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Northern Hemisphere: September 21-24
Southern Hemisphere: March 20-22
Pronounced: MAY-bun, MAH-bun, MAY-vhon, or MAH-bawn
Themes: harvest, gratitude, abundance, balance, preparation, welcoming the dark
Also known as: Autumnal Equinox, Fall Equinox, September Equinox, Harvest Tide, Harvest Home, Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, Feast of Avalon, Alben Elfed, Meán Fómhair, Gwyl canol Hydref
Mabon is the name used by Wiccans and many other modern Pagans for the Sabbat falling at the Autumn Equinox. Compared to the solstices, which actually occur during the middle of their respective seasons, the equinoxes mark more significant shifts from one season to the next.
By this point on the Wheel, the end of summer has become undeniable—a crisp chill in the air descends each evening at sunset, and the leaves on deciduous trees have begun to turn deep, bright shades of red, yellow and orange. The blue of the afternoon sky deepens as the summer’s white-hot sunlight turns golden. Plant life dies back in gardens, fields and forests, and squirrels get busy gathering acorns and walnuts to stash away for the coming cold months.
For many people, this is a bittersweet moment, as the beauty of the transforming Earth reminds us that we’re heading into bleak and barren times. But this is the true essence of the seasons and the Wheel—all of creation is always in motion, and the only constant in life is change.
The cyclical nature of time is especially apparent at Mabon as we work with themes that echo both Lammas and Ostara. Mabon is the second of the three harvest festivals, representing the pinnacle of abundance when it comes to the crops of the fields and the bounty of our gardens. Once again, we take time to appreciate all we have manifested—material and otherwise—through our efforts over the past several months.
There is more to do between now and Samhain to prepare for the winter, and this is a good time to take stock and evaluate what plans and projects need to be brought to completion before we enter the dark half of the year. But it’s also a moment to pause and celebrate what has taken place thus far.
In doing so, we give thanks to those who have assisted us, whether they be friends, family, or spirit guides and ancestors on the other side. And we recognize the importance of sharing our good fortune with others, by hosting feasts as well as giving to those in need.
The other central focus at this time is balance. Like Ostara, which falls on the Spring Equinox, Mabon marks the point at which day and night are of equal length. This time, the Sun crosses the “celestial equator” and appears to head south. From now until Yule, the light will wane significantly, with the nights becoming noticeably longer than the days. However, at this moment, the light and the dark are balanced. Interestingly, the Autumn Equinox coincides with the Sun’s entrance into the Zodiac sign of Libra. Libra’s symbol is the scales, and it is the sign known for seeking balance, harmony and equality. However much some of us may prefer warmth to cold or light to dark (or vice versa), we also know that without their opposites, we couldn’t truly appreciate our favorite times of year. Participating in the turning of the Wheel through ritual and celebration helps us live in harmony with these shifting tides.
This recognition of the necessity of change—more specifically, the necessity of death in the life/death/rebirth cycle—is seen in the shifting relationship between the Goddess and the God. At Mabon, neither is young anymore.
The aging God is even further weakened than at Lammas, and will soon give way completely to the dominance of the dark at Samhain. The Goddess is still in her Mother aspect as the Earth continues to bear fruit, and she still holds the new God in her womb. Yet she is moving toward her Crone aspect as well, where she will reign alone over the dark, mysterious nights until the God is reborn at Yule. The bittersweet quality of this time of year is embodied by the Goddess herself, who mourns the passing of the God yet knows he will return anew. In some traditions, the Goddess actually follows the God to the Underworld, which is why the Earth becomes cold and barren. In others, it is her sadness at his absence that causes the leaves to fall, the plants to die, and the animals to slumber away in hidden shelters. Still others view the coming weeks simply as a time of needed rest for all of the Earth, the equal and balanced opposite of the active energy of spring.