Mabon, the fall equinox, is upon us — bringing the day and night into a perfect, precarious balance before the day gives in and night prevails for this part of the year. During Mabon, we celebrate the last harvest and the abundance of Mother Earth, who shares the fruits of her loins with us, before we step into winter.
And we celebrate Mabon ap Modron, the Divine Son of the Divine Mother.
Here’s what you need to know about the Welsh deity the fall equinox was named after.
The many origins of Mabon
Mabon ap Modron comes to us from the Welsh pantheon, but different versions of this deity and the archetypes he represents are found in Celtic, Gaulish, and Irish legends. Mabon’s name seems to be derived from Maponos (“Great Son”), a Gallo-Brittonic deity developed as the local counterpart of Apollo. In fact, several historians believe Mabon himself is the Brittonic counterpart of Apollo, the God of Light. According to sources, Roman soldiers that were posted along Hadrian’s Wall in the 2nd century CE (in what is now Northern England) recognized one of the local gods of the Britons as ‘Apollo Mabon,’ a version of their own Sun God. Mabon is also referred to as Mabon ab Mellt, Mabuz, and Mabonagrain in Celtic mythologies, Pryderi fab Pwyll in Demetian mythologies, and Mac ind Óg and Óengus in Irish mythologies.
No matter the geographical and etymological context, though, there are some constants about Mabon’s mythos. He’s always depicted as the personification of youth, a “miraculous” boy with golden hair, often carrying a lyre. He’s always taken from his Divine Mother as a baby and has to be rescued by a team of local heroes, which usually includes Arthur Pendragon. And later on, he’s depicted as a grown man, a hero himself, usually at King Arthur’s side. Many think he’s an early version of the Knight of the Round Table we know today as Sir Percival.
Mabon’s relationship with his mother is an essential part of his journey. Modron is the Divine Mother Goddess, also known in Gaulish as Dea Matrona, the one who gave the river Marne its name. Depictions of Matrona usually show her with baby Mabon on her lap, or in other instances, fruit or small animals. Some other depictions show her as a Triple Goddess. It’s thought that there’s an association between Modron/Matrona and Demeter — there certainly is an association between the myth of Mabon’s abduction and that of Demeter and Persephone, as we’ll see below.
The archetypal myth of Mabon
There are many archetypes depicted in the stories around Mabon. The birth itself is shrouded in mystery, signifying the transition of the Goddess from Maiden to Mother. The circumstances of the birth and subsequent abduction of the child bring to mind the legend of the goddess Rhiannon and how she also lost her child, the hero Pryderi. As for Mabon’s father, it’s never clear; in some traditions, it’s Dagda, the father of all gods; in others, he’s not mentioned, alluding to a miraculous, maiden birth.
As the legend goes, Mabon was stolen from Modron as a baby during the night (in most retellings, after the third day of his birth). No one saw him since, and no one knew who took him. King Arthur’s cousin, Culhwch, set out to find him and return him to his mother as part of a quest to prove he was worth the hand of Olwen, the daughter of the giant chieftain, in marriage. He soon asked Arthur for help (in other retellings, Arthur himself started the quest, rallying all the knights of Britain to find and set Mabon free). Culhwch, Arthur, and the knights searched for clues as to Mabon’s whereabouts and ended up asking “the most ancient animals” if they’d seen the child. After asking the Blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhedynfre, the Owl of Cwm Cowlyd, and the Eagle of Gwernabwy to no avail, Arthur and his group finally reached the Salmon of Llyn Llyw, who took them to Caer Loyw (Gloucester), where they found Mabon imprisoned. Culhwch, Arthur, and the knights then went into battle with Mabon’s captors (who are not named in the myth) and eventually won, freeing him. Mabon, who was a grown man by then, joined their group and became one of Arthur’s knights, accompanying him on many adventures.
Mabon and the fall equinox
So how does all this connect to the fall equinox being called Mabon? Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. Traditionally, the celebration of Mabon’s birth coincided with Beltane and the beginning of the summer season, as Mabon is a solar deity. There was no autumn festival called Mabon the way, for instance, Lughnasadh was named after Lugh. The association with the Welsh deity was first made by Wiccan writer Aidan A. Kelly in the 1970s.
If you think about it, however, it makes sense. What is the fall equinox if not one of the Sun’s last stands before he is lost in darkness for a while? Just as Demeter and Persephone’s myth is relevant this season, with the light (in this case, Persephone) surrendering to the night from now until Yule, we can also view this time from the fall equinox onwards as the abduction of the Sun God from the world. Like Arthur, we, too, need to be heroic and turn to nature for answers. And we also need to be mindful that the Sun’s mother, Nature herself, will be in mourning from now until her child returns.
But until then, we feast and give thanks! After all, there were many feast festivals around the fall equinox in many cultures. One of these festivals is still around today: Oktoberfest in Germany, which first started in the 1700s. And the original American Thanksgiving took place on October 3 before the celebration was moved to November.
Blessed Mabon, one and all!
Celebrating Mabon ap Modron at Mabon
The fact that Mabon is not an ancient festival means we have the opportunity to be more creative with our rituals and make our own traditions for this season. This ritual, which utilizes apples (a key ingredient for the season and a symbol of the duality of nature), will help you connect with Mabon ap Modron during the fall equinox.
Note: Do this ritual in the morning before you start your preparations for your Mabon feast.
What you’ll need:
- a white, yellow, or gold candle
- the Sun tarot card (preferably from the classic Rider-Waite deck)
- an apple
- your athame (or a knife)
What you’ll do:
- Take a cleansing bath.
- Wear a white, yellow, or auburn robe or dress.
- Gather your ingredients and go to your altar.
- Ground yourself and draw a circle. Invoke your matron deities to help you with your work. You can also invoke Modron to help you work with her Divine Son.
- Place your candle in the middle of your altar and light it.
- Place the Sun tarot card at its foot.
- Meditate on the flame of the candle and the child symbol on the Sun card; how the careless, childlike enthusiasm of summer will be officially over soon — but for today, the flame is still strong. Feel the warmth settle in your bones and into your heart.
- When you’re ready, begin a simple invocation to Mabon:
Mabon ap Modron, I see your light.
Maponos, Divine Son, you shine bright.
Mabuz, Mabonagrain, Pryderi, I hold your light.
Mabon ap Modron, bless us tonight.
Blessed be this harvest as we let go of the light.
- Take a moment to acknowledge Mabon’s energy. Is the candle flame flickering or growing taller? Do you feel a sense of warmth? These can all be signs that the god has heard your invocation.
- Now it’s time to cut the apple in half. Repeat the last phrase of the invocation, “Blessed be this harvest, as we let go of the light,” as you cut the apple in half, to symbolize the two different energies that are in perfect balance during this season.
- Meditate on the two cut pieces of the apple for a moment. Just like the fruit itself carries the seeds to make another fruit, so this coming season carries the seeds of the next already in it. Feel that these two parts contain the whole in perfect balance.
- Take one half of the apple and place it in front of your candle, next to the Sun card. Place the other half behind your candle as a gift to the night.
- When you’re ready, thank Mabon and all your deities for showing up. Close your circle.
- You can also opt to transfer your setup (the candle, the tarot card, and the two halves of the apple) to the center of your dinner table if you’re hosting a Mabon dinner for many people.
- When the day is over, and your Mabon feast is concluded, offer both halves of the apple to Nature.
This article is from our Mabon issue of Wicca Magazine. Click Here To View What’s Inside our current issue.