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What is Mabon and the mid-autumn festival?

The most bountiful festival of the year!

by Rebecca Bell

What is Mabon? Commonly thought of as the harvest festival, or the mid-autumn festival in China, Mabon is the celebration of the Autumn Equinox — a time to celebrate the moment between the height of summer and darkest winter. Even as the centuries march on, there is still something special about the ending of summer, as we enjoy the fruits of our labour and celebrate the last warm evenings.

Witches’ Mabon

The date of Mabon, like many astrological events, likes to thwart our attempts at pinning it down to our Gregorian calendar, thus it varies from year to year. Mabon comes between Lughnasaand and Samhain, and is the first autumn festival on the Wiccan/Neo-Pagan Wheel of The Year calendar. As it occurs on the autumnal equinox, Mabon brings day and night into a perfect equilibrium— it’s the day when the hours of sunlight perfectly match those of moonlight, before the days get shorter and we retreat into winter.

At this time the Goddess is radiant in her elder form as the Harvest Queen, and the God dies and returns to the underworld. However, he will return once more in the spring, renewed from his slumber. But now it is time to celebrate the gifts of the year: the abundance of fruit and vegetables. We thank the sun for its brightness and life-giving properties, welcome the moon, and prepare once more for a winter of reflection and peace, taking life at a slower pace until the spring comes again.

Gods, Spirits, and Symbols

Modron, in Welsh tradition, is the mother and spirit of life on earth. She is often depicted with her son, who on the equinox night he is stolen from her — and in Modron’s grief and sadness the world withers into cold winter. Modron is said to be known as Matrona to the Gaulish and Celtic peoples and may have been the prototype for Morgan Le Fay in Arthurian legend.

Demeter is another goddess traditionally associated with this time of year. As the Greek goddess of harvest, Demeter was celebrated in late autumn by the people of Athens to give thanks for the fertility of the land.

Symbols:

The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is a common symbol of Mabon. It displays the abundant harvest, and represents both male and female fertility, thanks to its horn shape combined with its hollow and receptive nature.

The apple represents the fruit harvest, and is an important symbol of life, healing, regeneration, and wholeness. It is associated with beauty and a long life, and when cut in half reveals a pentagram symbolising the elements. You can read more about the significance of the humble apple in Fez Inkwright’s Folk Magic and Healing.

Mid-Autumn Festival

In China, the autumnal equinox is celebrated as the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival. It is the second most important holiday after the Chinese New Year and came to be over 3000 years ago when the emperor worshiped the moon for a bountiful harvest. The timing of this festival aligns with a full moon between mid-September and early October, as it is said this moon is the brightest and fullest at this time, reflecting the bountiful full harvest. Celebrations of this festival include these three fundamental ideals:

  • Gathering – harvesting and gathering food for the festival, bringing family together, and celebrating the full moon that represents family reunion.
  • Thanksgiving – being thankful for the harvest and harmonious unions.
  • Praying – asking for future bounties, such as a baby, a partner, longevity, and good fortune.

During this celebration mooncakes are eaten. A mooncake is a sweet pastry filled with various flavours and adorned with intricate patterns. They are commonly round to symbolise completeness and are cut and shared amongst families to symbolise the reunion. There’s lots to learn about mooncakes, so it’s well worth popping into your local Chinese bakery to try these delights yourself, and share with friends and family.

It is also traditional to hang lanterns to decorate and light the path to good fortune. The Mid-Autumn Festival is a choice occasion to celebrate marriages, and much like Celtic traditions around Ostara, dances are held with the intention that young men and women will find a partner.

While many modern customs have sprung up over the centuries, the ancient foundation for the Mid-Autumn Festival is moon worship, as rejuvenation was associated with the moon and water. There is an old Chinese fable that the sun and moon are a couple, and the stars are their children. When the moon is full and round it is said to be pregnant, but when it gives birth it becomes a crescent. However, the moon is only traditionally worshiped by women.

Rituals and Traditions of Mabon

If you take in mind the symbolism of this festival, you may wish to create a gorgeous cornucopia to adorn your altar, or perhaps bring in a few apples to decorate (and also eat) as a way to give thanks to the harvest. Candles and warm coppery tones mixed with rich green are the colours to chose for this time of year, it feels like The Seed and Sickle Oracle – Special Edition is the perfect answer to the autumn pallete.

Make time to enjoy food and celebrate the fruits and vegetables of the harvest by cooking a feast for friends and family. You could even rejuvenate your relationships by reuniting under the full moon that symbolises the wholeness of your union!

It may seem like yet another party and the giving of thanks, but weach turn of the Wheel brings both inner and outer insights. The autumn equinox reminds us of the changing of seasons and the impermanence of life — and thus the importance to celebrate each moment. So, celebrate and be merry, until we meet again at Samhain!


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