The fall equinox is celebrated in many different ways by practitioners of Ásatrú and Heathenry. Those who practice modern forms of polytheistic religions rooted in Northern Europe have revived, reconstructed, and reimagined a variety of practices and rituals to mark the turning of the year from summer to autumn.
Haustblót (autumn sacrifice) is mentioned by name in the saga of the Icelandic warrior-poet Egill Skallagrímsson. The Ynglinga Saga of Snorri Sturluson tells of laws established by the god Odin, including the timing of the main annual sacrifices:
Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs, en at miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, hit þriðja at sumri, þat var sigrblót.
There should be sacrifice toward winter for a good year, and in the middle of winter sacrifice for a good crop, a third in summer, that was victory sacrifice.
If “toward winter” can be interpreted to mean “in the fall,” the first rite mentioned may be the Haustblót of Egill’s Saga. However, there is more documentation for the historical celebration of the main autumn ritual not on the equinox itself, but approximately a month later.The modern Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið (Ásatrú Fellowship) celebrates Veturnáttablót (winter nights blót) in the second half of October, when members of the organization thank the god Freyr for his autumn gifts and ask the deities for a good winter. The U.S.-based Troth also marks Winter Nights in its ritual calendar.
The Heathen holiday celebrated on the equinox is today variously known as Haustblót, Harvest Blót, Winter Finding, or another related term. As with so much of modern Heathenry, the specifics of historical practice are up for debate. Regardless of historicity, the late-September celebration can be deeply meaningful for those who include it in their ritual practice.
As in my column “Nine Heathens Speak of Spring,” which centered on celebrations of the spring equinox, I asked Heathens from a variety of locations to tell me what the autumn holiday means to them personally and how they and their community celebrate it. There is a wonderful diversity in the answers they gave.
I would like to thank all who took time out of their busy schedules to articulate their relationship to this time of the year. I hope you enjoy reading their responses as much as I did.
Lonnie Scott (Illinois, USA)
The autumn equinox rolls around again. This signals the harvest on the way. The cycle of reaping what you sow can be seen in the land all around. The leaves turn and fall. The air grows crisp and colder. In my area, gardens are yielding their final gifts. Corn and beans are about to be harvested. Pumpkin patches are opening. The smell of baked pumpkin goods fills the cool air. Winter is ahead, along with deepening cold and growing darkness.
We honor the nature spirits in group ritual. It’s a good time to show gratitude for the fruits of the earth. This year we honored the Sangamon River in Central Illinois as a specific spirit and ally. Our waterways are the very arteries of the earth, and their gifts to our lives are boundless. We use our waterways for life-giving water, fishing, and even play. It’s also our waterways that suffer terrible pollution, much of which comes from chemicals used in farming and industry. Honoring the river is a good reminder that we need to honor all our land and waterways throughout the year, recognize our own contribution to their condition, and reinforce our duty to be good stewards. I personally spend time reflecting on the rune jera in meditation during the equinox. The seasons have turned, and now I can look back on what I’ve grown in my own life.
I was prepared to say more about my spiritual practice. Then, on Sept. 20 at 11:33 am, a 14-year-old young man walked into my local high school’s cafeteria with a gun and opened fire a few feet from my daughter. Thankfully, a fast-acting teacher named Angela McQueen subdued the shooter before any fatalities happened. One student was injured. Now the hard questions arise about parenting and bullies. Have I raised my kids well enough to be safe and act fast? Have I taught them proper values to respect life and people around them? Have I convinced them to be a voice for those being bullied? Has the system somehow failed the kid who brought a gun to school? That event did not just suddenly happen. Seeds were planted and nourished through a series of unfortunate and painful events. The harvest came in the form of enraged violence in the one place he and other students are supposed to be safe.
This year, and every upcoming year, I will raise a horn to Angela McQueen for her heroic and selfless actions. I’ll continue to meditate and reflect on what I’ve contributed to my community through word and deed. I’ll honor the land, the water, and all the nature spirits with gratitude, offerings, and support to organizations working to protect them. Most importantly, I urge everyone to allow the autumn equinox to inspire reflection on what you’re experiencing and how you contributed to it becoming part of your life.
Destiny Ballard (Oklahoma, USA)
The autumnal equinox is just that for our kindred. Saying that, we do not flinch at it being designated as either Mabon or Winter Finding. We clearly are not reconstructionist. We also clearly do not occupy Northern Europe, ancient or modern. We are influenced by, not dictated to, when it comes to the available lore, history, and archeological remnants of pre-Christian Northern Europe.
We live in a very rural portion of northeast Oklahoma where agricultural harvest is not symbolic and Native Americans celebrate the seasonal shifts most prominently with pow-wow. Along with our wider home community, this equinox represents to us a time of ending hard labor and travel. It is a celebration of what we have sown, how our ancestors prepared the way to be sown, and also the recognition of the life cycle. What is born must ripen and then die, or at the very least go dormant for a time.
Our celebrations over the last several years have been as guests of our regional folk community of Midwest Heathens. First with a group in Manhattan, Kansas, with a long weekend of camping, ritual, games, and communal feasting in a pasture. This year and last year, we are doing the same at an evolving gathering of many Midwestern Heathen groups at a campground also in Kansas called Gaea. There we will have our own activities planned but will also have a communal feast and workday to build gefrain – worthy reputation and trust – with the park board and its eclectic pagan community.
Haimo Grebenstein (Germany)
In our community, celebration of the fall equinox is simply called Herbstfest [fall celebration]. The fact that autumn is my favorite season makes it my most important event on the wheel of the year.
In our ritual practice as an association, we only have the four seasonal changes as commonly practiced holidays in the year, and we leave it up to the groups and individuals to add additional activities on the wheel. Our local group Bilskirnir usually combines the equinox with the harvest festival, since most of the harvest has been done at this time.
Our ritual is based on the nine-part standard we always use, but it has no fixed texts. When I prepare the ritual, I always include some fall poems that have a nature or Heathen context. This year we leave home and visit the Verein für Germanisches Heidentum [Association for Germanic Heathenry] group in northern Austria to celebrate equinox at their stone circle that was set up 10 years ago.
Philip John Parkyn (England)
At my home this Saturday evening, our London group, Hendon Heathens, will be meeting for a small, private gathering for an autumn harvest blót. It will be a fairly informal ceremony. No scripts needed, as we have been doing this for many years and are well versed with our form of blót. Around the fire in the garden we will thank the spirits of this place, Oak Harrow Garth, our ancestors of blood and of spirit, and the gods and goddesses with our homemade mead. We will share fruitcake made from homegrown apples, grapes, and plums and leave some as offerings to the old oak tree, Oak Harrow. After some stories, jokes, and songs, the evening will end with a discussion about the next day’s public meeting of our esoteric group, Kith of the Tree and the Well, which we hold every two months.
Sunday lunchtime we will be at our usual venue for KTW, a room booked above a pub near London Bridge. This is a more formal affair and about fifteen people will attend. We start with people introducing themselves, and then one of our members will give a talk on the seasonal customs and deities. We then share out scripts for the blot and give some explanation and instructions about it, and roles are allocated to those who volunteer. For some of the people, this is the first Heathen ceremony they have been to. Some have never celebrated together with others before. The pleasure they get from being able to join in the celebration with like-minded people makes it all well worthwhile for us.
Ryan Denison (Georgia, USA)
I identify as a Heathen Druid with a bit of a reconstructionist streak, and I am a dual member of the Troth and Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. Because of this, I honor both the Norse and Celtic traditions.
The autumn equinox, from my understanding of history, doesn’t seem to be celebrated beyond a feast in the Norse tradition — and much the same for the Irish and Scottish traditions — although a lot of reconstruction is going on using traditional Irish folk holidays like Michaelmas as a base. Some modern groups do have a Haustblót or celebrate Meán Fómhair from the Irish perspective.
Our local Heathens of Atlanta are holding an apple festival and equinox blót and plan on honoring Idunn and the local wights. I am hosting our local Grove of the Red Earth (ADF) equinox celebration. The Welsh pantheon will be honored, and therefore we are using the Welsh nomenclature of Alban Elfed. We will be honoring Mabon ap Modron and the Welsh pantheon. Both groups are fond of potluck feasts after rituals and blóts, and this year both groups will have apples as a central theme.
For me having grown up in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky, the equinoxes are a transition between the extremes of cold and heat, when the leaves start to either change color or spring forth. They represent for me balance and a time where the veil between the worlds seems to start to thin. Having been a bit of a jock, fall always means football and family. Some of my fondest memories are playing on Friday nights and in college on Saturday afternoons, then spending time with my family after. For me, too, it is the beginning of the countdown to the celebration of Samhain, my favorite holy day.
Kari Tauring (Minnesota, USA)
I am a staff carrier in Minneapolis, Minn. Solar holidays have great importance to Minnesotans. The delicate balance of sun and moon and hot days and cold days determines our favorite things, such as sap collecting in the spring and ricing the autumn.
In the winter, if there is good snow, I practice skiing around my house, so I evaluate the gardens quite heavily at this time. January’s figure-eight ski run goes through today’s pumpkin patch. I must move the larger rocks holding plants up out of the way of my intended ski run before they freeze into the soil. Also, I have to put up the apples, if there are many this year. I sauce them and freeze them for use in frutsøp at winter solstice. What a joy to add the nourishment of autumn to the dark nights of jul!
It is a good time to wash the wool sweaters and blankets. September sun and cool breezes can really dry and bleach the wool nicely before you have to use them from October to April.
In Norse and Baltic traditions, the sun is carried across the sky by a goddess. Sunna comes from my mother’s Norwegian heritage and Saule from my father’s Latvian heritage. I sing their runes and dainas in different ways and for different purposes on each solar holiday.
Hunting season in Minnesota begins soon after the fall equinox. There is a moment each year when the seriousness of impending changeable weather kicks in. It’s different each year, but it always seems to affect the squirrels by the fall equinox.
When the winter is soon here, we must look to our elders and get as much time with them as we can. Always spring and fall equinox see great passings, great deaths. Dark and night hug one another in [the rune] gifu on these equinoxes. Short-lived joy and then nauthiz, dagaz, ingwaz, gifu, wunjo, nauthiz.
I am grateful that I have lived in one place all my life and that this is the place my mother and father lived all their lives. If you live in one place all your life, you will get to know when an equinox feels stable, or if it feels “katywampus,” as my mother would say.
When we raised chickens on this little ski run in Minneapolis, my boys and I called fall when they would stop laying around the autumnal equinox. Spring was when they started up laying again. Here in Minnesota, that was about Groundhog Day or St. Brigid’s Day, around Feb. 2
Thursday, Sept. 21 begins the nine nights of the goddess in the Vedic calendar. I will give a gift to two little girls each of the nine days. On Friday the 22nd, I will perform three sets of songs and poems from my family heritage and in ancestral languages and include sets of nine female deities from my Nordic lineage. The concert will be on the steps of Sea Salt Eatery by Minnehaha Falls. If you have a rhythm-stick set which we call stav and tein, I will invite you up for a few. This is what we call “Stavers in the House.”
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