The Autumnal Equinox, in the Northern Hemisphere, is the point at which the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator from north to south. The equinoxes, which lie at the intersections of the celestial equator and the ecliptic, are points moving in a westward direction along the celestial sphere. This is known as the precession of the equinoxes (first noted by Hipparchus around 120 B.C and explained in 1687 by Sir Isaac Newton). It takes 25, 800 years for the equinoxes Êto pass through all the constellations of the zodiac, meaning this occurs at a rate of 50.27 seconds of arc a year.
Equinox literally means “equal night”, day and night are equal in length – as if the scales are perfectly balanced. It is at this time the sun truly rises in the east and sets in the west., and the point at which we can observe the most rapid change in the Sun’s apparent motion. It is now that the nights dip into the “below freezing” temperatures, while the days can still be warm and delightful and the trees increasingly change into their fall finest colors. It is, as if at Mabon, the harvest erupts with overwhelming abundance, symbolized by the horn of plenty – the cornucopia brimming with bounty. The full moon closest to the Equinox is know as the Harvest Moon, for the simple reason that the full moon enabled folks to work into the night harvesting by it’s gentle light. If the full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox is actually in November then the September moon is typically named the Corn Moon.
Autumn Equinox is the second in the trilogy of harvest festivals. Mabon marks the completion of the grain harvest begun during Lughnasadh. Celebrations revolve around the gathering of crops and thanksgiving for the abundances of the harvest, and rituals to insure the success of next year’s harvest are characteristic during this harvest time. The making of corn dollies from the last sheaf of corn that is harvested is a typical custom. She is kept until the spring – keeping the spirit of the corn, when she is ploughed back into the field to breath the life of the corn back into the soil.
A harvest supper, also known as a harvest home, a dinner of thanksgiving and celebration, is also traditional. The home is decorated with wheat sheaths, bundled together gold cords, corn stalks, cornucopias overflowing with seasonal fruits and nuts, gourds, pumpkins, garlands of autumn’s colorful leaves, acorns and pinecones. A table full of stews, meat pies, hams, roasts, potato cakes, cheeses made from spring’s milk, custards, cakes, fresh fruit tarts and pies, corn bread, caraway seed cake (it was said that caraway seeds kept a person from stealing), ale, poteen (a very potent drink – was banned in 1661 – legalized in 1997) and cider. Typical fruits of this time are apples, cranberries (original name crane-berries – named for the cranes in the marshes where cranberries grow), fen-berry (the American cranberries English cousin), grapes, hazelnuts, corn, squash, pears, and peaches.
It is a time of great joy and great sorrow, it is the time of great change. Mabon is as much about life as it is about death, it is the reminder that within life there is death and within death there is life. It is about the dance that partners life with death.
Mabon is a time when we are poised between the worlds of life and death, of light and dark, of day and night. We mourn that which is passing, celebrate that which is bountiful and are consciously reminded that the Mother will hold the seed of Light in Her womb until the time of rebirth. Once more the realization that the Wheel of Year has turned, as it always has and will always continue to do as our time is circular not linear, there is no end without new beginnings, it is the continuance of life eternal.
For the second time in the year, day and night are once again equal, creating for us the time to look at our own scales, the bounty of our own personal harvest weighted against our life’s experience. A time to take the gifts given from experience hard wrought, make them apart of who and what we are. These past experiences, regenerate into wisdom, which is reborn within. By doing so we honor these events, people, and experiences that have so impacted our journey, our being, and in honoring these we make them sacred and their passage one of distinction and consequence. For we can not know what we have not experienced. The journey of life is one of knowledge and through that knowledge growth.
As the sun crosses the equator and heads south, he signals the end of summer’s impassioned days and the beginning of the journey into the quiet winter months. We celebrate the story of Mabon ap Modron, ” the son of the mother”, the Divine Youth, the Son of Light. Mabon is taken when he is three nights old. His whereabouts are a shrouded in mystery, it is through the wisdom and memory of the most ancient animals (Blackbird, Stag, Owl, Eagle, and Salmon) we understand where he is and why.
Mabon, dwells in the Earth Mother’s womb, the Otherworld. It is a place of challenge, a place of cultivation, a place where one is renewed and regenerated, a place of new life. So that He maybe reborn, the source of Light and Joy, the champion of His Mother. Just as Life is being drawn into the earth as seed, accumulating strength and wisdom, to become the new harvest, Mabon has returned to his Mother’s womb. For as the winter begins, the earth incubates the tender seeds, throughout the winter, the seeds are kept deep within Her womb so that they maybe reborn and bring forth new life.
It is during Mabon that we are reminded of the necessity for fallow periods, for it is the fallow periods which allow us to assimilate, regenerate, and incorporate that which we have progressed through. Just as fields need to lay fallow to better support new growth so do we.
For in life events happen, choices are made, and actions generated, we cannot go back and change that which has passed, but we can reap the harvest of wisdom these have brought us. Life can present us with great tragedy. Tragedy that rips at the very fiber of our being, tragedy that is not necessarily a result of our own actions and decisions, but tears through our world without warning or cause, like the horrific events in NYC and DC (on 9/11). Even in this, if we can find grains wisdom, kernels of insight, sheaths of understanding and through this we are able to find new directions, new insights, new lessons learned and understood, then perhaps maybe, just maybe from the ashes of these tragedies – we can find the seeds to plant a greater forthcoming future. One that would not shine as brightly had the tragedies, which we thought would finish us, didn’t.
We may not be able to change the past, but we can most certainly change the future, and in this action we do honor to not only ourselves but to those who have so impacted our lives and loves. Let us do ourselves, in the larger sense of ourselves, honor by not allowing this country’s tragedy to break us, but allow tragedy to propel us into a new undiscovered world – a world without fear, a world of greater understanding and acceptance, an evolution of being.