Today is the fall equinox, which marks the day when the earth is at equilibrium. At this point, the world begins its descent into slumber for the winter; traditionally, this is seen as the time at which the crops are all harvested, when everyone must quiet their spirits as the season shifts once again.
Astronomically, the equinox occurs when the sun is exactly above the equator, which causes both the southern and northern hemispheres to receive the same amount of light. In other words, day and night are equal length today—ushering in a time of calm and stillness as the light begins to wane going into winter.
In ancient Ireland, before the arrival of the Celts, prehistoric worshippers erected stone cairns containing chambers that that only let light in on the equinoxes. In ancient Greece, the Eleusinian mysteries, which marked the transition from summer to fall, were "considered essential to the survival of humanity," according to historian Mara Lynn Keller. Although the details aren't known—initiates were forbidden on penalty of death from speaking about the rites—the festivities honored Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, and Persephone, her daughter, whose six-month annual disappearance into the underworld was said to cause the barren winter season. The ancient Celts would conduct a mock sacrifice on this date, burning a wicker-work figure that represented the spirit of the vegetation.
As any practicing witch can tell you, the equinox is a powerful time energetically; the start of autumn, specifically, marks the point at which the light begins to wane. For pagans, equinoxes are particularly significant events, and the autumnal equinox—also referred to as Mabon by neo-Pagans—is somewhat equivalent to Thanksgiving. This is an important time to give thanks to Mother Goddess and the earth for her gifts. Those who practice Mabon see it as a time of balance between the opposing forces of light and dark, life and death: As you celebrate the harvest you've reaped, you simultaneously recognize that the soil is dying, that the nights will start to become longer, and that the earth is slowly going into hibernation.
The astrological climate during the autumnal equinox is also revealing. Around this time, the sun enters Libra. "Libra is the sign of beauty, harmony, and justice, so expect those to be big themes going into the fall," says astrologer Amelia Quint of the Midheaven. "How we relate to one another in all kinds of relationships—from the individual to the community level—will be in the cosmic spotlight."
Because of Libra's community focus, the best (and most fun) way to celebrate Mabon is by throwing a party. Honor the autumnal bounty by hosting a feast, even if you're not the one who harvested the ingredients. Celebrate in ritual outside, around a bonfire, or among the forest, giving libation and thanks to whatever it is that you worship and blessing the food in its name before partaking. Kitchen witchery, or using food for magic, is also apt.
Spending time outside, immersed in nature and her gifts, is another easy way to celebrate. Pagans often take this time to find connection to Gaia, the goddess of the earth and nature incarnate. Consider casting a protective circle, creating an altar outside, or leaving an offering of apples, milk, honey or bread for the faeries and elementals. Cleansing yourself by burning protective and cleansing herbs like sage, mugwort, and cedar is also a good way to use today's energy. And, if there's no time for that, simply gather up friends and loved ones, start a bonfire, go apple picking, or simply sit outside and enjoy the smells of the season. The point is to revel in the wheel of the year as she shifts once again, preparing us for darker days and a time of potent energetic opportunities.
Symbols of Mabon are reflective of the season: It's associated with rich, vibrant jewel tone hues and objects that possess grounding, comforting qualities. Vegetables such as squash and gourds, apples and anything made from their fruit, seeds, nuts, and corn are all appropriate for the holiday. If you have an altar, honor the new season by decorating it with any of the aforementioned, as well as with baskets to symbolize the gathering of the crops.
Mabon is a useful time for practicing protection magic as well as prosperity magic. (According to pagan beliefs, the veil between the spiritual and mortal worlds is particularly thin around the autumnal equinox.) Any form of divination you partake in will be particularly revealing now, and meditating on the balance between light and dark and this space of equilibrium is also customary.
Whether you're celebrating with a ritual, a feast, or simply by spending time outside, this is a perfect excuse to enjoy the season. Take time to appreciate Gaia's gifts and don't forget: Winter is coming.