Mabon - A God of Spring Misplaced

by Brian Walsh

"It is clear', said the Mac Óc, `that night and day are the whole
world, and it is that which has been given to me."

~~Book of Leinster~~

The Autumn Equinox, which usually falls around September 21st, is often celebrated with harvest festivals, various games, and Harvest Home rites. The most prominent Celtic customs surrounding the harvest is that of the last sheaf, which becomes 'the Cailleach' and is taken in until the next spring's ploughing (though there are many other variations on Last Sheaf customes). Much of this days symbolism is movable to correspond with the activities of the harvests or placed on September 29th, Michaelmas.

The association of harvest with the Autumn Equinox is so strong that many modern Pagans refer to the holiday as Harvesttide. However, many American Wiccans, and Pagans who take their cue from them, have come to call the Harvesttide, 'Mabon'. Some have attributed this association of the appellation `Mabon' with Harvesttide, to Aidan Kelly.

Regardless, calling Harvesttide, `Mabon', began in the US in the 1970's, and is an innovation that has increased in popularity, spreading quickly among those who do not know anything about the deity Mabon. A fact made more striking when the deity Mabon, for whom this holiday is named, often does not figure in the `Mabon' rites. There are many things that Mabon is, but currently there is no evidence or indication that Mabon was ever a harvest god.

Mabon, is the Welsh name for the Continental Maponos or the Irish Aengus Mac Oc (*Maccan*). Mabon's role in Culhwch and Olwen, his primary myth in the Welsh material, and the events that play out there, have no harvest connections whatsoever.

A cursory study of this god and his cognates would indicate that he is associated with healing, vitality, water sources, music, dogs and horses, youth, beauty, love, dawn, and white birds. As well, he is associated with hunting, especially the boar hunt, which may have had some ritual connotations. In the Irish myths the Mac ind Oc or Maccan is the son of the Fire god, Dagda, and the Water goddess, Bóann and as such he embodies the union of opposites. In the Welsh
myths he is the 'Son of the Mother', Modron, and the 'Son of Lightning'. As Modron is most likely a river mother type (cf. the Continental Matronae), and Lightening is obviously celestial, Mabon reconciles `below' and `above'.

Given his associations, the most obvious rites to Mabon in Autumn would most likely focus on his associations with hunting, and would be best celebrated closer to Samhain, which marks the traditional close of the hunting season in most Celtic lands.

However, since Mabon has no Harvest associations at all, I believe it is better to celebrate Mabon (the god) at another time, leaving the Autumn Equinox and its strong associations with harvest to deities who actually have connections with the Harvest.

Returning to Mabon's role in Culhwch and Olwen myth, his release from imprisonment signals a return of vitality and life. These along with many of his other themes are well suited to, and very much in harmony with, the rites of early spring and Bealtaine, and, in my opinion, would be the better time for celebrating Mabon and his Mysteries.

(2003, edited 2005)
First printed: