Mabon is a celebration of the autumn equinox, one of the oldest harvest festivals in Europe. Also called Harvest Home, the Witches’ Thanksgiving, and–in Irish–Mi Meadhin Fómhar (the middle month of harvest), is the second of three yearly harvest festivals, falling between Lughnasadh in August and Samhain in October. Traditionally speaking, it’s at this time that most of the crops have been harvested and gathered in, and we can rest, celebrate, and give thanks for the bounty that will provide us with sustenance throughout the winter months.
Contrary to what is taught in many Pagan and Wiccan circles, the ancient Celts did not actually celebrate a holiday called “Mabon” at the Autumn Equinox. Rather, they celebrated the seasonal divisions–liminal or “thin” times–with fire festivals that included Samhain and Beltaine. The solstices and equinoxes were originally celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons. It was not until many hundreds of years later, around 1970, that the name Mabon was coined by American academic and Neopagan influencer Aidan Kelly, in reference to a Welsh god called Mabon ap Modron (“Great Son of the Great Mother”).
Modron, Welsh Earth Mother Goddess and Guardian of the Otherworld, is connected to both the Celtic Triple Goddess Morrighan, and Morgan le Fay, Avalonian Priestess and Otherworld Queen. In Celtic and Avalonian legend, all of these divine women played roles as the Sovereign Goddess of the Land, whom the ancient Celtic and British kings had to promise to protect before they were allowed to rule. As the Great Son of the Great Mother, then, Mabon is recognized as the Son of Sovereignty, champion of the Goddess of the Land, and archetypal Rightful King. In some Arthurian legends, Mabon was also a knight in King Arthur’s army.
The tale of Mabon begins with Modron giving birth to Mabon at the autumn equinox. Three nights later (or three years later, depending on the version), he is stolen from her. Mabon is held captive in the Otherworld (or Modron’s Womb), where he is nurtured, but also faces many challenges that help him grow stronger and wiser. Ultimately, he is rescued and reborn as the Son of Light. In some versions of the story, Mabon is rescued by several animals, including an owl, a stag, and a salmon. In others, King Arthur himself comes to his aid. In all versions, however, Mabon returns to take his place as his Mother’s champion and protector.
The story’s theme of bringing our light within, or back into the womb, aligns beautifully with the season in which we find ourselves. At autumn equinox, light and dark are equally balanced as we prepare to enter the dark half of the year. At this time, we naturally grow quieter and more introspective, effectively bringing our light within to illuminate our inner world after shining outwardly during the spring and summer months. It’s now that we have an excellent opportunity to face our shadow and the challenges it presents, and do the necessary work to heal and grow stronger.
In the Cauldron Temple, we like to swirl and blend Celtic, Avalonian and British traditions into a delicious, soul-nourishing brew, and autumn equinox is a perfect occasion to do just that. Following are some ideas and suggestions for honoring and celebrating Mabon and the autumn equinox.
Cornucopia: Life, abundance, nourishment
Vines: September is the month of Muin, or Vine, in the Celtic Tree calendar. Legend has it that the Tuatha de Danann brought the first vine to Ireland. While Britain and Ireland are not known for traditional winemaking, the vines referred to here are blackberry vines, from which wine was, and still is, made. In addition, the spiral pattern in which vines grow is a Celtic symbol of the Divine Mother.
Pentagram: Honoring the Earth. Cut a fresh apple in half from the stem down, and see the pentagram within. Apples are symbols of Avalon (which means “Land of Apples) and the Celtic Otherworld, and they are sacred to Witches.
Ways to Celebrate
Practice Gratitude: Give thanks for the many blessings in your life. Now is the time to reap what you’ve sown throughout the year, both literally and figuratively. Try writing down three things you’re grateful for before you go to sleep each evening. This simple but powerful exercise helps you see the abundance and goodness that’s already present in your life, and enables you to attract more of the same.
Find Balance: Tune into the stable energy of the autumn equinox, and acknowledge the equal balance of light and dark. Do some balancing yoga poses such as Tree pose, and ensure you’re getting enough rest and nourishment to sustain your energy.
Spend Time in Nature: What better way to celebrate the turning of the wheel than to go out and experience it? Take a walk in a local park, or if you can, go into the woods. Breathe deeply and use all your senses to tune into the land, the trees, and the creatures that live there. Bring a journal or notebook that fits in your pocket, and write down any inspirations, ideas or messages that come to you.
Feast!: Make a beautiful meal for friends and family, with locally grown, seasonal foods–or invite your guests to bring a favorite dish to share. At Mabon I love to make roasted butternut squash with walnuts, crispy sage leaves, and blue cheese. For me, it’s a perfect dish to celebrate the second harvest. Raise a glass of mulled wine or apple cider and toast Modron, Mabon and all the abundance you’ve been blessed with.
Adorn Your Altar: Create and decorate an altar using the colors of autumn as inspiration: red, gold, orange, bronze… Fill a cornucopia with apples, small squashes and gourds, blackberries, nuts and acorns, and autumn leaves. You can accent all this gorgeous produce with sheaves of wheat, marigolds, yarrow, and sunflowers. If you’d like to include crystals, use amber, citrine, peridot, tiger’s eye and clear quartz. Practical magic tip: you can use any or all of these items to decorate your feast table, too!
Meditation: The Cauldron Within
As discussed earlier, at Mabon we turn our light inwards after the productive and busy summer months. But just because we’re bringing the light within, doesn’t mean we let it go dim. This meditation will help you shine your inner light throughout the dark half of the year and beyond.
Light a red, yellow, or orange candle. If you like, you can burn some incense as an offering (pine, frankincense, sandalwood, cedar, juniper and/or myrrh are all good choices).
Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. Ground yourself, and then take at least three deep, cleansing breaths from your belly. When you are settled and ready, tune into your heart center. Imagine there is a cauldron filled with golden light that rests there, and allow the light to grow stronger and stronger. Now allow the light to overflow, pouring down to your toes and flowing back up to the crown of your head, until your entire body is filled with warm, nurturing light. Allow the light to nourish your body, mind and spirit for as long as you like. Let any old, stagnant energy drain from the soles of your feet down into the Earth to be recycled. You may wish to send some of your light out beyond your body, to your loved ones, your community, or to the world at large. Or you may simply choose to bask in your light for as long as you wish. When you feel content, take three slow, deep breaths and open your eyes. You should feel rested, relaxed, and energized.
I invite you to draw inspiration from the tale of Mabon and Modron, and bring the elements that resonate with you into your autumn equinox celebrations. Brightest blessings to you all!
Watch for Caireann’s new course offered through The Mystery School of the Goddess, The Celtic Almanac: A Year in Sacred Circle with the Goddess — coming in October 2019