Move Fast to Go Slow
In the past few days, as the rain gave way to sun, I painted a couple of old Adirondack chairs to keep them from rotting gently into the Earth. I mowed the lawn, gathered tomatoes, prepared ground to plant the last overwintering vegetables. My wife and I are on the brink of hiring contractors to seal our leaky old house, fix the labyrinthine maze of heating ducts in the crawl space, and install solar panels on the roof. And I made sure to fit in one last swim at my favorite sunny spot at Seward Park.
What inspired this burst of activity? The dropping temperatures, days of rain, and lengthening nights all signal the transition to the dark of the year. Our preparations will help protect us and our home and belongings from the weather and give us more food, light and warmth. For our ancestors, how well one took care of the necessary autumn tasks often meant the difference between life and death.
Today is Fall Equinox, also known as Mabon, after the “Divine Son” of the Mother-Goddess Modron in Welsh tradition and Arthurian legends. The sun moves from Virgo into Libra; day and night are in balance, symbolized by Libra’s scales. Yet this balance is not struck in stillness; it’s like standing on one foot in a rushing stream. What makes it feel that way?
Here is one way I experience it: On Fall Equinox in Seattle, the sun rises at 6:55 AM and sets at 7:07 PM. The day is just over 12 hours long. One month later, the rises 45 minutes later and sets an hour earlier; the day is 10½ hours long. Our bodies feel the difference day by day and respond with an urge to nestle in and ensure we have sustenance for body and soul. Contrast that with Solstice (literally “sun stands still,” from the Latin). Daylight on that day in Seattle is a mere 8½ hours. One month later, the day is only about half an hour longer – barely enough to notice. Length of day changes on a parabolic curve rather than as a straight line (click here for more detail). “Think of it like a swinging pendulum. As the pendulum rises the swing slows down. As it swoops down in the middle, it speeds up. In this situation of the number of hours of daylight, the ‘middle’ parts are the fall and spring equinoxes, and the ‘ends’ are the summer and winter solstices.”
So we go fast while the weather allows, harvesting food and experiences from the summer. We get ready for the slow time of year, when we spend more time indoors, read books, sleep more, tell stories and dreams. The movement from Virgo to Libra also signals the transition from a focus on ourselves as individuals to a focus on connecting with community. An individual can survive during summer; it takes a community to get through winter. Nourishment is not only physical, though it must be at least that. Shared stories and dreams are food for the collective soul.
Notice what preparations you are impelled to make for the coming months of darkness. What will keep you safe and warm? What will nourish you and your loved ones? What are you storing away that you can later share to inspire, delight, and encourage others? How can we as a community use the quiet, fertile time that’s coming to strengthen our bonds and build hope for the future, for us and for the Earth?
If you need inspiration about the power of gathering stories for winter, one of my favorite children’s books is Frederick, by Leo Lionni. As you do the more physical, adult tasks of preparing for the cold and dark, don’t forget Mabon, the sacred child. “The simplicity and childlike joy in living is at the heart of the shamanic experience…” (John Matthews, The Celtic Shaman’s Pack, “34. The Son (Mabon),” p. 118)