Select Page
Autumn Equinox: September 22 @ 11:50 pm PDT / September 23 @ 06:50 am UTC

I love these liminal transformation days when summer transforms into autumn. For this is a time of (re)turning to our deep inner Wisdom, the energies of autumn, reconnecting to our emotions, looking for balance after the fire-y summer season and welcoming the cool, refreshing, cleansing, and flowing Water energies of autumn.

We are harvesting the wisdom from our own growing season, and we are coming closer and closer to Home, Earth, as we approach Samhain and the new turn of the Wheel of the Year.

We are (re)turning to our Self, bringing the wisdom from the journey thus far.

I look around me and feel the subtle shift in Mama Earth as the days become shorter, darkness arriving earlier each day. I feel the cooler night air. I tune into the fragrance of autumn, that slight scent of decay in the air from falling leaves and fruit. 

I feel the deepening of the harvest. The trees and vines are filled with the autumn bounty of their fruits — berries, grapes, nuts, apples. At the farmers’ markets, I see the second harvest of the vegetables that will sustain us through the winter months: corn, potatoes, beets, turnips, pumpkins,  squash and more. 

The wild herbs and plants are shifting from growing and blooming to seeding for new growth in the spring, and are preserving their energy for the winter,  sending their energies deep into their roots, creating a deep connection with Mama Earth. And the trees are ablaze with colour, and sending their sap deep into their roots.

 This is death and rebirth happening simultaneously, and a time of gratitude, of thanksgiving, for the harvest that will sustain us until the new crops next year. 

Here in the temperate rainforest of Vancouver, the winds and the rains are slowly returning and bringing the whispers of the goddesses of autumn — the Mother / Harvest goddesses such as Demeter, Ceres and others.

Original images by Thalia Took

Harvest Festivals and Libations

I have written about ancient and more recent Irish Celtic traditions for the eight festivals within what many of us call the Wheel of the Year, each a short season recognizing the transitions of birth, growth, harvest and rest / regeneration throughout the year. Many of what we now know as harvest or autumn festivals were originally associated with the various goddesses of autumn or of the harvest itself, with special foods and beverages associated with local bounty.

There were two well known festivals associated with the Greek goddess Demeter, for instance, an ancient one which was intensely secretive — the Euleusinian Mysteries — and a more contemporary one, honouring both Demeter and Persephone and traditionally celebrated by women only, the Thesmophoria. It was celebrated over three days:

  • the first day was the Anados, meaning “the ascent” (likely honouring Persephone’s return from the Underworld)
  • the second day was the Nesteia, a day of fasting, representing Demeter’s mourning of her daughter
  • the third day was the Kalligeneia, meaning “beautiful birth” named for a fertility goddess (also an Eleusinian nymph nursemaid of Demeter) and observed with fertility prayers

Several scholars suggest the festival also included periods of “ritual obscenity” and “crude jokes”, although they disagree on which of the days they were observed. Click here to read more about this festival from the Hellenic Museum.

One of the more well-known libations (and offering to a deity) of those festivals was kykeon, but I likely won’t attempt to make it unless I find a more appealing recipe! This site includes several recipes, and I have seen several recipes including varieties of grain (semolina, barley), goats cheese or ricotta, honey, eggs, and some with red wine. Some sound a little more like a cake recipe but I am assured kykeon was a beverage!

Tasting History with Max Miller on YouTube demonstrates how to make kykeon in the video below; his recipe includes red wine, and was inspired by the writings of Homer.

One of my favourite ways is to create incenses for each of the season, but also to make beverages aligned with the seasons, such as teas or infused wines and juice from the harvest of grapes and other fruits.

Mountain Rose Herbs shared some great recipes for wine infusions in their blog post DIY: Herbal Infused Wines, in which they recommend using approximately 1 ounce of dried herbs and/or spices per pint of wine.

They also share some recipes including:

  • Vanilla Rose Infused Wine
  • Spicy Red Infused Wine
  • Honeysuckle, Yarrow and Boneset Infused Wine
  • Delectable Cacao Infused Wine

And if wine is not for you, you could substitute grape juice or apple juice, or even use the recipes as a basis for a herbal tea. In winter, I like to make infused hot mulled wines.

A friend of mine makes an infused white wine for the Equinox or harvest festival celebrations. I have often done the same, such as a May Wine for Bealtaine. Depending on the ingredients chosen, you could also make this with a red or rosé wine, but likely not with sparkling wines.

They start their infusion roughly a week before their harvest or Equinox celebrations, decanting a bottle of wine into a glass jar with a sealable lid, then adding some freshly gathered local herbs and berries. Thyme would be great, with its connection to Greece and Demeter, as well as herbs such as rosemary, lemon balm, and sage, plus fruits or berries such as rose hips, hawthorn berries (aka haws), grapes, or even citrus slices (they are also autumn fruits). Use anything that is local, fresh and tasty. Then seal the jar, being sure to label with the date and ingredients. Keep in the fridge while the flavours blend together for at least a week.

My Celtic goddess connections

From the Celtic pantheon of deities, I feel the call of Cerridwen (from the Welsh lore, a goddess of rebirth, transformation, and inspiration) tells me I am changing and transforming. I can sense the growing energy of An Cailleach (“The Hag of Winter” from Irish and Scottish lore) as she arises from her summer slumber to trigger the landscape transition that manifests as winter.  At the Dark/New Moon, you may hear her whispers even more. 

I also look to Banbha, an Irish Celtic goddess who some consider an Earth Mother. She is one of three sisters — the others are Ériu and Fódla — known collectively as the Irish goddesses of sovereignty. Ériu eventually became the goddess of sovereignty for Ireland itself, the name for Ireland —Eire — is rooted in her name. The names Banba and Fódla also appear as poetic names for Ireland, and in some modern place names. The Irish band Clannad has a song  “Banba Óir” (sung in Irish) meaning Golden Ireland. Click here to read the lyrics in both Irish and English.

Some describe Banba’s qualities as similar to those of the Greek goddess Gaia: both are earth mothers and both are protectors of the land, the harvest and all those who are nourished by the land.

And although you may be familiar the goddesses above such as An Cailleach and Cerridwen, many of us are perhaps more familiar with the myths and legends from the Greek pantheon. This would include Persephone (also known as Kore, meaning “the maiden”, her name before her descent to Hades) and her mother, Demeter. They were the greek goddesses ruling the spring-summer and autumn-winter seasons. We must also include the ancient Mesopotamian / Sumerian goddess Inanna, also known as Ishtar and Astarte.

The legend of Persephone and Demeter

There are many versions of this legend. This is just one.

Photo by Arielle Allouche on Unsplash
Demeter and Persephone by Susan Seddon-Boulet

The goddess Demeter was the sister of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and ruled the growing and harvesting of crops. Her daughter Persephone was her constant companion, and Demeter’s love for her caused the crops to grow abundantly.

But as Persephone grew into womanhood, she was noticed by Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, while he visited the physical world. He fell immediately in love with the beautiful maiden and took her away, deep into the Underworld (also known as Hades). 

He lavished her with gifts and food, but she refused all, believing that anything eaten in Hades would prevent her from leaving. In desperation and hunger, she ate six seeds of a pomegranate.

Demeter was desperate for her return and grieved for her daughter. The crops died in the fields. There was no food. Winter came early.

Zeus could not allow Demeter, or the humans he ruled, to suffer any more. He sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to Hades and negotiated a solution. Persephone was to marry Hades, and stay with him for six months (one month for each pomegranate seed she ate) to jointly rule the Underworld in autumn and winter. But, she would return to the physical world for the other six months to reunite with her mother Demeter for spring and summer.

When Persephone returns from Hades at the Spring Equinox, Demeter once again nurtures and harvests the plants and trees, crops and flowers. But when Persephone returns to Hades, Demeter mourns her daughter, allowing the plants to wither and die.

In some version of the tale, it is Hekate who rescues Persephone and accompanies her on her ascent to the physical world.

“Then bright-coiffed Hekate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hekate was minister and companion to Persephone.” – Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter (line ~440)

Like Demeter and Persephone, in the spring and summer we too can align with the new growth and energies, harvesting the wisdom during our autumn and winter rest.

In the autumn, we give thanks for the time spent together, for the abundance, growth and harvest, and we step into the darkness of autumn and winter, to prepare for the new growth and new beginnings that spring brings.

We can also delve deeper into the Demeter-Persephone tale, perhaps as a metaphor for the Mother-Daughter relationship, especially that of separation, reunion and renewed self-identification / self-sovereignty: 

  • how we as Daughters learn to make our own choices and experiences and discover who we are in life, our authentic and sovereign Self 
  • how we as Mothers (or like a mother to another person, or as a creatrix of our work or art ) learn to let go as our fledglings and creations move out into the world  . ..  and how we choose to redefine our own role in the world once that which we have birthed takes its own place. 

Will we be like Demeter, who turns to grief and punishes the world when Persephone leave, and confronts her identification solely through the eyes of motherhood? 

Will we be like Persephone, who chooses to honour both her new life in the Underworld with her husband and also returns each year to visit her Mother? 

Are there other ways of being that honour the cyclical nature of life such as the descent and return and/or the waxing and waning? Consider this in your autumnal soul work and reflections.

A word about Inanna

You may already be familiar with the ancient lore of Inanna, and her legendary descent to the underworld.

One of my favourite journeys / meditations for the waning year is the Descent of Inanna, which has many similarities to the tale of Demeter and Persephone. In fact, each year at some point between Samhain and Winter Solstice, I follow Inanna’s journey in my own meditations — one of descent, transformation and return — as my own personal journey of discovery and renewal. More on that later in the year! 

Image of Inanna by Thalia Took.

Click here to read her story about Inanna.

Blessings for both the coming of Equinox and Autumn!

Header Image Credit:

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash.  
Quote by Nichole McElhaney, from “Poetry for Lost Girls and Liminal Creatures” (this book appears to be no longer available)

%d bloggers like this: