituals like the one we will do today, we identify with the sacrificed God. In doing so, we honor the circle of life. Waxing and waning, birth and death, growth and decline: all take place in nature, in the human life cycle, and in the human soul. Each stage is to be welcomed in its proper time and season, because life is a process of constant change. When we identify with the god, we choose to surrender to the Cycle, to ride the Wheel that is the Goddess.”
This is an updated version of the yearly Fall Equinox post. Feel free to share your own naturalistic celebrations below.