Friday 21 September 2012

Equinox Crossroads: The Beauty of Autumn

We come once again to a crossroads.  Though the equinox doesn't officially come until Saturday afternoon, I felt the High Tide this afternoon, so for me, it is the equinox.  The equinox, like all the Knots, like all the Tides, is truly a crossroads, and all crossroads are decision points.

As you move further north in Europe, or in North America, harvest shift back toward the Solstice.  Further south, they shift the over way.  Planting shifts toward the same point, planting and harvest approaching each other.  In the far north, Planting is around May Day and harvest is around the Summer Solstice.  In the south, there are even winter crops.  The two points vary as you move north.  South of the Summer Solstice Harvest, but north of the Mediterranean.  Often three harvests are discussed, that of Lugh's Feast, that of the Autumn Solstice, and that of Samhain.

In Laramie where I live, there is only one crop worth growing, one harvest a year.  Hay grows well and will feed the cattle through the long winter if the weather cooperates.  Though none of the Knots or Tides are commonly celebrated, they do roughly correspond to our growing season.  Typically, planting occurs between May Day and the Summer Solstice.  Typically harvest is between Lugh's Day and the Autumn Equinox.  Planting has to be done after the last major freeze but before the rain comes.  Harvest occurs after the rain stops, but also after the hay has time to dry in the heat following the rain, but before the first major freeze.  This leaves a precarious balance.  If the cold lasts too late of the rains come too soon, the hay planted has little chance.  If the rain comes too late or ends too soon, the hay won't grow.  If the rain lasts too long or the heat doesn't last long enough, the hay doesn't dry and if it can be harvested at all, it risks rot.  If the snow comes too soon, time runs out to finish harvest.

This year was an odd year.  Instead of May, Spring came in March, way too early.  This meant the water from the runoff, used for irrigation, peaked in May instead of July.  March is too early to plant, and the rain came too early, lid April instead of late May, and ended too early as well, early June instead of mid July.  The heat came early, mid June instead of early August.  The fields were dry enough for harvest in early August, way too early.  The hay grew about six inches this year instead of about two feet normally.  The ranchers didn't have much to harvest, and grazing began to fade early as well, so the need for hay came early.  Hay prices have soared, but there is not enough supply for the demand no matter how much it costs.  A very bad thing heading into what appears will be an early winter.

We are approaching the full moon of the third moon of Autumn, when we should be in the second moon.  The first moon of Autumn was the Yarrow Moon, and the second was the Sagebrush Moon.  I'm unsure what name to give this current one.  Candidates currently are the Moon of Yellow Leaves, the Yellow Moon, the Dust Moon, the Cooling Moon, the Harvest Moon, and the Blood Moon.

The Autumn Equinox is a very obvious crossroads.  It stands at the midpoint between Midsummer and Midwinter, between the Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice.  The name Equinox is of course Aequus Nox, Equal Night.  From a astronomical point of view, it is the point where the sun rises at about six in the morning and sets at about six in the evening, with a twelve hour day and a twelve hour night.  It is the midpoint in the progression of day/night, with the longest day at the Summer Solstice and the longest night at the Winter Solstice.  The equinox is half way between, with the decreasing days and increasing nights passing each other as they swing the other way.

What's interesting is that the cross quarters (Beltane/May Day, Lugh's Day, Samhain, Candlemas/Bride's Day) and the Solstices were common times for festivals and feasts, yet the equinoxes seldom were.  They are easier to observe for the common person without instruments or charts than any other, yet they are seldom observed.  But, then, the cross quarters were marked by the rising of certain stars, they were stellar in nature.  The Solstices are when the sun enters Cancer and Capricorn, and the Equinoxes are when the sun enters Aries and Libra.  They are solar but marked by stellar times.  The importance of the Solstices seem obvious.  The sun begins dying with the Summer Solstice, and coming back alive with the Winter Solstice.  But what purpose would the Equinoxes actually hold?  It would depend on the area, more than likely.  Some areas would indeed have planted and harvested at the equinoxes, but mostly they are a sign of the approach of Beltane and Samhain.

Looking at the Zodiac, the Autumn Equinox marks the sun moving from Virgo into Libra, from the Virgin to the Scales.  Virgo marks the end of growing in many cultures.  She is the Corn Maiden, the Wheat Maiden.  The brightest star is Spica, Spica Virginis, the Maiden's Ear of Grain.  Spica is the fruit the Maiden brings.  Libra, though, the Scales, is judgment and endings.  It is Ma'at weighing the human heart against a feather.  It is accounts settled after the harvest is brought it.  Libra is the sign of cutting, the Cutter to Virgo's Spinner.  Balanced scales of course are appropriate to the Autumn Equinox, a point of balance between night and day.

In areas like this area which truly have a defined Autumn, it truly is a beautiful time of year.  The grasses turn golden, the leaves bright yellow, the sky is a pale blue, with wispy clouds, the sunsets are reds and yellows, not the blues and purples of earlier in the year, the waters of the lakes and rivers are dark and secretive, the dust grey and dry.  There is a chill in the air that comes and goes, summer still hanging on stubbornly, winter sleepy but stirring.  The nights are cold but the days aren't too chilly yet.  Sweat shirts and sweaters come out, though not worn constantly.  Everyone and everything can feel the Change in the air, the Year turning, Autumn approaching Winter.  The Scales stand balanced but begin to tip toward Night, toward Nyx, toward Nox.  They begin to tip toward Winter.

You will recall the Horned Child born at Lugh's Feast.  The Winged Serpent grows old as Winter approaches, but the Horned Child grows stronger.  The Scales are balanced, The Horned Child increasing as Winter comes, the Winged Serpent growing weaker as Summer fades.  The Queen also ages, but she is not weaker.  Her white dress gives way to sable black robes, her black Night Veil runs red with Blood.  She who married the Winged Serpent as the Spinner and gave birth to the Horned Child as the Weaver has now become the Cutter.  And the stage is set for Samhain once more.

~Muninn's Kiss

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