Fall begins this week (WOO HOO, my favorite season!), so that means Mabon is upon us, gentle readers! Also known as Harvest Home, Winter Finding, and Harvest of the First Fruits, this second harvest festival of the Pagan wheel of the year occurs on the Autumnal Equinox, another season of balance between dark and light. This is my first year practicing Mabon, so I’m excited to learn more about the Sabbat and find all kinds of new ways to celebrate it. (As if I needed any more reason to go nuts on fall recipes and crafts…) For today, let’s look at the history and mythology:
Mabon is a bit of a crazy mixed-up holiday from a theological/mythological standpoint. It’s a newer incarnation of the ancient concept of the harvest festival – many, many cultures have celebrated their end-of-season bounty, but none of them celebrated this holiday per se until the 1970s. There’s even considerable controversy among Pagans over what to call the Sabbat, but the most commonly used name, Mabon, comes from the Celtic story of Modron, the Great Goddess of the Earth, and her newborn son, Mabon. According to the legend, Mabon is kidnapped three days after his birth and is hidden away in the Underworld, where she cannot find him. Modron’s anger and sorrow over losing her son drives her to allow the plants of the upper world to wilt and die until he is restored to her through his rebirth at Yule, at which point they go underground to recover their strength until Spring.
To my English-major brain, this sounds a LOT like the Roman story of Demeter, the agricultural goddess who grieved so deeply when her daughter, Persephone, was abducted by Hades and forced to live with him in the Underworld for six months out of each year (one for each seed of the pomegranate she ate while she was captured). Plus, the Modron story has just a little bit of Christ imagery rolled into it with the birth, death, and rebirth-in-three-days business – archetypes be archetypin’ around here this season. Most popular myths and legends surrounding this time of year worldwide embody heavy life-death-rebirth themes, which makes sense with the way the seasons change. For my part, I will be spending more time with the Roman myth I’m more comfortable with – it does the same job of imparting the feeling of loss and sadness, and frankly, I like the story better. (Sorry, purists – I am an unabashed eclectic.)
In the binary Pagan mythology of the life-death-rebirth cycle, the God, who has been declining since his height at Midsummer, is now old and weak, edging ever closer his death at Samhain. The Goddess still appears in her second aspect as the Mother, with the land still producing fruits and her womb still nurturing the new incarnation of the God to be reborn at Yule (yup, more archetypes). She, too, is moving quickly toward her third and last aspect as the old and wizened Crone, though, which will coincide with the old God’s impending death. The Vernal Equinox is bittersweet for the Goddess, who celebrates the bounty of the year, but mourns the coming loss of her mate. Again, coincidental with Demeter from Roman mythology, some believe that the Goddess’s sadness brings on the death of all that is green and nourishing and drives the beasts of the land into hibernation. There’s another take on this period that piques my interest though: the Goddess does not bring about the death of the things that grow, but rather sends the whole world into a state of deep rest to regain strength and stamina for the coming year, a counterbalance to the frenzied awakening of all the growing things at the Vernal Equinox in the Spring. As one who burrows deeply into my hibernaculum each winter to recharge, I can get firmly behind that idea.
In practice, Mabon is celebrated with giving thanks for our agricultural bounty, then sharing and feasting upon that bounty with our friends and neighbors. Just about every country that celebrates a “thanksgiving” or harvest festival celebrates it in October – or at least at a time that is much closer to the actual end of their growing season than we Americans do by putting our feast off until late November. Mabon is a time for bursting harvest cornucopias, free-flowing wine and fruits, abundant breads and baked goods, and all manner of meats gained through the hunt. It’s a time for giving thanks for the food that will get us through the hard winter to come, for the neighbors who have helped us through the hardships we faced in the past year, and for the strength we’ve drawn from the Powers That Be to secure our family’s continued prosperity. However, Mabon is also a time of reflection – in balance with our current abundance, we must prepare ourselves for scarcity. While we drink up the last of the heat and light, we must prepare ourselves to get through months of cold and darkness ahead.
The dichotomy of Mabon gives it a depth that doesn’t make it entirely comfortable to celebrate. Then again, I don’t think life was designed to be entirely comfortable. The goal is to recognize balance, yin and yang, dark and light, and what better time to do so than at the equinox, when day and night are equal again? Maybe it’s best to sum Mabon up thusly: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die (but then come back again)!”
Patti Wigington at Thoughtco
Lisa Chamberlain, Wicca Wheel of the Year