E is For Equinox
The autumnal equinox is defined as the astronomical start of the fall season. Astronomically speaking, the autumnal equinox occurs when the center of the sun crosses the celestial equator. The celestial equator is an imaginary circle that radiates from the Earth’s own equator into space. To understand the importance of this let’s first explore why we have seasons in the first place. It all comes down to sunshine and the fact that the Earth is a little . . . funky .
Cheeky little Earth
So, we’re hurtling through space on the Earth. Did you ever really think how much we’re moving? Every day the Earth completes one rotation. At the equator the speed of this rotation is about 1,000 miles per hour. We revolve around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. All the while, our solar system--Earth and all--is spinning around the center of our galaxy at 490,000 miles per hour. So ya, we’re hauling!
On Earth we are hurtling through space in all directions. Every twenty four hours we rotate on our axis, creating a day. About every 365 days we revolve around the sun, creating our year. Our Earth, however, has a little cheek to it. Rotating straight up and down isn’t cool enough for us. We added a little tilt to our rotation. This tilt is called obliquity.
The obliquity is about 23.5 degrees. This funky little tilt is the cause of our seasons. As we rotate and revolve on this tilt, certain areas of the Earth are exposed to more sunlight for a longer period during their rotation (meaning longer days), and the opposite side of the Earth receives less sunlight for a shorter period of time (meaning longer nights).
There are four main points that occur during the Earth's annual trip around the sun. We have two solstices and two equinoxes. These four events mark the beginning of our four seasons. In other words, when it’s our turn to get more sun, we have summer. When we get less sun, we have winter. The transitions between those two are what create spring and fall. This is also why the seasons are opposite from the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Seasons are all just a result of the amount of sunlight we receive during a certain time period.
Fall Equinox 2020
The word equinox in Latin breaks down to mean equal night. The fall equinox is the tipping point between the long days of summer and the long nights of winter. The fall equinox marks the moment day and night are equal length. The sun begins to rise later and will set sooner for us. This transition culminates on the Winter solstice, Dec 21.
This year the fall equinox will be on September 22nd at 8:31 am Central Standard time. The equinox occurs at the same moment worldwide. Even our friends in the Southern Hemisphere will have their equinox at 8:31 am CST on September 22nd. For them, however, it will be the spring equinox. It’s their turn to get the majority of the sunshine!
How does fall impact us and our plant friends?
With less sunshine leaves are no longer the powerhouse for producing energy and nutrition to the plant as they were in the summer sun. To survive in less sun the plants begin chemically cutting off the leaves. As a result, the leaves change color and fall to the ground.
Fall is one of the busiest seasons agriculturally. Fall is the time for harvest! All summer our plant friends used nutrients from the ground and abundant sunshine to produce a bounty for us. Now is the time for us to collect that bounty.
Fall marks the end of busily producing and marks the beginning of a period of rest for our plant friends. After expending so much energy in summer production they deserve it! This rest means a couple of different things. For our short lived annual plants now is the time to collect their seeds. Annuals only survive the fall and winter through its offspring. Our longer lived perennial friends begin to turn their energy back into the Earth. The same plant will survive fall and winter by consolidating its energy in its root system. These plants have this life cycle as a direct result of the seasons. The plants that found a way to survive receiving more and less sunlight through the year are the ones still around today.
Plants put their energy back into the earth in the fall. Now is the time to harvest root medicine. This is when that medicine is the most potent. Popular medicinal roots include turmeric. Ginger, Valerian, Echinacea, Goldenseal, and Ashwagandha. Did you notice that many of these medicines are warming, and are useful in battling colds? I love a good circle in nature.
How this impacts us
With year round produce available year round to feed us, and electricity to provide light and warmth whenever we need it, some significance in the seasons has been lost on us. Seasons, however, are still significant to our day to day lives, whether we equate them to what’s going on or not.
Our diet is highly affected by the seasons. For one, seasonally grown produce is more nutritious than what you get off season. If you eat seasonally, this means that now is the time to consume more proteins, squashes, grains, seeds, and nuts. The fall veggies that grow tend to be root vegetables and hearty salad veggies. For more on what to grow and what to do in a September garden in Houston click here.
It’s not only plants that receive less daylight. We do too. This means people get less vitamin D during the fall and winter. Vitamin D is vital in staving off depression, weight gain, and disease. This directly contributes to the fact that most people feel more depressed during this time of year. It can also contribute to the winter pounds we put on. It’s not all about the party food! Fall also begins the cold and flu season.
Our ancestors really understood the significance of the seasons. For them a good harvest season meant surviving the winter. It was a very important time of year, and it was honored as such! Many ancient sites and structures were built to honor the equinoxes. If you have ever been to one of these sites you fully understand that significance. To build these structures without modern machinery is a true labor of love. To build them in such precise locations meant the solstices and equinoxes were VERY important to our ancestors world wide.
There are archeological sites around the world that hold significant to the equinox. Examples include:
Machu Picchu, Peru.
Chichen Itza, Mexico.
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Stone Henge, England
Making papa proud. Worldwide we still celebrate the equinox today!
Japan celebrates both equinoxes with Ohigan. In Buddhism the land of the afterlife is due west. During the equinoxes, due to the tilt of the Earth, the sun sets directly in the west. This time is used to visit the graves of ancestors. People tend to the graves of their families. It is also a time to visit family and honor living ancestors. This is also a time to reflect on the inside, and meditate.
Around the world Neo Paganism celebrates Mabon. In 2020 it is September 21-29. This term Mabon was coined in the 1970’s by American author Aidan Kelley, although this celebration stemmed from the celebrations the Druids had for the equinoxes. He based the ceremony on the Greek myth of Persephone. In Ancient Greek mythology, the onset of fall is linked to the story of the abduction of Persephone.
Don’t leave out the Native Americans! Different tribes celebrate very differently. Over in Sedona, Arizona, Native Americans celebrate the Fall Equinox with a fall harvest. The Hopi and Navajo Indians, celebrate the equinox with autumn vision quests.
The equinox, often overlooked in our modern culture, but oh, so important!
Obviously since man has studied the stars and the effects they have on us the equinoxes were held as a very important event. To this day, we still celebrate them even if their effects have been numbed by our modern technology. Have you felt the effects of the equinox? What are some interesting celebrations you have found? Let me know below!