Walking the labyrinth

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For the Autumn Equinox, the village green had a wonderful candle-lit labyrinth set up by Kay’s Pathway. The labyrinth was marked out by grass seed, so as to leave no harmful paint or suchlike, and then lit by hundreds of candles in lanterns, jars, glasses, whatever was available.

Arriving to it, on a dark and cool September night, felt really rather magical. At the centre of the labyrinth was a conker cairn: the idea of which was that you take a conker (horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum) and walk the path with it, leaving it in the middle. For me, this was an offering to the Earth in thankfulness for the year so far.

It was interesting to see how people reacted, for the most part people walked the labyrinth in silence, or spoke in whispers. Almost everyone seemed instinctively to feel that this was sacred time and sacred space, regardless of beliefs.

The labyrinth was not Pagan, and nor (I imagine) were most people who walked it last night. But it was one of those mysterious traditions that speak of an older way of being that I like to think of as “Folk Pagan”.

I didn’t do a “formal” Equinox ritual, as I have shifted in my practice lately to more simple acts of daily awareness rather than scripts and circles (which I feel woimg_0741rk better in a group setting), so having this opportunity to practice walking meditation in the Equinox labyrinth was a beautiful alternative, and to me still very Druidic, way to celebrate Alban Elfed, and also to take part in the activities of my local village community too.

All of that, followed up by a wonderful seasonal brown ale (Water Vole by “From the Notebook” beers, money from which goes to wildlife charities), was a great way to acknowledge the turning of the Wheel of the Year as we spiral into the darkness.

What did you do/what are you doing to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox?

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Alban Elfed

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The Autumnal Equinox occurs on or around the 21st and 22nd September in the northern hemisphere each year, and marks the point at which day and night are at equal length (i.e. around 12 hours each).

The word “equinox” comes from the Latin for “equal night” and reflects this equal division. The reason for this is due to the angle of the Earth’s axis, which is tilted 23.5 degrees with respect to its orbital plane. As the Earth orbits the sun, the two hemispheres tilt closer or further from the sun, causing the seasons on Earth to change.

An equinox, National Geographic says, is “a geometrical alignment between the sun and Earth in which the sun appears positioned right above our planet’s equator. On these days, both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience roughly equal amounts of sunshine. It’s also only on the spring and autumn equinoxes that the sun rises due east and sets due west”.

From this point on, the days will be shorter than the nights as we enter the dark time of the year, leading to the shortest day at the Winter Solstice. The weather also changes, becoming cooler and more Autumnal, with the leaves turning golden and falling from the trees, the “second harvest” of apples, berries and sloes ripening and the creatures gathering food stores for the winter to come.

The name for the Autumnal Equinox in the Druid tradition is Alban Elfed or Alban Elued, meaning “the Light of the Waters”. As the festival is situated in the West, the place of water, on the Wheel of the Year, and Autumn tends to be a very wet and rainy season in Britain, the name seems fitting. The OBOD website says: “The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light”. It is a festival for celebrating the harvest and for preparing for the darker days ahead.

This is a good time of year to make fruit crumbles, elderflower cordial, and warming vegetable stews, go on long walks through the crunchy leaves and enjoy the last warmth as late Summer transitions into Autumn’s cool crispness. It’s also a good time to tidy up the garden before Winter, and sow wildflower seeds to bloom in Spring.

Kubo

Last night, I saw Laika’s new stop-motion animated film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Set in a mythical ancient Japan, the story follows the heroic adventures of Kubo, a young boy on a quest for magical armour.

Or that’s the basic plot anyway. In truth, Kubo is a surprisingly poignant and bravely melancholy meditation on love, loss and memory, alongside some very nature-based imagery that I found beautiful.

The animation, like all of Laika’s previous films, was visually stunning, and the storytelling was inspired. I felt like I was watching an old myth be retold rather than an original story, which speaks to the truly Bardic talent of the whole team involved in its production.

If you were put off by the overly-silly trailers don’t be. The jokes are well-spaced out and not overpowering and, while I felt the humour didn’t always land perfectly, the more serious and emotive parts of the story outweigh the comic relief, especially in the final act.

If you must blink, do it now.