Although we’re still in the midst of summer heat, subtle changes are happening. Days are getting just a little shorter and the nights a little cooler. This Friday, Sept. 22 marks the first day of fall and the autumnal equinox, when there is approximately equal amounts of day hours as night.

This is because of the slight shift of the earth’s angle on its axis, which will eventually sit at a perpendicular tilt to the sun’s rays. But for many locals, the autumn equinox is also a cause for celebration. For example, El Pasoan RubyAnn Gaglio is hosting an autumn equinox fundraising party for Keystone Heritage Park and Botanical Gardens this Friday starting at 6 p.m.

Throughout history, the equinoxes – there’s a spring one too in March – and solstices have been revered as not only significant shifts in the seasons, but as magical. Pagan and neo pagan communities throughout the world celebrate the autumn equinox as the Second Harvest Festival, Mabon, Chinese Moon Festival and the Witches’ Thanksgiving.

For Sabine Green, an ordained minister who is a shamanic practitioner, the day marks a period of gratitude and reflection.

“It is a day to find balance, which entails a lot of prayer work and meditation,” Green said. “It’s supposed to be a time of giving and gratitude, so this is the time when a lot of pagans start food banks and are in service to the community.”

Green said the observation of Mabon is more than just one day; it denotes an entire season. Festivities include feasts of seasonal foods like corn, apples, grains and salmon, and here in the southwest, chilies. The celebrations are done in recognition of the bountiful harvest, as well as a last hoorah before the long winter.

These are traditions that date back to ancient times and were born out of necessity. Many early cultures were agrarian societies that depended on their crops for sustenance and therefore the length of days and the sun’s position in the sky were a big deal.

Green also explained the season is at once a time of celebration and a time of mourning.

“A lot of myths talk about the underworld and having a harvest deity be sucked in and their counterpart left above who goes into mourning, and that’s why we have winter,” she said. “An agreement is made that they go under for half the year and come back at the spring equinox.”

She referred to the ancient Greek mythological story of Demeter who goes in search of her daughter Persephone, who’d been abducted by the lord of the underworld, Hades. Demeter is the goddess of grain and the harvest. According to the myth, it was her grief that caused all the crops to die and the earth to lay dormant.

Albuquerque resident Julian Taylor is another pagan practitioner. He is a houngan, which in its simplest definition is a male Voodoo priest.

“I practice Vodun. We all know the Hollywood story: Voodoo dolls and witch doctors,” he said. “The word itself literally means ‘spirit.’”

He explained the practice originated in West Africa and was transplanted to America by slaves and is “one part religion, one part folklore.” The seasons work a bit differently in West Africa, and therefore equinox lore and festivities are a bit different for Vodun practitioners, he added.

“In Africa, there’s really no harvest season, but they would notice things like the equinoxes and solstices,” he said. “We believe those are the times when the barriers between the worlds are very thin and the best time to communicate with the loa – the essences of the world.”

Like Green, Taylor reveres the season as a time of reflection on the previous year’s accomplishments and preparation for the year to come.

Friday’s equinox celebration won’t necessarily be a pagan one, but it will have live music, belly dancing, food, vendors, yoga, a fashion show and other festivities. Proceeds will go towards preserving the park’s plants and wildlife. What better way to welcome the weekend and autumn than to party with nature?