Symbols And Symbolism Of Autumn

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Autumn, also known as fall, is the season that follows summer and precedes winter. It comes between late September and late December in the Northern hemisphere and between late March and late June in the Southern hemisphere. Characterized by falling temperatures, Autumn is the period when farmers harvest their crops and gardens begin to die. The Autumnal equinox, also known as Mabon in some cultures, is a day when the hours of the day are equal to the hours of the night.

Autumn is a highly symbolic season, as it heralds the start of the end. Here’s what autumn represents as well as the symbols that are used to signify autumn.

Symbolism of Autumn

Symbolism of autumn

Being the season when the weather starts to cool, animals stock for hibernation, and farmers bundle up, autumn has drawn an interesting range of meanings and symbolism. Some of these symbolic meanings of autumn include maturity, change, preservation, abundance, wealth, reconnection, balance, and sickness.

  • Maturity – This symbolic meaning derives from the fact that crops and plants come to maturity during fall. This is the time farmers harvest their already mature produce.
  • Change – Autumn can be a time of unwanted change. Autumn comes to remind us that winter is around the corner and that we must prepare to embrace the oncoming change. In some works of literature, such as Robin Wasserman’s “Girls on Fire”, autumn is depicted as being haunted by death. This melancholic representation does not serve to threaten us but rather to teach us that change is good and inevitable.
  • Preservation – During Autumn, animals stock up on food that they will be using while in hibernation throughout winter. In the same way, humans also store their harvests and retreat indoors due to the changing weather.
  • Abundance and Wealth – This symbolic meaning derives from the fact that harvesting is done in the fall. Crops that had been planted in the spring are ready and stores are full. Similarly, it is during this time that animals have an abundance of food in their hibernation dens.
  • Reconnection – Summer, the season preceding autumn, is when people and animals alike go in search of adventure. In autumn, however, they go back to their roots, reconnect with their families and loved ones and together they work to harvest and store enough for winter.
  • Balance – During this season, hours of the day and hours of the night are equal. You could, therefore, say that the days of autumn are balanced.
  • Sickness – This autumnal representation derives from the nature of plants and weather during the autumn season. The fall season is characterized by strong, cold winds which bring with them sickness. It is also a time when plants wither and the once vibrant colors of spring and summer turn to hues of red, brown, and yellow. This withering is seen to represent sickness.

Symbols of Autumn

There are a few symbols that represent autumn, most of them centered on color. However, the first and most significant symbol of autumn is this Germanic symbol.

Autumn symbol

This symbol’s representation of autumn is twofold. Firstly, the downward-facing cross in the middle is an indicator of life and crops going back to rest for the winter. Secondly, the characteristic m resembles the astrological sign Scorpio, which is prevalent from late October to late November, which lies in the Northern hemisphere autumn period.

  • Red, Orange, and Yellow Leaves – Autmun is characterized by red, orange, and yellow leaves on trees, signalling the end of their lives. Nature is awash in these colors, which give autumn a distinct warmth and beauty.
  • Baskets – Baskets are seen to represent autumn because fall is the season of harvesting. Traditionally, baskets were used for harvesting hence the representation.
  • Apples and Grapes – During this season, these fruits are harvested in plenty. This symbolic association can be traced to the Welsh, who line their altars with apples and grapes during the autumnal equinox as a show of thanksgiving.
  • Teeming Cornucopias – Cornucopias full of farm produce are an excellent representation of this harvest season. They represent the abundance and plenty that comes with harvest.

Folklore and Festivities of Autumn

Autumn poem

Being a season that contains both abundance and solemnity, autumn has recorded a number of myths, legends, and festivities over the years.

According to Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter the goddess of the harvest, returns to the underworld during the September equinox every year. During the time that Persephone is in the underworld, Demeter is so sad that she deprives the earth of crops until spring when her daughter returns to her.

The Romans honored the harvest festival in a celebration known as Cerelia. This festival dedicated to Ceres the goddess of corn was marked with offerings of pigs and first fruits of harvest, music, parades, games, sports, and a thanksgiving feast. This Roman festival follows a story similar to the Greek origin of seasons, with Persephone being known as Cerelia, Demeter being known as Ceres, and Hades being known as Pluto.

The Chinese and the Vietnamese associate the full moon of the equinox with a good harvest. This association began during the Shang Dynasty, a time when they harvested rice and wheat in plenty to the extent that they began making offerings to the moon in a festival they term as Harvest Moon Festival. To this day, the harvest moon is still celebrated. These festivities are characterized by the gathering of families and friends, the making and releasing of lanterns in the streets, and the consumption of round pastries known as moon cakes.

The Buddhists of Japan return to their ancestral homes every spring and fall to celebrate their ancestors in a festival called “Higan”. Higan means “From the other Shore of Sanzu River”. Crossing this mystical Buddhist river is believed to represent crossing into the afterlife. 

The British held and still hold harvest festivals on the Sunday nearest to the harvest moon in fall. This festival was later taken to America by the earliest English settlers and was adopted as the Thanksgiving holiday which is celebrated in November.

During the French Revolution of the 1700s, the French, in a bid to rid themselves of religious and royalist calendar influence, initiated a calendar that paid respect to the seasons of the year. This calendar which started at the midnight of the autumnal equinox and had each month named after a naturally occurring element would later be abolished by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806.  

The Welsh celebrated the autumnal equinox in a feast called Mabon. Mabon according to Welsh mythology, was the son of the goddess earth mother. This festival was characterized by the offering of apples and grapes, and the performance of rituals meant to bring balance to life. To this day, there are still factions who celebrate Mabon.

The Jews celebrate Sukkoth, the harvest festival, in two celebrations namely Hag ha Succot which means “Feast of the Tabernacle” and Hag ha Asif which means “Feast of Gathering”. This festival is characterized by the building of temporary huts resembling those built by Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, hanging of grapes, apples, corn, and pomegranates in the huts, and feasting inside those huts under the evening sky.

Wrapping Up

The period of transition from the festivities and adventures of summer to the cold of winter, Autumn holds both positive and negative connotations. While it symbolizes wealth, abundance, and plenty, it also signals the end and unwanted change.