I adore this time of year. There’s a crispness in the air, the herald of colder, darker things to come. The leaves are just beginning to change into what, in my region of the US, will soon become a riotous panoply of color. I live in the belly of the mountains, in the Hudson River Valley and fall is something to be celebrated here for its beauty alone. It’s as if the lines of varied color show, for a few brief weeks, the very and varied musculature of the mountains, rippling, stretching and preparing for the long sleep of winter. It’s an awe-inspiring sight.
Of course I would celebrate Autumn anyway. I’ve never been a summer person and I greet the cooling days with immense joy. They bring me vitality, a renewed sense of purpose, and the feeling of an immense burden being lifted (i.e. the paralyzing heat of the summer!). Fall provides a feast for the senses: the smell of burning leaves, the sweet chill of cooling nights, the spice of Thanksgiving-time sweets, the rich tapestry of color inherent in the trees and harvest vegetables, and above all the transformation of nature’s green into the reds, golds, oranges, siennas, and browns of autumn. What a glorious relief! What a joyous sight! Moreover, these seasonal changes remind me that we’re rapidly passing out of the time of Harvest and moving instead into the time of internal reflection and quiet that can, ideally, be part of Winter. That is no small thing to honor.
With the feast of Mabon, the fall Equinox, we acknowledge the balance of light and dark, life and death, growth and rot. We honor all those things that enable our world to grow and restore itself. On this holy tide, we hail the hunter and the hunted, the predator and the prey, the plough and the scythe, the blessings of growth and of decay. We honor our resources, and the frugality and careful planning of every ancestor whose careful household management got their families safely through the cold constraints of winter. Mabon is a time of remembrance and of culling away, of honoring what we have, what we need, but also what we can provide to others. It is a time to look clearly at where we are weak in spirit, where we are strong, and where we stand somewhere in between, a time to take stock of our portion of gratitude and blessings for the coming season.
This is the season of the Hunter, who takes the old, the weak, the infirm. It is a season preceding those dark nights before Yule when the Wild Hunt is said to ride. It reminds us that the holy walks hand in hand with terror. The message of Mabon, when the land begins to wither, to hoard its resources, to slow the rhythms of its growth down, is that we too must, at some point in our lives slow down, cast off those things that are brittle, withered, and weary; we too much look within, because for us also, physically, spiritually, emotionally there are cycles that we have no choice but to obey and within those cycles may lie both terror and beauty, gain and loss. Within those cycles, we prepare ourselves for both the holy and the terror that lies within.
Contemplation on the rhythms of the seasons, the turning of summer into fall, shows us that just as the earth has its temporary fallow periods, so too we may sometimes enter into periods where our faith seems to lie fallow; but if we do the necessary work, if we engage mindfully in right action, if we do not let loss and pain, or joy and celebration pull us too far astray, if we work hard to maintain — to the best of our ability– right relationships with ourselves, our ancestors, the Holy Powers, and the world at large, such fallowness can blossom into a rich and worthy harvest.
Tilling the hard and rocky soil of one’s own soul, ploughing deep furrows into which one can plant the seeds of faith, nurturing that faith, waiting out those painful fallow periods for those carefully planted seeds to grow is the hardest thing we will ever do. So many of us have been taught that faith is its own self-contained sphere, that it is for Sundays, or ritual days, or those times when we specifically set out to say a prayer and make an offering, that anything else is for mystics and those not really connected to the regular, mundane world. In reality, faith is very much an every day thing. It’s an awareness, a way of being in the world, of relating to the Holy Powers (Gods, ancestors, vaettir all), our friends and families in a very specific and very mindful way. It’s the lens through which we interact with the world and most of all with ourselves and everything that we are striving to create and build for ourselves and our future. Sometimes we have to work very hard to keep that lens in focus because faith isn’t just for the occasional ritual, or holy tide; it’s an every day, every moment thing even in the midst of the most tumultuous change or wrenching emotions. Life is challenging after all, and faith all the more so.
One of the most painful but also the most necessary ways of keeping faith vital, vibrant, and strong is going into our own darkness, dancing with our own shadow, fighting with our own demons. Through the blessings of the Hunter and His prey, we are invited to engage in the powerful process of self-evaluation and exploration. We are offered a key, a way to walk through that most terrifying of doorways. We are offered a knife, a cleansing, flensing blade whereby we may look within and slowly, painfully cut away those brittle masks, external distractions, and false sentimentalities that prevent us from engaging in any truly meaningful way not only with our Gods but with ourselves and each other as well. We are offered a chance to put aside the self-absorption and pride that so often keeps us from developing as whole beings. We must be for ourselves both predator and prey. We are charged to seek these things out within the complex labyrinths of our souls so that there will be room for the grace of awareness to flow. This is the sacred Hunt with which we can all engage.
What are the skills necessary to a good Hunter? The hunt demands patience, keen vision, and solitude. So too, does faith, at least sometimes. It demands efficient preparation and skill hard won through much practice. So too, does faith. In the end, a good hunter brings his or her bounty back to share with community and kin. That’s what faith is about too. Let the good Hunter be our model as the wyrd of our lives unfolds before us. Let His skills, become ours.
What about the prey? Efficient prey is fleet of foot, it knows it must traverse dangerous ground swiftly and well to sustain its life. It knows it cannot stop until, or if, by the power of the predator it is brought down. Then, and only then, does it yield and cease its flight. So too must we seek out the integrity of our souls with the fierce survival instinct of an animal engaged in this primal dance. So too should we yield ourselves only to the final blow of our own divinely inspired hunt for from that submission, the grace of spiritual power grows.
Mabon marks a time of transition. The potential hunger of winter lurks just around the corner, if we are not careful, if we are not lucky, if we do not do the necessary work. The grace inherent in the harvest is that we’re given the opportunity to evaluate and prepare for that hunger, and the same holds true for the hungers of our hearts and souls. Hail to the Hunter and Hail to the Prey. Hail to the terror and hail to the season’s rejoicing. Hail to the coming darkness of Winter: the winter without, and all the little winters within, because Mabon tells us that from the darkness new blessings can flow.