Mabon, pronounced May-bon, MAY-bun, MAY-bone, MAH-boon, or MAH-bawn, is the Fall Equinox, named after the Celtic God of the same name. This lessor Sabbat is known, not only by the name of Mabon, but also that of Harvest Home, Winter Finding and Alban Elved plus various other names, such as The Second Harvest Festival, the Festival of Dionysus, Harvest of First Fruits, Wine Harvest, Feast of Avalon, Equinozio di Autunno (Strega), Alben Elfed (Caledonii), or Cornucopia. The Teutonic name, Winter Finding, spans a period of time from this Sabbat to Oct. 15th, Winter’s Night, which is the Norse New Year. The Druids call this celebration, Mea’n Fo’mhair, and honor The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees.
Since most European peasants were not accomplished at calculating the exact date of the equinox, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, September 25th, a holiday the medieval church Christianized under the name of ‘Michaelmas’, the feat of the Archangel Michael. In medieval times, rents fell due and contracts were settled at Easter and at Michaelmas.
The Autumnal Equinox is an instant frozen in time. Mabon marks the halfway point between the zenith of the Sun at Litha and it’s nadir the night before Yule when our earth is at a complete equal facing with the sun which, at the equinox, enters the sign of Libra. This is the second time of year that day and night are equal, the first time being at Ostara. However, unlike at Ostara when the days will grow longer than the nights, after this day the darkness is beginning to gain over the day. Mabon marks the beginning of Autumn and the death of the land, that is to come, but it is also a celebration of life, as it is the second, and largest, harvest of the year. At this time we stop and relax and enjoy the fruits of our personal harvests, whether they be from toiling in our gardens, working at our jobs, raising our families, or just coping with everyday life. The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is known as the “Harvest Moon,” since farmers would also harvest their crops during the night with the light of the full moon to aid them.
The month of September also marks the “Wine Moon,” the lunar cycle when grapes are harvested from the arbors, pressed and put away to become wine. Wine and grapevines were considered sacred by early Pagans., The following of Dionysus, a God of Resurrection, reached its height of popularity in the eighth century BCE and the pagans of this following honored wine and the grapes as symbols of rebirth and transformation. Generally, wine is associated with the God, and the Goddess with bread created from the crops.
Mythically, Mabon is the day of the year when the God of Light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the God of Darkness. We see the Autumnal Equinox is the only day of the whole year when Llew, light, is vulnerable and it is possible to defeat him. Using astrology as a guide and metaphor we see that Llew now stands on the balance of Libra/autumnal equinox, with one foot on the cauldron of Cancer/summer solstice and his other foot on the goat or Capricorn/winter solstice. He is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).
Historically Mabon seemed to be a version of Young Huntsman and Divine Youth who, with the coming of the Romans, became associated with Apollo (as Maponus/Apollo) and was to the Greeks seen as the God, Mercury. He acquired his attributes of God of the Sun, Music, and Hunting and was very popular among the Roman soldiers stationed along Hadrian’s Wall, especially during the cold, gloomy winter. Faces of Mabon were found carved into the wall and were ritually blank as the mark of a youth who has studied or suffered for too long. Lochenmaben (a village) and Clochmabenstane (a standing stone), both in Dumfriesshire, were named after him.
Mabon is a Welsh name meaning “great son,” and refers to the Son of the Great Mother, The Divine Son of Light. H.R. Ellis-Davidson quotes the Venerable Bede, who translates Modron as the Mothers — plural. Modern translators give it as the Mother — singular. Linguistic evidence may well support the plural interpretation, for although Mabon ap is unequivocally Welsh, Modron may not be: in Saxon, the singular of Modron becomes Modr — recognizably mother. Suddenly we have, not as was always believed a corruption of the Latin Matrona, but good Germanic. Mythologically this festival celebrates the story of Modron, the Great Goddess of the Earth, and the birth of her son, Mabon. According to the mythology, Mabon disappears (or is kidnapped) three days after his birth (thus, the light goes into hiding). Mabon is veiled in mystery in the womb of the earth, here personified as his mother, the Great Protector and Guardian of the Otherworld. Though his whereabouts are a mystery, it is only here that he can once again renew his strength and gain new wisdom in order to be reborn to the Goddess as the Son of Light. This is accomplished at Yule (Winter Solstice), with the aid of the ancient and wise animals: Stag, Raven, Owl, Eagle and Salmon. One can readily see the connection of this myth to the natural events occurring during this time. It also speaks to us of the Wiccan Mysteries of Life, Death, and Rebirth, and the sacrificial nature of the God.
As the wheel of the year turns some traditions ready for a funeral. Mabon symbolizes the male side of the Harvest and is the son of the Great Mother Earth, Mabron also known as Maponus in Britain and Gaul. Mabon may also be seen as the child who is born at Yule and is the God of the Sun. He grew into a an energetic toddler at Imbolc. The forests were his playground for the sprightly youth with golden hair at Ostara. At Beltane we see him matured and with his new bride. During the growing season he has sent the warm winds from the South, glowing with all his might, to help the crops grow. He is a man in his prime at Litha, and, at Lughnasadh, a leader, provider and a teacher of His people. Now it is Autumn, winter is not far behind, and Mabon is a man of advancing years, still strong in intellect, but caged in a weakening body and dying like the harvested plants of the earth. The sacrifices of Lammas were successful and the bounty has come. While we thank him for all this hard work we realize he is returning home to the Otherworld, a wonderful and enchanted faerie place, so that he may be reborn at Yule to help us once again. In many traditions the Otherworld is equated with the Mother’s womb. Because the passing of Mabon is inevitable he should be mourned but we must remember that as with all cycles there are things that must end, but the ending is always a good time to celebrate our successes, thank our selves and those who helped us, and take part in the balance of life.
Mabon’s Mother, Madron is also tired now and is the kindly Old Grandmother Crone who watches over all of us with her wisdom. Her daughter the Mother Goddess is also here to celebrate the Harvest in which she has helped us grow. The Goddess, full with child, cradles her dying lover in her arms. He slowly withdraws into her arms.
In addition to the crops there were seeds to be prepared. The harvested crops may feed us over the harsh winter months but, in order to renew them at the end of this time, we must be sure to collect and store the seeds for their eventual rebirth. Contained within them is the mystery of Life in Death in the image of the Wicker Man, the Corn Man or John Barleycorn. In some cultures the last sheaf of grain to be harvested became the Barley-mother, the Old Woman, the Maiden, to be honored until spring and then re-planted. One of the most widespread traditions is the corn dolly made out of the last sheaf of wheat cut. Known variously as the Wheat Bride, Kern Baby, Old Woman, Wheat Mother, etc. it was kept carefully throughout the winter, then either plowed into the fields the following spring, or burned and the ashes scattered over the fields. Each district also had their own customs concerning the making of the dolly. Some simply made the doll from the cut stalks (averting their faces so that the Grain Goddess couldn’t tell who had struck the killing blow) while others left a tuft of wheat uncut, plaited it , and then had the men throw their scythes at it until it was cut. Some places made the carrying of the Corn Dolly to the house a kind of game where one man tried to run back with it without anyone else taking it away from him. This could be an early form of “football” and where the tradition of this game began. The embodiment of the Spirit of Vegetation, the dolly was put in a position of honor in the home. Sometimes a communal dolly was kept in the church and a large feast took place after the last of the harvest was in.
The sacrifice of John Barleycorn was another symbol known and used by many traditions. He is the spirit of the vegetation that is ‘sacrificed’ to harvest the food that will sustain the people through the winter months and into the next growing season. It should be noted that the annual mock sacrifice of the Wicker Man figure or John Barleycorn may have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. The charge of human sacrifice was first made by Julius Caesar, who probably did not have the most unbiased of motives, and has been re-stated many times since. However, the only historians besides Caesar ,who make this accusation, are those who have read Caesar and use his reference. In fact, upon reading Caesar’s “Gallic Wars ” one finds that Caesar never actually witnessed such human sacrifice. Further, he never claims to have talked to or met with anyone else who witnessed such an event either. There is not one single eyewitness account in any historical manuscript that documents a human sacrifice performed by Druids. Further there is no archeological evidence to support the charge because if human sacrifices had been performed at the same ritual sites year after year there would be physical traces. No such evidence has ever been found, nor is there any native tradition or history, which lends support to this assumption. In fact, tradition seems to point in the opposite direction because the Druid’s reverence for life was so strict that they refused to lift a sword to defend themselves when massacred by Roman soldiers on the Isle of Mona. Irish Brehon Laws forbade a Druid to touch a weapon, and any soul rash enough to unsheathe a sword in the presence of a Druid would be executed for such an outrage. This in itself makes it highly improbable that the Druids ever would have condoned, led or performed any type of human sacrifice.
On another note the Fall equinox is the mating season for deer, and marks the beginning of the hunting season in many places. In British folklore this time of year is associated with Herne the Hunter, who leads a wild phantom chase through the forest, heralding confusion and change. In one Craft tradition the Fall Equinox is called “the Night of the Hunter,” when weak livestock which will not survive the winter must be slain.
This season also brings to mind the mythology of Persephone and Demeter. Some groups choose to celebrate the Sabbat by enacting this story in their Sabbat Circles, emphasizing the Mystery contained within the cyclical faces of the ever-constant Goddess
Today we realize that this is not only a time of the physical balance of day and night, but a time of magickal balance. Forces of dark and light are trading places once again in their cycle. Since this is one of the two days of balance in the year, along with Ostara, is it traditional to clean house. It is at this time that you begin to rid yourself of all of the clutter around your home and in your daily life. The thresholds of the house are blessed to protect those living inside. Foods are harvested, canned and stored, wood is chopped, animals begin to hibernate in preparation for the winter, and new clothes are bought and made for the colder times that await. Balance the outdoor activities with the mental activity of reading and storytelling. The harvest theme of Mabon cannot be denied. With all of the blessings we have received it is natural to use this time of year to show our gratitude.
Mabon has become a celebration of three main themes. These are reflection, grace, and balance. Although these themes are present every day, now is the day that we should give them our full attention.
In the physical realm this is the time for looking back upon the efforts of the past–not just this year, or the last, but also of your lifetime. Look back at this time and be sure to congratulate yourself on all those things you have done well, while, at the same time, being sure to think of things you wish to improve. As with any effort you may put forth there is always work on someone else’s part that allowed you to build upon it. Mabon is an excellent time to give thanks to all the time and energy put forth by others to help you. The work done by others not only helps you by making your work easier, it gives you a base to build higher than you could without it.
A feast of plenty on this day, in honor of the God, is traditional. Whereas cornbread was most appropriate at Lammas, wheat bread is best now to coincide with that harvest. Apples are ripening now, and nuts may be ready, as well. Do not forget fruit juices of apple and grape, whether or not fermented. One idea for a ritual gesture, it is to start a tradition of passing a “cup of gratitude” at this feast. To do this a chalice is filled with wine, blessed and passed around the table clockwise. As each person takes it, they speak about what they are thankful for and once they have spoken of all of their blessings, they drink from the cup, or pour a small amount into another cup, and then pass it on to the next person.
Magically speaking, this is an excellent time to perform spells around the idea of balancing out your life. Remove any guilt, and replace it with love and acceptance. The light half of the year from the spring equinox, until Mabon, is the best time of the year for outward turning magick. This magick is that which draws from and effects forces which lie outside of yourself. Spells which turn upon inner forces and mostly effect your own self will become more and more important as the dark half of the year grows in power.