autumnal equinox = pagan thanksgiving day. it was a breezy, mild day after a perfectly lovely refreshing september rain. we just had a gorgeous glowing full moon last week. everything in order for this big turn of the wheel, harvest home, the autumnal equinox.
at the bookery that day i had a sweet visit from dolly and little lincoln who gave lucy a dose of his cuddly loveyness with sweet kisses that she gladly reciprocated. ironically i was wearing the dress (my mom's from the 70s) that i wore to dolly's wedding, which i also wore at 31 weeks pregnant on mother's day last year. for me the dress itself has become a celebration of the turning seasons and balance.
hanging out in the backyard after work with my little fall sprite. the girl has turned into a whirlwind, just a little swirl of blowing leaves, she is everywhere at once and so spirited she leaves your head spinning.
she is wearing a little vintage dress gifted to me by the lovely bridget of Bijou Vintage Bazaar back when i was still pregnant with lucy. i just love its little peter pan collar and seventies fall color palette.
i've said it before and i'll say it again: they don't make em like that anymore!
so i wanted to write about the autumnal equinox. you know how sometimes you are reading something, and on the side you are researching another thing, and the same word or phrase or idea comes up, and then suddenly the same thing or a related topic comes up in conversation, and somehow everything seems connected like a bunch of pathways are converging in you? you hear a line in a song that you would not have otherwise noticed, and suddenly it speaks to the very topic you were just reading about in the first book, which is echoed by the second book. i love these kinds of synchronicities and they happened for me most often when i was studying in grad school, one of the brain teasers i miss most from those days. a crosswise labyrinth of knowledge and connection. a cosmic bandwidth.
i have found these connections lately in relation to my readings about the equinox. Michael Judge writes in The Dance of Time: A Miscellany of History and Myth, Religion and Astronomy, Festivals and Feast Days about the most famous of all ancient harvest rituals: the Eleusinian Mysteries, a "confluence of logic and dream, myth, and reality" that centers around one of mythology's most important dramas," the story of Demeter and Persephone. i'm sure you all know the story of Demeter, Greek goddess of nature, who presided over a green and flourishing world and was mother to Persephone, the most beautiful creature on earth. how Demeter's grief when her daughter was whisked away by Hades to the underworld led to the darkness and dying-off period that is winter in this world. How Zeus convinced Hades to allow Persephone to return to earth but she had already partaken of six enchanted pomegranate seeds which meant she could come back, but only with an impending return to the land of the dead for six months of the year.
This justification for the seasons became so embedded in consciousness that a religion was born of it and was practiced for nearly two thousand years, a cult whose rites became known as the Eleusinian mysteries because they are so shrouded in mystery. Judge writes that the "facts of the ceremony are scarce," but that we do know that "initiates trooped out of the little town (eleusis) waving burning sheaves of wheat, reciting prayers dedicated to Demeter and Persephone." They then entered a cave and vanished until next morning, "exhausted and elated." Apparently the night's activities included revelatory visions that appeased initiates fear of death.
Amazingly, the Eleusinians really did uphold their vows of silence, and the air of mystery that surrounds their rites has persisted over centuries. Both Plato and Marcus Aurelius claimed that the mysteries "changed their lives." What was discovered and experienced on this charged night of psychological and emotional ritual? How does it relate to our current celebrations at the turning of the seasons, our turning inward upon the dying of the light, our harvesting and feasting and cornucopias to usher in the quiet season? Lost Persephone, her ordeal, and her mother's ordeal, became such a mysterious part of human consciousness that their story echoes through time and spirit.
I had never heard of the Eleusinian mysteries until this September 22 when I began to read about the autumnal equinox and try to dream up my own personal ritual or practice associated with this monumental turn in time. (or if I had heard the phrase, nothing particularly sunk in.) Now suddenly, they appear in another book I'm reading, The Motherline: Every Woman's Journey to Find her Female Roots, by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, bringing it all home and personal for me. Lowinsky cites Jung's essay about the feminine principle and mythology traced through, you got it...the Eleusinian mystery religion, "in which the mother-daughter relationship was celebrated as an expression of the central human mystery." The Eleusinian rites illustrated a bond and a power so vital and central to humanity, capable of threatening the very continuity of human existence. "Women in such a time bore no shame for being female. Their gender connected them directly to the life source and the sacred. What was a mystery in those days was the unalterable facts of life: the birth and death of the individual and the sacred continuity of the species."
Being a mother, I have never felt more connected to timelessness and spirit. Bound to the season, to the earth, to knowledge and to mystery and most of all, to other human beings.
Carl Kerenyi, a great scholar of the Eleusinian mysteries, wrote "Every grain of wheat and every maiden contains, as it were, all its descendants and all her descendants -- an infinite series of mothers and daughters in one." I remember loving learning about the embyonic growth of my babies, how by twenty weeks after conception the little seeds of life are already formed, each of my daughters with her own tiny set of ovaries and eggs, ready to last a lifetime of pure potentiality. What a beautiful process! The egg that created you was formed inside your mother's fetus while she was inside your grandmother's womb.
"We have forgotten the myths that say we were all made of moon blood in the beginning."
This autumn I think I am being called to study my own motherline, to listen and look and feel that intrinsic link between mother and daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter. I will listen to stories and know the cyclical power behind the blood, the birthing, the tears and the joys of being a mother. This autumn, the harvest is coming full circle for me.
so onward to our equinoxial festivities: we feasted, laughed, and chased babies all night at rebecca's house.
we talked motherly mysteries, in the warmest spirit of sisterhood, some of us pregnant together, some of us mamas together, all of us in awe of this magical experience of being woman and creatrix.
me, mary, and becky. becky is due just four weeks after me :)
so many playmates. sylvan is incredibly helpful, instructive, and entertaining for the littler ones.
i don't mean to leave boys and menfolk out of all this blood mystery stuff. they are an intricate and central aspect to our motherlines and kinship webs. of course they too participated in the eleusinian rites, they live their own heroic myths, experience life cycle changes and are physically and emotionally involved in human continuity. but that's all beside the point and sounds trivial because i can just put it bluntly. our dudes are awesome. they are the best group of dads and husbands i could ever imagine.
harvest home happiness. it's cheesy and i'm gushing i know...but i just love this little group of friends.
hope you are all embarking on some rad mysterious journeys of your own, and oh how i'd love to hear about them.
(many of these photos taken by rebecca roehr)