Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night"

-- Hal Borland

The Temple of Earth Festival of Time

Traditionally, most Fall festivals in the northern hemisphere have been festivals of the harvest. This is the time of the year when crops are cut and hoarded for the approaching barrenness of winter. It is a time of great joy and feasting, but it’s also tinged with melancholy: The days are getting shorter and winter is approaching. The traditional figure of the reaper plays a dual role here: both one of harvesting and one of the limitations of time – as the year passes into old age we recognize that we ourselves will not live forever. In many cultures, most notably the Mexican, this is a time of great celebration, when we remember our ancestors and pray for salvation. But since the Temple of Earth doesn’t put much credence into the idea of an afterlife, we celebrate this aspect of the fall festival by reflecting on the impermanence of things and the beauty and solemnity of change. As in the American Thanksgiving, we also see this as a time to reflect on all that we have and to get together and enjoy it.

Celebrating the Festival of Time

1) Fast and Feast

The day before the Festival of Time is a fasting day. Fasting has played a big part in many religions because it places a gap between our desire and the objects of our desire. The result is that we learn to fight against our impulses, we become less greedy and we learn the value of the things we have. In short, we gain a reverence for the gifts of life and learn not to take so much for granted.

We are not strict about how you should fast. Some may wish to do without calories entirely – drinking only water. Although in the Muslim Ramadan one abstains from water during daylight hours, we don’t recommend that. The most severe TOE fast still requires that you drink water. Less difficult is a juice fast, in which the faster drinks some kind of fruit or vegetable juice. Less difficult than that is a raw fruit fast. Finally, the easiest fast would be a fruit and vegetable fast (no french fries!). It’s up to you to decide how intense you want your fast to be. If the equinox falls during the week and you have a particularly difficult day at work planned, you might want to go for a medium-to easy difficulty fast. It’s up to you.

The proper mental state is important during your fast. Of course you will crave food but you must recognize that craving for what it is (an instinctual biological response) and overcome it. Recognize that it’s not the end of the world if you can’t have a hamburger or a pizza. You have every other day of the year to eat whatever you like. Take this day to reflect on how good you have it.

The next day, the equinox, is a different story, however. This should be a day of Epicureanism – that is, of hedonistic enjoyment of sensual pleasures. Make this a day to get together with friends and enjoy your favorite treats. Good wine, chocolates, a special dinner. Everyone should bring something special to the table. This is a good time to share special recipes or discoveries. The motto of this day is “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”

2) Butterflies                

Nothing better symbolizes the beauty of change and maturity than a butterfly. That’s why a favorite way to celebrate the Festival of Time is to purchase caterpillar eggs, rear them into butterflies, and release them once they reach maturity. Butterfly kits are available from many online sites and usually include vouchers that you have to mail in, in order to receive your larvae. Some pet stores may be able to order supplies as well. A good online source. Note: It takes three weeks for caterpillars to turn into butterflies. Plus, most kits require that you send in a coupon to receive your larvae. This can take a few weeks as well. So you might want to plan ahead if you want to release your butterflies on or near the fall equinox. Alternatively, you can give the kits as gifts to your friends on the day of the equinox and let them enjoy the releasing of the butterflies a month or so later (it will remind them of the lovely time you had together).

If you don’t have the patience for this, you can go butterfly watching! This time of year is the height of the butterfly season and if you know a nice botanical garden in your neighborhood, you’re sure to see them. Bring your camera (with a good zoom or macro lens!)

Please don’t give each other dead or mounted butterflies as gifts. This goes against the naturalistic grain of the Temple of Earth, not to mention the spirit of impermanence this holiday celebrates.

A fun thing to do this day: give each other “butterfly kisses!” This is where you place your eyelashes close to those of a friend or loved one and brush them against each other by opening and shutting your eyes. Guaranteed to bring on a case of the giggles.

3) String bracelets

A good way to celebrate the impermanence of time to give each other string bracelets. This is common in Buddhist countries, where monks tie simple soft white string around people’s wrists to keep away bad spirits and impart good luck. After a few weeks of washing, the string wears down and falls off. Since the monks usually receive money for the service, its understandable that they don’t make the bracelet more permanent! One has to return the next time a spell of bad luck is underway. The Temple of Earth denies the existence of “luck” as a metaphysical concept but it admires the Buddhist concept of impermanence and non-attachment and this is what we symbolize with the exchange of these bracelets. If you are in a professional position with colleagues that might look quizzically at your raggedy bracelet, you can place it on your ankle, or around your neck.

4) Dried flowers

No longer a time for blooming, the fall is a time for preserving nature. Therefore, giving dried flowers (perhaps saved from the spring equinox!) is a colorful gift that fits well with the aesthetic of the season. Ultimately they can be used again in the winter solstice as a memory to the year just about to pass.

c 1998-2005 Temple of Earth