Mabon is the second harvest festival of the season and falls on the Autumn Equinox.  It is often referred to as the Pagan Thanksgiving and the Druids call it Alban Elfed.  It is a time of balance, the second festival of the year in which we have equal day and night (the first being Ostara, the Spring Equinox).  The most popular theme celebrated during Mabon is that of the harvest.  We are grateful for the earth’s bounty, that which will sustain us through the cold, dark winter.  Though we as individuals are no longer so strongly tied with the earth’s agricultural cycles, we take this time to consider and enjoy the fruits of our own labors before continuing with our preparations for the dark months looming ahead.   As a sign of gratitude for our abundance, we often use this time to give back to the earth and her people.  It is not uncommon to participate in canned food drives or to give time to community through volunteer work with soup kitchens or other charities. 

     Though the themes and general celebrations behind Mabon are timeless, the holiday itself is a relatively new construct.  Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols are given credit for the formulation of the neo-pagan Wheel of the Year (Duir), but Aiden Kelly was the one to give Mabon its name.  With the four fire festivals being derived from Celtic holidays (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain), Kelly attempted to balance the festivals by giving the equinoxes and solstices Saxon names.  Unfortunately, Kelly was unable to find a Saxon holiday to match that of the Autumn Equinox.  Though the Eleusinian Mysteries were a suitable match, their Greek origins were too far off base for his liking.  Instead, Kelly returned to the Celtic theme and adopted the story of Mabon ap Modron (Son of the Mother), because the tale was similarly themed to that of Demeter and her lost child, Kore (Rajchel).

     Why were the Eleusinian Mysteries a good fit?  It is said that the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries were held in September.  Though the actual celebrations remain a mystery to us, one can imagine the wheel of life and death in our seasons came into play during these rites.  Demeter was the Greek goddess of nature and it was said that anything that bloomed or grew from the earth was under her control.  She had a daughter named Kore who was kidnapped by Hades and taken to his domain in the underworld.  The nature goddess searched far and wide for her daughter before coming to rest beside a well in Eleusis.  She disguised herself as an old woman and became the nursemaid to the Queen’s son.  Each night, Demeter would place the child in the fireplace, a ritual that would was to make him immortal.  The Queen, of course, was not terribly understanding upon catching the nursemaid in the act.  Demeter cast off her disguise, revealing her true self.  She demanded a temple be erected in her honor and in return, she would teach the prince the art of agriculture.  While all of this took place, the goddess still mourned for the loss of her daughter and the crops withered and died and the people starved and the gods were not paid tribute.  Zeus was less than thrilled by all of this and persuaded Hades to release the girl.  But Hades was a tricksey fellow and he managed to get Kore to eat a few pomegranate seeds during her stay.  And we should all know by now that if one eats anything in the underworld, one is doomed to stay in the underworld.  But the girl had only eaten a few seeds, so it turned out she only had to stay part of the year with Hades and was able to return to her mother for the rest of the year.  Kore emerged from the Underworld as Persephone, Queen of the Dead.  While she was topside with Demeter, the world grew and bloomed.  When she returned to Hades in the Underworld, the plants withered and died.  And thus the story of the harvest (Mark).

     The Chinese and Vietnamese celebrate the Moon Festival, also referred to as the Mid-Autumn Festival, “on the 15th day of the 8th Chinese lunar month every year” (“Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival 2016”), which places it pretty close to the equinox.  This celebration revolves around family reunions with a heavy focus on moon worship.  In Chinese mythology we find the story of Lady Chang’e and Hou Yi.  Hou Yi was a hero to his people. He climbed Mount Kunlun to shoot 9 of the 10 suns from the sky.  They’d been scorching the earth and causing a terrible drought.  This made him famous and many people requested Hou Yi as a teacher for his valor and skill.  One day, Hou Yi returned to the mountain to meet with friends and there he met the Queen of Heaven.  The Queen gave him a magical elixir that would make Hou Yi immortal.  But Hou Yi would not become immortal without his beautiful wife, the Lady Chang’e.  So he gave the elixir to her so that she might put it away for safe keeping.  Sometime after that, Hou Yi and his friends set out on a hunting trip, but the treacherous Peng Meng feigned an illness and did not join the rest of the party.  Peng Meng had learned of the elixir and went to the Hou Yi’s house and confronted Lady Chang’e.  Knowing she was unable to fight off Peng Meng, the lady drank the elixir herself and jumped into the sky to escape her attacker.  Wanting to be near her husband, Lady Chang’e took refuge on the Moon, still visible from the earth.  When Hou Yi came home that night and heard of what happened, he rushed back outside to find that the moon shone very brightly and he could just make out the figure of his beloved.  He ordered his servants to put out an altar with incense, fruits, and moon cakes, which were said to be Chang’es favorite food.  When the town’s people heard the news that the good lady Chang’e had flown to the moon and become a goddess, they too set out tables with incense, fruits, and moon cakes.  The Chinese have celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with family reunions, moon gazing, paper lanterns, and feasts ever since (“Middle Autumn Festival”).

     Japanese Buddhists celebrate Higan-e during the spring and autumn equinoxes.  With these days being a balance of light and dark, “signifying the inseparability of darkness (ying) and light (yang), as well as the oneness of good and evil” it is believed this day holds greater power “for accumulating benefits and amassing virtue in the lives of the believer and the deceased”.  Higan means "arriving on the other shore”.  Buddhists believe we live in a world of suffering and to reach Nirvana or “the other shore” is the only true escape from that suffering.  To attain enlightenment one must follow the six paramitas – “almsgiving, keeping the precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation and the obtaining of wisdom” (“Memorial Service During the Equinox - Higan-e”).  During the Higan-e Ceremony Buddhists makes offerings to the Gohonzon (a physical representation of the fundamental law that permeates all life (“The Gohonzon”), establish memorial tablets called tobas for ancestors as well as perform memorial services for those ancestors (“Memorial Service During the Equinox - Higan-e”).

     We find some common themes when we look to the various celebrations around the world – the harvest and our appreciation of it, and family and reverence for the dead.  There’s a large body of culture to draw from when planning your own fall equinox activities.  Plan a feast and spend time with your family, give thanks to the gods for their bounty, volunteer to help others, or just take a drive and enjoy those beautiful fall colors.

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“Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival 2016”.  ChinaTravel.com.  Web.  11, September 2016.  http://www.chinatravel.com/focus/mid-autumn-festival/

Duir, Alexa.  “The Eightfold Wheel of the Year”.  Manygods.org.uk.  2003.  Web.  7, September 2016.  http://www.manygods.org.uk/articles/festivals/wheel.shtml

“The Gohonzon”.  Soka Gakkai International.  2015.  Web.  11, September 2016.  http://www.sgi.org/about-us/gohonzon.html

Mark, Joshua.  “The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Rites of Demeter”.  Ancient History Encyclopedia.  2009.  Web.   11, September 2016.  http://www.ancient.eu/article/32/

“Memorial Service During the Equinox - Higan-e”.  Nichiren Shoshu Myoshinji Temple.  March 2016.  Web.  11, September, 2016.  http://www.nichirenshoshumyoshinji.org/ceremonies/higane.php

Rajchel, Diana.  Mabon: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Autumn Equinox.  Llewellyn.  2015.

Raynor.  “Middle Autumn Festival”. ChinaTravel.com.  April 2016.  Web.  11, September 2016.  http://www.chinatravel.com/facts/middle-autumn-festival.htm#1