Throughout history, humanity has constructed monuments to observe the sun's annual transit through the sky. The Autumn Equinox is a time to observe the change from longer to shorter days, it also comes at a time when most in the Northern Hemisphere are celebrating the harvest of Summer.
When Does the Equinox Happen?
The Autumn Equinox is one of two equinoxes we experience on Earth. The other is known as the vernal equinox, or March equinox, and occurs each year between March 19 and March 21, marking the start of spring.
Equinoxes take place because Earth is tilted in relation to the sun as it makes its revolutions around the star. The Earth has a fundamental tilt of 23.5 degrees, meaning that not all areas of the planet receive the same amount of light from the sun. This axial direction is fixed and points towards the North Star throughout the year, but it does not always point toward the sun.
For this reason, the Autumn Equinox occurs on a different day each year, typically landing between September 21st-24th. Because it takes the sun roughly 365.24 days each year to orbit the sun, not including leap years, the time of equinoxes is shifted back by nearly six hours each year.
What Does "Equinox" Mean?
The word equinox comes from Latin “aequi,” which means equal, and “nox,” or night. Generally, the Autumn Equinox observes the day when day and night are of equal length across the planet and marks either the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere or the first day of spring in the southern hemisphere.
These changes have been closely observed throughout history, the more closely the changes in the seasons can be predicted, the higher the chances of survival. Many religious ceremonies became associated with the movements of the celestial bodies such as the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival, Japanese Higan, Harvest Festivals of the British Isles, and Mabon, a holiday celebrated by pagans.
From Stonehenge, built to observe Summer Solstice, to Macchu Pichu's Intihuatana stone, which perfectly aligns with Spring and Fall Equinox, it is human nature to observe the sun and the seasonal changes its progression brings. Ultimately, it is a time of harvest, gratitude, and balance.
What Is the Spiritual Significance of the Autumn Equinox?
The Autumn Equinox has deep spiritual and cultural connections. In many traditions around the globe, it is viewed as a time of shedding the old, finding internal balance, resetting or reprioritizing, and preparing to go within during the darker season to come.
With that said, this time has its own distinct significance to different cultures and faiths.
The Cherokee Nation called it the Nut Moon as many trees and bushes began producing nuts. To the pagans, it is the second festival celebration that takes place during the Wheel of the Year and is a time to give thanks for the abundance of Mother Earth – both literally and spiritually. In the British Isles, they celebrate the equinox on the Sunday closest to the harvest moon. Called “Horkey” in some regions, it is the village-wide celebration of a successful gathering of crops to be shared by all.
Higan is a Buddhist holiday celebrated by Japanese denominations for seven days, three days before and after the Spring and Autumn Equinox. People who ordinarily worked in the fields had more respite time to evaluate their personal practices and to make a renewed effort to follow Buddhism. The seasons beginning to change is a symbol that Buddhists should change their lives in order to reach enlightenment.
In a more general sense, the Autumn Equinox is a time of reflecting upon the personal harvest reaped within one's life during the previous seasons of sowing and growth and often provides people with an opportunity to slow down after a busy activity-filled summer. It is often viewed as a time for bringing internal balance between our own light and dark aspects, as well as masculine and feminine attributes.