A Tale for the Autumn Equinox
The Great Wheel turns and the weather becomes a little spasmodic, a spluttering fisticuff between summer and autumn, and the elemental tussle between fire, air, and water. None willing to give in. Yet Summer knows that she must move on, and so here in the Southern hemisphere, in my neck of the antipodean woods anyway, this week leading up to the Autumnal Equinox saw the winds of change blow in a deluge. A great washing away of the vestiges of summer past. That hint of rain-sodden humus is Heaven scent as it marks a renewed covenant with the land.
For me, this time of year is a time to start going inward, not just in preparation for the colder months ahead and the medicines I need to make, the warm clothes I need to start unpacking, but a time of self-reflection and self-examination. What have I accomplished in the previous year? How have I grown?
But this year I also consider not only how I have grown, but as the Mythologist and Storyteller, Dr Martin Shaw invites us to consider – to what depth?
The process of Autumn itself reminds us to go deep. As the energy of the plants begins to move down into their roots, the deciduous leaves are drained of their colour from verdant green to iconic hues of golds, oranges, and reds. These colours are reminiscent of the colours of those lower emotional energy centres in the body’s subtle anatomy. The yellow/ gold of the solar plexus, the orange/brown of the sacral, and the deep red of the root. They invite us to also turn and focus our energies on strengthening our foundations, our roots, and our sense of place. It is in autumn that we harvest most of the roots we use for medicine and for food.
I want to build myself a cob roundhouse, deep in the wild wood, and curl up inside Earth’s womb.
Inspired by the work of Matthew Wood and the seven guide posts outlined in his book Seven Herbs: Plant as Teachers, I have arrived at my own autumnal Process, an alchemically liminal space of dissolution of ego into refinement of soul, forty one years in the making – of severing the bonds of civilisation’s lies, of religions control, of politricks and propaganda, of other people’s projections and beliefs, and of past hurts, and I’m coming home to myself – that wild, uncivilised self, where there is just me – naked and unashamed. I am in the process of re-wilding. Of walking new songlines in the earth. Of rambling with the bloodline whispers of an ancient people not yet encumbered by the burgeoning yoke of this particular age. Of dancing wilder dances with the plants of remembrance. Of pulling thorns and thistles with my bare, bleeding hands. Of being in relationship with the primal God, without mechanical interpretation.
‘Liminal, the zone between high and low tide, describes a place that is neither land or sea. It is a place of earthly fluidity where little of yesterday remains today. … We might extend the potential of the word liminal further. We can include the moments just before dawn and the slow minutes of dusk, to the whisper of a storm soon to descend, or the breathless beat of thunder directly overhead. All these times and places have one thing in common, the human consciousness is, momentarily, silenced by their power.
Liminality is a quality of transitional, marginal spaces, places, and spheres of influence. Anthropologically it equally applies to humans, denoting that moment in a ritual when the old identity has been shed but the new one is yet to reveal itself. Illness and deep inner crisis can be as liminal as birth and death. Some people live their lives in almost permanent liminality, some through choice and others through breakdown. These are often the outcasts of society, the misfits, the broken, the homeless and the inspired.
These people show us the boundaries of our culture and the shadows beyond. They do this not through any abstracted academic analysis but through every moment of their living experience. They are feared, fetished or idealised and if embraced it is only slowly and with caution. They take us to the margin where we stand at the edge of comfort and look into our personal unknown. On occasion they take us to a place of inner anarchy where comforting structures of cultural obedience fade to insignificance ” (Nathaniel Hughes – Weeds in the Heart.)
I might aspire to be a poet, but I am not one. Yet I can feel the poiesis move through the world along a network of these liminal spaces. Betwixt and between, in equinox and solstice, in the coming and going of cycles and rituals. This becoming of the invisibles of creation. This poetic manifestation of a much needed Light.
But it isn’t the light of summer, or the light of the hearth fire on a cold winters night, or the luminous super moon that heralds this particular cycle. It is the light that can only be kindled during the dark night of the soul, when all has been lost or stripped away or shed in ritual and discarded and you seek yourself in a looking glass darkly only to realise you have become without form and Void. A little death ensues. And having found yourself thus, you’ve buried yourself in the leaf-mould of the garden, in the cool of the evening, and you look up to the wild God, and you say, “I have nothing left.”
And he says, “Good. Now we can work. Let there be Light.”
In this regard, I am reminded of the curse laid upon Adam when he was expelled from the Garden. That he would toil the ground for his food, and that it would only bring forth thorns and thistles. The name Adam is a root word for the word for earth (Adamah) – because that is what mankind was made from. I see this analogy as referring to the inner landscape of the humankind. A kind who let tangled chokeholds of thorn and thistle grow around their inner most beings – whether this is intentional or through supressing emotional wounds and believing other people’s lies. If we want to produce good, sweet, sun-ripened living fruit, we need to till our inner soil and remove these barriers that choke us and prevent us from healing and growing. Yet in doing so, as we till, we aerate the soil, we turn it and expose all the lies that lie beneath, and it forces us to be honest with ourselves. Often thorns and thistles indicate acidic soils, and often their roots dig deep and aerate the soil and bring up vital nutrients from the deeper layers. And many thorns and thistles provide habitat for other forms of life. So our thorns and thistles, in spite of their choking, also have a purpose in making us confront our deeper core as we begin to remove them, and the beliefs of others that attach themselves to us. If we do manage to produce fruit amidst this entanglement, it may be eaten from within or feasted upon by the denizens of the bramblechoke before it sees the light of day, and perhaps in this we might ponder the curse of Eve who was to produce her offspring in pain and sorrow. An offspring who have inherited in the flesh the thorn of their forebears. It’s a difficult task to face ourselves and to be honest with ourselves, to be prepared to die a little death. But we must remove these thorns, we must till the soil and lay ourselves bare if we want to heal, and if we want to stand honestly in reconciliation with the wild God. And oftentimes, the only way to do that is with our bare hands, alone, in the depths of the darkest night.
I seek during this tekufah, this turn of the year when day and night mirror each other, to rewild myself to the garden I used to live in before the devourer came and tore it down and left me only with a bramble-choked home. To leave the wilderness of a gnarled and twisted society and return to the wild, with my emptied, naked vessel eager to be filled with a small ember of Light, a tiny flickering aurora of Hope, of Healing, of Wholeness. A glimmer of warm comfort to carry me through the cold, dark times ahead.
And just perhaps, on reflection, I have grown deep, in spite of myself, in losing myself and shedding my old scarred and weathered and thorn-pricked skin, and my roots snuggle in to the bedrock of a renewed heaven and a renewed earth. And I curl up inside the earth’s womb, a glowing ember keeping me warm, a new sprout gestating as I overwinter, waiting for the wheel to turn once more.