But what is Mabon exactly? Let’s examine what Mabon is, why it’s celebrated, the different myths that pertain to Mabon, and how Mabon can be interpreted into your life. Mabon is the autumn equinox. The Sabbat is named for the Mabon, the Welsh God who symbolized the male fertilizing principle in the Welsh myths. Mabon is a Fire Festival and one of the Lesser Sabbats, celebrated on September 20, 21, or 22, depending on when the Autumn Equinox falls.
Day and night are in perfect balance again all over the world. After all is gathered in and all the outside work is finished, this is the big festival of the Autumn’s end. From now on the days will get shorter and the weather colder. Astrologers know that this is when the sun enters the sign of Libra, the Balance, which is a fitting symbol of balanced light and darkness.
In Rome, this equinox marked the Festival of Dionysus, the God of Wine and Revelry, whose party lasted for as many days as revelers could remain upright! Mabon is just one of the many names for this holiday: Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Alban Elfed and Winter Finding are others. There are myths that tell different stories, but offer similar insight and symbolism into the holiday. The story of Mabon is one of them.
The birth of Mabon ap Modron (Great Son of the Great Mother) is celebrated at the Equinox. He is born from his mother Modron (Great Mother), who is seen as the Guardian of the Otherworld, the Earth and the Protector. Mabon was stolen from his mother, Modron, when he was three nights old. In different versions of the story he was three years old. In one version of the myth the Eagle, the Owl, the Blackbird, the Stag and the Salmon rescued him, while in another King Arthur was the one who saved him. During his captivity, Mabon dwelled in a magical Otherworld -Madron’s Womb. Madron’s womb was a place of challenge and nurturing, and while there Mabon grew in strength and wisdom before being reborn as the Son of Light, his mother’s Champion.
Another myth that pertains to Mabon is that of Persephone and Demeter. Autumn begins when Persephone returns to Hades and the Underworld to live. The myth begins as Demeter’s daughter Kore, goes out to pick some flowers in a field. The earth opened up and Hades stole her away to become his wife. While in the Underworld, Kore refused to eat anything until Hades finally convinced her to eat six pomegranate seeds. Kore did not know at the time that the seeds she had eaten would make her have to stay in the Underworld. Finally Hades persuaded her to marry him; thus her named changed from Kore to Persephone. For nine days Demeter searched for Kore and in desperation she asked Helios, the Sun God, if he knew anything. Helios told Demeter that Zeus had given Kore to Hades. Enraged, Demeter cursed the earth so that is wouldn’t yield any crops. Zeus frantically asked her why she had stopped the growth on earth. Demeter replied that until her daughter was safely home nothing would grow. Zeus came to the conclusion that Kore/Persephone would live with Hades for six months, the same amount of time as the seeds she had eaten, and would then return to her mother to live the rest of the year. Thankful, Demeter lifted her curse creating Spring. In Autumn her curse renews as she grieves her daughter’s return to Hades and the Underworld.
Mabon is the old Anglo-Celtic festival of Harvest Home, a respite from the work of harvesting and a celebration of thanks. In remembrance of that time, it is often referred to as the “Witches’ Thanksgiving” and finishes off the witches’ year. It is one of the oldest harvest celebrations in Europe.
Harvest Home activities include cider pressing, grain threshing, dancing and feasting (of course!) and the crowning of the Harvest King and Queen. The King and Queen become the earthly vessel for the God and Goddess to reside in during the Mabon ritual and festivities. The English folk song “Lavender Blue, Lavender Green” was a song that grew out of Mabon observances. Blue is the color of the Harvest Lord and green of the Harvest Lady.
Mabon marks the end of the second harvest and is a time when the majority of crops have been gathered. Nuts, apples, grapes and berries are featured items at this Sabbat feast. Jams, jellies and wine are made at this time. In many traditions there is a taboo against eating berries after Mabon unless they have been made into jam or
In Scotland and Wales, Mabon wines were poured onto the ground to honor the aging Goddess as she swiftly moved into her Crone aspect. Celtic lands were not well known for growing grapes, so blackberry wine became a Celtic specialty, especially in Ireland, where blackberries are sacred to the goddess Brigit. Vines figure prominently in Mabon symbolism. They are used as decoration for altars and as raw material for making wreaths and crowns.
In Ireland, and in parts of Western Scotland and Cornwall, it became customary during Mabon to visit burial mounds, called cairns, to honor dead ancestors, especially female ones. This practice may have had two origins. One was to visit the dead and appease them so that, when they visited the human world at Samhain, they would be inclined toward kindness and good will. The second origin may have been in ancient Ireland, where a group of female ancestor worshippers based its beliefs on the notion that, upon death, all human souls were reabsorbed into the wombs which bore them, and therefore, only women inhabited Tir-Na-Nog, the Irish land of the Dead. Women were the ones required to decorate and adorn the graves at Mabon, while the men prepared the nearby feasting site.
Cairns and cemeteries were feared by many of our ancestors as places where evil spirits lingered. Approaching such places at Mabon was deemed safe, however, because it was believed that the balance of light and dark would act like an equilateral cross and offer protection from any negative spirits. Fires were lit at cairns, or carried in gourds similar to our jack-o-lanterns, to further frighten away baneful spirits.
Some Pagans question why there is a focus on death at Mabon a theme usually associated with Samhain. Mabon begins the season of Autumn when leaves die, and nature, having given forth an abundance of new life-giving foods, withers so that the cycle may begin again. When we harvest what we gather, it provides our families and us food, but the plants and animals we harvest must die to provide that nutrition. The deities are aging and the God will soon die, as will the old year. For our Pagan ancestors, who marked time by the turning of the Wheel of the Year, this was a natural time to reflect upon the meaning of death. Mabon is not just a celebration of life, but also one of death. When contemplating this aspect of the holiday, you might want to think about those who passed away during the year. One way to honor them would be to place an apple on their marker or headstone. This is an old Celtic tradition of honoring the dead, and the apple also reminds us of the circle of life, from passing to rebirth.
Mabon is not only a time when night and day are equal, but all things are in balance for a brief moment. The Norse believed one’s fate for the coming year was sealed at this time. Divinations were done to ascertain whether one’s life in the past year had been pleasing to the deities.
An ancient symbol for the wealth of the harvest is the Horn of Plenty or Cornucopia. It is both a phallic symbol and, when filled with the fruits of the harvest, a womb gushing forth its Autumn bounty.
Modern Mabon activities can include hay rides, a custom that grew out of riding the full hay wagon back home after it had been fully loaded with the day’s harvest. This ride eventually took on a party atmosphere as families sang together and enjoyed the Autumn countryside, while they rode home to partake of the season’s bounty. You might want to host a barn dance, another European custom that grew out of the Pagan celebration of the completion of the harvest, and one which continued in lands colonized by Europeans.
Since Mabon is considered the Witches Thanksgiving, it is very appropriate to celebrate by having a grand dinner with the foods that you have harvested. You could also donate food and time to those who are less fortunate than you. What could be more uplifting than to see a hungry person receive what they so desperately need? If you decide to have a dinner, share stories with your family about what you have learned this past year and listen to them as they share their stories. Now is the time to think about all that you have to be thankful for. It is a time to reflect on the lessons that you have learned, and your deeds and actions. Record your thoughts on the evening, what you felt and what you have learned from the past year. This is what gives your Book of Shadows true importance and worth.
The Autumn Equinox is a balance of light and dark. You might want to think about people with causes who are fighting for a just reason. Think about how you could help them, either by devoting some time to their cause or by sending them energy to benefit them.
Equinoxes are a chance to stop and adjust. Things are moving fast now and preparations and intention for the coming Winter must be made. The days are shortening again and the increasingly cold weather, although not yet severe, is there to remind us that we have to respond to it and change with it. The quarter points represent changes in the Earth’s energy and these changes affect us all on a personal level. It is also a time to reflect on the past year to see if there are any habits that need to be discarded. We can look back to see if we have accomplished the tasks that we had set out to do in the beginning of the year.
Mabon, like its polar opposite, Ostara, is a time of balance. Only now, instead of looking outward to the coming Summer, we begin looking inward, preparing ourselves for the Winter to come. The Spring and Summer have been open, flowering, productive times of the year. At Harvest Home, we see this part of the cycle ending. We have labored and earned our reward, as well as our rest. After we have rested a while, we will begin to plan ahead for the next growing season. The cold, dark months ahead will naturally make us go inward. The light that has burned brightly in an outer sense will now burn brightly within us, as we have prepared, not only on a physical level, but on a spiritual one as well. At this time we look ahead and see Winter coming. The cold weather makes us spend more time inside: physically, mentally and spiritually. We are more given to introspection, planning and sitting by the fire. Now is a good time to get a companion animal if you wish to have one, cut firewood, seek out reading material for the dark nights ahead, and plan your winter craft projects, so you will be ready with them when the air turns crisp and the nights draw in.
Be aware of entering a new phase as Winter draws near. Give thanks to the God and Goddess for all the good things which you have reaped in your own harvest this Summer. Pledge yourself to maintain what you have gained throughout the year. Decide what it is you want to weave into your life in the upcoming year and start planning for those things.
Mabon is a very special holiday and time of the year. We see the Wheel turning and the seasons changing. These changes happen outside of us, and within us as well. As we reflect on how many things we have to be thankful for, we see how blessed we are by the God and Goddess. It is a time to think about those who do not have as much as we do and help them, a time to think about the ones who have passed away but are not as far away as we might think, and a time to think about the harvest in our lives. So as the nights grow longer, the days more colder, and the foliage around us more vibrant, let’s remember all that we do have; and raise a joyful thanks to Those who have blessed us with Their love and gifts.
Herbs for Mabon:
Yarrow, Marigold, Sage, Saffron, Chamomile, Walnut leaves, Rue, Frankincense,
Sunflower, Wheat, Oak leaves, Dried apple, and Rose Hips.
Incense for Mabon:
Sweetgrass, Myrrh, Pine, Sage and Frankincense
Stones for Mabon:
Amber, Peridot, Gold, Yellow Topaz, Cat’s-Eye, clear Quartz, Citrine, Aventurine, Lapis
Lazuli, Sapphire, and Amethyst
Autumn leaves that have been dipped in paraffin and inscribed with runes, Gourds,
Pine Cones, Acorns, Wheat, Cedar
Colors of Mabon:
All shades of Red, deep Gold, shades of Brown, Violet, Yellow, shades of Orange,
And blush at your passing, Lord
Remembering the days of summer
When you, Green and pollen bright
Danced in the warm, caressing winds
Proud and vital as the upthrusting oak.
But now the sword-edge of frost
Looms from the mist
Balancing night and day
A blade Poised at your throat.
And the leaves shudder with you.
You grip your heart to the branch
Savoring that one last touch
Then you leap Spiraling through the crisp air
As you dive upon the frost-blade
Dying the leaves
Red with your willing sacrifice.
You rise, your lips
Pale as the blade buried within you
And make your way to the darkened shore
At your feet, the leaves rustle and sigh
And blush at your passing
~Lionrhod, Mabon 1994