We are driving towards gypsy weather on this Sunday afternoon. The light filters through the russet maple leaves, bathing the avenue in gold. The air crackles with crispness. Tawny wheat fields dissipate and champagne hued aspen, their leaves aquiver in the mistral, beckon from the mountains. It is autumn, that borderland when summer and winter meet for a tryst. Jeweled colors burst upon the scene: carmine apples, auburn pumpkins, amaranthine kohlrabi. Then there are the trees, fountains of rubicund, titian, and amber staining the cobalt skies. This is a season of dappled barks and tempestuous horizons, of hoarfrost and the last winking fireflies. It is a season when summer masquerades in winter’s garb. It is a season of light and dark.
Ghouls and goblins make their appearance this time of year. Jack-o-lanterns are set out to frighten evil spirits. Bonfires are lit to hold back death’s dominion. Prayers are offered to ancestral souls who wander the moonlit streets. The Harvest Goddess’ abduction into the underworld signals the approach of scarcity. Guises dressed as witches, skeletons, and fairies beg at doors to placate restless ghosts or perhaps to hide from them. Autumn is that liminal period when we expose our inner monsters and the curtain between this world and the next becomes pellucid.
Traversing between the sentinel trees in the fog shrouded forest, decayed leaves squelching beneath my feet, I think about Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In this Victorian narrative, Dr. Henry Jekyll, a respected member of London society, wishes to indulge in his hidden vices without public censure. So he creates a potion which allows him to transform into his alter ego, Edward Hyde, a sociopath who delights in immoral pursuits. Eventually Hyde’s personality overtakes Jekyll’s with bloodcurdling results. The story encapsulates man’s continual inner conflict between good and evil. “All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil,” Dr. Jekyll states. But, in his desire to separate these two halves of himself, the chemist meets his doom.
Cinnamon leaves float down the inky river as autumn days shorten. Their chiaroscuro play echoes the opposites of my own nature. Daily acts of violence illicit comments of, “How can someone do that?” from friends and family. I know how. I see the same darkness within me, capable of wounding, abusing, and destroying my fellow beings. There is no need for me to wonder or exclaim when news of genocide or persecution breaks. Given the right circumstance I, too, would make the unthinkable choice. I would betray a loved one, forfeit a stranger’s life, exact severe vengeance if the reward merited and consequence were voided. Every man has his price. Set the wind against me and I, too, can be callous or cruel. Upon the initial success of his experiment, Dr. Jekyll looks at depraved creation and says, “This too was myself. It seemed natural and human.” While winter and summer battle for precedence over the land, I struggle with the duplicity of my life, recognizing “the horror of my other self.”
Street lamps etch patterns of shadow across the candle lit houses. On the sidewalks groups of four, five, and seven waft from address to address, their faces obscured by fearsome masks. For one night ordinary people cloak themselves in demon garb and revel in displaying the macabre. The moon plays hide and seek with the storm-tossed clouds. The clouds embrace the silver orb before swallowing her whole. The days of this short term hasten, eager to vanish in winter’s throes. This season of duality emphasizes something Carl Jung said, “Knowledge of your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of others.” I do not embrace my wicked side or celebrate my baser self, but I do acknowledge its power over me. By accepting this other half of me, I come to understand its grip on others. Stevenson’s book, however, reminds me that I have a choice over which side has control of me. Like Jekyll, I can choose good over evil; I can stare my iniquity in the face without flinching and strengthen my resolve not to let my inner Hyde dominate. “I am the chief of sinners,” Jekyll laments, “I am the chief of sufferers also.” As the intoxicating peak of autumn transmutes into weary wintertide, I shall be mindful of the danger of allowing my sinister side to roam free but also aware of the perils of ignoring its existence.
An important aspect of autumn for many cultures is the worship of the moon. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the Han calendar, when the full moon rises, the Zhuang people of southern China invite the Moon Goddess to descend from the heavens and tell their fortunes. During this time Zhuang villages set up altars and sacred offerings to the Moon Goddess. Singers welcome her to their community and recite hymns to send her back to the sky.
Have any thoughts on the autumn season? Are there any autumnal celebrations you attend during this time of year? Any books you look forward to reading during autumn?