Thursday, September 22, 2011

Autumn's Approach

Usually, my preparations for the Autumn Equinox begins shortly after August 1st, Lammas, the first of the pagan harvest celebrations.  This year has been quite different.  There has been a lot of hustle and bustle in my home the past few weeks.  We’ve been dealing with Mother Nature’s wrath – a hurricane the last weekend of August, the remnants of a tropical storm a week later – which we survived with minimal damage.  Some of my friends were not so lucky, particularly a friend in Vermont who watched his entire neighborhood go under water.  I have been quite busy with work, beginning the school year as Vice President of my son’s middle school Home and School Association, and stepping on the path of a published writer.  My first article for publication consideration went out about 10 days ago and the nail-biting wait to see if it is accepted has begun.  But, of course, there is no time for nail biting because the opportunity to be published in two upcoming anthologies has presented itself and I am in the midst of working on the submission for the first anthology, the deadline of which is 8 days away!  When it rains, it pours…literally!  With all of this going on, I didn’t realize that we were very quickly approaching the Autumn Equinox, the second harvest, the Pagan Thanksgiving we call Mabon.  Although my calendars are clearly marked for all upcoming Pagan celebrations, my eyes just kept looking at writing deadline dates!

You would think my first hint of Autumn’s approach would have been the fact that the Sun was weakening, the days growing shorter as the balance between light and dark is restored and we head into the sign of Libra on September 23rd, the sign of balance, my sun sign.  However, my first hint of Autumn’s near arrival was a little over a week ago when, miraculously, the heavy humidity brought up to the Northeast with the tropical weather along with the rain and dark clouds dissipated to reveal beautiful, unbelievably and thankfully cool Fall-like weather.  I noticed a couple of days later that some of my plants in the garden were starting to fade, although my Mums were growing at an alarming rate and tiny flower buds were appearing on each stem.  Some of my flowers now had seed pods for the birds to dine on or for me to harvest for next year’s plantings.  A few leaves were turning yellow on the trees that I walk by going to and from work, even beginning to flutter to the ground where they will decay to fertilize the soil.  Gardeners on television and radio were talking about planting bulbs for next Spring.  The squirrels were digging furiously to bury the acorns that had fallen from the trees around my home during the storms.  The acorns from the trees and seeds from plants in my garden and those of others were falling to the ground, where they will implant themselves in the decaying plant matter and lie in wait through the Winter until Spring when they will emerge as seedlings.  The Northern Flickers, that I seem to see only in late August and through September, were pecking away in the gardens at whatever little bugs and treats they could snag.  With all of the changes in the garden, I wrote a note on my calendar to keep an eye on the weather forecasts for the first frost advisories or warning, before which I would harvest the rest of my herbs for drying or freezing and prepare the plants for Winter. 

With Mother Nature knocking me on the forehead, this past weekend I launched into Fall house cleaning - washing curtains, dusting, wiping down surfaces, and taking down the Summer d├ęcor to be replaced by Autumn.  The first of the home transformations for the new season is always the tablecloths, table runners, things like that.  Everything was switched out from blue, yellow and white and seashore-themed linens to those with Autumn leaves, cornucopias, and in earthy colors of brown, rust, copper and gold.  The next chore to be tackled was the candles around the house.  Gone were the bright-colored flowery-scented candles and in came the darker shades of red and brown spicy scented candles.  A big tradition of almost 12 years in my home is a seasonal bulletin board, hung on a kitchen wall.  This corkboard was full of beach scenes and Summer gardens in full bloom.  I carefully removed the pictures and stored them for next year, replacing them with pictures of Autumn scenes - hay bales with pumpkins and cornstalks, trees with leaves of bright orange and red, apples in baskets, and drawings of Autumn trees and pumpkin patches that my son had done in kindergarten and first grade, my prized artwork pieces by him.  I set touches of Autumn in each room of the house, whether it was a table runner, a candle, a bundle of Indian corn, or a garland of leaves.  Although the death of the year was approaching, my home was alive with all of these new but familiar changes, vibrant colors, and the energy of my favorite season.

Today I set about preparing my home’s focal point, the altar, for Autumn’s return.  I identified a long time ago that the kitchen and living room are where the most activity occurs in my house and that the dining room is the space between, the space that joins the two areas.  The dining room is also where we have large family celebratory meals, where I have my work area and do most of my writing, where my husband spreads out his spend down logs and budget reports when he has backed-up work to do, where my son does his homework.  It is the psychic heart of my home so it only made sense to me to have the altar there.  The altar is simply a large wide bookcase that houses most of our most loved and often-referenced books, and the top serves as the actual altar space.  For Autumn, the altar is transformed in a celebration of the harvest, with a small pot of Mums, a vase of flowers, pumpkins and other gourds, acorns, a bundle of dried herbs form the garden, and candles.  At its center is the main candle, a deep red spiced apple candle, and a bundle of three ears of Indian corn to symbolize the triple Goddess – maiden, mother and crone.  A bundle of wheat will be added to the altar as well to symbolize the God and the harvest of the grain that will nourish us through the long Winter and be planted again for the Spring.  Autumn reminds us that in all endings there are also beginnings and the altar is essentially a reflection of that principle.

Tonight, Mabon Eve, we will gather around the dining room table for a meal very similar to that of Thanksgiving, a little scaled down though.  Our Autumn Equinox menu includes turkey tenderloin rubbed with herbed butter, a stuffing made with celery, onions, diced apples, dried cranberries and lots of sage, and apples roasted in butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top.  We will toast to Autumn with spiced apple wine and give thanks for the harvest’s bounty.  Normally, we would retire after dinner to the backyard and light the Mabon fire but, alas, the weather forecast again calls for rain, lots of it and through to next week.  So, plan B takes effect!  Instead, we will light the main candle on the altar for tonight’s celebration to welcome Autumn, giving thanks for the wisdom of the Old Mother and the seeds that bring life again from the God and asking for balance to be restored in our lives and in nature.  The death of the year is upon us and the wheel turns again!  Happy Autumn, All!