This day sees light and dark in balance again, before the descent to the dark times. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these. In this way the Wheel turns, bringing us back to Samhain where we began our cycle. Many of the festival days coincide with holidays of the Jewish and Christian calendars. This is no accident; these points in the year were important community celebrations, and were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian God or a saint. The names may have changed, but the old Pagan practices still show through.
Mabon falls at the Fall Equinox, or when the sun enters Libra. The Welsh name Mabon means "great son" and refers to the Son of the Great Mother. This Celtic mythological figure, who has many names and figures in many tales, was identified by the Romans as Mercury or sometimes as Apollo. In Christian Britain He was superseded by St. Michael, to whom churches on many sacred Pagan sites were dedicated, and the Fall Equinox became the Christian feast of Michaelmas. In medieval times, rents fell due and contracts were settled at Easter and at Michaelmas.
Mabon is primarily a harvest festival; it falls either during or at the end of the European grain harvest, depending on latitude. The Fall equinox is the mating season for deer, and marks the beginning of the hunting season in many places. In British folklore this time of year is associated with Herne the Hunter, who leads a wild phantom chase through the forest, heralding confusion and change. In one Craft tradition the Fall Equinox is called "the Night of the Hunter," when weak livestock which will not survive the winter must be slain. Mabon in some traditions marks the death or departure of the God in His yearly life-cycle; in others, however, this may occur at Lughnasadh or at Samhain. The Fall Equinox has also been identified as the "assumption of the Crone," when the dark face of the Goddess assumes the sway over the world which She will hold until the return of the Maiden at Imbolc.
Occultists have traditionally regarded the Equinoxes as risky times for magick. Some people prefer to avoid magickal work and important decision-making for a period of several weeks preceding an Equinox.
The Fall Equinox is also associated with the classical myth of Demeter and Persephone. Persephone was abducted by Hades at this time of the year, and September was the time of the Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece. One Wiccan tradition enacts a modern version of these mysteries in September every year. Throughout Europe, a variety of customs have surrounded the cutting of the last sheaf of the grain harvest. In fact, there is such a pattern of opposite beliefs in different localities that one is tempted to think that customs were in some places deliberately turned around backwards as part of the process of Christianization. The last farmer in the neighborhood to finish the harvest might be the subject of teasing or penalties. Being last can be interpreted as good luck or bad luck, or may presage marriage in the coming year. In some places the last sheaf must be cut by a man, and in some places by a woman. Various techniques are used to select the reaper of the last sheaf by chance. Keeping the last sheaf may be said to ensure plenty or famine in the coming year, depending on the region. The last sheaf might be hung up to preside over the threshing or the harvest feast, and then kept until the following year. In some places the sheaf might be thrown onto the fields to ensure a good crop at the time of the next year's spring sowing. In other places the last sheaf, was ritually burned, or fed to sick animals to cure them, or thrown to the first fowl to be butchered. Bits of harvested grain were used for hair ornaments or buttonholes. The last sheaf might be woven into an elaborate decorative "corn dolly."
Although modern Pagans often identify the harvested grain with the
sacrificed God, the last sheaf of the harvest actually tended more
often to be personified as female. It was referred to as the
cailleach (Irish Gaelic for "harvest hag," pronounced "coy-luck,"
more or less), or in English as the "maiden," the "shorn maiden,"
the "ivy bride," or the "wheat girl." In Germany the last sheaf was
made into a female figure, dressed, and carried home with ceremony
to preside over the threshing. Among North African Berbers a straw
figure is set up in the fields while the women are reaping, and then
carried off by mounted warriors in a mock marriage by abduction.
John Barleycorn, a British folk figure popular among modern Pagans
as a harvest Deity, was actually associated specifically with the
barley which was made into beer. The widespread tendency to
associate the staple grain crop with a female figure may be a
distant echo of the ancient Eleusinian rites, which honored the
disappearance of the Goddess with the waning year and Her return in
In Ireland, the Fall Equinox is the time of the goose harvest, and
there is a very old custom of giving gifts of newly-butchered goose
and mutton to the poor. This tradition translates readily into a
modern one of observing the season by contributing to food pantries
or to organizations which serve the homeless. The Norse celebrated
the Equinox by making bread dough images of Freyr and Freyja, and
sacrificing to the Elves.
SUGGESTED RITUAL THEMES FOR MABON:
Give thanks to the Gods for the harvest.
Evaluate the past year, and identify what to harvest and what to
Identify and cut away outworn habits and emotional baggage which are
wearing you down.
Work for balance and equilibrium in nature or in human affairs.
Give to those less fortunate than you are.
SUGGESTED HARVEST MENU:
Vegetables in season
Roast goose or mutton
Cider, beer or ale