This year fall equinox will be on September 22. We will celebrate on Sunday the 24, because Sunday is the day we gather to dance. Equinox means “equal night.” We celebrate balance, and the entry into the dark. This is the time when the days become shorter than the nights, energy begins to withdraw back into the earth for its winter sleep, Kore returns to the underworld. Another image for this time is the descent into the labyrinth.
Meaning of the Holiday
The Equinoxes remind us of the journey of Persephone. She is the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of Earth and Fertility. The story is told that Pluto (Latin) or Hades (Greek), god of the Underworld, saw her in a meadow picking flowers, and pulled her down into the Underworld. Demeter’s grief and fury were such that the plants died, and crops would not grow. So Zeus/Jupiter told his brother that Persephone must be returned to the Upper World. Demeter rejoiced on having her daughter back and the earth grew fruitful again. But since Persephone had eaten six seeds of a pomegranate, she had to spend six months in the underworld every year. This story is supposed to be a myth about the origin of the seasons.
That is the Patriarchal version. There’s an older version, which tells the story of Kore, the Maiden. Like Inanna, she “cast her ear to the Great Below,” and determined to go down and investigate. She spends time in the Underworld, learning about what happens in the Darkness, in the Labyrinth. When she re-emerges into the light she is now Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. This version is more mythological/archetypal, revealing truths about the journey of the human soul.
One of the dances we do at this time is Kore. The song is from an opera written by Mikis Theodorakis, a famous Greek composer. It was choreographed by Kalliroi K Ortmann from dancing female figures on a Greek vase. There are four sets of three steps — twelve steps in all. The number twelve is also a major archetype. We start, holding hands in a circle, by walking to the right raising our arms. Then we pivot and continue backwards in the circle lowering our arms. Then we turn to the center, three steps in, raising arms, and three steps out lowering arms. Sometimes we say the movements mean: I look to the Future, I honor the Past, I praise the Divine, and I live in the Present.
Another dance we do is Tsakonikos, an old Greek folk dance. It’s called the “Crane Dance,” which supposedly was taught by Ariadne to Theseus as a way into the labyrinth. It’s to a piece of music in 5/4 time, which is wonderfully nasal and screechy. To me the sound of the music has the sense of being a very old recording of musicians and singers in a village. We dance it in the fall, because it represents the descent into the Labyrinth, the dark winding path in the Underworld.
Checking YouTube, I find many different versions of both the music and the dance, all different from the one we teach here at Neskaya. We like to say “there are no mistakes, only variations” In truth, many of the variations depend on where you learned it, and who you learned it from. When I was in Greece in 1965, celebrating Easter with friends on the Island of Paros, the Greeks who had come for the holiday week complained that they couldn’t dance together because they had grown up in different villages and learned different versions of the same dance.
Fall Equinox at Neskaya
Here at Neskaya, if the weather is clear, we can see the sun set behind Ore Hill, which is due West. Our building was oriented to the cardinal directions, so when we light candles to the four directions our candles are easy to place in the right directions. When we dance to celebrate the Equinox, we feel connected to the cycles of the earth and the seasons, we feel connected to the generations of dancers, stretching back through time, who have danced to celebrate life on Planet Earth. We are restored to a sense of meaning, that our lives are connected to something bigger than ourselves.