It’s time for Pumpkin spice lattes, hoodies when the sun goes down, and perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, whether the word Mabon can be used for the Autumn Equinox. I think Mabon as a name for the Autumn Equinox is kind of dumb too, but I’m not so much of an elitist that I think the yearly stink about it is worth the hassle.
I’m always amused when someone tells me that “Mabon” doesn’t mean the Autumn Equinox. It certainly didn’t originally signify the equinox, but the definitions of words can (and often will) change over time. Word meanings aren’t preserved in amber, they constantly evolve. Did you know that the word nice used to mean ignorant or stupid? Perhaps it would be nice if we went back to the original meaning of the word nice?
Of course Mabon signifies the Autumn Equinox. The word “Mabon” is on tens of thousands of posters, wall hangings, and plaques. It’s also in hundreds of books, and has been for forty years! It’s not like the use of Mabon for the Autumn Equinox is a new thing, it’s been around for quite awhile. Putting that particular genie back in the bottle seems unlikely to me.
That doesn’t mean one has to like the word “Mabon” being in books and on posters, but to say that Mabon doesn’t mean the Autumn Equinox is silly, because it clearly does. If you google “Mabon” you’ll get an information box telling you that Mabon is the Autumn Equinox, and at the top of the page (the image above) something telling you that Mabon lasts a week. I know that Google is not necessarily an authority, but Google can provide a snapshot of what people think, and in this case how words are used. And what is clear there is that the word Mabon is now a commonplace word for the Autumn Equinox.
Someone told me the other day that anyone who uses Mabon to mean the Autumn Equinox is stupid (or are they nice?). My response: “Starhawk is stupid?” For the record, I don’t think Starhawk is stupid and Mabon is used for the Autumn Equinox in The Spiral Dance (1979). If everyone who uses the word Mabon is stupid then there are a lot of really smart people who are now stupid (or nice).
It is true that people say a lot of dumb shit about Mabon as a name for the equinox. I didn’t have to go very far in my Google search to see Cosmopolitan (a pretty major magazine) completely botch history:
“It’s a pagan celebration originating from the ancient Celts, who populated Britain and much of Northwest Europe before the march of the Romans (so we’re going back nearly 2,000 years here). This group of druidic, tree-lovin’ people celebrated the Earth’s cycles and seasons by dividing the year into eight segments at key seasonal turning points, creating eight festivals that are still celebrated today by some Wiccans and pagans . . . . . . . In Celtic folklore, the name Mabon (although some historians dispute this) is thought to come from the Welsh god Mabon, who was the son of the Earth Mother Goddess and a god of light himself.””
Much of the hate people have for the term Mabon come from descriptions such as this one. Mabon is not a celebration originating from the ancient Celts (they didn’t celebrate equinoxes), and they didn’t have an eight-spoked Wheel of the Year either. Come on Kerry Ward (author), you can do better than that!
Nothing illustrates the lack of research in this article more notably than the idea that the figure Mabon might be the origin point for calling the Autumn Equinox Mabon. There’s no debate about this, Mabon (Autumn Equinox) was named after Mabon in the mid-1970’s and has been in use ever since.
Mabon himself is a pretty obscure figure, and like most of the figures in The Mabinogion is portrayed as a human and not a deity. He’s actually rescued by King Arthur. One of my mythology books gives this listing for Mabon:
“Mabon: son of the Welsh divine mother Modron, who was said to have been abducted when only three nights old and imprisoned in Gloucester. However, since only he was able to control the hound which CULHWCH needed to win the hand of OLWEN, an expeditation was mounted to release Mabon. Once free, he duly helped to capture the wild boar TWRCH TRWYTH with the aid of the hound and to take from between the boar’s ears the razor that Olen’s father had demanded. Apart from adventures like this, the actions of Mabon are uncertain, suggesting that he may have been a former god, possibly Maponos, a Celtic god of youth, who was incorporated into Welsh mythology as a warrior once his worship was all but forgotten. The Romans knew of Maponos, whom they equated with Apollo, the god of prophecy.” From The Encyclopedia of Mythology by Arthur Cotterell
There’s obviously nothing about the Autumn Equinox in there and I’ve always found the reasoning behind calling the Autumn Equinox Mabon nonsensical. But to hear some people tell it, naming the Autumn Equinox after Mabon son of Modron is blasphemous. It would be like naming Thursday in honor of Thor, what does Thor have to do with Thursday?
Lots of people like to talk about deities and agency, and I can’t help but think of the Autumn Equinox being called Mabon as agency. Want your name on the lips of mortals? Get a day named after you. When I first came across the word Mabon it made me want to learn more about the figure Mabon. I can’t be alone in this. I’d argue that the reason so many people are familiar with Mabon son of Modron today is because someone named the Autumn Equinox after him.
And it is possible for a word to mean two things! Mabon can be a word used by some for the equinox and be the name of a god! Perhaps most amazingly, people will understand the context!
I’ve always found it odd how much hate is reserved for “Mabon” while other sabbats with dubious histories are met with only a shrug. There was no ancient celebration of the Spring Equinox in Europe, and certainly no celebrations called “Ostara,” and yet no one seems to care about that one. Ostara is also named for a deity, which for whatever reason is not as offensive as the Autumn Equinox being named for Mabon. There’s a certain smugness that comes from saying “Mabon is not the name of the Autumn Equinox” that just rubs me the wrong way.
I don’t want anyone thinking that one has to call the Autumn Equinox Mabon,call it whatever you want. Harvest Home is a terrific alternative, and has some actual history behind it (though it wasn’t celebrated on the equinox specifically). I also think Halig/Holy Month makes a lot of sense, since Haligmonað shows up in the work of the historian Bede (which is where Ostara and Litha* as sabbat names comes from.) And not every tradition calls the Autumn Equinox Mabon either. I don’t think I’m breaking any oaths here as a Gardnerian to tell you that Mabon is not the name of a sabbat in the Gardnerian tradition.
So yeah, it’s fair game to say that not every tradition celebrates Mabon. We should also try and correct misinformation when it pops up, like someone suggesting Mabon is a Celtic tradition. But we should do those things in a nice way (and I’m using the modern definition of nice here), and not be assholes about it. Mabon does mean Autumn Equinox for millions of people, and to write that it doesn’t is kind of insulting and not supported by how language works.
*I hate Litha as a name for the Summer Solstice, to me it’s dumber than Mabon since the Solstice has been called Midsummer for centuries.