Celebrating Autumn, Mabon, Harvest: What’s In A Name?

Celebrating Autumn, Mabon, Harvest: What’s In A Name? September 14, 2020

Recently, Phoenix LeFae of The Witches Next Door shared a post titled “Mabon is Dumb.”  My first reaction was “Whoa, don’t hate on Autumn!” And then I have to admit chuckling a bit as I read her article. Here’s why.

Image by Witchgarden via pixabay.com

Samhain Already? Where Is Autumn?

First, the start of Phoenix’s post includes a tiny rant about those harshing on people talking up the Samhain celebration in September. It’s funny because I’ve been muttering a similar “slow your roll” toward the groovers on an early Halloween vibe. But to be fair, I’ve also been preparing for October 1st by grabbing up a few spooky decorations for my house.

And that’s when I accepted the gentle slap upside the head. Even though I’ve kept those mutters to myself, I’m not going to spoil anyone’s early Samhain or Halloween fun. This year has been difficult enough for everyone, let’s find joy in the simple things. If jumping into Halloween spooky or decorating for Samhain does that for people then who is anyone else to judge?

Second, I’ve expressed similar feelings and thoughts as Phoenix over the years about the word “Mabon” as the name for the Autumn Equinox. Because who makes a connection between Autumn and a little known character from Welsh mythology? Apparently, I do as the name has become (mostly) synonymous with Autumn (hence my reaction to her post title).

And that would be due to Aiden Kelly when he created the Wheel of the Year! But is there a reason he did this? Who is this Mabon ap Modron for whom the Wiccan harvest sabbat is now named?

Image by ju_see via shutterstock.com. Used with licensed permission.


Mabon ap Modron = Harvest Celebration?

When my family and I recorded our Wheel of the Year episode series, we talked about the mythological person, Mabon. Ode is adamant this deity gets his due because…why not? He has as much right to be honored and remembered as other deities. So, allow me to share a condensed version of his (sort of) story.

Wikipedia records Mabon as a possible Welsh deity, the son of Modron (a mother goddess figure), who is stolen from his mother as an infant, then imprisoned in a cell. Mabon is supposedly the only one with the ability to hunt the dog Drudwyn (who in turn can track a magickal boar, aka Twrch Trwyth –it’s a whole thing). Point is, the “exalted prisoner” who is Mabon needs rescuing. Arthur (yes, that one) and his men accomplish the task.

The legendary king sets about finding Modron to help his cousin, Culhwch/Kilhwch, who is attempting to win the hand of Olwen through completing a set of impossible challenges set by her father.

The point is, Arthur finds Mabon by asking the salmon of Llyn Llyw (oldest and wisest of animals–yes, it’s a fish not an animal but that’s how it is described) for his whereabouts. They rescue Modron, he does his hunting thing, and that’s his involvement ended.

There are one or two other possible mentions of Mabon joining Arthur in additional exploits. Otherwise, he pretty much disappears from the recorded stories. For those interested in the full tale, you can find this and other stories in the Mabinogion.

Image by ju_see via shutterstock.com. Used with licensed permission.

The Connection? Let’s face it. There isn’t one.

Where is the connection to Autumn, harvest, or balance (a popular theme for Autumn Equinox) within the story of Mabon? To be honest, there is little to no connection unless you try hard and believe in yourself.

And while doing some research on why Mr. Kelly chose the name, I found a blog written by Kris Hughes called That Mabon Thing Again. Within the comments section, I found a link to Aiden Kelly’s 2013 Patheos Pagan post explaining his reasons for the name.

According to his article, Mr. Kelly attempted to find a Celtic story similar to the myth of Kore (Persephone) and the story of Mabon (stolen child of a goddess, retrieved through heroic action) fit the bill in his eyes.

Personally, I find it a bit of a stretch. According to a comment by Ed Watson found on  “That Mabon Thing Again” post, Mabon’s story may fit better with the Winter Solstice via Irish mythology.

Mr. Kelly’s reasoning (and aesthetic sensibilities) aside from it, I feel in some ways a disservice has been done to the deity/mythological character, Mabon ap Modron, by equating his name with the Autumn Equinox for the Wheel of the Year. Why?


Image by lummix2004 via pixabay.com

A Celebration By Any Other Name…

It’s been my understanding that most people (especially newcomers to The Craft) do not really know who Mabon ap Modron is (or at least I didn’t until Ode researched the history of the name for the podcast two years ago). Maybe it’s just me, but say “Mabon” and immediately the mind goes to apples, falling leaves, and well—AUTUMN.

Perhaps there is more awareness than I realize, but I have to wonder how many practitioners think to “Hail” Mabon ap Modron during the celebration that now bears his name? How many are sharing his (admittedly limited) story around the bonfire?

It makes more sense for me that if I’m going to call the holiday “Mabon,” then the deity should be specifically honored as well as the change of season and all that entails. And since Mabon (the sabbat/holiday) occurs between September 21st through September 24th as a harvest celebration that includes the Autumn Equinox, I see no reason why one could not do both.

These days,  it mostly comes down to preference when it comes to names for a holiday. Aiden Kelly (working with Oberon Zell) gave the Pagan Community a calendar of celebrations. Kelly wanted memorable names for each (even if his choices don’t always make sense to us now).

And much like the people putting up their Halloween decor or styling with a spooky costume, whatever a person chooses to call the holiday (be it Autumn Equinox, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Fómhair, An Clabhsúr, or Alban Elfed) it is up to the individual, the tradition, the coven, grove, or kindred. Just take the opportunity to celebrate the time and season as we may, especially in 2020. Because of reasons.

And maybe raise a glass to Mabon ap Modron too.

Gwyn is one of the hosts of 3 Pagans and a Cat, a podcast about the questions and discussions between three pagan family members, each exploring different pagan paths and how their various traditions can intersect. The most practiced pagan on the path, Gwyn is a Green Earth Witch devoted to the Earth Mother, Hekate, Brighid, and Frigga. She is a Clairsentient Medium, Tarot Reader, loves writing and, spending time with her family, as well as working with herbs, essential oils, and plants. You can read more about the author here.
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