Not everyone knows that the Wheel of the Year is a set of eight seasonal celebrations spaced approximately 6-7 weeks apart through the year, which mark a combination of Solstices, Equinoxes and old British Agricultural festivals.
The Autumn Equinox is one of these festivals, celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere somewhere around the 21st of September, and around March 21 below the equator.
This festival is usually understood to mark a time of balance and reflection and a time when light and dark are equal in measure in the day (which is not really completely true), and It also marks the moment after which the nights will again be longer than the days.
This holiday is also called “Mabon”, but this name, associated with the Autumn Equinox, is a serious historical error.
In ancient times the festival had no nomenclature, it was simply the “Autumn Equinox”.
However, in the 1970s, American Wiccan author Aidan A. Kelly arbitrarily decided that a name was needed for the holiday of the equinox. The choice fell on the Celtic god Mabon, whose mythological story seemed to him to suit the case.
“Mabon ap Modron” was “the divine son of the divine mother” ie Modron, Great Welsh Mother. The story goes that just three days after his birth, little Mabon was kidnapped and taken to the Kingdom of the Dead, where he lived as a prisoner for many years. At that point his mother went in desperate search for her son and as a result of this act the population of the world dwindled.
Eventually Mabon was saved by a hero who – depending on the story you heard – may be Culhwch or Arthur.
This story also follows the Greek myth of Persephone kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld: when her mother Demeter set out in search of her, all the vegetation stopped existing and men began to die.
The Greek myth was recalled during the Eleusinian Mysteries that were held in autumn and therefore Kelly must have used this parallelism to position the figure of Mabon on the occasion of the September equinox.
In any case, Mabon was anything but an autumn god: he was the god of youth and vegetation, therefore associated with spring and all that is reborn in that period.
Based on what we know, the Romans believed that the indigenous God Maponus had enough in common with the God Apollo, a Greek God they adopted into their own pantheon of deities, that they equated the two. For the Romans, Apollo was a god of Light, Sun, Healing, Prophecy and Music, and they must have observed some of the same qualities in Maponus. The Equinox, like some of the other Wheel of the Year festivals, can be thought of as Sun festival. It is no coincidence that the birth of Apollo was remembered precisely on the occasion of the Spring Equinox and the ancients would never have made the mistake of associating two divinities with such different characteristics.
While we have no evidence for festivals associated with Mabon, we do have records of some of the festivals held in honour of the god Apollo.
One of these happen just before the Autumn Equinox: it was the Karneia (Carneia, or Κάρνεια) festival, dedicated explicitly to Apollo, which marks the end of the year and the beginning of the new ritual year.
Curiously, this festival often involved races in which the leader would run with bunches of grapes, they would be chased – and if they were caught it guaranteed a good outcome for the city and its people. This has curious similarities to some customs in other parts of Europe where a hunt or some sort was enacted as part of the agricultural rites and celebrations around this time of the year.
Today, September 22nd at 3.30 pm the Autumn Equinox will enter and, perhaps, you should call it by its real and only name: Autumn Equinox!
Images from web – Google Research