Autumn Equinox: Connecting your senses with nature
With the grim and grey weather we have endured this summer in the UK, you would be forgiven for assuming autumn was already well underway. But according to the astronomical calendar the official start to the new season is Saturday 23rd September.
This date marks the autumn equinox, a moment in the year when day is equal to night. The word equinox comes from the Latin “equi” – meaning equal, and “nox” – meaning night. As the spring equinox in March signifies the ascent into the warmer days of summer, the autumn equinox marks the descent into the darker days of winter. And from this point onwards the nights grow increasingly longer than the days.
The equinox is an opportunity for us to look to the natural world for guidance and comfort. The cyclical change in seasons allows us to look inwards at our own transformation and growth. And as the leaves fall from the branches, we learn to let go of what no longer serves us.
There is a certain magic to autumn. The smells, the sights, and the sounds are a feast for the senses. From the sting of the fresh morning air on your fingertips, to the squelch of your boots marching through a maze of muddy woodland pathways. From the scent of damp leaves decaying on the forest floor, to the vision of a delicate blanket of fungi covering a fallen tree. Autumn is an incredible time to immerse yourself in nature and become more in tune with your connection to the world around you.
Read on to explore more of autumn’s significance around the world, and for ideas on how to celebrate this season here in the Forest.
A special date for many
For modern-day pagans, the autumn equinox marks Mabon, one of eight sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. Their calendar uses the astronomical events of the equinoxes in March and September, and the solstices in June and December, to celebrate the change in each season and the natural rhythm of the Earth. Mabon precedes Samhain – pronounced “sow-in” – from which many current Halloween traditions originate. As the wheel turns to Mabon, pagans rejoice in the abundance of the final harvest with family gatherings and meals. It is a day of gratitude and reflection, a time to give thanks for our blessings and personal achievements, and to take stock of our own metaphorical harvest.
For those who look to the stars and planets for guidance, the autumn equinox coincides with the transition into Libra season. The equinox itself represents a balance in day and night, and Libra – the zodiac sign of the scales – is another symbol of balance, and of justice and peace. As the sun moves through this season, followers of astrology use the scales as inspiration. It is a reminder to recognise our own equilibrium, to review the light and shadow on our own internal and external paths.
The Harvest Moon
The full moon closest to the autumn equinox has cultural and historical significance in many countries. Because of the way the moon orbits Earth, the extra-special Harvest Moon rises soon after sunset for several consecutive nights. This creates a longer period of brighter moonlight in the dark autumn sky. It was essential for farmers gathering crops at this time of year. In China, people commemorate the Harvest Moon with the Mid-Autumn Festival, inspired by the legend of Chang’e, goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology. This 3,000-year-old festival is one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar. It is marked by the gathering of food, family and friends to celebrate the harvest and to honour family unity. Festival-goers create offerings to the moon and participate in moon-watching, lighting lanterns and burning incense to acknowledge this celestial phenomenon.
While astrology and moon-worship may not be your cup of tea, there are still many ways to enjoy autumn here in the Forest.
Autumn in the Forest
For me, there is no way more appropriate to see in the equinox than watching day move into night. Our walk through Haydon Way Wood offers a spectacular viewpoint of the skyline and the growing Forest beneath. As the sun sets and the moon rises, feel the magic in this moment of equilibrium. Allow your senses to heighten as dusk descends and the new season enters in. The path along Haydon Way Wood leads you to a section of the river Arrow. Being near water gives us another opportunity to pause and reflect. The movement of the river is a reminder to us of the energy and flow of our own journeys.
Another way to delight in the joys of this season is to forage for treasure. This is a great activity for the whole family to connect with the wonders of the outdoors. Our more mature woodland, like that found at Morgrove Coppice, offers an abundance of interesting things to find and photograph. Perhaps it is a glistening hazelnut peeking out of its shell, or a giant mushroom protruding from a soft layer of moss on the damp ground, or maybe a piece of broken bark – gnarled and weathered from the elements. The fallen leaves at this time of year provide a diverse spectrum of colour, from murky browns to warm ambers, fiery reds to vibrant yellows.
Getting Creative in the Forest
If you allow yourself to view the Forest through the lens of curiosity, there is an array of interesting objects to discover.
You might like to arrange your findings into a mandala – a geometric circular pattern. The act of collecting and arranging is another way to become more mindful of the natural world and our connection to it. You may want to take a handful of your treasures home with you to create an autumnal display. Gathering these items and placing them in your home serves as a comforting reminder of what this season represents but remember please only take what you need to allow others, and most importantly wildlife, to share in the joys of autumn!
Enjoy the change of season in the Forest or at home
Please share your favourite Heart of England Forest walks with us on social media. We would love to see you out and about enjoying our trails this autumn.
For a quick fix of nature at home during this season of introspection and release, our 5-minute Autumn Equinox Meditation provides the perfect guide to connect each of your senses with the changes in nature in those green spaces near you.