Doing good to others is not a duty, it is a joy,
for it increases our own health and happiness.
The Autumn Equinox is celebrated by cultures and traditions around the world. In some places, this is the Taoist festival honoring the divine principles of Wind, West, and Autumn. Rituals held at this time celebrate the virtue of living in harmony with the rhythms of Earth and Sky.
In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, this is Aki no Higan, when believers meditate on hakanai, the impermanence of all things in the realm of material illusion. Higan means “other shore” or “heaven.” Similar rituals are held both at Autumnal Equinox and at the Spring Equinox, which is called the Haru no Higan. On both days, the Sun sets due West, which some Buddhist practices say is the location of heaven. To honor the dead, Buddhists visit cemeteries, praying for the souls of departed ancestors and making offerings.
In the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, Mihrigan, the festival of the solar God Mithras, was held at this time. The word ‘mihr’ in the Avesta, the religious text of the Zoroastrians, and in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaemenians stands for ‘contract,’ ‘treaty,’ ‘kindness,’ and ‘sun.’
Mithrakana means “belonging to Mithra” and the word Mihrigan is derived from that. In the ancient world, the calendar was divided into two seasons and this celebration was one of the two most important, marking the beginning of Winter. Its counterpoint, Nawruz, was the beginning of Summer.
It was celebrated with great extravagance. People would wear new clothes for good luck, drink special wine, and dance. Not only was it the time for harvest, but it was also the time when the taxes were collected. Visitors from different parts of the Persian Empire brought gifts for the king and all contributed to the festivities.
According to the Bundahishn, the Zoroastrian book of creation, it was on Mihrigan that Mashia and Mashianih, the first man and first woman, emanated from Kayuomars, the first being on earth. It is said that on this day the Lord of the Universe created the earth, gave souls to bodies, and the Moon received her light from the Sun.
During the period of the Alexandrian invasion, Mithra, under the names Mithradates or Mihrdad, was invoked when oaths were sworn. In fact, the worship of Mithra spread to Alexander’s army and later was widely adapted by the Roman Empire as a popular religious sect. Remains of Mithraic temples can be found throughout Europe and central Asia.
It is such a joyful time that even today, in Islamic Iran, it is of the few pre-Islamic festivals that continue to be celebrated by the general public.