On Tuesday at 3:46 a.m. we will experience a celestial happening. It will be the autumnal equinox, or the first day of fall. In case anybody cares, next year it will be on Sept. 22 at 9:29 a.m. It is one of two days each year in which every place on earth experiences 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.
Autumnal equinox comes from the Latin word equinoctium (which means equal night). It is the Wiccan festival of Mabon (harvest and thanksgiving). The days will grow progressively shorter until the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky at winter solstice (first day of winter) in about three months. The full moon closest to fall equinox is called the Harvest Moon because it illuminates the fields to harvest into the nighttime hours.
According to www.religioustolerance.org, other names for the autumnal equinox are: Alban Elfed, Cornucopia, Feast of Avilon, Festival of Dionysus, Harvest Home, Harvest Tide, Night of the Hunter, Second Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, and Witch’s Thanksgiving.
A number of traditions are associated with this occasion, many connected with harvest for obvious reasons. Early Christians substituted the pagan holiday with Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangel Michael. It was the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new farming cycle. (Of course climate differences create a different cycle around here.)
Ancient Celts (Druids) performed a mock human sacrifice this time of year. At the time of their revolution in the late 1700s, the French created a new calendar in which the year began with the fall equinox. Ancient Native Americans built structures marking the solstices and equinoxes often called American Stonehenges. Among Maya pyramids and numerous North American ruins, there is a 20-acre site in Vermont still standing.
Some folks believe an egg can be balanced on end during fall or spring equinox because it is a time of mystical balance. I advise against trying this indoors if you have recently installed a new carpet. I strongly suspect that whoever started this ancient rumor did so after several tankards of rather stout mead and had some difficulty refraining from toppling over when trying to stand.
Taking a more up-to-date scientific approach, the equinoxes and solstices occur and establish a point at which seasons change because earth is off kilter, just like that person with the tankard of mead. The axis angles about 23 degrees. This means the earth tilts toward or away from the sun (opposite angles in the northern and southern hemispheres). A Web site (einstein.stcloudstate.edu/Dome/equiSol.html) will give the equinoxes and solstices for any year from 1700 to 2299, so if anybody is really desperate for something to do …
I think I’ll go balance an egg on end.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: