Our Mabon celebration this year is tomorrow, Thursday 20th September, at Archenland.
Mabon’s time is the Autumn Equinox, around 22nd Sept each year. This year the autumn equinox happens at 14.49 on the 22nd of September so we’re celebrating a little early. It’s one of the two times each year when the day and night are of equal length and when the sun actually rises due east and sets due west. It’s a time of balance and a time of change from one season to the next. Autumn is the balance point between summer into winter. All summer, in her long annual breathing cycle, the Earth has been breathing out, breathing her energy and substance up into the plants and animals (including us) and helping us grow and fruit. Now, at the Autumn equinox, she begins to breathe in, to draw down energy from the sun and stars into her body and essence rebuilding for the spring rebirth six months hence.
We celebrate with drumming, gifting, story and sharing food and … this time … with a goddess/god dance! It’s very easy, the old folk-dance figure called a “hay”, just weaving around the circle in both directions – widdershins for the Lady and deosil for the Lord. We smudge, with incense made from British herbs and plants mostly grown in our own gardens. I make an apple cake and a crab apple and honey cordial for Mabon is the Apple Lord, associated with the Greek-Roman god Apollo whose name also means Apple God.
Apples are part of the heritage of wisdom for many peoples (even in the bible!) and are very much part of the British tradition, especially here in Hereford as well as in Devon and Somerset where I was born and grew up.
Apples are the life-giving fruit of Avalon, the Isle of Rebirth for the British tradition. Many of the islands around the west coast of Britain are said to be Avalon, Lundy Island, just off the coast of Bideford near where I grew up is one of them. They are the Isles of the Dead, West-Over-the-Sea and many other names in our tradition, all of which are associated with the Faer, with Otherworld and the land from which we come at birth into this world and to which we return at death.
Apples are the fruit of wisdom and of life. If you cut and apple crosswise you see the 5 pips laid out like a 5-pointed star (associated with Venus). They are also the fruit of the Elysian Fields, that name too means apple-land.
We celebrate Mabon with apples, in this case with apple cake and apple cordial made from my own crab apples.
We take in the apple harvest, store it and make cider and cordials; celebrate the fruits of the season of Autumn Equinox.; mulled cider is excellent and used at the Wassail on 12th Night.
The Mabon is a time of balance, a still point neither going forward nor backward. Such times are very important for us. After the autumn equinox we will have less light and more dark each day up until the midwinter solstice when the sun is reborn. We can use this time to go deep within ourselves, nourishing our roots and the soil in which they live, as we do our gardens, and replenishing ourselves ready for the rebirth at the solstice.
It’s good to spend practical time harvesting what one you’ve achieved over the past year since the last midwinter, it’s a way of setting up and telling over the store of goodness you’ve made in that time. Telling over, making a list, is an excellent way of kenning (knowing) what you’ve done; if you don’t ever look at and recognise what you’ve done it gets lost and hidden, gets dusty and grows mould … not a good idea! Telling over your life for the past year helps you see it properly, acknowledge it, accept it; you learn how to come to terms with and befriend the bits you don’t like, are afraid or ashamed of, as well as honouring and celebrating the good things you did rather than hiding them under a bushel!
A journey to ask Mabon to help you see and honour your life over the past year is an excellent way of celebrating both the Apple god and yourself.
Culhwch & Olwen
I’ll be telling the best-known story in which Mabon figures. Culhwch and Olwen is a Welsh tale that survives in two manuscripts: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest, ca. 1400, and a fragmented version in the White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1325.
In the Arthurian mythos, Mabon is a great hunter who is lost and must be found by Culhwch and his friends as part of the 32 anoethau (impossible tasks) set by Ysbaddaden that Culhwch must pass in order to marry Olwen (Ysbaddaden’s daughter)
Culhwch’s father is King Cilydd son of Celyddon. Celyddon is an old name for the wild wood whih once covered most of Britain from Scotland down, the Caledonian Forest in Scotland is what is left to us now. So Culhwch’s father was the “son of the forest”, again no human father (like Mabon and Merlin and many others in our tradition) but a son of the land; we call that Wledig in the old tongue.
Culhwch’s mother is Goleuddydd who dies as Culhwch is born. Culhwch’s name comes from “sow run” (cul “narrow, a narrow thing”; hwch “sow, pig”) so Culhwch is often called the Pigsty Prince. His mother was said to have given birth to him in a pigsty and Culhwch is said to have taken refuge from his stepmother there. To be guardian of pigs – which are Ceridwen’s totem – is one of the apprentice duties of Brythonic princes.
Cilydd remarries and the young Culhwch rejects his stepmother’s attempt to pair him with his new stepsister. The new queen puts a curse on him so he can marry no one besides the beautiful Olwen, daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden. Culhwch dreams of her and knows he must find her. Cilydd warns him that he will never find her without the aid of his cousin Arthur. The young man immediately sets off to seek his kinsman and finds him at his court in Celliwig in Cornwall. Celliwigis perhaps the earliest named location for the court of King Arthur. It means ‘forest grove’.
Culhwch asks Arthur for support and assistance. Cai is the first knight to volunteer to assist Culhwch in his quest, promising to stand by his side until Olwen is found. A further five knights join them in their mission including the wizard Medyr.
– The seven warriors are significant in British lore; these seven are representatives of the seven chakras with Culhwch at the head of a band, in the place of the brow chakra which draws together the other six.
They travel on until they come to the “fairest of the castles of the world“, where they meet Ysbaddaden’s brother, Custennin, Lord of the Beasts. He tells them the castle belongs to Ysbaddaden who took Custennin’s lands and murdered his twenty-three children. Custennin sets up a meeting between Culhwch and Olwen who comes each week to wash her hair with the help of Cuntennin’s wife. Olwen agrees to lead Culhwch and his companions to Ysbaddaden’s castle. Cai pledges to protect the twenty-fourth son, Goreu with his life.
They get into the castle by stealth, killing the nine porters and the nine watchdogs, and enter the giant’s hall. Ysbaddaden attempts to kill Culhwch with a poison dart, but is outwitted and wounded, first by Bedwyr, then by the enchanter Menw, and finally by Culhwch himself. Eventually, Ysbaddaden agrees to give Culhwch his daughter on the condition that he completes a number of impossible tasks (the 33 anoethau).
One of these tasks is the hunting of Twrch Trwyth, the great boar who carries in his tusks the comb and razor that will shave and groom Ysbaddaden for his daughter’s wedding. This requires them to find and free Mabon son of Modron, the only man able to hunt the dog Drudwyn, who in turn is the only dog who can track the Twrch Trwyth.
They learn that Mabon was stolen from his mother’s arms when he was three nights old, and question the world’s oldest and wisest animals to find out where Mabon is hidden. The salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest animal of them all, carries Cei and Bedwyr downstream to Mabon’s prison in Gloucester; they hear him through the walls, singing a lamentation for his fate. The rest of the band launches an assault on the front of the prison while Cei and Bedwyr sneak in the back and rescue Mabon.
Mabon goes back with Culhwch, makes the leash for the hound Drudwyn from the hairs of the coal black witch, hunts down Twrch Trwyth and takes from his tusks the comb and razor. At the end of the story Culhwch does indeed wed Olwen and takes over the job of Guardian of the Goddess from Ysbaddaden. Mabon is very instrumental in the continuation of the cycle of seasons that the story represents … the goddess finding a new guardian/champion, moving from the guardianship of the father-figure to the guardianship of the husband/lover. She goes through this cycle each year.
The word means equal night. On the day of the equinox, The spring and autumn equinox are the two points in the year, precise moments in time, which are common to all observers on Earth when the centre of the Sun spends just about an equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth. So night and day are roughly the same length. It’s different from the date at which sunset and sunrise becomes exactly 12 hours apart; that date is known as the equilux. Because times of sunset and sunrise vary with longitude and latitude, the equilux also depends on location; it cannot exist for locations close to the Equator.
The feast of Mabon is at the Autumn Equinox, the midpoint between the summer and winter Solstice. His name, Mabon ap Modron, means Son of the Mother. Mabon is derived from the Brythonic, Gaulish and Proto-Celtic root makwo meaning Son. Modron is also derived from Proto-Celtic root, māter meaning Mother.
Mabon is another fatherless child, son of the Goddess fathered by her guardian … and her guardian is each of us
We’ll be celebrating Samhain at Arthur’s Stone on Saturday 27th October.
Contact me email@example.com if you’d like to come.
Mabon blessing to everyone