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The Theme of Mabon
Article ID: 13515
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Posted: September 13th. 2009
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It’s a week before Fall Equinox, one of two days of the year when daylight hours and nighttime hours are equal. After the equinox, the hours of daylight are less than the hours of night. It’s the end of summer in southern Louisiana. Although the days are still warm and the leaves are still green, the morning air is crisp and cool and brings us the promise of cooler days to come.
For Neopagans, the High Day goes by many names. Many call it Mabon, after the Welsh God (Dugan 3) . I’ve heard it referred to as Harvest Home, after the English harvest festival, which originated in the 19th century. Some modern Druids call is Alban Elfed, meaning the Light of Water, because on the Wheel of the Year, Mabon in on the Western spoke and the west is associated with water (The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids) . It is a lesser Sabbat or lesser High Day.
Autumnal Equinox is probably the least emphasized of the 8 Pagan High Days. Not as flashy as Samhain, the third harvest festival, the fall equinox is passed over with little pomp and celebration. Perhaps it is because few myths correspond to the specific date. Perhaps it is overlooked because it is the second of three harvest festivals. Or perhaps we have such a tenuous notion of this day because we have so little historical evidence as to how our Pagan ancestors celebrated it or if they even did acknowledge it. Although we cannot point to a definitive ancient counterpart, it is still a unique date in our Wheel of the Year, offering a theme that should not be overlooked.
What is the theme for this holiday? What do the myths, stories and customs of the present and past tell us about this day? Regardless of whether ancient Pagans celebrated the exact equinox, many Pagan cultures had a harvest festival near this time of the year.
If we look at how this fits into the year in the life of our Pagan ancestors, maybe we can extrapolate the meaning of this oft overlooked holiday. Mabon is the second harvest festival. Whereas Lughnasadh, the first harvest festival, was the celebration of the first grain ripening at the very beginning of the harvest season, by Mabon the harvest is over, the crops are in and the labor is done. If all has gone well, for Mabon we would be thankful that the hard work of harvest is done and give thanks for our full storerooms and the bounty of food we now have. Where Lughnasadh was a more global event with many tribes traveling to central locations to celebrate, I would presume that Mabon was more localized to your tribe and your community. It celebrated how your own community fared.
Even in modern day we see similar celebrations. County fairs are in abundance at the end of harvest season. Even the modern American Thanksgiving is a type of Mabon celebration – family rejoicing over the bounty of their lives together.
How would the harvest-end be treated if the harvest went poorly? One example I found comes from the Ynglinga Saga, the Norse poem written by Snorri Sturluson around 1225. It tells of a time period in Upsal, an area in Eastern Sweden, when there was famine in the land. For the Norse, the autumn festival was ordained by Odin as a time to make sacrifices to the Gods for prosperity for the coming year (MacCulloch 143) .
In the saga, the first year of shortage the people sacrificed oxen, but since the harvest for the following year did not improve, human sacrifices were made the second year. The third year was worse yet, and the chiefs consulted each other on what to do. They decided that the king needed to be sacrificed in order to restore balance to the land. It wasn’t that he was a bad or evil king, but simply that “to bring good seasons to the land” they needed to “sprinkle the stalle (place) of the gods with his blood” (“The Ynglinga Saga”) . He was needed to make the ultimate sacrifice a king can make for the good of his people – his own life.
Through this story we see that, after the harvest was done, a religious celebration was held and, depending upon the success or failure of the harvest, varying degrees offerings were made at the place of the Gods. Maybe if the harvest was good, grain, fruit and mead were offered to the Gods. The offerings would increase in severity if the harvest were poor. The worst of failed harvests called for the king to offer himself for the land.
So, in addition to giving thanks for our good fortune, if need be, Mabon is a time for sacrifice to ensure that the coming year is favorable. Most people in the modern Pagan community shy away from the word sacrifice. Possibly because we were once associated with more nefarious groups who made animal or human sacrifices, sacrifice has gotten an ill-deserved bad rap.
Yet, sacrifice and the more comfortable “offering” are acts of giving up something we value. In our current economic troubling time, the nature of sacrifice should be reexamined. If we find ourselves at Mabon having a bad “harvest, ” sacrificing luxuries and things not needed for survival may be in order. Sacrificing dining out, cable television and buying new clothes may help ensure that next year’s “harvest” is better. Mabon is the time to look at the things in our lives that can be sacrificed so that the future is more prosperous than the present.
To understand sacrifice better, let’s look at the dance the Wiccan God and Goddess perform throughout the Wheel of the Year and see where They are at Mabon. The God is represented as the life of the Sun. At Yule, when the Sun’s strength begins to wax, the Goddess gives birth to the God. By Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, He is at His peak. By Lughnasadh he wanes. Since by Samhain He is journeying to the land of the dead, with the Autumnal Equinox, when day and light are equal and night begins to wax, it makes sense that Mabon would be the day of His death. His sacrificing Himself so that the land can rest and be reborn anew in Spring, for the good of the Earth and His people, is like the king in Snorri’s saga.
This story teaches us that sacrifices on Mabon are not just for personal gain, but also to help the world be a better place. What can we sacrifice from our lives to make the Earth a better place? We can give time by recycling items instead of throwing things away. We can sacrifice the aesthetics of our lawns by using a mulcher on lawnmowers rather than bagging and throwing away the clippings. We can give up a little comfort by setting the heat and cool of our homes to more moderate temperatures. We can offer up eating meat as often as we do because of the harm the meat industry does to the environment.
I view the Autumn Equinox as a day to celebrate the good things we have received through-out the year, but also as a day to pare down those unnecessary extras to make sure every year the harvest is abundant.
Dugan, Ellen. Autumn Equinox. Woodbury: Llewellyn P, 2005.
MacCulloch, J. The Celtic and Scandinavian Religions. London: Constable, 1993.
"The Ynglinga Saga." February 1999. Sacred-Texts.com. September 10, 2008
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