Change is in the air. It has been coming for some time, but the difference is more palpable now. Days are cooler, and the nights are almost cold. Leaves have begun to shift from their vibrant summer green hues to jeweled yellows, oranges, and reds. Fields are being fallowed, and new crops such as squash and pumpkin are beginning to emerge. It’s time to take out all those fall sweaters, boots, and scarves, grab a witchy book, and sit down with a cup of pumpkin spice something. It’s fall ya’ll and that means it’s time to celebrate Mabon, or as some call it, the Autumn Equinox.
Mabon is the second harvest festival on the Wheel of the Year. It falls on or near September 21, a little more than halfway between Lughnasadh, the first harvest festival and Samhain, the last of the three harvest celebrations. Mabon is often thought of as the pagan Thanksgiving; a time of abundance, sharing, and appreciation for the land. It is during this time of year that the days and nights are the same length, therefore there is a special focus on balance during this time of year, and a recognition of what it means for light and dark to be equal. In this post, I’ll be talking about the historical roots of Mabon, the controversy surrounding its name, and of course, looking at its symbols, themes, correspondences, and sharing ways that you can incorporate this sabbat into your practice.
History of Mabon
The official history of Mabon is somewhat questionable. Unlike Lughnasadh or Samhain, which are based in specific Celtic festivals, Mabon is more of a celebration of a time of year. Yes, there have been festivals and celebrations on or around the Autumn Equinox in many different cultures, but as far as a consolidated pagan holiday, it seems Mabon is fairly recent. (The name definitely is, but more on that later)
The Autumn Equinox has always been important for earth-centered religions. Here are a few celebrations that influenced what we currently know as Mabon.
- The Harvest Home Festival– A ‘traditional’ English harvest festival, where people sing, drink, dance, and celebrate the harvest. Sometimes tied in with Christianity and is celebrated by decorating the church with food from the harvest.
- The Festival of Dionysus – An Ancient Greek festival connected to the god of Wine. It was celebrated several times a year, but may have originated from a fall grape harvest festival.
- Harvest of the First Fruits – general name given to many culture’s such as Hebrew, Greek, and Christian, where the ‘first fruits’ of the harvest were given to (usually) a religious or spiritual organization as an offering or tax of sorts
- Feast of the Archangel Michael (Michaelmas) – Christian liturgical festival, usually celebrated on September 29th.
- Alban Elfed – A Druid celebration focused on the balance of light (day) and dark (night), and giving thanks for the harvest. Alban Elfed means “the light of the water”.
- Harvest Moon Festival – Celebrated all over Asia, specifically China. (Korea has Chuseok and Japan Tsukimi). Communities harvest crops, celebrate, give thanks, and pray. Mooncakes are usually eaten to symbolize and honor this special full moon. It dates from around 1600 BCE.
It is evident that even though there wasn’t an official “Mabon” or “Autumn Equinox” celebration, the changing of the season and the harvesting that came with it has been recognized for millennia. In her section on the sabbat in her book, Celebrate the Earth, Laurie Cabot writes beautifully about the subtle, yet universally felt energetic shifts during the Mabon season:
During the September Equinox, when the sun passes our planet’s equator, making night and day of almost equal length…I feel in a passionate sense the extraordinary relationship between humankind and these primordial movements, patterns, and tides. The influence of so gentle a turn in the Earth’s axis, a poetic motion established long before the existence of time, is profound.Laurie Cabot, Celebrate the Earth pg. 231
So it very much seems that the modern-day Mabon sabbat, although not directly traced back to a particular ancient practice, embraces the same themes, symbols, and ideas as many of the harvest festivals around this time. Balance, reflection, equality, abundance, and meditating on the darkness to come are almost instinctual human focuses this time of year, and these all carry forward to our celebrations today.
How Mabon Got its Name
Before I dive into ways to celebrate Mabon, let’s talk about its name. It’s actually a point of some controversy in some circles, and the origins may surprise you.
As the previous section explained, Mabon as a consolidated, identified pagan holiday hasn’t really been around that long, and neither has its name. (Of course this doesn’t make it invalid, as we’ve also established that the practices surrounding it are rooted in centuries of similar festivals worldwide). So, where did this controversial name for the Autumn Equinox come from?
In 1974, an influential figure in the California Wicca scene, Aidan Kelly, was writing a draft of a book about religious calendars. In this article, he explains “It offended my aesthetic sensibilities that there seemed to be no Pagan names for the summer solstice or the fall equinox equivalent to Yule or Beltane—so I decided to supply them”. Through a very convoluted, and very intentional line of thought, he ended up using a name from a Welsh myth that dealt with the themes of death and rebirth that the Greek myths of Persephone do. The Welsh myth, Mabon ap Modron (“Son of the Mother”), is where we get the name Mabon. Honestly, it’s a bit confusing and overwhelming because the myths surrounding Mabon are numerous, but the general gist of why Kelly used the name is because 1) it was simple and fit into the same typography as the other sabbats and 2) it is a myth about death, rebirth, the great mother, etc. Kelly’s writing was eventually sent to the editor of the Green Egg, a popular pagan publication, and slowly but surely, the term Mabon began to be used for the Autumn Equinox.
Although this may seem like a tangent (and the following is my own opinion), I think it is important information. In researching this, I came across many sites that referred to Mabon as an ‘ancient festival’. While the roots of that are true, knowing that our modern practices and rituals on Mabon are kind of our own making is both really cool and somewhat disappointing. Many of us embrace Paganism, Wicca, or witchcraft because we feel in tune with energies much older than the 20th century. It takes away some of the mysticism to think about organizing and labeling and naming a sabbat that is supposed to be of ancient origin; however, I think we can take heart that although ancient practitioners didn’t whisper the name Mabon in sacred circles, the ways that we celebrate this newly named sabbat honor many ancient festivals and the “primordial movements” of this time of year. So whatever your belief or feelings about the name, it seems Mabon is here to stay, and is an interesting testament to the way labels change, but actions stay the same.
Themes of Mabon
As with all of the sabbats on the wheel of the year, the themes can be found by meditating on the energies of that time of year. As we’ve already seen, Mabon is associated with the following themes:
- Death and rebirth
- Clearing Out the Old
- Planning/Storing for the time ahead
Symbols of Mabon
Symbols associated with Mabon are:
- Nuts such as acorns, walnuts
- Ivy or other vines
- Crows, ravens, foxes, wolves, owls, deer
Correspondences of Mabon
Some of the correspondences for are:
Stones: lapis lazuli, yellow agate, amber, tiger’s eye, aventurine, citrine, smoky quarts, obsidian
Colors: red, orange, maroon, brown, tan, gold, amber, deep dusty green
Herbs: rosemary, sage, chamomile, rose hips, walnuts, saffron, apple, cinnamon, cardamom, rue, yarrow, clove, nutmeg
Foods & Drinks: Apple anything, deep red wines, hearty breads, rich meats, corn, squash, wheat, zucchini, herbed chicken, potatoes (with herbs like rosemary), jams/preserves, honey, etc.
Magick: Harvest rituals, rituals or connecting to the ‘Dark Mother’ goddesses such as Hecate, Persephone, or Morrigan, spells centering on balance or abundance, or honoring the coming darkness of fall/winter, spells that help with balancing some aspect of life, working with fall energies in meditations and spellwork, or spells/rituals that use the transformative energy of this time of year.
This spell from The White Witch Parlor is pretty fantastic and simple.
Ways to Celebrate Mabon
As modern witches and pagans, we have to find new ways to celebrate the Sabbats. Surprisingly, it is really fun and easy to come up with ways to celebrate that honor Mabon/Autumn Equinox and also fit into our busy lives. As with all magickal practices it is the intention that counts. If you are able to center in on the energies of Mabon by meditating on its themes, colors, stones, and other correspondences, you don’t need a flashy ritual (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do one!) to celebrate.
Here are some celebration ideas. I’ve made them as simple as possible, so you can add on your own touches as your practice allows.
- Cook a Mabon feast and invite friends and family (include foods that tie into Mabon)
- Do anything with apples! Go to an apple orchard, bake apple desserts, drink apple cider, eat apple cider donuts (stretching it but yummy!), bob for apples, you get the picture.
- Do a Chakra balancing meditation to create balanced energy going into fall
- Do an activity (such as writing a poem or creating a piece of artwork) that focuses on the abundance/blessings in your life
- Decorate a Mabon wreath with colors, symbols, or even stones that correspond to the sabbat
- Read about (or work with) the ‘crone’ aspect of the goddesses, specifically Hecate, Morrigan, or Persephone to honor the darker aspect of the coming months
- Do shadow work
- Perform a Mabon Tarot Spread, or one that focuses on balancing or delving into the shadow aspects of a situation
- Spend time in nature, noticing the changing energies
- Decorate your Mabon altar and take a few moments to meditate on some Mabon themes
- Go all out with a Mabon ritual from any number of pagan books
- Literally sit outside and welcome the nighttime, all the better if you meditate or raise energy during the transition
- Do a spell or ritual that can help you let go of the things that are no longer serving you (think of the “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” – our ancestors wouldn’t put rotten apples away for winter, they would make room for the beneficial fruit that would get them through the winter!)
- Drink my Mabon Tea – made with apples, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves
Although Mabon is inherently tied with apples, I am choosing a different kind of recipe here. My latest Herbal Witchery episode focused specifically on apples, and the episode before that cinnamon, both of which feature apple recipes. SO…while I encourage you to play with apples during this season, the Mabon recipe featured here today is in a totally different vein. In fact, it isn’t so much of a recipe as it is a collection of smaller items that make a wonderful appetizer or small meal that you can share with friends or family.
Even putting these items together will allow you to really focus on those items that are seasonally available. Maybe make it a focus to get as many of them as possible from local markets or stores to further celebrate the season.