Summer is almost over. We’ve just passed the Holy Tide of Lammas, our harvest festival and now we’re approaching the Autumnal Equinox. I love this time of year. As the heat gives way to the cool chill of fall, and the days begin to shorten, I always find myself rejuvenated. With this Equinox my favorite cycle of holy tides begins, culminating in Yule, perhaps the holiest of Heathen holy days. I love the dark time, the crispness, the push toward a greater interiority of personal practice that I always experience as the days darken. For me, this time brings a clarity of devotion both to the Gods and ancestors that sometimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of summer.
The two equinoxes mark a certain balance. They are perfect times to rethink and reorder one’s personal priorities. They give us moments, couched in the sacred whereby we may pause and take a metaphysical breath before moving into the next cycle of devotion. For our ancestors, this period between Lammas and Winternights (or Samhain for those of a more Celtic mindset) was immensely important. This was the time that really determined how the harsh nights of winter would go. Would there be enough to eat? Would there be enough to see one’s household and community through the cold, dark, and sometimes brutal winter? This was a time of taking stock of one’s resources, both internal and external, and doing whatever was needed to shore them up.
Most of us don’t live lives so utterly dependent on the land and its cycles. We forget the enormous power that Mani and Sunna, Erda and Jord had over our ancestors. Many times it’s difficult to pause and consider that even two generations ago, proper preparations at this time of year were essential to getting through to the next spring. Autumn is a good time to remember. Perhaps that’s why many Northern cultures had holidays directly associated with the ancestors at this time: the Celts had Samhain, Heathens had Winternights. While we should be honoring our dead regularly, I think it is also important to have a time specially set aside for them too. It wraps up the year as we move into Yule. It brings both closure and renewal at the same time.
So I look at September, which is right around the corner, and the Fall Equinox, as a time of preparation. It’s a time when I de-clutter my life and try to take stock of the preceding year. I take stock of my inner resources, the ways my life has changed, and I look at all the places in which my spiritual connections might be tattered. Then I begin the work of figuring out what I need to restore my inner balance for the coming year. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes difficult but it’s always rewarding.
For me, the Summer holidays: Litha and Lammas belong to Frey and Gerda, Nerthus and Njord; but the Autumn I give to Thor, Sif, and the House of Mundilfari. These attributions are not just arbitrary peccadilloes. The equinoxes are, in their own way, about cosmological balance (at the spring equinox, if you hit it just right, it’s possible to balance an egg on its end, all due to the position of the earth in relation to the sun) and those things are the realm of Mundilfari’s children: Mani, the moon God, Sunna the Sun Goddess, and Their Sister Sinthgunt, a Goddess who always seems to me to be the embodiment of the galaxy and stars themselves. It seems right and proper to honor Them at these holy times. Thor is the protector of Midgard, our human world and the Thunder God and Sif is His wife. They provide strength and grounded guidance. (As an aside, thunder and lightening and the ozone produced is actually necessary by some accounts for grain to flower). These two Deities also strike me as extremely practical Gods and that practicality is sometimes a very welcome thing, especially when one is taking stock of one’s resources.
Regardless of which Deities are honored, the fall equinox marks an important passage. The next major holy tide, and it is an important one, centers around honoring the ancestors. It sets the tone for Yule and the New Year. Not to mention, the grace and blessings of our honored dead can restore so much of the energy and emotional vitality that we sometimes sacrifice in the struggles of livng. So here is my suggestion for the next month and a half: use this as a time of reflection. Think deeply on those things that are of core importance to you. Think about those people who shaped you and formed you, who mentored and care for you. They may not be blood-relatives. Bonds of heart and spirit are just as important. If those people are alive, thank them. If not, consider setting up an ancestral altar. Find the ways that are right for you to show gratitude and love for those that got you where you are today. Find those ways, even if it is just as simple a thing as saying ‘thank you’. I find that the brief time between the Fall Equinox and Winternights or Samhain a perfect time to take stock of what one can be doing better in this regard. Sometimes it’s necessary to clear out clutter: physically, emotionally, spiritually, before you can see what needs to be done. The Fall Equinox reminds us that the end of things is also a beginning.
Heathenry is fraught with ideological conflict. We’re straining and growing and stumbling toward ever deeper belief. One thing that we mostly all agree with is this: honoring the ancestors is a good and holy thing. It’s something everyone can do, though the ways in which they do so might differ greatly. There is immense spiritual balance to be found in this practice. So let this coming autumn be a time when we each figure out the best way for doing so and then, let the ancestors be hailed and offerings poured out for them with joy, with gratitude, with mindfulness. Let this month preceding the equinox be one of preparation and celebration. Let us hail the Gods, hail our dead, and give the gift of thanks as chill of autumn gives way to the dark of winter.