The Druids call this celebration, Mea’n Fo’mhair, and honor The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs, and fertilizer are appropriate at this time. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her consort the God as he prepares for death and re-birth.
Fall is the time to harvest what was planted and to begin preparations for the next season of crops or activities. In ancient times, fall celebrations were common, with the harvest of fruits, grains, and vegetables critical for survival in the coming winter.
It is no surprise that the celebration began in ancient times and continues to this day. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these. Many of the festivals coincide with Jewish and Christian holidays, by no accident. These points in the year were important community celebrations and the Pagan practices were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian God or a saint.
As a holiday, Mabon represents a time for honoring the dead, visiting burial sites, giving thankfulness for the end of the harvest season and the bounty it provides. These are the themes of closing, letting go, and remembering the year, the harvest, and those who were lost during the year.
Mabon marks a time to harvest fruits, nuts, vegetables, and herbs for the coming winter, along with completion of the grain harvest begun during Lammas. As such, it is often known as the Pagan Thanksgiving. Although many view the harvest season as a celebration of life, it is also a celebration of death. The bounty gathered from the garden provides nourishment for family and friends, but also results in the death of those plants and vegetables harvested. Thus, Mabon is a celebration of the cycle of life. Traditional practice is to walk through wild places and forests, gathering seed pods and dried plants to use in decorating the home and for future herbal magick.
In most Pagan lore, the fall equinox is also a day of symbolic sacrifice, represented in the story of John Barleycorn, designed to manifest sustenance that will last through the winter. It has been identified as the “assumption of the Crone,” when the dark face of the Goddess assumes the sway over the world which she will hold until the return of the Maiden at Imbolc. It also symbolizes the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness, or, in other words, when night conquers day. For modern Pagans, the last sheaf of grain harvested is commonly tied to the sacrificed god of light.
In ancient times, though, the last sheaf of the harvest was more commonly referred to as female, with English names like “shorn maiden,” “ivy bride,” or “wheat girl.” This association may have originated with the ancient Greeks’ Eleusinian rites, which honored the goddess’ disappearance at the waning year and her return in the spring. In Germany, the last sheaf was made into a female figure, dressed, and carried home with ceremony to preside over the threshing. Among North African Berbers, a straw figure was set up in the fields while the women were reaping and then carried off by mounted warriors in a mock marriage by abduction.
In Ireland, the Fall Equinox is the time of the goose harvest and is associated with the ancient custom of giving gifts of newly-butchered goose and mutton to the poor. Perhaps this tradition is the root of our modern practice of contributing food to charitable organizations during the harvest season. The Norse celebrated the Equinox by making bread dough images of Freyr and Freyja and sacrificing to the Elves. The fall equinox also occurs during deer mating and, in many places, hunting season. In British folklore, this time of year is associated with Herne the Hunter, who leads a wild phantom chase through the forest, heralding confusion and change.
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