Today is Thursday, September 16, the moon is waxing gibbous, and at least here in Southern California, the weather is cooling ever so slightly. And, in about a week, we will be celebrating the Autumn Equinox here in the northern hemisphere. Now, because the mission statement of this podcast is practical witchcraft for everyday life, I thought we could talk a little bit about this festival and what it can mean in our lives as modern witches.
Writer Shauna Niequist said this of autumn: “Use what you have, use what the world gives you. Use the first day of fall: bright flame before winter’s deadness; harvest; orange, gold, amber; cool nights and the smell of fire. Our tree-lined streets are set ablaze, our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into wild color just before they die are the world’s oldest performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one last violently hued hurrah before the black and white silence of winter.”
The term Mabon was given to the AE by an early and influential figure in Wicca, a man called Aiden Kelly. We won’t talk much about Mr. Kelly except to say that although he did a lot to sort of establish Wicca as a serious religion, he nevertheless fell out of favor with Wiccans in general due to the fact that he published a lot of their secret and sacred knowledge after vowing not to do so. So if you frequent Wiccan message boards and online communities, or if you are a Wiccan yourself, you may be aware that the term Mabon has kind of become mildly controversial recently.
I am not a Wiccan, so I don’t use the term Mabon. I just call it the Autumn Equinox which isn’t as sexy I guess, but it is what it is. I only bring it up in the event that a newer witch is listening and may be wondering what precisely is the difference between Mabon and the AE. And I am here to tell you that nothing is the difference. They are one and the same. Witches will use both terms interchangeably, and that’s just fine.
As a green witch and a garden witch, I celebrate the sabbats primarily as they relate to the seasons of the year and due to their agricultural significance, and secondarily, because it’s just fun to have parties. I think it’s important to mark the passing of time and to really stay in tune with the seasons. We aren’t separate and different from the earth. We have seasons too. If you or anyone you know has ever experienced seasonal affective disorder, you will understand how the seasons themselves can almost dictate our moods and mental states.
Celebrating the sabbats is a lovely way to honor the seasons, and stay close to the earth.
So the AE is simply the midpoint between the summer solstice, or the longest day of the year, and the winter solstice, which is the shortest day. The long summer days are finally giving way to the long winter evenings, and the autumn equinox (which literally means equal night) is only one of two days of the whole year when the day and the night are the same length.
AE also represents the second of three harvest festivals; the first being Lughnasadh on August 1 which was the grain harvest, the final being Samhain on November 1 which is the cattle harvest.
The AE represents the fruit harvest, and so we often see cornucopias used in the symbolism during this time. Apple picking, canning the fruits and vegetables of our gardens, sharing our excess tomatoes and zucchinis with our neighbors are some of the activities we associate with the Equinox.
Decorating your altars and the common areas in your home to invite the spirit of the equinox is a great way to align your energy with the season. Doing something like decorating your mantel or altar with orange and red candles, or candles scented with cinnamon and spices, sunflowers, apples, fall leaves, acorns, pumpkins and basically all the cool autumn decor you can find at Home Goods is always fun, and just really sets the mood.
If you have little ones at home, it can be really meaningful to let them help however they can, whether that means collecting pine cones at the park for a centerpiece on the dining room table or doing crayon rubbings with maple leaves to decorate the fridge, or a larger project depending on the age and ability of your little witches.
If you do have access to an apple tree, or just access to the grocery store, maybe bake a pie. Season it with cinnamon for success, nutmeg for health, and ground cloves for protection.
One of my favorite books to refer to every time the wheel of the year turns is called the Hedgewitch Book of Days: Spells, Rituals and Recipes for the Magical Year by Mandy Mitchell. It’s broken up according to the calendar month and it covers all the major and minor sabbats, and goes in depth about correspondences, traditions, activities, and recipes that help set the mood and jog the imagination when it’s time to plan for a witchy celebration.
In the section on Mabon (and I use the term here because the author uses it), Ms. Mitchell says:
‘As we go through September, the focus all around us seems to be with the earth. Fields are now bare, with the harvest brought in. The plants that flowered and gave us beauty from Spring through Summer are dying back. The earth is cooling and returning to its slumber.
Earth is one of the four elements with which we work. Earth sits at the north of the circle, and, through its yearly cycles, really represents the turning of the Wheel. Earth magick can be grounding magick, a magic of change or a celebration of life. The earth is a nurturing force, solid and stable beneath our feet. She is mother earth, a mother to us all; we walk upon her every day, and return to her at the end of our lives.’
AE is a good time to take stock of all the abundance that is in our lives, and to express gratitude for everything that we do have. I think as witches, sometimes it’s easy to get preoccupied by everything that we are trying to manifest, that we can sometimes forget to stop and appreciate all the things that we have already manifested, at least I know that can be an issue for me.
So as the AE is a time when farmers and gardeners harvest all the abundance they have been planting and tending for the last several months, it makes sense to use this time to pause and look back at all the things we have been working for that have come to fruition so far. Take a little break from calling in more abundance to appreciate the abundance that already surrounds us. Even if there are a lot of things about life that we would like to change, we have to stop and appreciate the things we wouldn’t change. If that’s just a best friend, or a pet, or the freckles on your nose, take a moment to fill your heart with gratitude for that thing, no matter how small it might be.
One thing that my garden blessed me with this year was tomatillos. I grew everything from seeds this year, I didn’t buy a single seedling for my garden. And because we have such a long growing season here, I thought I would be really ambitious and grow tomatoes and tomatillos. And they kicked ass. I have canned so much salsa verde this year I won’t have to buy any for a good long time. So I am calling that a win.
Having said all that, never let it be said that I am a good vibes only, love and light witch, because that is not me by a long shot. AE is also a time to look objectively and unemotionally at the past year and consider what you’ll do differently so that your harvest is better next year. AE marks the end of a growing cycle. We will begin to move into a new cycle and even though the long winter is yet ahead of us before we can plant the seeds for next year’s harvest, we can start looking critically at the lessons we learned and the things we tried this year that didn’t quite work out.
For me, this year I tried growing corn in the garden. It’s kind of an ambitious crop to grow because it takes a lot of space in the garden, it’s a heavy feeder, so it can strip your soil pretty thoroughly, and even if it’s successful, you’re only going to get one, MAYBE two, ears of corn for every stalk that you grow. So looking back on the season, I know that one lesson I will be carrying forward is to leave the corn to the experts. I’ll go to the grocery store or the farmer’s market for my corn next year. I won’t be planting corn again.
On a more serious level though, I think a lesson I’ve learned from this year is that absolutely nothing is permanent. Health, wealth and job security can be surprisingly fleeting. If I have learned anything from this year at all, it is that you’ve got to have a backup plan. I’m not a prepper by any means, but I think we have seen that even a little bit of foresight can give us some peace of mind.
This year we have seen bare shelves at the grocery store, not because of a hurricane warning or a flood watch, but because of fear. Specifically, because of the fear of a virus that we didn’t understand, and that we didn’t have any knowledge of. People went buck wild at the grocery store, especially in the toilet paper aisle for some reason, and I don’t think it was because they all thought they were going to get massive diarrhea.
It was because when people panic, we do dumb things. I do not advocate hoarding or panic buying, but I think now more than ever, we can all appreciate the value of buying a little extra when we have the means and the space to store it. This way, hopefully, if and when there’s another hiccup in the supply chain, or if there’s a cataclysmic event, or another inexplicable run on basic necessities, we’ll have a little extra on hand to help us get by.
If nothing else, the past year has taught us that.
So for this next year, there are several things I’m pouring energy and intent into creating for myself and my family. Most of those are things I keep to myself, because that is how I roll, but one thing I don’t mind sharing is my intent to leave a lot of offerings in nature this next year. I feel like we’ve all really gone through it this year, but the earth herself has really gone through some shit too.
So I’ll be making sure my bird feeders stay topped off, I’ll be hanging more natural garlands in the trees, I’ll be leaving offerings for the Fae, and I’ll be spreading non-invasive wildflower seeds this spring like I’m goddamn Johnny Appleseed. I really love supporting pollinators like bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
So that’s my plan for this wonderful holiday. I would love to see what everyone else has planned for the sabbat, so please post your rituals or traditions, because I am always so excited to learn the different ways witches recognize the AE. One of the many, many reasons witchcraft is so special to me is because it’s always so personal.
Every witch practices differently, even witches who are in the same traditions will have significant variations in the way they do things and it is amazing to see how many different, yet entirely valid ways there are to be a witch.
Next week we are going to explore Libra season among other things. You can find me on Instagram and Facebook @middleagedwitch, and here every Thursday with a new episode. So until then, keep your cauldrons lit, your protective wards charged, and your familiars well-fed. My name is Eli Ro, and this has been the Middle-Aged Witch podcast.