Tag Archives: equinox

Equinox Druid

There’s not a lot of tradition to draw on for the equinoxes. In the autumn it can make sense to think about harvest and what’s being harvested locally. It can make sense to think about balance, and there’s also the modern tradition of Peace One Day to draw on.

As we approach the equinox, no doubt many Druids and Pagans are considering how they will celebrate. One of the big challenges for us is that most of us do not live close to the land. We are not celebrating the harvest we brought in.

The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. For the urban Druid this means more streetlighting is on the way as the amount of daylight decreases. The idea of a ‘dark’ part of the year makes far less sense in an urban context. Most of us will not experience much darkness.

I think one of the great challenges for urban Druids (and that’s most of us) is to make sure we don’t end up worshipping an idea of nature that mostly exists in our heads and in our living rooms. It’s so easy to romanticise the natural world, or to embrace stories that suit us but are problematic. That we are heading towards the great sleep of winter is one of those.

Not everything hibernates, and for many people winter is a time of struggle, challenge and discomfort. Winter is only a time of sleepy gentleness if you can afford to heat your home, eat well and aren’t walking for transport in all weathers or working outside.

It’s always good to ask how our lives relate to the wheel of the year and to consider the relationship between our lived experiences and our stories about the seasons.

Equinox hare

I always find equinoxes challenging, as there isn’t a vast amount in the folk tradition I can draw on. There aren’t a lot of traditional songs with obvious connections to this time of year – that’s always an issue in rituals. I contemplated going with the ‘balance’ theme, but again there’s not much to draw on from my own culture. I thought about the Libran scales in the zodiac, but that’s an autumn sign. I thought about the Yin Yang from Taoist tradition. I have a deep love for and respect for Taoism, and it’s something I’ve explored a bit, but not enough to feel I should but a symbol on my altar for the spring equinox.

I settled on a hare because they are part of my local landscape. The mad March hare certainly has seasonal relevance, too. I put celandines and violets in the foreground because those are both seasonal plants. I’m happiest drawing plants, the hare was a bit outside my comfort zone, but it’s good to push sometimes.

Approaching the equinox

I’ve never been very good at equinoxes in terms of celebrating the wheel of the year. Even when I was doing ritual regularly, they were the ones I found hardest to honour. It’s curious, because these are distinct events marking key shifts between the light and dark halves of the year.

There’s a disconnection for me in the way we talk about equinoxes  as times of balance, and the way I experience them. At the equinoxes, we have the fastest day by day change in the balance between light and dark. At this time of year, heading towards the equinox it becomes most obvious that the nights are drawing in and the dawn is later. I feel the shift, not the balance.

This may be one of those cases where modern Paganism has come at something intellectually not experientially. Somewhere in the midst of all this change there is indeed a balance point, but in terms of how we live through these days, that moment is almost invisible. It’s only really there to experience because we’ve agreed that it is, and that agreement may be taking us away from the experience of equinox.

I’m feeling the change and the shift into autumn. I’m feeling the changing length of days, and how different from summer the light is now when I get up in the morning. I’m feeling sleepy earlier in the evening. The smell of the air has changed, the nights and early mornings are colder. It’s a period of intense change, soon to be amplified as the leaves start changing colour and the woods around me shift dramatically from green to golden and brown.

I don’t feel balanced in myself, either, I feel the rush of change, the scope for everything to be different. If I am still now, it is because I’m being tugged in a number of directions and am waiting to see which pulls are the strongest.

Darkening Days

The day length changes most rapidly around the equinoxes. Shifting day lengths is a constant process through the year, with pauses at the solstices, but it tends to only register with me at certain points. I notice when I start having to get up in the dark – we aren’t quite there yet. On the other side of the year, I notice when I’m waking with the light, and I notice when it gets light too early and I stop reliably waking at or before dawn.

Here we are, in late September, and I’m noticing when it gets dark and how that impacts on my sleep patterns. At this time of year I’m inclined to go to bed after sunset, which is passably realistic. As the days get shorter, this will become less feasible, and some time – a month or so hence, I’ll stop feeling that urge, and will start being comfortable going to bed later.

Clearly my body has an inclination to sleep and wake with the setting and rising of the sun. In practice, the shape of days here when they move towards their natural extremes, doesn’t work for me. In summer I need more sleep than going to bed after ten and getting up about three would give me. In winter I need far less sleep than going to bed at half four and getting up at eight would give me. It’s interesting watching the interplay between body rhythms and light levels.

It’s at the times when I can most be in synch with the day length that I most notice how the day length changes. I also notice that, because of pre-dawn light and twilight, the equinox does not create an equality of light and dark. Light enters my room a little before half six in the morning, darkness falls a good deal later than half six in the evening. The stories we have about nature are not always fair representations of what it’s like in practice.

Celebrating the Equinox

I’ve always found equinoxes tricky, not least because I’ve never found much in the way of folk tradition to draw on. There is a lovely modern tradition that makes the 21st of September International Peace Day, and that’s something worth tapping into, certainly.

This equinox might, therefore be a good time to think about who we include in our ritual circles, and who we don’t. Superficial peace is easily achieved – distance, absence, ignoring, denying, silencing, disappearing, disempowering – all of this can make for a peaceful scenario for those who come out on top. However, for those who are silenced and vanished, the problems and the effect of being denied is the exact opposite of peace.

In the long term, the superficial peace that silences the unpeaceful will beget future conflicts. Real peace means dealing with the problems. It means looking at our conflicts and trying to work out what to do with them. It means asking what we do about people who mistreat others within our communities, and it means recognising that to do nothing is always to support the aggressor and to deny the victim.

It is ok for people to fall out, disagree, find they can’t work together and move on. Great things can come from people realising they don’t like a thing and striking out to make the thing they want on their own terms. This kind of division does not have to be ultimately unpeaceful. The separation may be messy, but if we can respect our differences, we can all move on in good ways.

Sometimes the actions, words or behaviour of one person will put another person in a situation they can’t deal with. We tend to treat this as an individual problem rather than a community one. We let the person go who feels least able to stay. Power and popularity may prove more important than justice and fairness. If there’s nothing more to it than a personality clash, then perhaps the only thing to do is weather the short term grief and start over. Some things cannot easily be fixed.

Groups in the habit of pushing people out are not good groups to be in. Groups that tacitly support bullying, because there’s someone powerful in the centre of the group, are not good spaces. So much of this echoes the playground, where there are always kids who will gravitate towards the deliberately nasty one in the hopes that by supporting them, they will never be the victim themselves.

So at this time of balance, I invite you to think about how we hold our edges. How we let people go when they need to, and how we work together when there’s conflict that needs collective solutions. What we do with people when they are out of order, what we do with people when they are hurt? If you are standing in circle today, or at the weekend, think about the peace of your circle and what maintains it, think about your community as a whole. Ask whether you have true peace, or the calm that comes from ignoring the issues, or making the problems go away.

Balance and the equinox

Although I perceive the lengthening of nights speeding up around the equinox, the event itself doesn’t register with me at an emotional level as an event. I know it happens, but I don’t feel it in the way I do the solstices. As far as I know there’s not much evidence for it being celebrated historically, but it does balance the calendar nicely, so – why not?

The idea of balance is an interesting one. It can, on the surface, look like a restful, peaceful if not downright static sort of state. Physical balance like any kind of balance in life is often more about having all the tension pulling just so in different directions so that the thing in the middle stays still. Walking is the fine art of not quite falling over, in a controlled way. Muscular strength vies with gravity. One slip, and gravity wins. We talk about work-life balance and that’s not passive either, it’s an active kind of juggling.

Is balance a good thing? Is it inherently unsustainable, underpinned as it so often is by opposing forces? There is the continual potential for one of those forces to gain dominance and drag that stability off in a sudden new direction. A bit like a guy rope going and the whole tent falling over. Does balance lull us into a false sense of security, making us blind to the emotional guy ropes pulling hard on us, keeping us in place?

Looking back, I had exactly that kind of balance in my twenties. I think most of the time I was able to put on a decent public face as a consequence of it. Being stretched almost to breaking to point, pulled in many directions, I somehow managed not to fall over. To a degree I created that situation, using other demands on my time and energy to offset things that were unbearable in my life. Using one tension to distract from another. Creating an illusion of stability that meant no one on the outside questioned what was going on with me. I was just very busy, to a casual glance. But I was stable, so that was fine. Except it wasn’t.

This last year I’ve mostly lost my balance. I have entirely lost all illusions of circumstantial stability, and all ability to maintain the relentlessly good face in public. No more stiff upper lip for me, and that’s probably a good thing. From the outside I don’t look terribly in control, or balanced any more. Some of the pulls and pressures in my life took control, and now where there was something a bit like stasis, there is instead a wild, chaotic rush of movement. It’s a bit like surfing. There are days when I am on top of the waves, and days when the waves are on top of me, and despite what I’d imagined such chaos to be like, I haven’t actually drowned yet.

Coping, is all about balance. Holding some kind of stillness in the midst of the storm, staying afloat, or however you choose to articulate it. Coping is the fine art of balancing all the tensions so that you stay upright, and don’t tear apart. It’s the tent metaphor all over again. But living and coping are not the same thing. Truly living, engaging with the world, doing new things, permitting yourself to feel and express – none of this lends itself to that perfect, centred balance. In much the same way that walking is the fine art of not quite falling over.

For a while this was all just happening to me, but like a child learning to walk, I’m getting a bit more choice in the process now. How fast to go, and when to lie down, rather than having lying down happening because I’d not mastered the ‘not quite’ bit of not quite falling over. It’s very different when you choose it. And pushing the metaphor out a little further, it also means I get to choose when to run, and why.

The kind of balance I had, was soul destroying. It was wrecking me in a way that was almost completely invisible. On the whole, I like this staggering about not quite falling over stuff better. It feels good to be moving. I have lost my balance, and found my feet, found the possibility of walking, and living.