Autumn is my favorite season.
I love the beauty of the leaves as they show us how to pass from this world beautifully and with grace.
I love the cooler temperatures and the opportunity to bundle up with my favorite scarves, shawls and sweaters.
I love when coffee and tea feel like I’m carrying a little flame inside to stay warm.
I love the rain that comes.
I love the way the earth sings Herself to sleep each year.
The Persephone myth that Stacey just shared is one I’ve used often over the years to inform my own Pagan autumn celebrations. The message is powerful to me –in the midst of the pain of losing her daughter, Demeter lays waste to the fields. Since we’re talking about beauty and change, you may be wondering, “How can such a thing contain beauty?” It’s a good question.
I resonate with this story in no small part because I have also lost a daughter. Jasmine was my first born, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 15 months. Cystic fibrosis mostly affects the respiratory and digestive systems, and though there are great strides today in treating the disease, you pretty much know that as a parent of a child with CF, you are going to outlive that child. When Jasmine passed away at age 10 from complications following a lung transplant, I can’t say I was ready to lay waste to fields, but my grief was powerful. I couldn’t see any beauty in the loss of such a witty, whipsmart and truly beautiful soul of a daughter, at least not right away. And thankfully, very few people asked me to find a silver lining in her death. But there was a silver lining. Just as Demeter ultimately finds peace and returns the beauty of green growing things to the earth, so too did I find my way to beauty even in the midst of awful change.
The first hint of beauty came at a memorial they had at the hospital. People shared their stories of how Jasmine had touched their lives. There were people we didn’t even know who shared powerful stories of midnight conversations and many, many moments of humor. I was touched to know that Jasmine had reached so many people in her short life. She was truly an old soul.
My spiritual community came together first privately, to help Jeff and I let go of Jasmine in a small, beautiful ritual with my coven. And then my community came together collectively, my Pagan group and my UU congregation, to host a beautiful service and wake to celebrate Jasmine’s life. There was SUCH beauty in those gatherings. We had an altar of remembrance that was full of pictures and dragonflies – people were invited to take a dragonfly stone home to remember her. We drummed her soul on its journey to the Summerlands. People reached out to us with open hearts and open arms to hold us in our grief. I have never known such support. And while there was no replacing our daughter, I was humbled and gratified to see that there was indeed beauty in losing Jasmine. Community brings grace, if you let it. And change brings beauty, if you look for it.
So this season of autumn reminds us that another season of colorful change will follow darkness. If we look around us, we can see the promise of the sun’s return even as it moves towards the black of winter’s midnight. That is the gift of our beautiful autumn – it is directly across the Wheel of the Year from the gift of a beautiful spring. Even though the year is nearing its metaphoric death, the change is beautiful. I’m grateful for the reminder.
In other Pagan traditions, we gather to celebrate autumn, to celebrate the second of three festivals of the harvest (sometimes we call this the Pagan thanksgiving). We also honor the beginning of the thoughtful, inward-focus of the dark time of the year. In my own circles, I like to do a food drive with our Autumn Equinox celebration, donating non-perishables to a local food bank or shelter.
Wiccans celebrate the day as Mabon – another story with a mother/child theme – and generally get together to celebrate the bounty of this time of year, as well as reflecting on the fruits of the goals we set earlier in the year, and how they are coming to “harvest.” Some Pagans focus on the myth of the Dying God, particularly as played out in the British folklore around John Barleycorn. This is the time of year that the Wiccan God dies, preparing for rebirth at the Winter Solstice. As you can see, death, beauty and change are themes in many traditions of Paganism at this time of year.
As I usually do, I see connections in Pagan traditions to the UU Sixth Source: Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. Autumn’s lessons for me are about the beauty of this season – my favorite – and the importance of sharing the bounty I find in the second harvest. I find this bounty to be both literal – the food I donate – and metaphoric, as I also think about the work I’ve done over the year and how I’ve “harvested” the fruits of my labor. This also leads me to connect, as always, to the Seventh Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I feel moved to respect the interdependence by donating to a local food bank or through my work, as I try to stay with that arc towards social justice.
I would like to leave you with an invitation to a practice that I’ve learned in Reclaiming circles. I’ve seen versions of it elsewhere, so bear with me if you’ve heard it before – but do consider the invitation extended. From Starhawk and Hilary Valentine’s wonderful work “The Twelve Wild Swans,” I invite you to take a Witch’s Walk sometime this week to let the beauty of the season in:
Choose an area in the wild, preferably, though you can do this in town as well, especially on the Riverwalk towards the east end. You may wish to take some time to center yourself before you start. During the walk, you’ll be using a practice called “dropped and open attention.”
Once you are centered, take a moment to focus your attention into a compact, glowing ball in the center of your head. Now, on easy breaths, allow the ball to drop deep into your center. Open your attention again, but allow the ball to drop deeper into your center. Open your attention again, but this time from your deep body wisdom. During your walk, whenever you find that your attention has moved back up into your head, simply gather it up and drop it again with an easy breath. This is called practicing dropped and open attention.
Now step out into your walk. Try to go without concern for time to distract you. Keep your eyes and ears open, but maintain your dropped and open attention. While keeping safe, let it lead you. And see how beautiful the world is around you. Remember to redirect your attention to this state if your mind starts to wander. And remember, when you are done, to thank Mother Earth for her lessons. At the end of the walk, take a few deep breaths and return your attention to your normal state… and enjoy the rested and calm state you’re likely to be experiencing in this season of beautiful change.