Autumn 2000





My Grandson, Michael, on the New Jersey Autumn Poster





The Energies of Autumn

The Autumn brings a New year in many Cultures and in Numerology.
This creates changes for us on many levels.




Wicca - Mabon Sabbat - Autumnal Equinox

Gwyl canol Hydref or Mabon: (pronounced May-bon. Also known as Harvest Home, Harvest Tide, Fall Equinox, Autumn Equinox etc.), September 21-23. Marks the middle of the harvest. Again equal day and equal night. Now it's time to reap what you have sown. Giving thanks for the harvest and the bounty you are enjoying.   Coincidently the sign of Libra begins at this time. The scales symbolizing Libra are a direct link to the harvest, as this is the time where the farmers brought in their goods to be weighed and sold. Colours for this sabbat (there are so many, just look at the trees): Orange and red, with brown for the background.

Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon's novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays. Admittedly, it does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, John Barleycorn. Occurring 1/4 of the year after Midsummer, Harvest Home represents mid-autumn, autumn's height. It is also the Autumnal Equinox, one of the quarter days of the year, a Lesser Sabbat and a Low Holiday in modern Witchcraft.

Technically, an equinox is an astronomical point and, due to the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis slightly (rather like a top that's slowing down), the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on it's apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal duration. Up until Harvest Home, the hours of daylight have been greater than the hours from dusk to dawn. But from now on, the reverse holds true. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Libra, the Balance (an appropriate symbol of a balanced day and night).

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at calculating the exact date of the equinox, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, September 25th, a holiday the medieval Church Christianized under the name of 'Michaelmas', the feast of the Archangel Michael. (One wonders if, at some point, the R.C. Church contemplated assigning the four quarter days of the year to the four Archangels, just as they assigned the four cross-quarter days to the four gospel-writers. Further evidence for this may be seen in the fact that there was a brief flirtation with calling the Vernal Equinox 'Gabrielmas', ostensibly to commemorate the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary on Lady Day.) Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the September 25th festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our September 24th).

Although our Pagan ancestors probably celebrated Harvest Home on September 25th, modern Witches and Pagans, with their desk-top computers for making finer calculations, seem to prefer the actual equinox point, beginning the celebration on its eve (this year, sunset on September 21st).

Mythically, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. And as I have recently shown in my seasonal reconstruction of the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the Autumnal Equinox is the only day of the whole year when Llew (light) is vulnerable and it is possible to defeat him. Llew now stands on the balance (Libra/autumnal equinox), with one foot on the cauldron (Cancer/summer solstice) and his other foot on the goat (Capricorn/winter solstice). Thus he is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).

Two things are now likely to occur mythically, in rapid succession. Having defeated Llew, Goronwy (darkness) now takes over Llew's functions, both as lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess, and as King of our own world. Although Goronwy, the Horned King, now sits on Llew's throne and begins his rule immediately, his formal coronation will not be for another six weeks, occurring at Samhain (Halloween) or the beginning of Winter, when he becomes the Winter Lord, the Dark King, Lord of Misrule. Goronwy's other function has more immediate results, however. He mates with the virgin goddess, and Blodeuwedd conceives, and will give birth -- nine months later (at the Summer Solstice) -- to Goronwy's son, who is really another incarnation of himself, the Dark Child.

Llew's sacrificial death at Harvest Home also identifies him with John Barleycorn, spirit of the fields. Thus, Llew represents not only the sun's power, but also the sun's life trapped and crystallized in the corn. Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing. So one may see Blodeuwedd and Goronwy in a new guise, not as conspirators who murder their king, but as kindly farmers who harvest the crop which they had planted and so lovingly cared for. And yet, anyone who knows the old ballad of John Barleycorn knows that we have not heard the last of him.

They let him stand till midsummer's day,
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John's grown a long, long beard
And so become a man...


Incidentally, this annual mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure (representing the vegetation spirit) may have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. This charge was first made by Julius Caesar (who may not have had the most unbiased of motives), and has been re-stated many times since. However, as has often been pointed out, the only historians besides Caesar who make this accusation are those who have read Caesar. And in fact, upon reading Caesar's 'Gallic Wars' closely, one discovers that Caesar never claims to have actually witnessed such a sacrifice. Nor does he claim to have talked to anyone else who did. In fact, there is not one single eyewitness account of a human sacrifice performed by Druids in all of history!

Nor is there any archeological evidence to support the charge. If, for example, human sacrifices had been performed at the same ritual sites year after year, there would be physical traces. Yet there is not a scrap. Nor is there any native tradition or history which lends support. In fact, insular tradition seems to point in the opposite direction. The Druid's reverence for life was so strict that they refused to lift a sword to defend themselves when massacred by Roman soldiers on the Isle of Mona. Irish brehon laws forbade a Druid to touch a weapon, and any soul rash enough to unsheathe a sword in the presence of a Druid would be executed for such an outrage!

Jesse Weston, in her brilliant study of the Four Hallows of British myth, 'From Ritual to Romance', points out that British folk tradition is, however, full of MOCK sacrifices. In the case of the wicker-man, such figures were referred to in very personified terms, dressed in clothes, addressed by name, etc. In such a religious ritual drama, everybody played along.

They've hired men with scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
They've rolled him and tied him by the waist
Serving him most barbarously...


In the medieval miracle-play tradition of the 'Rise Up, Jock' variety (performed by troupes of mummers at all the village fairs), a young harlequin-like king always underwent a mock sacrificial death. But invariably, the traditional cast of characters included a mysterious 'Doctor' who had learned many secrets while 'travelling in foreign lands'. The Doctor reaches into his bag of tricks, plies some magical cure, and presto! the young king rises up hale and whole again, to the cheers of the crowd. As Weston so sensibly points out, if the young king were ACTUALLY killed, he couldn't very well rise up again, which is the whole point of the ritual drama! It is an enactment of the death and resurrection of the vegetation spirit. And what better time to perform it than at the end of the harvest season?

In the rhythm of the year, Harvest Home marks a time of rest after hard work. The crops are gathered in, and winter is still a month and a half away! Although the nights are getting cooler, the days are still warm, and there is something magical in the sunlight, for it seems silvery and indirect. As we pursue our gentle hobbies of making corn dollies (those tiny vegetation spirits) and wheat weaving, our attention is suddenly arrested by the sound of baying from the skies (the 'Hounds of Annwn' passing?), as lines of geese cut silhouettes across a harvest moon. And we move closer to the hearth, the longer evening hours giving us time to catch up on our reading, munching on popcorn balls and caramel apples and sipping home-brewed mead or ale. What a wonlucky we are to live in a part of the country where the season's changes are so dramatic and majestic!




Symbolic of Mabon

  • Foodstuffs: Grapes, Acorns, Wheat Bread, Goat, Indian Corn, Horn of Plenty, Cornbread, Corn, Root Crops (ie Onions, Carrots, Potatoes, etc.), Nuts, Dried Fruits, Apples, Beans, and Squash.

  • Drinks: Wine, Ale, and Cider.

  • Colors (for those who work with Candle Magick): Red, Deep Gold, Orange, Brown, Maroon, Violet, Russet, Yellow, and Indigo.

  • Animals: Dogs, Wolves, Stag, Birds of Prey (especially the Blackbird, Owl, and Eagle), Salmon, and Goat.

  • Mythical Creatures: Gnomes, Sphinx, Minotaurs, Cyclops, Andamans, and Gulons.

  • Stones: Yellow Topaz, Carnelian, Sapphire, Yellow Agate, Lapis Lazuli, and Amethyst. Also, river or stream stones which have been submerged for the Summer may be used.

  • Plants: Vines, Garlands (made of these various plants), Gourds, Pine Cones, Acorns, Wheat, Dried Leaves, Corn, Pomegranate, Ivy, Hazel, Hops, Cedar, and Tobacco.

  • Herbs: Myrhh, Thistles, Tobacco, Oak Leaves, Hazel, Mums, Hops, Acorns, Marigold, Roses, Sage, Milkweed, Solomon's Seal, Asters, Ferns, Honeysuckle, Benzoin, Passionflower, Pine, and Cedar.

  • Incense would include: Aloes Wood, Cinnamon, Cloves, Benzoin, Jasmine, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Sage.

  • Dieties: All wine Deities (especially Dionysus and Bacchus), the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess, Persephone, Thor, Modron, Morgan, Snake Woman, Epona, Pamona, Muses, Mabon, Thoth, Hermes, Hotei, Harvest Deities, and Aging Deities.

  • Other: Burial Cairns, Rattles, and Sun Wheels.




    Sabbat Ceremonies

    The second of the pagan harvest festivals, Mabon (also known as the Feast of Avalon, the Winter Finding or the Wine Harvest) is the celebration of lifes renewal. Mabon is typically celebrated through harvesting grapes from the vine and apples from orchard. The Feast of Avalon refers to honoring the dead, Avalon is a Celtic name for Land of the Dead, and literally means Land of Apples. One endearing ritual act from Celtic tradition is to place an apple on the head stone of a deceased person or relative. A wish for the living to one day be reunited with their loved ones. The Winter Finding is actually celebrated from the Autumn Equinox to Winters night on October 15th.

    For Celts' is it also the celebration of the Welsh God Mabon {Mah-bawn}. Mabon is the son of Modred who was stolen from his mother and rescued by King Arthur. His name means "the Great Son" and he is considered to be a minor sun God. But he is better known as the power in darkness. He is also recognized as the King of Death or the Underworld.




    Mabon

    This holiday ritual is to honor the Sun God Mabon, and to thank the Mother Goddess Modron for the bounty of the Harvest. The crops that were planted in the Spring are now ready to be stored away to see us through the long Winter. It is the Equinox, when the day and night are the same length. A time to bring your spiritual and physical energy into balance. From now on the days will be getting shorter as the Sun's light wanes until Yule when He will be reborn.




    Mabon Lore

    The various other names for this Sabbat include the Autumn (or Autumnal) Equinox, the Fall Equinox, the Second Harvest Festival, Festival of Dionysus, Wine Harvest, Cornucopia, Feast of Avalon, Equinozio di Autunno (Strega), and Alban Elfed (Caledonii, or Druidic - which celebrates the Lord of the Mysteries). The Teutonic name for this period is Winter Finding, which spans from the Equinox itself until Winter Night, on October 15. Winter Night is the Norse New Year.

    The symbolism of this Sabbat is that of the Second Harvest, the Mysteries, Equality and Balance - when day and night are equal. Symbols to represent the Mabon Sabbat are such things as grapes, wine, vines, garland, gourds, pine cones, acorns, wheat, dried leaves, burial cairns, rattles, Indian corn, Sun wheels, and horns of plenty. Altar decorations might include autumn leaves, acorns, pine cones, a pomegranate to symbolize Persephone's descent into the Underworld, and a small statue or figure to represent the Triple Goddess in Her Mother aspect.

    Deities associated with Mabon include all Wine Deities - particularly Dionysus and Bacchus, and Aging Deities. Emphasis might also be placed on the Goddess in Her aspect of the Mother (Demeter is a good example), Persephone (Queen of the Underworld and daughter of Demeter), and Thor (Lord of Thunder in Norse mythology). Some other Autumn Equinox Goddesses include Modron, Morgan, Snake Woman, Epona, Pamona, and the Muses. Some appropriate Gods besides those already mentioned are Mabon, Thoth, Hermes, and Hotei.




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