Topics coverd in this essay:
When and why does the fall equinox happen? Date and time of the equinox: 1999 to 2006 CE
Celebrations by various faiths and countries
Egg balancing belief
The word "equinox" was derived from Latin term "æquinoctium" which, in turn, came from "æquus" (equal), and "nox" (night). It refers to the time that occurs twice a year when the nighttime is equal to the daytime -- each being 12 hours in duration.
A multi-faith celebration:
Religious followers from around the world observe many seasonal days of celebration during late September. Most are religious holy days, and are linked in some way to the fall or autumn equinox. Common themes found worldwide are balance, harvesting, hunting, and remembrance of the dead.
People view other religions in various ways, and thus treat the celebrations of other faiths differently:
Some people value the worldwide variety of fall equinox celebrations, because demonstrates the diversity of religious belief within our common humanity. They respect both their own religious traditions and those of other faiths for their ability to inspire people to lead more ethical and fulfilled lives. Religious diversity is, to them, a positive influence.
Others reject the importance of all celebrations other than the holy days recognized by their own religion. Some go so far as rejecting some of their religion's holy days when they are discovered to have Pagan origins (e.g. Easter, Christmas, and Michaelmas).
Some consider religions other than their own as being inspired by Satan. Thus the solstice and equinox celebrations of other religions are viewed as Satanic in origin, and intrinsically evil.
When and why the fall equinox happens:
The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5º tilt of the earth's axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, it points in a fixed direction continuously -- towards a point in space near the North Star. But the earth is also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears high in the sky during summertime and low in the sky during winter. It is highest at the summer solstice (about June-21) and lowest at the winter solstice (about December-21). The half-way points in the year are called the equinoxes. It is time of the year when the sun rises exactly in the east, travels through the sky for 12 hours, and sets exactly in the west. 1,2 Everywhere on earth experiences close to 12 hours of daylight, and 12 hours of nighttime.
The date and time of the fall equinox:
The exact date and time of the fall equinox, when the sun moves into the astrological sign of Aries, varies from year to year. Each year, the date/time moves progressively later in September until the year before leap-year is reached. On leap-year, it returns to an earlier date/time. This four-year cycle is then repeated.
Year Fall Equinox, in the Northern Hemisphere (UT)
1999 SEP-23 @ 11:32
2000 SEP-22 @ 17:27
2001 SEP-22 @ 23:04
2002 SEP-23 @ 04:55
2003 SEP-23 @ 10:46
2004 SEP-22 @ 16:29
2005 SEP-22 @ 22:22
2006 SEP-23 @ 04:03
2007 SEP-23 @ 09:51
2008 SEP-22 @ 15:44
2009 SEP-22 @ 21:18
2010 SEP-23 @ 03:09
The dates and times were derived from the astronomical calculations on The Dome of the Sky web site for years 1999 to 2006. 15 However, the web site does not seem to be functioning as of 2005-APR-05. The remaining equinoxes were taken from archaeoastronomy.com. 23 An online "Easy Date Converter" calculates the dates and times of the equinoxes and solstices within 20 seconds. 24 Times are in UT (Universal Time). This used to be called Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. In North America, you can find your local time by subtracting:
2 hours 30 minutes for Newfoundland daylight savings time
3 hours for ADT
4 hours for EDT
5 hours for CDT
6 hours for MDT
7 hours for PDT
8 hours in AKDT (Alaska)
9 hours in ADT (Aleutian Islands)
10 hours in HST (Hawaii) 10
Fall celebrations by various faiths and countries - ancient and modern
ANCIENT BRITAIN: Both the solstices and equinoxes "were the highly sophisticated preoccupation of the mysterious Megalithic peoples who pre-dated Celt, Roman and Saxon on Europe's Atlantic fringe by thousands of years." Stonehenge and other stone structures were aligned so that the solstices and equinoxes could be determined.
ANCIENT IRELAND: The spring and fall equinox were celebrated in ancient times. A cluster of megalithic cairns are scattered through the hills at Loughcrew, about 55 miles North West of Dublin in Ireland. Longhcrew Carin T is a passage tomb which is designed so that the light from the rising sun on the spring and summer equinoxes penetrates a long corridor and illuminates a backstone, which is decorated with astronomical symbols. 21,22
ASTROLOGERS: On the day of the fall solstice, the sun enters the sign of Libra -- the constellation of the balance or scales.
CHRISTIANITY: The Christian Church replaced earlier Pagan solstices and equinox celebrations during Medieval times, with Christianized observances. Replacing the fall equinox is Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangel Michael, on SEP-29. "His feast was celebrated with a traditional well-fattened goose which had fed well on the stubble of the fields after the harvest. In many places, a there was also a tradition of special large loaves of bread made only for that day. By Michaelmas the harvest had to be completed and the new cycle of farming would begin. It was a time for beginning new leases, rendering accounts and paying the annual dues." 3
Other substitutions by the Church were: Replacing the spring equinox by the Feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is held on MAR-25, on the nominal date of the spring equinox according to the old Julian calendar. There was a "brief flirtation with calling the Vernal Equinox 'Gabrielmas.' " This is the time when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was pregnant. (Luke 1:26-38) 4
Replacing the summer solstice, Midsummer Day, is the feast of St. John the Baptist, celebrated on JUN-24.
Replacing the winter solstice is Christmas, on DEC-25 when Mary is traditionally believed to have given birth to Jesus, while still a virgin.
CHUMASH: This is a Native American tribe from Southern California. They celebrate their fall equinox sun ceremony during their month of Hutash (September). It takes place "after the harvest is picked, processed and stored....Kakunupmawa is a ritual name for the Sun. According to traditional Chumash lore, all humans were known as children of the Sun, or 'sons of Kakunupmawa.' " 5 The spiritual thoughts of the tribe would become focused the importance of unity in the face of winter confinement, death and rebirth.
DRUIDS: At this time of the year, the ancient Celts conducted a mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure which represented the vegetation spirit. This might have been the origin of Julius Caesar's comment in his Gallic Wars that the Druids performed human sacrifices. Although he never witnessed a human sacrifice and never met anyone who had, this story has been accepted and repeated often enough to be accepted as truth. The Celtic mock sacrifice has been reborn in the Burning Man Project, a yearly fall festival celebrated for one week in Black Rock Desert in Nevada. 28 The movie "The Wicker Man" was based on the Celtic tradition; to say more would ruin the film if you are seeing it for the first time. 6
FRANCE: A new calendar was adopted at the time of the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The first day of the year, the 1st of Vendemiaire (the grape-harvest month), was the date of the fall equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The year was divided into twelve months of 30 days each. That left five or six surplus days which were celebrations ending the year, in honor of virtue, genius, work, opinion, prizes and revolution.
MAYAN: The ancient Mayans constructed a pyramid at Cihickén Itzá which displayed different patterns of triangles of light at the time of the solstices and equinoxes. The dates signaled the start of a harvest, planting, or a religious ceremony. On the fall equinox, seven triangles become visible on the pyramid's staircase. 7
NATIVE AMERICAN SPIRITUALITY: There are countless stone structures created by Natives in the past and still standing in North America. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and other markers around the edge of the bowl "At the winter solstice, the sun rose at the southern peak of the east ridge and set at a notch at the southern end of the west ridge." The summer solstice and both equinoxes were similarly marked. 8
"America's Stonehenge" is a 4,000 year old megalithic site located on Mystery Hill in Salem NH. Carbon dating has estimated the age of some charcoal remnants at 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. Researchers have concluded that the site was erected either by Native Americans or an unknown migrant European population. 9 The site contains five standing stones and one fallen stone in a linear alignment which point to both the sunrise and sunset at the and fall equinoxes.
NEOPAGANISM: This is a group of religions which are attempted re-creations of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most popular; it is loosely based on ancient Celtic beliefs, symbols and practices, with the addition of some more recent Masonic and ceremonial magic rituals.
Monotheistic religions, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tend to view time as linear. It started with creation; the world as we know it will end at some time in the future. Aboriginal and Neopagan religions see time as circular and repetitive, with lunar (monthly) and solar (yearly) cycles. Their "...rituals guarantee the continuity of nature's cycles, which traditional human societies depend on for their sustenance." 10
Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. Wiccans may celebrate Mabon on the evening before, or at sunrise on the morning of the equinox, or at the exact time of fall equinox.
Mabon is the second and main Wiccan harvest festival. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary comments: "The Goddess manifests in Her Bountiful Mother aspects. The God emerges as the Corn King and Harvest Lord. Colors are Orange, Dark Red, Yellow, Indigo, and Brown. It is the festival of thanksgiving." 11
Lee Wavedancer of Witch on the Go.com comments that the Wiccan God "has sacrificed the last of Himself to provide us with a final harvest of food before the winter begins. Celebrants gather to mark the turning of the wheel and to give thanks for the ultimate sacrifice of The God, recognizing that He will be reborn at Yule. This holiday has been called 'The Witches' Thanksgiving' and is a time for feasting together with family and friends." 12
The author of the Pagan Family Circle writes: "While in the past, most all were farmers, this harvest festival traditionally applies to the harvest of foods, yet in this day and age, the 'harvest' may also apply to the 'seeds of dreams and wishes' that were planted many months earlier. Now is the time to see if they have come true. Whether they have come true or not ... a ritual to thank the growing energies of the God and the fertility of the Goddess should be preformed at this time. Lay upon your altar a sampling of your 'harvest'.... use it freely in your ritual. (Note: even if your 'harvest' came up empty, IE: your dreams were not fulfilled, the God and Goddess should still be thanked for the effort put forth in your name)" 13
JAPAN: "...the Spring and Autumn Equinox is observed as the six-day celebration the Higan-e. It is celebrated "for three days before and after the Equinox. Six days was chosen because it is based on the six perfections, giving, observance of the precepts, perseverance, effort, meditation and wisdom - needed before one goes from this shore of samsára to the further shore or nirvana. The literal meaning of Higan is 'other shore.' The ritual includes repentance of past sins and prayers for enlightenment in the next life. It also includes remembrance of the dead and visits to the family graves. It is thought that the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, being the most temperate times of the year, are ideal moments to reflect on the meaning of life." 14
Fall equinox traditions:
"The month of September also marks the 'Wine Moon,' the lunar cycle when grapes are harvested from the arbors, pressed and put away to become wine...The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is known as the 'Harvest Moon,' since farmers would also harvest their crops during the night with the light of the full moon to aid them." 16
Teutonic tribes called the period from the fall equinox until Winter Night (OCT-15) by the name "Winter Finding." Winter Night was the Norse new year. 17
"Symbols celebrating the season include various types of gourd and melons. Stalk can be tied together symbolizing the Harvest Lord and then set in a circle of gourds. A besom can be constructed to symbolize the polarity of male and female. The Harvest Lord is often symbolized by a straw man, whose sacrificial body is burned and its ashes scattered upon the earth. The Harvest Queen, or Kern Baby, is made from the last sheaf of the harvest and bundled by the reapers who proclaim, 'We have the Kern!' The sheaf is dressed in a white frock decorated with colorful ribbons depicting spring, and then hung upon a pole (a phallic fertility symbol). In Scotland, the last sheaf of harvest is called the Maiden, and must be cut by the youngest female in attendance." 18
There is a rumor that surfaces twice a year at the time of the spring and fall equinoxes. Many people believe that since the equinox is a time of balance where the daylight hours and nighttime hours are equal, that -- by some mystical force -- one can balance eggs on their end on these days. Some believe that one can only balance an egg within a few hours before or after the exact time of the equinox. 19
Philip Plait (a.k.a. the Bad Astronomer) writes: "Usually you cannot stand a raw egg because the inside of an egg is a very viscous (thick) liquid, and the yolk sits in this liquid. The yolk is usually a bit off-center and rides high in the egg, making it very difficult to balance. The egg falls over. However, with patience, you can usually make an egg stand up. It may take a lot of patience!" He has a photo on his web site that shows himself and three eggs standing on their end. 20
Being able to stand an egg on its end is clearly determined by the internal structure of the egg, gravity, condition of the surface of the egg at its end, the condition of the surface that the egg is being balanced on, how level the surface is, etc. None of these factors have anything to do with the passage of the seasons. So, a person probably has as much luck standing an egg on its end on the equinox as on any other day of the year.
Plait reports that only a small percentage of eggs can be balanced. He believes that the successfully balanced eggs have small irregularities that act as miniature legs and prop up the egg.
Needless to say, balancing an egg on it stubby end is a lot easier than on its pointed end.
Related essays on this web site:
Interesting Internet sites:
"Create your Fall Equinox Greeting Cards," at: http://184.108.40.206/postcards/aut
WebPagan has a series of essays on Mabon, including Pagan rituals. See: http://www.webpagan.com/Mabon(FallEquin
Pathwalkers.Net contains dozens of essays related to Mabon at: http://www.pathwalkers.net/sabbaths/mab
Ken Williams has posted images of the fall equinox sunrise on 2005 at: http://www.knowth.com/loughcrew-equ
Ric Kemp's group of paintings based on Avebury in Wiltshire can be seen at: http://www.knowth.com/ric-kemp.htm
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"The Sun in the sky during the Spring and Fall Equinox in the Northern hemisphere," at: http://solar.physics.montana.edu/
Jay Ryan, "Starman: Fall Equinox," at: http://www.oarval.org/
Lance, "Hail to the Sabbat: Mabon!," at: http://www.paganet.org/
"Fall Equinox," at: http://pagans.foolmoon.com/
John Anderson, "Chumash Autumn Equinox," at: http://www.angelfire.com/
"Wicker Man Film Review," http://www.sandrew.demon.co.uk/
"The Shadow of the Equinox," at: http://www.isourcecom.com/
J.W. Mavor & B.E. Dix, "Manitou: The sacred landscape of New England's Native Civilization." Inner Traditions (1989).
"America's Stonehenge" is at: http://www.stonehengeusa.com/
Yisrayl Hawkins,"Ancient Pagan Religious Expression," at: http://yahweh.com/
Selena Fox, "Celebrating the Seasons: Lore and Rituals by Selena Fox: Fall Equinox," at: http://www.circlesanctuary.org/
Lee Wavedancer, "Fall Equinox," at: http://witchonthego.com/
"Fall Equinox," at: http://pagans.foolmoon.com/
William Duby, "The Fall Equinox," at: http://www.celestia.com/
"Find the equinoxes and solstices for a particular year," at http://einstein.stcloudstate.edu/
Lance, "Hail to the Sabbat: Mabon!," at: http://www.paganet.org/
StormWing, "Mabon Lore," at: http://www.geocities.com/
"Mabon Lore," at: http://www.pathwalkers.net/
Von Del Chamberlain, "Equinox Means Balanced Light, Not Balanced Eggs," at: http://www.clarkfoundation.org/
Philip Plait, "Standing an egg on end on the Spring Equinox," at: http://www.badastronomy.com/
"Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns," Knowth.com at: http://www.knowth.com/
"Loughcrew Autumnal Equinox 2002," Knowth.com at: http://www.knowth.com/
"Equinox, Solstice & Cross-Quarter Moments," at: http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/
"Dates and Times of Equinoxes and Solstices," Hermetic Systems, at: http://www.hermetic.ch/
Copyright © 2002 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-AUG-7
Latest update: 2005-APR-05
Author: B.A. Robinson