There is a feel of autumn in the air as the year rounds to its finale. It is a time when the inner life of nature is withdrawing from outer activity and from the bondage of physical forms, bringing a new quality into the atmosphere, a soundless music, having in it faint cadences of spring and summer, and even a premonition of winter, but all these forming part of the autumnal undertone.
The progress of the seasons reminds one of the pattern of a "round." With the beginning of each round there is a descent into ever more material conditions, the ego becoming more and more closely identified with its vehicle; but when the midpoint and densest portion of the cycle is reached the upward arc of ascent begins. The world and all on it then becomes ever more ethereal. Or we may think of the year as of two triangles interlaced, the triangle pointing downward representing the evolution into material form, the other triangle, pointing upward, the involution back into the spiritual source.
Spring is the dawn of a new cycle: everywhere the tide of life is rising. Plants which have slept through the long winter now put forth leaves and flowers, insects emerge from the ground or hatch from eggs.
Butterflies and moths burst silken cocoon or chrysalis to brighten the landscape with their color. Birds arrive from the south in flocks and immediately engage in nest-building and the raising of young. Spring is a time of expansion, in which all of nature cooperates, yet analogically, it is a necessary descent into physical manifestation in the minor cycle of a year.
With the coming of summer the climax of activity is reached, and as the flowering season wanes fruits and seeds begin to ripen. The young birds have already left their nest and now wander with their parents over the country, basking in the noontime of the year.
With autumn the expansive tide of nature, so apparent in spring, is replaced by an ebb-tide, for the forces of nature appear to indraw as the twilight of the year approaches.
About the time of the autumnal equinox a change takes place which makes itself felt in many ways. There are marked changes in weather, and a general reversal of life-forces which summed up is what we sense when we remark "There is a feel of autumn in the air."
As the year draws near its close the trees transfer more and more sugar into the sap, thickening it against the increasing cold, while the leaves give the last of their vitality to the buds nestling at the base of each petiole, and after a final blaze of color at the first frost, flutter to the ground. Insects lay eggs, spin cocoons, crawl into the earth, or otherwise prepare for the winter's sleep. Most of the birds follow unseen migration routes to the south, much as life-waves are said to leave the globe at the close of a globe-round. Busy as the life of spring is, that of autumn is equally so.
Remnants of a number of ancient autumn ceremonies still linger in the west. The festival of Hallowe'en or Samain was originally a Druid feast during which bonfires were lighted on the hill-tops and offerings made to the Tuatha De Danaan and the ancestral spirits. A similar ceremony was held in Egypt at the Feast of the Dead, commemorating the slaying of the Sun God, Osiris, by his brother Sitau. After this event the sun was said to decline because of his wounds, and all the forces of nature waned. In both instances, in Druid Britain and in Egypt, the feast symbolized the after-death condition and marked the withdrawal inward of the soul of nature before the birth of a new year. It was at this time that many peoples extinguished all fires and ceremonially lighted a new flame, the embers of which were carried to every hearth in order to light new fires for the new cycle.
With the Roman conquest many features were added to Hallowe'en from the festival of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits; and the roasting of nuts, ducking for apples and the telling of fortunes are probably derived from this source. Still later, Christian influence changed the festival to the gods, to one of all the saints. Today Hallowe'en is an occasion for mischief and merry making. Yet like some old manuscript covered with erasures and interpolations, there is something about the day to which folk-memory still clings, some intuition of an inner meaning now lost.
The symbolism of the spring and autumn was one of the themes dramatized in the Greek myth of Ceres and Persephone which formed the basis of the Eleusinian Mysteries. These, in themselves relating to the birth and passing of the year, were divided into two parts, the Lesser Mysteries which were celebrated in the spring and the Greater Mysteries at the time of the autumnal equinox. According to the story Persephone, while playing in a flowery meadow near her home, was seized by Pluto who ruled over the underworld; and carried to those shadowy regions as his bride. Ceres, the mother of Persephone, was frantic and searched the world over for her daughter, causing cold and drought to wither all vegetation until her daughter was restored. At last she learned that Persephone was in the dark domains of Pluto, and pleaded with Jupiter to intercede. This he did, and Persephone was restored to her mother, but since the fair captive had eaten seven pomegranate seeds, she was ever afterwards obliged to spend six months of the year with Pluto in the underworld.
Those who organized the mysteries knew that nature was analogical throughout and used the symbols of nature to illustrate in veiled form the condition and experiences of the human soul, first, when bound to the body, and second, as freed from mortal bonds between incarnations. Those who had the keys saw a meaning within and behind the obvious interpretation of the myth of Persephone, while the uninitiated saw only the commonplace explanation.
Thomas Taylor in his Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries quotes many classical writers to the effect that the descent of Persephone into the underworld and her re-ascent to the world of men refers to the descent and return of the soul as it enters and leaves the body during incarnation. For in the ancient mysteries, to become identified with the body, was to enter into a prison or grave. This may be why the name Persephone means bringer of death, and why she is represented as bearing ears of corn emblematic of the heavenworld, pomegranates, fruit of the underworld, and poppies to represent the sleep and forgetfulness separating the two existences. But while the myth in its larger aspect personifies the spiritual forces attendant upon the outbreathing and inbreathing of worlds and universes, and in its human aspect dramatizes the peregrinating cycle of the human soul from life to life, it also shows the inner nature of autumn-time and that the season offers unusual opportunities for inner growth and reflection.
While the Eleusinian Mysteries are no longer enacted, the great drama of nature still presents to the earnest student the same age-old truths would he but pause and consider; not the piled-up sticks of dry facts, but the rhythm of life as a whole, as it progresses through the year.
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