This coming week, with the Full Moon in Virgo on the 23th to introduce it, is the time when many pagans in Illinois are celebrating the Festival of Mabon, so to ensure a reference for those who need to have one before the rituals, here it is.
Mabon, the Second Harvest Festival, is one of the names given to the time when the pagan Wheel of the Year spins round to the Autumn Equinox around September 21st in the current calendar. The stories about the Wheel depend on the tradition that produces the stories. I have posted several articles about the eight power points of the Wheel, mainly from my own Celtic viewpoint, though I have gone back as far as Sumeria for some of the links to the present day traditions and rituals.
The one most connected to this one is Lughnassah, 1st Harvest (8/01/2009) since both are to do with Lugh, the God of Light in the Irish, Llew in the Welsh.
I will append a list of others at the end of this posting for those who want to explore the Wheel of the Year using my archival material.
The Wheel stories are accounts of the mythological events that repeat throughout the year as well as a history of the Gods and Goddesses involved within whichever pantheon was in the tradition of the storyteller.
The major thrust of ALL the stories is that life is not a straight line from birth through maturity to death. It is a matter of continuous cycles with which it is easy to identify. Realizing that death follows birth is easy for Christians who have been taught to fear death. Realizing that birth follows death is not so easy for those who have become disconnected with the cycles of nature on which pagan religions and their various Wheel stories depend.
I have had many students over the years who were refugees from the programmed guilt of Catholicism and Christian Fundamentalism who became enchanted with the power of the study of esoteric Tarot. And yet, the remnants of their early conditioning still made them uneasy when the Death card turned up in their spread. It takes a lot of de-programming before they realize that the Death card refers to transformation, not oblivion, sin, or hell fire.
Mabon is the Second Harvest of the Celtic/Pagan year, signifying the very end of the grain harvest. The First Harvest festival was at Lughnassah and this Second stays on the Autumn Equinox. The Wheel stories show how the power of the God of Light weakens after the Summer Solstice. The God of Darkness increases in power until the Winter Solstice and then he decreases in power until the God of Light comes into his power again in Spring and the cycle begins again.
I have given the exact calendar dates according to the Zodiac signs in previous postings. The Autumn Equinox always occurs when the Sun is in Libra.
So Light is paramount for six months of the year followed by Darkness being paramount. This cycle goes on throughout our lives. It was very clear to our rural ancestors who didn’t have daylight savings time or electric light. Now we have enslaved workers who work in shifts 24 hours a day with machines that used to be their servants and are now their masters, because of electric power and light. Every front has a back, just like summer and winter.
The story of how the God of Light was temporarily disabled by the murder attempt of the God of Darkness on the only day when their powers are equal and that of Light is descending…the Equinox, was gone into fully in the Lughnassah posting, and Lugh was the Celtic god of Light in the story. The attempted murder takes place at this Equinox.
Lugh was reborn or restored by his magician uncle at the winter solstice, like many Gods of Light, including the Christian god. By the Vernal Equinox around March 21st, halfway between Imbolc, which the Christians call Candlemas, around February 2nd and Beltane in May, Lugh is now well enough and old enough to kill the God of Darkness, on a day when their powers are again equal, but that of Light is ascending.
The Mother Goddess who was virginal at Imbolc now conceives a child by the God of Light. This child will be born at the winter solstice, the return of the God of Light from his exile from Earth. And this is the story of what happens every year.
Lugh's defeat takes place on the Autumn Equinox as I said before in several ways. The God of Darkness known variously as Goronwy or Tanist, takes over Lugh's place both as King of our world and lover to the Earth Goddess. Goronwy is not officially installed as King until Samhain, Hallowe’en, the beginning of Winter, when he becomes the Dark King, the Winter Lord, the Lord of Misrule. He mates with the Earth Goddess, who conceives, and will give birth nine months later (at the Summer Solstice) to her son, another incarnation of Goronwy himself, the Dark Child.
So Lugh and Goronwy, Light and Dark, are continually recycling the drama, being born, dying and resurrected.
The Vernal Equinox period I must mention, has been confusingly treated by pagan and Christian. The Christians take a close day, March 25th and call it Lady Day. This, by Christian arithmetic MUST have been the day the Blessed Virgin conceived by miraculous means. And although the father was a ghost, apparently the gestation period for ghosts is also nine months, ensuring that Jesus was born on December 25th a date that exists only because of a committee vote in the 4th century.
The period is also called Gabriel-mass because the archangel Gabriel was the alleged informer of the conception. Obviously a virgin has to be told about these things. How else would she know? And then the same period got confused with the Festival of the goddess Œstara, whose fertility symbols are Bunnies and Eggs, and of course Easter. It’s a period on the Wheel of great importance to everyone living naturally.
Back to the Second Harvest Festival, which in my tradition is called Alban Elfed and in southern Europe was the Festival of Dionysus, and among the witches, (Strega) of Tuscany was Equinozio di Autunno. The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is the Harvest Moon of the famous old song, and farmers would harvest their crops by this moonlight as part of the Second Harvest celebration. This year the Full Moon is actually on the Equinox.
Lugh's sacrificial death at the Equinox obviously represents the sun's dying power, and the cycle of rebirth. But his energy still lives in the grain that has been harvested. There has long been a traditional belief that the corn spirit, the spirit of Lugh, was within the last stalk, or stack of sheaves in the harvest field. These were woven into a man shaped form, the Wicker Man, dressed in fine clothes, and then taken ceremoniously from the field and burned to release the spirit and celebrate Lugh's upcoming rebirth around Yule.
So in this period we should be reminded once again of the cyclic universe; endings are merely new beginnings. Deaths are transformations. Since the power of the sun seems to be declining the natural thing to do is to celebrate the dead and remember them with joy, knowing that their journey, like ours, is a cycle.
If you are interested in the Celtic stories created and passed on to commemorate cyclical events in the Wheel of the year you can look up Mabon ap Modron, the Welsh god after whom this festival has been fairly recently named by Aidan Kelly. The name means ‘the great son of the great mother’ born at the Equinox. King Arthur of the Round Table needed the skill of Mabon as the greatest hunter in the world to help catch the great Boar.
So Mabon had to be released from the prison where he had been held after being kidnapped as a very young person. Arthur and some extraordinary knights set out to do so. Great stories, all many layered in symbolism.
The Greek version of Light and Darkness is better known than the Celtic one, having been the subject matter of great artists and sculptors. Autumn begins because Persephone goes back to the Underworld to live with Hades, her husband. The old story says that the beautiful Kore, daughter of the goddess Demeter was picking flowers in a meadow when the Earth opened up, and Hades pulled the girl into the Underworld to become his bride.
Kore's name became Persephone when she married Hades. Demeter searched for Kore without success, and finally questioned Helios, the Sun God, who sees everything that happens during the day. He told her that her brother, Zeus, had given the girl to Hades. Furious, Demeter left Olympus to roam the Earth disguised as an old woman, ending up in her temple at Eleusis.
Soon after, she cursed the Earth so it would yield no crops. Zeus, who like so many gods, wasn’t very sensitive to human emotions sent her a frantic message asking why she had prevented growth on the planet. She told him that she knew what he had done and that there would be no more plant growth until her daughter, Kore, was safely returned.
Zeus immediately sent Hermes into the Underworld to get Kore back. Gods are always very sensitive about losing worshipers and Demeter’s curse had everyone blaming Zeus and looking for other gods to worship. Hades, knowing the esoteric rules, had convinced Persephone to eat six pomegranate seeds before she returned to her mother, Demeter. Eating anything in the kingdom of Hades would keep anyone there for good.
That’s true in the Faery traditions in Britain too. Thomas the Rhymer who produced a fairly recent Scottish documentary history of his trip into the Faery Realm was warned by the Queen not to eat anything unless he wanted to stay there for ever.
Demeter was furious at this trickery and Zeus had to do some quick thinking. He declared that Kore-Persephone would live with her mother during one half of the year, six months, and return to her husband, Hades, during the other half. In thanks, Demeter lifted the curse on the Earth, creating Spring. Every year afterward, during Kore’s absence, Demeter renews the curse, just to show that she can and will unless the bargain is kept.
When we learn to live with the cycles of Earth and life instead of continually fighting against them we shall once again have the peace that comes from being a part of a universal game, world without end indeed, unless we interfere.
Here is a list of some of the postings about the Wheel of the Year and the way that the Christian Church took over the pagan festivals, and where they actually originated. See the archives.
Hallowe’en Monsters 10/28/2006
The Christmas Myth series 1-4
2. Santa Claus 12/08/2006
3. Mushrooms, Reindeer, Alice 12/10/2006
4. The Ninth Reindeer 12/11/2006
The Gods of Easter 04/02/2007
June Brides and Harry Potter 06/18/2007
Hallowe’en 2007 10/23/2007
It’s in the Bag (Imbolc) 02/01/2008
Taking Jesus OUT of Easter 03/18/2008
Lughnassah, First Harvest 08/01/2009
Happy Mabon Trails to you, particularly to those local pagans celebrating Mabon with the Lady Morrighan’s amazing priestess Rosina, in the open air, as it should be done. And for those who are in the modern Aradia tradition or are genuine Tuscan streghe from way back, you may like to remember that Sophia Loren’s birthday is on September 20th.