A whisper from the woods

Ask me (almost) anything, September 2023

Sep 21, 2023

As this year’s Autumn equinox approaches (23 September 2023), we ask Mark about its importance and meaning. What is an equinox, does it hold any value, and how has that value changed through time?

Mark brilliantly answers these questions in this article.


“These astronomical points can be a time for connection with nature’s rhythms”

The influence of the moon, sun, and stars has been important to traditional cultures for millennia. The movement of the astronomical features was understood in the Neolithic periods before written records.

Ancient peoples built huge stone and earth structures to capture the alignment of the sun at critical moments in the sky. In the northern hemisphere of ancient Ireland/Eire, the megalith mounds and formations at Valley of the Boyne (Brú na Bóinne) are dated to around 6000 years BCE. The mounds and stone formations at Knowth are oriented towards the March equinox (Spring equinox) and the September equinox (Autumn equinox).

An equinox is one of two days in the year when the sun crosses the equator and day and night become equal in length. The vernal equinox marks the beginning of astronomical spring, while the autumnal equinox marks the beginning of autumn. The rising sun will touch or align with a ceremonial point on the structure and signify the important date and time to the community.

The beginning of spring, after a cold, harsh, and dark winter when plant growth has stopped due to low soil temperatures, is a cause for celebration and preparations for sowing, after the last heavy frosts. The beginning of autumn is a sign to reap the harvest of crops and collect food stores for the winter.

The increasing Spring sun hours accelerate the metabolic processes and cause the initiation of flowering and fruiting responses in plants, including trees and shrubs. The decreasing Autumn sun hours are a signal for plants to shut down their metabolism and withdraw nutrients from the deciduous leaves that will be discarded as winter approaches.

As we have become more removed from the seasons in a city lifestyle (like mine) and the balancing of daylight and temperature, the equinoxes have become more symbolic for us. But these astronomical points can be a time for connection with nature’s rhythms and a moment for reflection and gratitude about the cycle of the seasons. Renewal and abundance, resting, and withdrawal are timeless reminders that we still depend on these cycles to sustain us.

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