By Kevin Red Patrick
Happy Mabon!! The Wheel of the Year turns another spoke continually taking us forward along our path. We all know this as the Autumn Equinox or the Second Harvest, but few of us know why we call it Mabon (May-bawn, Mah-bone) or how it relates to our personal tradition. What we do know is that this is the time of year that fall seems to begin and the “holidays” will soon be upon us.
The name Mabon for this pagan Sabbat was coined by Aidan Kelly, founder of The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, sometime around 1970. He derived the name from the Welsh Celtic hero Mabon ap Modron. This hero’s name is interpreted as “son of the divine mother.” Modron is derived from the Gaulish goddess Matrona, the divine mother goddess. Mabon was taken from his mother’s arms three days after his birth and locked away in a dark watery prison. While imprisoned, Mabon learns various skills associated with hunting and battle. He is rescued by the legendary King Arthur and his knights on their quest to fulfill forty impossible demands of the giant Ysbaddaden and win the hand of his daughter Olwen for Arthur’s cousin Culhwch. Mabon is the only one who has the skill to hunt the dog Drudwyn, the only dog that can track the boar Twrch Trywth. The giant is slain after only a few of the tasks are completed allowing the two to marry.
So you might be wondering, what this has to do with the second harvest. The coinage of this sabbat’s name appears to be quite arbitrary. Kelly has seemingly taken the name of a Celtic God of a favorite myth and applied it to the holiday just so it would have a specific name like the other modern pagan Sabbats instead of the mundane description of autumn equinox. This is what makes the name of this Sabbat controversial, however it has been accepted by the majority of the pagan community and has become the traditional name.
The second harvest is the time to gather the fruits from the vine. The Roman festival of Dionysus, God of Wine, which is celebrated on this day is more closely related to the meaning of this holiday than is the tale of Mabon ap Modron whose story is about freedom, love, quests, and marriage. The myth of Persephone and Demeter is more symbolic of the turning of the Wheel of the Year. This marks the time when Persephone descends into the Underworld and the bounty of the earth begins to diminish due to Demeter’s anguish. All of these deities give us reason to celebrate this day. We thank Dionysus for the bounty of fruits. We honor Demeter for her gifts of the harvest and support Her as she mourns, and we honor Persephone’s sacrifice to willingly go back to the Underworld each year.
“But I’m not Greek or Roman!” you exclaim.
One might wonder how they can celebrate this Sabbat because none of the myths associated with it include the culture that inspires their own personal path. Some may simply accept it as a “traditional” neo-pagan holiday and wonder why anyone wouldn’t celebrate an equinox; it has astrological significance. Either way I find it a more personable experience if I can relate it to My tradition through the myths of my chosen cultural influence, the Celts and my Gods. This is why it is important to learn the myths and legends of your personal path as well as those of others.
My Celtic inspired path marks Mabon as an extension of Lughnasadh. For me, Lughnasadh marks the time when the Sun God Lugh, as the Great King of the Tuatha de Danann, defeated the king of the Fomorians, Balor and secured the grains of the harvest for his people. In addition to this, Lugh established the celebration of his adopted mother Tailtu on this day, who died as a result of her tireless work making the land good for planting, on this. This is why I honor Lugh as the God of Light (knowledge and skill), God of the Sun (as the King of the divine race is typically equated to the Sun), and the god of the harvest. But it is the legend of Lugh’s sacrificial death that lends itself to my relation of the Sun God to the celebration of Mabon.
My journey of research, meditation, and journey with Lugh has led me to the following description of the death of Lugh.
Lugh, known by the Welsh as Llew, was cursed by his birth mother to never have a wife of the people who now inhabit the earth. The magicians Gwydion and Math, both protectors of Llew, used great sorcery to create the most beautiful and fairest and graceful maiden that man ever saw, Blodeuwedd. A woman made of magic, oak, broom, and meadowsweet, her name mean “flower face.” Lugh loved Blodeuwedd. But many years after their marriage, Blodeuwedd fell in love with another. Lugh was told of Blodeuwedd’s adultery but his love for her kept him from taking actions against her. The two lovers plotted to kill Lugh but the god could not be killed in any ordinary fashion. Blodeuwedd betrayed Lugh a second time and revealed to her lover Gronw the secret to killing her husband. Lugh could not be killed on either on land or water, neither clothed nor naked, neither indoors or out, neither in the day or night, and neither in the summer or winter. Blodeuwedd lured her husband into a garden pavilion at dusk for a bath on the autumn equinox. When Lugh was in place half in the bath with a wrap about his waist as the sun set, she called for her lover who struck Lugh with a spear. Lugh let out a screech when he received the fatal blow and immediately transformed into a raven and flew away. Gwydion searches for Lugh finally finding him at Samhain perched in an oak tree. He sings the bird down, restores Lugh to his human form and retreats to the underworld to care for his wounds. Lugh, Gwydion, and Math return to take back the kingdom form Blodeuwedd and Gronw. A battle ensues. Lugh refuses to allow Blodeuwedd to be killed. In the end Gwydion turns Blodeuwedd into an owl so she would never again have the light of the sun upon her face and Gronw escapes to the land of his people. Gronw appeals to Lugh for forgiveness but is denied. Lugh demands that Gronw stand on the bank of the river Cynfael and receive a blow from his spear. Gronw agrees after all others refuse to take his place and he secures the condition that he can place a stone between him and Lugh. Lugh of the long arm throws the spear with such force it pierces the stone and his enemy.
This is my interpretation of the myth as I have come to know it. You may not agree with my willingness to adapt the legend but I assure you that this tale has come to me through study, meditation, and divine influence. The tales of the Celtic people, and many cultures throughout history, have been lost either in part or in entirety. There is no way to prove this true or false. But as pagans we know that each person’s journey is personal. How do you incorporate this Sabbat into your own personal belief system? Do you have a myth that you equate to this spoke in the wheel? Is it from the culture that inspires your spirituality?
Having a myth that ties your beliefs and your gods to each Sabbat makes each Sabbat a personal holy day. As we walk the Wheel of the Year, we are encouraged to be in tune with its cyclic turning. What better way than to find a personal connection through the myths and legends as we come to know them.