Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mabon Greetings

Blessed be! The Wheel of the Year turns to Mabon, the autumnal equinox, also known as harvest tide or the “witches' Thanksgiving.” Its ancient antecedent was the second of the three Celtic harvest festivals, in between Lughnasa (August 1st, also known by the Christianized name Lammas) and Samhain (the harvest of winter meat, when the grazing animals were brought down from the hills for the winter, October 31). 

Mabon is a period of equal day and night, exactly in between Midsummer Night and the Winter Solstice. What exactly is Mabon as a Neopagan/Wiccan celebration? In modern practice, it's largely a harvest festival for enjoying autumn-gathered foods. It's also a solemn time for reflection on mortality; the goddess in her dark/death-bringer aspect may be recalled at this time. 

In agricultural symbolism, Mabon represents the death of the Green Man* – the crops now die so that human beings can store up food for winter. This is sometimes symbolized by the “sacrifice” or burning of a straw man, the Harvest Lord. The last sheaf of grain to be harvested is sometimes dressed up to become the Harvest Queen. The Harvest Queen is not burned, because she represents fertility and the hope for a good harvest again the following year.

I haven't read this one - the Henry Treece that I've read was 'Red Queen.' 
Because the power of the sun appears to be declining as we now head toward the Winter Solstice, Mabon can be a time to mark the passage of loved ones (as well as a time of mourning for the Green Man and/or the sun god). If you happen to pass a grave during Mabon, you're supposed to acknowledge the person who died and make your respects.

Various ancient Celtic legends have to do with Mabon. One has to do with a Welsh god named Mabon who is born from the womb of Mother Earth – the Earth is quite literally his mother, Modron – springing forth full of knowledge and strength he gained from his mother. (The goddess Modron comes down to us in Arthurian legend as Morgan.)

Another legend has to do with the Irish gods Lugh and Tanist. The twin brothers have opposite functions – Lugh is the god of light, and Tanist is the god of darkness. At Mabon, Tanist defeats Lugh, sits on his throne and steals Lugh's lover, the goddess Tailltiu. Nine months later – at the Summer Solstice – Tailltu gives birth to...well, Tanist. He dies and is reborn every year, and the legend of the dueling brothers relates to the legend of the holly and oak kings

However, it's a bit difficult to get really good sources for either of these legends, so take them each with a grain of salt. For example, if we turn to Encyclopedia Mythica:

- An article on Mabon is included, mentioning that Mabon is the son of "mother goddess" and lived in Annwn, which the encyclopedia names as the Welsh underworld but does not link with the mother-goddess's womb

- An article on Modron, without reference to her as Mother Earth, calling her only "a Welsh goddess" and a prototype of the Arthurian Morgan. 

- An article on Lugh, which doesn't mention him being a god of the sun or of light (although his fertility magic is related to the ripening of the crops, which was celebrated with a 30-day summer festival which was the antecedent of modern Lughnasa) and names his consort as Rosmerta (the Gaulish goddess of "fire, warmth, and abundance;" J.K. Rowling named the Three Broomsticks barmaid after her, perhaps for Madam Rosmerta's ability to dispense an abundance of butterbeers). 

- No article on Tanist. Wikipedia says that "tanaiste" (with an accent on the first a) is an Irish Gaelic word meaning second-in-command, heir, or first deputy of the clan chief or king. Ireland still uses the word to indicate the deputy prime minister. The Wikipedia entry also says that James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, used the word to designate a "substitute for the sacred king." To say that the god Lugh has a tanaiste or tanist may simply be a way of saying that he had a highly-honored "deputy" who was sacrificed in his place. 

However, in the holly king-oak king tradition, when Lugh's reign was over, Lugh would be sacrificed to make room for Tanist. Then Tanist's reign would end, and Tanist would be sacrificed to make room for Lugh in a never-ending cycle. 

- An article on Tailltu (spelled there with only one L) that names her not as Lugh's consort, but as his nurse. 

However, it's certainly possible that Tailltu and Rosmerta are different aspects of the same goddess, and it's certainly not unknown for a fertility/agricultural god to have a mother who, in another aspect or phase, is also his lover - it's an agricultural metaphor for the relationship between the earth (mother) and seed-bearing crop (son). 

Another myth that accounts for the declining daylight at this time of year is the myth of Persephone's descent into the Underworld, which is sometimes observed at Mabon. The grain-goddess Demeter is in mourning when her daughter Persephone goes into the Underworld, and her mourning is another aspect that gives Mabon a somewhat sad, solemn character in contrast to the joy we usually associated with harvest/thanksgiving celebrations.

Here is a review of the book Persephone (Daughters of Zeus), a book written by Kaitlin Bevis. The review is written by Abbey at Finding My Forever. 

Two more Persephone books that I read and reviewed over the past year:

Miss Underworld by Rachel Kechagias

Cora: The Unwilling Queen by Amy Hutchinson

Read more at The White Goddess, Earth Witchery, Love of the Goddess, and Mystickal Realms.

*In other versions of the legend, the death of Green Man, or the Holly King/Holly Knight (Sir Gawain's Green Knight) is associated with the Winter Solstice and the Lord of Misrule or Fool who was sacrificed after his moment of glory at the solstice festival. In his place, the Oak King would rule until he was deposed by the Holly King at Midsummer, i.e. the summer solstice. In this case, it would be easy to associate dark Tanist with the Holly King and bright Lugh with the Oak King, but then Mabon would only be the halfway point in Tanist's rule. Perhaps rather than his death, Mabon commemorates the Holly King's/Green Man's/Tanist's waning power.

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