Oh, the dark half of the year, how I love you so!
So, the next Sabbat on our list is Mabon, which is the autumn equinox. It's THIS SATURDAY, which means I'm entirely unprepared and scrambling to get my shit together.... But for those of you who don't know, Mabon is the balance of light and dark, where the two are equal for the last time in the Gregorian calendar year. For me, Mabon is perhaps the most forgotten of the 8 Sabbats. It seems that all the other Sabbats have something to make your remember them-- Samhain the last harvest festival, a time to honor our ancestors and spirits; Yule is the rebirth of the sun; Imbolc is the first melting of the snow, Brigid's day; Ostara is the first spring festival; Beltane, litha and lughnasadh all have associations; but Mabon for me stands alone as kind of vague and ambiguous. I'm sure a lot of people either forget it or just skip it altogether. So what is Mabon? What is it that we are celebrating?
According to Wikipedia (which is always right), Mabon is:
...a pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. In the northern hemisphere this equinox occurs anywhere from September 21 to 24. In the southern hemisphere, the autumn equinox occurs anywhere from March 20–23. Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas / Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.
Love ya, Wikipedia, but that's not much to go on (just goes to show, you shouldn't base your religious path from a paragraph on a website). I was thuroughly disapointed with this definition, so I took it upon myself to see what other pagans call this autumn festival. A few definitions:
From Citadel of the Dragons:
Mabon is considered a time of the Mysteries and marks the end of the second of three Pagan Harvest Festivals, when the majority of crops have been gathered. It is considered a time of balance, a time of darkness overtaking light, a time of celebration of the Second Harvest. It is a time to honor the Aging Deities and the Spirit World. The principle key action of Mabon is giving thanks. Pagan activities may include the making of wine and the adorning of graves. A traditional practice is to walk wild places and forests, gathering seed pods and dried plants. Some of these can be used to decorate the home or altar, others saved for future herbal magick. It is considered taboo to pass burial sites and not honor the dead.
The Autumn Equinox is a wonderful time to stop and relax and be happy. While we may not have toiled the fields from sunrise to sunset every day since Lammas - as our ancestors did - most of us do work hard at what we do. At this time of year, we should stop and survey the harvest each of us has brought in over the season. For us, like our ancestors, this becomes a time of giving thanks for the success of what we have worked at.
I like this definition a lot better because it's a bit more detailed and it discusses how to conduct yourself during the festival. Mabon is essentially a thanksgiving festival for Pagans. However, I do feel that each sabbat has a certain element of thanksgiving, because in my opinion you always want to be thankful for what you have and who gave it to you. This kind of thinking extends to burial sites-- why would it be taboo to not honor the dead only at Mabon? You should honor the dead every time you pass a burial site. For many spirits (but certainly not all) that is their final resting place, and you wouldn't disrespect someone (or something) in their own "home", would you?
I also stumbled upon several sites use Lugh as the central mythos of the Wheel of the Year, meaning that each Sabbat has something to do with the cycle of Lugh's birth, death and rebirth. On these sites Mabon is the time that Lugh is defeated by his dark twin something-something, rebirth at yule, Lugh rules all, something-something I don't remember, etc. I don't know where they're getting that, because I've been exploring and studying different types of paganism for awhile and I've never seen Lugh be the main focus of any celebratory cycle, but especially not a Wiccan cycle. Granted, kinds of paths can choose to use the eight-fold Wheel of the Year, but Lugh is a Celtic god (specifically to Ireland), and those most likely to have Lugh in their pantheon would be Celtic Reconstructionists. And if you're a Celtic Reconstructionist, you are not celebrating Mabon because you don't go by the Wheel of the Year (most likely). Die-hard Recons try to stay as true as possible to the rituals and traditions of the ancients as evidenced through the study of history and archaeology (within the confines of one's own moral beliefs and the legalities of your region, i.e. you probably won't do human sacrifices, even if the ancients did); although there is not a lot of info to go on as far as the Celts are concerned, scholarship is pretty clear that the ancient Celts did not go by the Wheel of the Year created by Wiccans in the 20th century. Although many cultures, both now and in antiquity, celebrate the solstices and equinoxes, the celebratory calendar of the Celts did not include them. Long story short, Celebrating Lugh at Mabon has little historical basis.
But hey, who am I to judge? A lot of paganism is not based on historical evidence, mainly because it's relatively new as far as religions go. I mean, there is some inspiration from long-gone ancient religions of yester-millenia, but we pagans are not celebrating the same things in the same way for the same reasons as the ancients. And to make things a little more crazy, we have no script to go by, no instructions on how this is supposed to look, no sacred texts to fall back on. We are building this thing, this big, complex thing called religion, from the ground up. Right here, right now. We don't have the benefit of thousands of years to work out the kinks and make compromises and progress in our thinking (but to be fair, Christians have had plenty of time to think and they're still bickering among themselves about pretty much everything in the Bible and in life, so maybe time is not enough).
Whoa, I went way off on a tangent there. Anyway... Happy Equinox!