Fall Equinox – Death and Transformation in a Season Of Magic

September 22, 2023

by Hagar Harpak

Journey to the underworld

Weaving Together The Tapestry Of Gratitude And Grief

Fall Equinox is the first day of Autumn. It marks a shift from the life fulfilling throb of Summer, into the releasing, wild swirl of death and transformation. It is a season of the seasoned, of internalized wisdom, a season of magic, and of the deep enchantment engulfed within decay.

The year is aging, the earth keeps spinning, and in the northern hemisphere it unfurls into ripeness of fruit, into leaves changing color, and the snuggle of light into the arms of the night. As we shift from Summer into Autumn we mature, and we grow wisdom that waits, still hidden in pits and seeds, not yet, but soon to be revealed by decay and scattering.

Fall Equinox marks a transition from the energy of Mother in the prime of this archetypal role, into the process of becoming the Crone. She’s not yet the wise old woman leaning on her staff, telling stories around the fire about ancient times, and the birth of song. And she’s no longer the breastfeeding new mother, carrying babies and young children in her arms.

This is a symbolic journey of shapeshifting that reminds us that shifting shapes is a process, that there’s an arc to it, that the seasons changing is not an abrupt cut from one state into another, but rather a fluid movement that commingles a diversity of currents and forms, that slowly melt one into the other, to become yet another expression. 

The Mother is aging, and her children, the plants, begin to seemingly individuate. Harvest is individuation. It is a death. It is alchemical. A cutting from connection to the mother; the fruit or the grain is severed from that which connects it to the earth. A breaking up with life force, with nourishment, to become that which nourishes. An initiation into the process of turning into something else by being cooked.  

No longer a milk making marvel, but a maven of all things caring. She cooks nourishing meals made of that which she has gathered and harvested, that which she’s cultivated and nurtured, grown and given shape to. She gathers herbs and brews teas and medicine in her cauldron of plenty. She knows which words to speak, which to keep for later, and which to keep to herself. 

The word Maven comes from Mayvn in Yiddish, which comes from Mevin in Hebrew, which translates as someone who understands. 

This time of year is a time of contemplation, reflection, insights, and understanding, a season of assimilation of knowledge and information, a period of churning the lessons of grief and of gratitude that we have been breathing with during Winter, Spring, and Summer. 

In mythic worlds, the Fall Equinox marks the beginning of a journey to the underworld. 

Mabon is the Pagan name for this holiday. It is named after a Celtic deity who was a child of light, abducted while still an infant, taken away from his mother, Modron, in the middle of the night, disappearing into darkness. 

This is the time of year when Persephone, Greek goddess of Spring, descends to the underworld to become queen. Some say she’s abducted by Hades, lord of the dead. But according to Barbara G Walker, she was the queen of the underworld long before the story of Hades was invented, long before the masculine deity became associated with the great power of death. She’s the daughter of Demeter, goddess of harvest, of grain, and of all that grows from the richness of the land. When Demeter cannot find her child, she grieves, and with her grief she dissolves all that has grown, all that is nourishing. She creates Winter. 

The story of Demeter and Persephone is the story of individuation, of a child distancing themselves from the mother to become their own, to become rulers of their lives, and so the daughter becomes the queen of death. It is the story of harvest, of fallen fruit, of decay, a story of nature’s cycles, the transformation of Fall, and the birth of Winter, as well as the promise of Spring’s resurrection. 

It is also a story of a mother losing herself in the grief of her children growing apart from her. When the daughter grows into a maiden, into a young woman, the mother journeys into the realms of the Crone, not only by shedding the nurturing, caregiving, bosom bond with her young children, but also by having to say goodbye to her own young form. 

(If you’d like to explore the myths of Mabon, of Demeter & Persephone, and so many more, to bring mythology, symbolism and metaphor into the body through a ritual that weaves together breathwork, movement, asana, meditation, mudra, mantra, and magic, join Hagar for the Fall Equinox Somatic Ceremony – details are here)

These stories are not only about parents, or aging women. They reflect the cycles of nature, the rebirth that is inevitable through a process of decomposition. Stories invite metaphor to inform our lives, our work, our relationships. They are invitations into the unconscious, into a process of learning how to see in the dark, how to feel our way through a field of decay without light to guide us on the path. And as the days become shorter and darkness takes over, we can receive this time as an opportunity to befriend that which lives under the surface, that which lurks in the unconscious, that which lives in the world of the dead. 

The first phase of Fall is a season when abundance still blesses the land, and gratitude is given to all that has grown. But as winds blow through the trees, as leaves change color, as ripeness transitions into rot, and as dryness devours lushness, we are invited to face not only what has grown but also what hasn’t. 

What have you put energy into, blood, sweat and tears into, that hasn’t come into fruition? What are you learning through this loss? 

As leaves scatter and fruit falls, we turn toward the parts and pieces of our broken dreams, the losses, and the disappointments. We must face that which is falling away, and let it drop to the earth to be reabsorbed and turned to soil. 

What have you dreamed of, envisioned, nurtured, and loved, that you must now release and give back to the earth to be broken down and turned into a fertilizer? What new visions and dreams might be nourished by that which is falling away? 

The fall invites us not only to come to terms with loss, but also to light the fire of cremation, to burn old versions of self that impede the new realities that we want to initiate. We grieve that which is moving on and away from us; our Persephone, our Mabon. And we empower ourselves to transform and shed skins that no longer belong. 

In a society that is so used to throwing away that which isn’t needed, as we face a reality that shows us that the garbage we took out yesterday, last week, last year, and a decade ago still sits in the landfills, we might want to consider more ways of working with that which we are letting go of. 

We’ve become so used to hearing: “let it go.” But where do the things that we let go of go? How does the process of our own release affect the environment, other species, other people? As we learn the hard way that nothing really goes away, but everything needs to find its place in the universe of things, we can engage in a deeper conversation with ourselves and with others about our processes of releasing. 

How do we integrate the parts that we want nothing to do with? How do we assimilate the aspects of ourselves that we want to turn away from? 

Fall is a season of gratitude and grief, of receiving and releasing the lessons, the gifts, and the losses. It’s a season of celebrating that which has been accomplished and fulfilled, reintegrating that which is moving on, and of preparation for harder times 

The Equinox is a day of balance between day and night, darkness and light. But balance is only a momentary experience. Balance, as much as we would like to attain it, can only be held for a short, brief moment. The Equinoxes celebrate equilibrium as a tipping point. The Spring Equinox sends us into the light, into flourishing, growing, and emerging out of darkness. The Fall Equinox ushers us into the night, into decay, and death, breaking down, and reabsorption in darkness. 

And so if balance isn’t what we’re after, integration can become the invitation into the deep process and power of this season. 

As the days become shorter and the nights stretch wide, the darkness calls us not only into the unconscious, into the inner realms, and into the worlds of dreams, but also into the work of integrating our shadow. 

As fall progresses and moves toward Winter, the underworld of Persephone will take us deeper in. The shadow is that which we tend to turn away from, it’s that which we have been told is monstrous, that which we have a hard time owning. It’s the aspects of ourselves that we have labeled as demonic, and have sent to exile. 

I think of Fall Equinox as a threshold. It’s not yet the darkest. It’s sunset, or twilight. She’s not yet the crone, but she’s no longer the breastfeeder. We enter into liminality. We move into the space between things, which is a process, not a clear ending and beginning. This is the moment to initiate integration, to begin important conversations even though they aren’t easy, to develop a relationship with our inner child. It’s the growth edge on the precipice of death. It’s the weaving together of opposites, to create a tapestry not of equilibrium, but of diversity and ambiguity, which are the ground of inclusion. It’s the continuous collaboration between the binaries, to not only create room for the non-binary, but to open up to realms beyond the binary. 

Fall reminds us not only that this is a journey, a process, but also that we are moving in cyclical rhythms, not in a linear trajectory. As we shed, burn, release, and reintegrate, the rebirth isn’t an immediate reward. After the Fall comes Winter. And so we learn how to breathe under the surface of life, deep within the realms of roots and mycelium, deep within the belly of our interconnectedness, deep in the alchemical digestive system of our soul. We must learn how to pause and wait. And this moment between Summer and Winter, the space of transition, is our first day of school.

Autumn calls us into the darkness so that we can see into the depth, breathe into our deaths, and feed the next phase of our becoming. Slowly. 

Join us for the Fall Equinox Somatic Ceremony and enliven your relationship with this season of magic.

For a quick FREE yoga practice video to help shift your perspective on darkness go here.

Have a gorgeous Equinox, and a nourishing, meaningful Fall!

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