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While the Autumn Equinox was celebrated in several places throughout Asia, there’s little evidence to suggest that the ancient pagans of Europe marked this specific day with any major fanfare. However, harvest festivals were widely observed at some point during the fall season in many cultures.
In the areas comprising what is now the United Kingdom, the traditional harvest festival was tied to both the solar and lunar calendars, being held around the Full Moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. And the remains of ancient neolithic sites throughout Britain and Ireland which were designed to align with the Sun on this day show that it was considered an important moment to observe and honor. This lack of historical information made the Autumn Equinox somewhat difficult to give a unique name to, at least compared to the other solar Sabbats. In the early 1970s, the name “Mabon” was suggested by Aidan Kelly, a prominent member of the growing Pagan community in the U.S.
Mabon is the name of a Welsh mythological figure who is mentioned in Arthurian legends. He is considered a deity by some, but not enough is known about him to confirm this status, as many figures in ancient pagan myths are the children of unions between deities and humans. Nonetheless, Mabon is the son of the goddess Modron, who is often described as the primordial triple goddess of the ancient Celts. The story we have of Mabon is that he was abducted from his mother when he was
three days old, and held imprisoned in a secret location into adulthood, until he is rescued by King Arthur’s men.
In actuality, “Mabon” means “son,” and “Modron” means “mother,” so we don’t really know whether these two mythical figures had specific names. Yet these archetypes are somewhat fitting for a Wiccan Sabbat in that they echo the mother-child relationship of the God and Goddess.
As the mythology and symbolism of the Wheel of the Year has evolved, the tale of Mabon has grown into something new, with various writers borrowing elements of ancient myths from other cultures, especially the Greeks and the Norse. In one version, Modron’s grief over her missing son is given as the reason for the turning of the season—her sadness causes darkness and cold to envelop the Earth. In another, it is Mabon’s imprisonment deep within the ground that leads to the turning inward of animals and plant life.
As with Ostara, we can see that the lore around Mabon is rather more modern than that of most other Sabbats. Nonetheless, the sorrow inherent to the original tale can be seen as appropriate for this time of year, as the absence of light looms closer and closer.
If Ostara’s symbols are the hare and the egg, then the chief symbol of Mabon is the cornucopia, also known as “the horn of plenty.” This image—a large, hollowed-out horn filled to overflowing with fruits and vegetables—is widely recognized in North America as part of the modern “harvest festival” of Thanksgiving. However, it was part of the harvest festivals of Europe for many centuries before making its way to the new world.
The word “cornucopia” comes from the Latin words for “horn” and “plenty,” but the symbol itself goes back even further to the ancient Greeks. It features prominently in Greek mythology, particularly in a story about Zeus as an infant. His supernatural strength caused him to accidentally break off one of the horns of Amalthea, the goat who watched over him and fed him with her milk. The severed horn then gained the power to provide infinite nourishment.
Other deities associated with the cornucopia include the Greek goddesses Gaia (the Earth) and Demeter (a grain goddess) and the Roman goddess Abundantia (the personification of abundance). As we can see, the cornucopia is a very fitting symbol for this Wiccan Sabbat—not just because of its pagan origins, but also because of its association with the Horned God.