Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Mabon, the autumn equinox, but typically the focus is on either the second harvest aspect, or the balance between light and dark. This, after all, is the time when there is an equal amount of day and night. While we celebrate the gifts of the earth, we also accept that the soil is dying. We have food to eat, but the crops are brown and going dormant. Warmth is behind us, cold lies ahead
The ancient Egyptians, Phonecians and Persians celebrated the New Year with the autumn equinox, when the hours of daylight and darkness reached an equilibrium. On this date, the first day of autumn, the location of the Sun reaches one of the four corners of the zodiac cross.
The ancient sky-watchers used the stars above to form the constellation of the cardinal zodiac sign Libra–the Balance–to signify the time when daylight and darkness were balanced. This astronomical event held great importance to ancient agrarian societies, because it marked the location when the Sun and ecliptic traversed over the equator–an important event for timing the harvest.
The importance of such a seasonal time marker as the autumn equinox was heightened in ancient agrarian society due to the nature of activities at this time of year. At this time, the harvest was in full bloom and the bountiful return after long summer hours of laboring under the heat of the sun revealed the promise of ripened, life-sustaining crops. To many people of ancient agrarian civilization, the harvest season was a time to count your blessings in the form of fruits that grow from the earth.
In China, the autumn equinox is described as a day of balance between yin (darkness) and yang (light). Yet the autumn season in turn welcomes the winter, as yin takes hold and the light of the Sun disappears with each passing day. For this reason, the autumn equinox enters with an air of serious reflection and marks a time of preparation before the challenge of winter ahead.
It is thought that at this time, the festival sacrifice to the Moon or Harvest Moon took place in contrast to the sacrifice to the Sun, which was held on the spring equinox. The Taoist philosophers used the element metal to characterize the season of fall with solemnity and courage for the trials ahead.
The autumn season of falling leaves offered a period of relaxation for ancient agrarian people, just before the chill of winter set in. It was a fortunate time if the crop yield was abundant, but also sobering if the harvest was bad. For this meant the abundance of living things would soon return to the earth, and food would be scarce if they weren’t already prepared. The darkness would soon creep across the land with the turn of each day. If there was abundance now, it was time to celebrate–for soon, the cold would force them to ration all resources for the coming winter.
–Thus, the harvest and autumn equinox is a time of reaping what you’ve sown.