What is the Equinox All About?

by Ragtimelil

There is a spring equinox and a fall equinox every year. What is an autumnal equinox and what does it mean for people around the world?

I tend to get a little confused by some of the terms when I read about astronomy. For instance, when I looked up equinox on Wikipedia, it reads,
“At an equinox, the sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: classically, the vernal point (RA = 00h 00m 00s and longitude = 0º) and the autumnal point (RA = 12h 00m 00s and longitude = 180º). By extension, the term equinox may denote an equinoctial point.”
That's a little over my head.

I know that the equinox ( from the Latin for “equal nights”) are when the day and night are the same length. It’s the beginning of spring or fall, depending on what hemisphere you are in.
Actually, the days and nights are not strictly 12 hours each. The real definition of the equinox is when the earth, which generally tilts either toward or away from the sun depending on its position in orbit, is now parallel to the sun.

Moving Through Time

aztec calendar

An interesting fact is that if we looked once a year, we would see that the stars move retrograde about one degree every seventy years. That means the equinox falls on a different constellation about every 2,000 years. It takes approximately 24,000 (some say 26,000) years for the equinox to move through the 12 constellations. Some researchers say this is what the Aztec calendar is predicting, not the end of the world.

Watching the Sky

Trees snapping and cracking in the autumn indicate dry weather.

Since the days of electric lights and modern comforts, many people don’t spend much time contemplating the night sky. Ancient people were well aware of the seasons and what it meant to their lives. The solstices and equinoxes were known thousands of years ago. There are many stone markers that line up with sunrise or sunset on these auspicious days.

MichalemasIn the northern hemisphere the night becomes longer than the day. Fall is not just a season of leaves, but is the fall of the sun, or son, to many people. It is a time marked by Christians as Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael, the Archangel, protector against the dark of night.

To many cultures, the fall equinox was a time of reflection and a time to ready for winter. At the North Pole, it signals the season of darkness.

 

 

Traditions

Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor. - Irish proverb

Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Parsees consider time to be linear, from a beginning to an end. Other cultures and religions see time as a cycle with no beginning and end.

To the Chumash Indians of southern California it was a tradition in September to ready for the winter and to hold gatherings and discuss the significance of the season. Elders warned that the warm weather would not last and they must prepare for winter.

mid autumnThe Solstice, in Japan is a national holiday called Shunbun-no-hi or Higan No Chu-nichi. It is both a seasonal and a Buddhist celebration. It is a time to visit the graves of their ancestors to clean and leave gifts of incense, flowers and food.

In China, the equinox is a mid-autumn observance called the Moon Festival where an abundant harvest is celebrated. One of the main foods on this occasion is a moon cake filled with dried fruit, a duck egg or sesame seeds.

 

Photo Source

 

harvest festival
A Harvest Festival, 1880
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Tales of Autumn

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear. - Philip Larkin, British poet (1922-1986)

Many of the stories are about a god or goddess who is born or reborn in the spring and dies, or vanishes in the fall. The stories of Mabon and Persephone are just two of such tales

PersephoneIn ancient Greece it was a time when the Goddess Persephone returned to the underworld to be with her husband Hades until the spring when she would be reunited with her Earth Mother Demeter. The equinox was a time of reflection and rituals for protection.

To Pagans, it is a time to celebrate Mabon, one of the eight Sabbats. It is the second harvest celebration and time to start winter preparations. Mabon, Son of the Light is stolen from his mother’s side when only 3 days old. There are varying stories about how he is found but one says he was hidden in his mother’s womb, the ultimate underworld and returned at the winter solstice.

Alban Elfed, Cornucopia, Feast of Avilon, Festival of Dionysus, Harvest Home, Harvest Tide, Mabon, Night of the Hunter, Second Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, Witch's Thanksgiving

The autumn can be a time of melancholy. It is a time when the possibilities of summer are over and a chill is on the horizon. It's a time to look inward, and to reflect.

The equinox is also a time of balance, when the day and night are equal. One year I went outside during the hours of the equinox and meditated. I thought I could feel the earth stop and begin again in a new direction. I’m pretty sure it didn’t really stop, but it was a spiritual feeling.

 

Updated: on 09/14/2012, Ragtimelil
 
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Ragtimelil on 09/23/2012

I always think of snuggling in by a warm fire. Winter is coming!

katiem2 on 09/17/2012

It is a very interesting time of year, during the fall there is so much to do and marvel over. I love fall, it's my youngest daughters favorite time of year. Friends and I celebrate the fall solstice. Fun time.

Ragtimelil on 09/15/2012

Thank you very much.

Mira on 09/15/2012

Nice article, with a great feel!

Ragtimelil on 09/06/2012

Why thank you. I almost didn't finish this one. But think I was just having a slow brain day.

BrendaReeves on 09/06/2012

Great article Lil. I find this all so interesting.

Ragtimelil on 09/06/2012

Very true. I always get excited to see the interconnectedness of things (if that's a word).

JoHarrington on 09/06/2012

Maybe, but it is also fascinating to see what else is happening around this time. I think they're all interlinked anyway. The season and the stars ensures it. :)

Ragtimelil on 09/06/2012

Why thank you. Yes, I leave the Pagan articles to you. You're the expert there.

JoHarrington on 09/06/2012

As a Wiccan, I am indeed gearing up to celebrate Mabon. You'll be hearing about that over the next few days.

Excellent article! Thank you for writing it. <3



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