Mabon... a Man for all Seasons
Article ID: 4705
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 16th. 2002
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If it is September in the Northern Hemisphere, then it must be time to trot out Mabon. While it is historically and culturally doubtful that ancient Celtic peoples ever celebrated a harvest festival featuring Mabon as the central figure, modern Wiccans and some other Pagans have adapted his tale and his persona as an 'agricultural god' for their celebrations of the Autumnal Equinox. Archetypes are fine and Mabon certainly can fill this role. But I'd also say that it is high time that we set out to rescue Mabon once again. Only this time, we would be breaking him free from the constraints that we have placed upon him. Mabon isn't just a convenient god figure for a harvest festival. Mabon truly is a man for all seasons.
In the story of 'Culhwen and Olwen' as related in the Mabinogian, the hero Culhwen is given the task of rescuing Mabon from his captivity as one of the feats that he must accomplish in order to win the hand of his true love, Olwen. Mabon is known as the 'Son of Modron' (Great Mother). When only 'three nights old, he was taken from between his Mother and the wall'. Enlisting the aid of King Arthur, Culhwen sets forth on his quest accompanied by a band of the realm's finest knights and heroes. The very short version of this poetic and complex tale is thus:
"And Arthur called Bedwyr, who never shrank from any enterprise upon which Kai was bound. None was equal to him in swiftness throughout this Island except Arthur and Drych Ail Kibddar. And although he was one-handed, three warriors could not shed blood faster than he on the field of battle. Another property he had; his lance would produce a wound equal to those of nine opposing lances. And Arthur called to Kynddelig the Guide, "Go thou upon this expedition with the chieftain." For as good a guide was he in a land which he had never seen as he was in his own. He called Gwrhyr Gwalstawt Ieithoedd, because he knew all tongues. He called Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar, because he never returned home without achieving the adventure of which he went in quest. He was the best of footmen and the best of knights. He was nephew to Arthur, the son of his sister, and his cousin. And Arthur called Menw the son of Teirgwaedd, in order that if they went into a savage country, he might cast a charm and an illusion over them, so that none might see them whilst they could see every one." (The poet/bard, Taliesin, says elsewhere that he, too, was a party to the quest.)
The troop seeks out the oldest animal that they know of, the Ousel (Blackbird) of Cilgwrl, for a little friendly advice. (Who says men won't stop and ask for directions?) "Do you know anything of Mabon, son of Modron, who was taken from his Mother when he was three nights old?" The Blackbird had been on earth so long that an anvil she pecked upon was now the size of a walnut, but she had not heard of the fate of Mabon. She directed the party to seek out one 'even older than she', the Stag of Rhedynfre.
Again the question, "Have you heard of Mabon, the Son of Modron, who was taken from his Mother when he was three nights old?" is asked. The Stag who is so old that the tallest and strongest oak tree had been reduced to a mere stump by the rubbing of his antlers against it, had heard nothing of the fate of Mabon. Graciously, he advised the seekers to consult with an animal 'even older than he'.
"So they proceeded to the place where was the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd. "Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, here is an embassy from Arthur; knowest thou aught of Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken after three nights from his mother?" "If I knew I would tell you. When first I came hither, the wide valley you see was a wooded glen. And a race of men came and rooted it up. And there grew there a second wood; and this wood is the third. My wings, are they not withered stumps? Yet all this time, even until today, I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless, I will be the guide of Arthur's embassy until you come to the place where is the oldest animal in this world, and the one that has traveled most, the Eagle of Gwern Abwy."
Now The Eagle of Gwernabwy was so old that he had once stood on a stone that reached to the stars. But even though that stone had now been worn down to size of a hand fist, throughout all of those centuries, he had not heard of Mabon, son of Modron. The Eagle did however recall a previous encounter with an old fish and so he offered to fly the entire company to the home of the Salmon of Llyn Llew.
The Salmon is perhaps the most ancient creature upon the Earth. He tells the company: "As much as I know I will tell thee. With every tide I go along the river upwards, until I come near to the walls of Gloucester, and there have I found such wrong as I never found elsewhere; and to the end that ye may give credence thereto, let one of you go thither upon each of my two shoulders."
So Kai and Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd went upon the two shoulders of the salmon, and they proceeded until they came unto the wall of the prison, and they heard a great wailing and lamenting from the dungeon. Said Gwrhyr, "Who is it that laments in this house of stone?" "Alas, there is reason enough for whoever is here to lament. It is Mabon the son of Modron who is here imprisoned; and no imprisonment was ever so grievous as mine, neither that of Lludd Llaw Ereint, nor that of Greid the son of Eri." "Hast thou hope of being released for gold or for silver, or for any gifts of wealth, or through battle and fighting?" "By fighting will whatever I may gain be obtained."
"Then they went thence, and returned to Arthur, and they told him where Mabon the son of Modron was imprisoned. And Arthur summoned the warriors of the Island, and they journeyed as far as Gloucester, to the place where Mabon was in prison. Kai and Bedwyr went upon the shoulders of the fish, whilst the warriors of Arthur attacked the castle. And Kai broke through the wall into the dungeon, and brought away the prisoner upon his back, whilst the fight was going on between the warriors. And Arthur returned home, and Mabon with him at liberty. "
The search for Mabon takes place through layers of time and space and actually points more towards a mystical search for truth and knowledge than simply to the tale of a vegetation god archetype. Some of these more mystical elements might bear some contemplation:
On the Usefulness of Diversity: The company on the quest to rescue Mabon is made up of men of diverse talents and strengths. Gwrhr can speak the language of animals. Kai is exceptionally strong. Gwalchai is persistent and relentless in pursuit of a goal. Menw is a spell caster. Kynddelig can find his way in any land known or unknown to him. Mabon himself later proves to be both a warrior, one who can control savage beasts (which is why they need him) and, since he more or less disappears at the end of this tale, serves as an eternal paladin figure who can be summoned up in times of great need.
On Asking the Proper Question: The question, "Have you heard of Mabon, the Son of Modron, who was taken from his Mother when he was three nights old?" in the tale takes on a ritualistic nature that points to the fact that it is not the mere question itself that is important. It is also how the question is asked. And indeed it is in both the knowing of the proper question to ask and in knowing how to ask it, that the answer will be found.
On the Values of Persistence: If at first you don't succeed, ask and ask again. Each animal prefaces his/her response with a pointed reference to some task or relationship in which they themselves had been persistently engaged. Patience and wisdom come not only with age but also by experience and endurance. That the company pursued the advice that they were given rather than complain that they were being jerked around also enforces the notion that the true power can be found in the patient pursuit of a goal itself. The achievement then is merely the physical manifestation of that power.
On Understanding The Answer: "By fighting will whatever I may gain be obtained." Even when all obstacles have been removed and all questions have been answered, it is not enough to simply 'know'. Actions must now follow and sometimes we must make a final push -- an assault, if you will -- in order to finish the quest. We can fill up our heads with book learning and our walls with degrees, but of what good are all of these things that we have learned if we do not put them to use?
On Taking Up the Quest: The search for Mabon was a long and arduous journey. The quest for personal knowledge and enlightenment is one also and should not be undertaken without counting the costs. Developing the skills, the character traits, the spiritual fortitude that such a quest requires is neither for the easily discouraged nor for the weak of faith. One must set one's foot upon this quest, like Gwalchai, with no thoughts of turning back until the task is seen through. There is an eternalness permeating the quest itself that whispers that it may never be completely 'finished'. But perhaps it is that very taste of immortality that lends to the quest its compelling allure.
Mabon, son of Modron -- the man for all seasons --thus beckons you to become a part of the eternal quest.
May all of you who dare to undertake it, find that which you seek.
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, September 16th., 2002
Location: Tampa, Florida
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