Mabon (?) and the Autumn Equinox6 min read
Originally written on September 2020, updated 2022
The term “Mabon” is named after a Celtic sun god of the same name.
In popular culture “Mabon”, or Fall/Autumn Equinox is also called The Second Harvest Festival, the Festival of Dionysus, Harvest of First Fruits, and Wine Harvest.
It is one of the many harvest festivals celebrated around the world by different cultures. The Greeks, Bavarians, Native Americans, Chinese, and the Druids all have their own unique ways of celebrating the bountiful harvest.
During Medieval times, Christianized European peasants celebrated the autumn equinox as the Feast of the Archangel Michael.
In the lunar cycle, September marks the Wine Moon, which is the time for harvesting grapes. Early pagans considered wine and grapevines as sacred following the commemoration of Dionysus, god of Resurrection. They believed that grapes and wine were symbols of rebirth and transformation.
In mythology, Mabon is the time when the God of Light was defeated by the God of Darkness, resulting in longer nights. In Celtic folklore, Mabon is the son of Modron, the Great Goddess of the Earth, who was kidnapped for three days after his birth making light go into hiding. Moreover, Mabon symbolizes the male figure of the harvest.
In British folklore, Mabon is associated with Herne the Hunter and marks the beginning deer hunting season in many places.
Mabon is the time of the year to celebrate balance, reflection, and grace. Among the symbols used during this season are mid-autumn vegetables like squash, eggplant, pumpkin, and gourd, anything made from apples like pie, cider, and sauce, baskets and harvesting tools symbolizing gathering of crops, as well as anything made of grapes, especially wine.
Aside from traditional feasts, such symbols are also used to decorate homes and altars.
Modern Druids’ celebration of Mabon is related to Alban Elfed as the time of balance between light and dark.
In China, Mabon falls on the moon’s birthday. Chinese people celebrate this time of the year by baking cakes made of harvested rice to honor the moon who will, in return, bless them with abundance.
In some English counties, Michaelmas or the Feast of St. Michael is observed on September 29. A meal of goose and St. Michael’s bannocks is traditionally served on this day.
In Nigeria, the Yoruba people celebrate the yam festival every October with dances for their ancestors and fertility of crops for the succeeding year.
Each fall, the Iroquois people gather together for the Corn Dance to give thanks for the ripening of grains.
Many Pagans and Wiccans regard Mabon as a time to give thanks and share blessing with the less fortunate.
Mabon altars are usually decorated with seasonal colors of orange, red, yellow, gold, and brown. Some light a bonfire at night and do ritual dances while others appreciate the autumn constellations.
Aside from apples, pomegranates also symbolize the fruit of death given by Hades to Persephone, but also using traditional harvest colors, mid-autumn crops including squash, pumpkin, acorns, nuts, grapes, wine, pomegranates, bread, honey, and Indian corn, and symbols of your deity. Leaves, twigs, incense, and feathers are also included.
Some set up outdoor altars with three candles, a match or lighter, a wand, incense, bread, and wine or cider for offering and sharing.
In addition to the ritualistic altar, Mabon is also celebrated through apple picking, enjoying the gifts of nature, and counting of blessings.
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 21, the Autumn Equinox will enter and, perhaps, you should call it by its real and only name: Autumn Equinox!
Images from web – Google Research