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And the Last Spoke is Mabon
Article ID: 15199
Age Group: Adult
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Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: September 30th. 2012
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Mabon is impossible to talk about outside of Wiccan context because the holiday did not exist before the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. The autumnal equinox existed, sure, but as the “Harvest of Fruits”, this time of year did not have its own festival.
Typically, the Lesser Sabbats (solstices and equinoxes) came from festivals of those who invaded Britain while the Greater Sabbats are of more native (as in having lived on the island longer and as the most recognizable pre-historical culture) Celtic origin. Yule can be traced partly to Roman Saturnalia and partly to Nordic and Germanic peoples that invaded Britain after the Roman departure. Ostara may be linked to a little-known Saxon fertility goddess and her festival. Litha (or Midsummer) is the festival of high summer (which was more like Beltane to the more northern neighbors, weather-wise) . However, Mabon has a Celtic name, so it does not fit the rest of the paradigm.
The first problem of Mabon is the “Harvest of Fruits” we link it to. Harvests are not as neat and clean as we like to pretend they are. Lughnasadh can have grain harvest connections, but what if the grains were not ripe at August 1st? What if, instead, it ripened in mid-July? Or closer to the start of September? Lughnasadh serves other purposes, so the festival does not have to automatically be linked to the harvest of grain; however, I’m not sure Mabon has that leg to stand on.
This year, March was very warm in New England, so the apple trees got their blossoms earlier than usual. This pushed the cycle of the trees forward by several weeks and their fruits were ready to be harvested by mid-August instead of mid-late September. I’m using the New England apple harvest as an example, but the same is true of any harvest. If you farm, you plant when it is a good time to do so (or, if you have an orchard, you take care of your trees and take note of when they flower so you’ll know about when the fruit will start to come) based mostly on the weather and other natural cycles. If your squash is ripe weeks before Mabon, are you going to wait to harvest it until “the day of the harvest”? No, you’re going to harvest it when it is ready, and that might be before or after Mabon.
In Celtic folklore, fruits had to be harvested by Samhain. Any fruit left on the vine (or tree, bush, etc.) after Samhain was considered poison as it was spat upon by the pucca. This is very similar to the tales of Frau Holle befouling any un-spun fiber that had been left undone by Yule. One can see it as a rule against laziness, but with the left over fruits, it may have well been an offering to the gentle folk and any attempt to collect what was now rightfully theirs would have been met with extreme repercussions (would you want to make a pucca angry?) . Associations with the dead aside, Samhain may have been more a generic harvest festival than the “Harvest of Meat” we call it today.
Every region had different cycles and the crops ripened at different times. In our current age of the supermarket, we tend to forget that; even as members of religions that pride themselves on following cycles, we want Nature to fit the cycle of the holiday grid we’ve created and that’s just not going to happen.
So, why do we have Mabon if it has no real historical counterpart? Well, it rounds out the year. If you want a tradition that resonates with the rich and varied history that made England (I have to specify this as this is where Wicca started and where the festivals we know were first celebrated in their current form) what it is, then you can’t just celebrate the Celtic festivals; so it made sense to add the solstice festivals of the Vikings (who ruled a large portion of England known as the Danelaw for quite some time) and the Anglo-Saxons who ruled before the Danelaw and after it until the invasion of 1066AD. Once you add the solstices as good old English tradition to the four older Celtic ones, it makes sense to make the influence a little more even by adding the spring festival of Ostara. And, if you’re going to celebrate the solstices and vernal equinox, it just makes sense to celebrate the autumnal equinox.
Mabon is named for the Welsh god Mabon (or Mapanos in British and Gallic venerations) . He was the son of Modron (which means mother) , and thus Mabon (son) is Son of the Mother. Interestingly, there is no father listed for Mabon and the only story I know about him is only one tale from the Mabinogion (which is named for him) . When he is three days old, he is kidnapped to the Underworld and held hostage. King Arthur and Culhwch looked for him and found him in Gloucester Castle. He is said to be both the oldest and youngest being on earth all at the same time.
Based on this tale, Mabon and Modron fit more easily into Wiccan mythology than the popular Diana/Cernunnos couplings (which bothers me at least on a mixed-pantheon level) . If Mabon is both the youngest and the oldest being, he can be a god of many aspects. He spent time in the Underworld, like the Wiccan god does yearly; he is thought of as a hunting god (much like Cernunnos’s medieval cousin, Herne) , so he can be seen as having aspects of the Horned God; since he has no named father, you can even extrapolate that he’s his own father. That Modron means Mother can very easily fit into the Mother Goddess many talk about, maiden and/or crone can be fleshed out (though, in my experience the Maiden is not held as important as the Mother or the Crone, though that might just be based on what I’ve read) either by assuming that since we know very little about Modron that those bits can be inserted (or “reconstructed”) , or that other goddesses (or spirits) from the surrounding Welsh mythology can give those aspects form (Cerridwen is often seen as a crone goddess) .
At Mabon, it can be said that the true descent of the God begins. He was weakened at Lughnasadh, and that weakening continues through Samhain when he guides the spirits between this world and the Other. At least, that’s the Wiccan reasoning behind this holiday. As I mentioned, this holiday is not ancient and really has more in common with our New World autumnal fairs than with what was actually practiced by our ancient Pagan forebears. Still, the reasoning behind why it’s celebrated now is sound. I just need to work on my own reasons for celebrating it that don’t rely so heavily on a year-cycle mythology to which I no longer adhere.
So that does it for the cycle of eight Sabbats. I wrote one for each through this year (and sadly, there were some months where that was pretty much all I did to mark the up-coming Sabbat) . I hope you all had a great Mabon.
The Mabinogion translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones
Dancing with the Sun by Yasmine Galenorn
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Celtic Hertitage by Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees
Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes
Location: Sunbury, Pennsylvania
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