Celebrate the harvest

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By Special to the Monitor

The autumnal equinox is a harvest festival celebrated by pagans and Wiccans. The sun’s crossing the celestial equator from north to south at about 9:45 a.m. Monday marks the pivotal point at which the day and night are of equal measure.

Briefly, the balance of light and dark as the daylight begins to wane and the nights to wax is observed. There’s no doubt about it: Fall has arrived.

Cooler nights bring out a burst of fall colors. A haunting pagan tune, “Autumn Time,” expresses the melancholy beauty of the season: “Autumn time! / Red leaves fall / while the weeping sky looks over all. / Demeter sadly walks the land, / the dying grasses in her hands.”

The Wiccan Wheel of the Year includes three harvest-themed festivals: Lughnassad (also called Lammas), Mabon (Autumn Equinox), and Samhain. The first harvest is celebrated Aug. 1 and is devoted to the grain harvest. Samhain (Summer’s End), Oct. 31, focuses on the last harvest, the animal harvest.

Mabon, celebrated around Sept. 21, is the harvest of fruits, traditionally apples and grapes. But it is really the harvest of all that’s still growing in fields and backyards. By the end of September there is one last chance to harvest before an early frost steals the bounty.

Some alternate names for this holiday are Harvest Home, Feast of the Ingathering and Harvest End. Mabon is often thought of as the Witches’ Thanksgiving.

This is a time of canning, storing and celebrating with family, and friends. Where large harvests are still gathered, the whole community works steadily to bring in the crops. Harvest festivals, a reward for the hard work and a thanksgiving to the gods, are plentiful, too.

At Mabon, Wiccans gather and hold ceremonies that revolve around eating – just like those at Thanksgiving – and offer thanks for the abundance. Sometimes gods and goddesses of the harvest are invited and honored: Demeter, goddess of the harvest; Bacchus or Dionysus, the god of grapes and wine; Habondia, Bona Dea, and Fortuna (often shown with the cornucopia), all goddesses of abundance.

The Celtic god Dagda (good god, good father) is also a frequent guest at this time. The Dagda, an important figure in Irish mythology, was an all-purpose father figure who was “good” at many things and who provided well for his people. He owned a cauldron, Undry, which was bottomless and fulfilled everyone. He also owned two pigs, one of which was always fattening up while the other was always roasting, plus many fruit trees. And, music from his magical harp helped move the seasons in their proper rounds.

But what does this word Mabon mean and what does it have to do with this Wiccan sabbat?

Mabon ap Modron, the full name in Welsh, means ‘son (or youth) of the divine mother.’ His story is a story within the story “How Culhwch Won Olwen” in “The Mabinogion.” Culhwch, who is a first cousin of Arthur (yes, King Arthur), sets out from his home to lay claim to a bride, the magnificent Olwen, whom he has never seen.

Although Arthur has never heard of Olwen either, he promises to help Culhwch find her. After more than a year, they find her. To win her, though, Culhwch must perform dozens of impossible tasks, including getting the “comb and shears that lie between the ears of Twrch Trwyth,” which is where Mabon’s story surfaces.

Mabon was “abducted from his mother when he was three nights old. No one knows where he is, or whether he is alive or dead.” But only Mabon can slay the immense boar Twrch Trwyth because he is the most renowned hunter of all time.

Searching everywhere, the wanderers ask about Mabon’s whereabouts and, finally, a salmon, the oldest animal and the embodiment of the highest wisdom in Celtic mythology, knows where Mabon is. Freeing Mabon, the troop completes the enormous list of incredible feats. Cuhlwch gets the girl.

Although the story of Mabon does not have anything to do directly with the harvest or the equinox (the name Mabon was chosen for the sabbat to give it a more “Celtic feel” by author and co-founder of the Covenant of the Goddess, Aidan Kelly), his story is worth contemplating.

As the supreme hunter, he is linked to the hunting season, which is just about to begin. Mabon’s association with hunting is also echoed in the mythological story of Brother Stag and Sister Wolf, popular with pagans. In this hunt story, forest animals teach the meaning of sacrifice for the good of the group, as the stag willingly offers himself as food to a starving den of wolves. This hunting ceremony is sometimes symbolically enacted by pagans as a reminder that all animals sacrifice their lives to ensure humans’ survival, and for that people express earnest gratitude. Finally, on a mystical level, one can ponder Mabon’s disappearance as a three-day-old infant and his long imprisonment. The myth of the divine child who is separated from his parents to fulfill his destiny is universal.

Mabon’s harvest, the autumnal equinox, will be celebrated by Our Lady of the Woods beginning at 2 p.m. Sept. 28 at North Mesa Park. A pot-luck feast will follow the ritual. All are welcome to attend; please bring something to share at the feast, or just come and enjoy.