(Essay) Autumn Equinox – Thanksgiving and Grieving by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

Equinox Marker, MoonCourt, PaGaian ceremonial space, Australia
Equinox Marker, MoonCourt, PaGaian ceremonial space, Australia

The Autumn Equinox ceremony in PaGaian tradition begins with the statement:

In our part of Earth, the balance is tipping into the dark. Feel the shift within you, see in your mind’s eye the descent ahead, the darkness growing, remember the coolness of it. This is the time when we give thanks for our harvests – the abundance we have reaped, that we enjoy daily. And we remember too the sorrows, the losses involved. The story of Old tells us that Persephone, Beloved Daughter, receives from Her Mother, the wheat – the Mystery, knowledge of life and death – for this she gives thanks. She receives it graciously. But she sets forth into the darkness – both Mother and Daughter grieve that it is so.

For millennia, in Greece, this Seasonal Moment has been the holy celebration of Persephone’s descent to the Underworld, and in the earliest Goddess tradition, She descends of Her own volition to comfort the dead: the process is one of gaining of wisdom and restoring beauty – She is the Seed planted in the Earth, that will sprout again, grow to maturity and carry life into the future.

Autumn Equinox is a time – a sacred moment – for grieving our many losses, as individuals, as a culture, as Earth-Gaia. At this time we may join Demeter – and any other Mother Goddess from around the globe – in Her weeping for all that has been lost. The Mother weeps and rages, the Daughter leaves courageously, the Old One beckons with Her wisdom and promise of transformation.

In the ceremony each participant is given stalks of wheat tied with red ribbon: the wheat represents a harvest of life that we are given: we are each given all that went before us, it is handed to us. We may rejoice in it and give thanks. But like the seed that goes into the Earth, every moment of life and all that we enjoy, is lost – it transforms, and is never repeated: and it has had a cost. Every moment in our lives and in the entire history of Gaia-Universe is never repeated – it is lost. That means it is also ever-new.  And there is a place on that Edge – of the grief and the joy, where the Universe hums in balance – a creative tension: it could be named the “curvature of space-time”. It is what enables Creativity to go on … in our lives and in the Cosmos. This Creativity may be represented by the Seed, the “Persephone”, that goes down into the dark Earth, and will sprout yet again. It is also represented in the red thread/ribbon on the wheat: it represents the sacred Thread of Life that has never faded away (if it had we would not be here). Demeter gives the sheaf of wheat to Her Daughter Persephone – representing the knowledge of life held in body and mind, and the continuity, the unbroken thread of life.

Understanding the Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone has infinite depth, and one of the dimensions is about being able to hold the tension of the grief and the joy of existence in a creative way – it seems that is the essence of Creativity.

Denise Levertov put it this way in her poem “Stepping Westward”:

If I bear burdens

they begin to be remembered

as gifts, goods, a basket

of bread that hurts

my shoulders but closes me

in fragrance. I can

eat as I go.

The PaGaian ceremony concludes with:

We have remembered this evening that we are given the Wheat, the Mystery – the Mother knowledge grows within us. We are the seed in the fruit, becoming the fruit in the seed. We have remembered and given thanks for our abundant harvests, we have remembered the sorrows involved and we have remembered our hope – the sacred balance of the Cosmos – the thread of life, the Seed that never fades away: it is the balance of grief and joy, the Care that we may feel in our hearts. May there be peace within us and between us.

Persephone is the Seed in the Heart/Core of the Mother - and the Mother is in the Seed. They are in each other.



Persephone is the Seed in the Heart/Core of the Mother – and the Mother is in the Seed. They are in each other.


© Glenys Livingstone 2016


NOTE: I acknowledge the work and inspiration of Charlene Spretnak (her book “Lost Goddesses of Early Greece”), Brian Swimme ( his “Canticle to the Cosmos” DVD series) and Starhawk (her book “The Spiral Dance”) in my work of PaGaian Cosmology and in this essay.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.

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Sara wright
Sara wright

Another beautiful tribute to the goddess at the autumn equinox. I am so grateful to read of these ritual moments – they carry a resonance that informs my own work – thank you