Autumn Equinox - Celtic Light and Dark

Ireland's Glendalough Landscape in Autumn
Ireland's Glendalough Landscape in Autumn

This time of year is a very special one in the Celtic calendar and traditionally known as an important step between light and dark. The long summer nights have now passed and this is a period of transition as we move to the darker evenings and the approach of winter.

The Autumn Equinox - which falls on September 21st / 22nd - is a time when the harvest was traditionally celebrated and people would gather to store and start to preserve all their food to keep them going through the year ahead. It’s also a time of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition that there’s a need to share them to secure blessings.

In Celtic tradition and for the ancient Irish there was huge significance with the day and night being of equal length. It was a solar festival of great importance as the sky was used as both a clock and a calendar.

Before the Autumn Equinox, the hours of daylight were more than those of darkness. This time of year marks a turning point and time to get prepared for the colder weather. The Celts didn’t have a specific name for this time of year and it was the second harvest festival - celebrated with a feast and offerings. It did however become widely known as Mahon or Second Harvest.

This time of year was also a time to prepare for Samhain (October 31st to November 1st) which comes later and was a key calendar event widely celebrated in a much bigger way. Many of the rituals for the Autumn Equinox were similar however and included building an altar with fruits and vegetables, meditating and praying, gathering and feasting on apples, sharing food, counting ones blessings and offering apples to gods and goddesses.

While experts vary in relation to how exactly this time of year was celebrated traditionally it was thought to be a time when life was in perfect equilibrium - dark and light, inner and outer, masculine and feminine - all in balance. However the darkness was now beginning to defeat the light. The cycle of nature was changing and moving.

Mahon was a time to enjoy abundance and be grateful for it - but also now time to rest after the labor of working. It was time to reap what was sown and think about new ideas and hopes that could be recognized and put into place when Spring again returned and the cycle began all over again.
Posted on September 17, 2021

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