Today is shubun no hi, a national holiday in Japan. I have for a long time been interested in Pagan and Heathen spirituality and suspected that this national holiday falling on the Autumn Equinox must be a throwback to a previous belief system. People eat hagi which is rice balls, round in shape that are smothered in red, sweet bean sauce, or paste. Of course, the symbolism for the sun is striking. When I have asked I have always received the answer that this is nothing to do with the sun. To be honest, the coincidence is too strong for me to just dismiss it. On closer inspection and investigation it turns out that the day is also called higan and is also a Buddhist holiday. This is more than likely where the sun symbolism comes in, though I’m still not entirely convinced. Apparently, on this day the sun sets in the west and this reminds Buddhists of Heaven (which they believe is located in the far west, on the other side of a river). So, on this day they eat this rice dish which bears striking resemblance to the sun… and yet there is supposedly no link…
Anyway, of course solstices and equinoxes and the days equally spaced between have special significance for many people around the world and it was also true of the Pagan and Heathen belief systems that originated in Northern Europe. Stonehenge (and many other henges and stone circles were almost certainly built on these beliefs.) We have no detailed evidence of what these beliefs systems were, but we do know that all the dates I mention would not have been marked by any one system of belief.
So, what has this got to do with ale, you ask. Well, as a person interested in Pagan / Heathen spirituality (and Zen/ Mindfulness too), I have for a few years now conducted my own personal ceremony on the evenings of the Solstices, Equinoxes and the days equally spaced between. These are well known to those who are interested. My ceremony is in appreciation of the power of nature. You can call this power by many names Mother Earth, Gaia, Odin (and the pantheon of other related pagan gods), the Green Man, Herne the Hunter, Yahweh and even Dharma. I’m sure there are many I’ve missed out from Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism and others. I’m not an expert, but I do have a respect and admiration for the sheer energy of life and natural power on our planet. I witnessed it only recently when a strong typhoon slammed into our region (and rattled our house in the process). I don’t believe Thor caused it, but I can appreciate a culture that created a figure to represent the sheer vitality and power of storms (electric or otherwise). So, on these eight evenings every year, I take my ale out into my garden and drop some onto some earth (either bare or covered in plants) and quietly appreciate the natural power present on our planet. It is a kind of sacrifice you could say. Giving something of mine back to the Earth spirit in appreciation, or gratitude perhaps. I don’t do any incantations, dance, pray, make wishes, sing or stand there naked. It is a very simple ceremony and it involves ale.
I’m looking forward to being able to share some ale in which I have invested more energy than it takes to pop the top off. I’m my own ale will be much more appropriate on these evenings.
So there you go, there is my link between Autumn Equinox and ale. I have wanted to share it for some time.