The autumn equinox falls on September 22 or 23, marking the Pagan holiday of Mabon. It is also known as Alban Elfed, Second Harvest, or Harvest Home. This is the second of the three harvest festivals. Now the ripe grain is being reaped from the fields. Vegetable season is ending and the fall fruits, such as apples, are ready to pick.
The autumn equinox marks the time when the hours of day and night are equal. This is an important time in traditions that celebrate the year based on the four quarters of the sun (equinoxes and solstices). For Pagans who celebrate eight sabbats, the quarter days are still significant. This is also the time of year when trees turn colors and the world begins to go dormant in preparation for winter.
Decorate your altar with seasonal colors of red, orange, yellow, gold, and brown. Add symbols of the sun and moon, or a sun wheel. Consider holding your ritual at night, so that you can admire the autumn constellations coming into view. Then light a bonfire and enjoy its heat in the cooling weather.
At this time, day and night are equal, and night is growing longer. This makes a good time to honor the principle of balance. Explore the polarities of light and dark, male and female, earth and sky, spirit and matter, etc. Also pay attention to “two-faced” deities such as Janus or Hella.
Decorate your altar in black-and-white or another sharp color contrast. Choose a pair of ritual leaders, preferably a priest and a priestess, who will embody different characteristics. Consider holding this ritual at twilight, the border between day and night.
The Golden Harvest
Now is the time when the ripe grains are brought in from the fields: dent corn, wheat, soybeans, and all the rest. These dry crops are stored whole or ground into meal and flour to feed people and livestock through the cold season when nothing grows. Also, some must be saved as seed stock for the next year. (This overlaps somewhat with Lammas, and people will celebrate grain according to local preferences.)
The ancient Greeks celebrated the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Each fall, Persephone would descend to rule the Underworld beside her husband Hades, and her mother Demeter would mourn so that the world turned cold and barren. Through the Eleusinian mysteries, these goddesses taught humans to understand the balance of life and death and to transcend their fear of dying.
Decorate your altar with brown and gold for Demeter, black and red for Persephone. An older mother should portray Demeter and a young woman should portray Persephone. Demeter may present people with apples or bread, which are fruits of life; and Persephone may present pomegranate seeds, the fruit of death.
Wine & Vineyards
Mabon is associated with grapes and vineyards, and especially with the making and drinking of wine. Many deities relate to wine including Bacchus, Dionysus, Osiris, Geshtinanna, and even Jesus. Intoxication has long been linked with a sort of divine madness. Then too, the making of wine is a mysterious process, once requiring secret rituals and propitiations to ensure its success.
Decorate your altar in green and purple. Include bunches of grapes and wreaths or garlands of grape leaves. Celebrate with wine or grape juice in ritual. As a field trip, you might visit a vinyard or winery.
As a harvest festival, Mabon is tightly linked to abundance and prosperity. Farmers are reaping grain and picking the bountiful fall fruits. This generous outpouring of food will sustain people and livestock through the cold winter. Prayers and meditations for this holiday often feature abundance. Our lives thus manifest the cycle of the seasons.
Decorate your altar with the rich colors of autumn: red, gold, purple, deep green, and brown. Pile up symbols of abundance such as grains, gourds, and fruit; add other things that represent plenty to you. Give thanks for all that you have.
Fall vegetables include squash, potatoes, and beans. Baked squash stuffed with nuts is a Mabon favorite. Soup made with many types of beans is a symbol of abundance: common numbers include 5, 9, 13, 15, and 19 beans with the maximum being 23. You can often find packages of mixed dried beans at the store.
Fall fruits range from the common apples and pears to less familiar woodland fruits like persimmons. Dual-purpose and cooking apples ripen in the fall, including some that are good for storage. Baked or roasted apples, and apple pies or stuffings, are popular for Mabon. Apple cider is a good beverage (either nonalcoholic or hard cider). Pears poached in wine are particularly appropriate for honoring Bacchus or other deities of the vine. Persimmons must be fully ripe and mushy before they are eaten, or else they are extremely bitter. They appear in cakes and puddings at this time.
Nuts are a characteristic fall food. Walnuts and hazelnuts can be eaten fresh. Acorns require blanching to remove the bitter tannins. Peanuts are usually roasted to improve their flavor. Nuts are often served whole for cracking. However, nut stuffing is another autumn tradition. Consider a salmon stuffed with hazelnuts for a Celtic feast!
Pomegranate is the fruit of Death, which Hades fed to his queen Persephone so that she would return to help him rule the Underworld. Serve this fruit whole so that the seeds may be cut free and eaten, or look for pomegranate juice at the supermarket. Pomegranate sorbet is well worth making for its deep garnet color and bold flavor.
Grapes and wine honor Bacchus, Dionysus, and similar deities of fermentation and revelry. In some areas this is the season for picking the wine grapes and setting up the new wine. Casks of seasoned wine are often broached at this time. Consider obtaining a barrel of decent wine if you are hosting a really huge event. It’s not a cheap presentation but people sure will remember it.
Fresh meat from domestic animals is often served at Mabon, although the main butchering season comes later. Roast mutton or goose are among the most popular choices.
Colors: Mabon’s colors are those of autumn leaves: red, orange, yellow, and brown. The gold, blond, and russet tones of ripe grain comprise another set, as do the burgundy, maroon, and purple of wine and grapes. Mabon greens are forest, olive, and pine shades.
Flowers: For this holiday, autumn flowers are appropriate, especially chrysanthemums and marigolds which bloom in golds and reds. Zinnias, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, and some wildflowers may still be blooming too.
Leaves: Garlands or wreaths of grape leaves are traditional for this holiday. Oak leaves are also good. Alternatively, use bunches of any leaf already turning color; maple, sweetgum, and saskatoon show beautiful hues. Grapevines, ivy, or other vines may be twined into wreaths — an excellent craft activity.
Incense: Many fragrances of this season evoke the forests including cedar, oakmoss, patchouli, pine, and sandalwood. Sage and sweetgrass bring up the bittersweet smell of an autumn meadow. Benzoin and myrrh are resins relating to age, memory, death, and preservation.
Music: Rattles and drums are popular Mabon instruments, along with horns for hunting. Ideally, choose handheld rattles made from gourds or anklet rattles made from deer toes. Consider seasonal tracks such as "Mabon" or "John Barleycorn (Must Die)" and the albums Barley Rigs, Chants: Ritual Music, or A Circle Is Cast. Altar Tools: These primarily relate to harvest. There is the cornucopia, or “horn of plenty,” and the gathering basket. The scythe and bolline are cutting instruments for harvesting grains and herbs.
Grain and Nuts: Characteristic decorations of Mabon include cornstalk tipis and ears of Indian corn. Acorns and pine cones may be hung in bunches or piled in bowls. Gourds come in many colors and shapes, some of them suitable for making birdhouses, rattles, dippers, or other crafts — another fun Mabon activity.
Background: This ritual focuses on the season of autumn and aspects associated with it: hunting, wine, and grain. Two cultures each contribute a God and a Goddess: Artemis and Dionysus (Greek), Carridwen and Herne (Celtic). Attendees explore what they have harvested from the fruits of their labor during the year. Preparation: Coveners enter the ritual area and form a circle. The altar is decorated with leaves and candles in autumn colors, plus a platter of bread and chalice of grape juice. There are candles for the Four Quarters.
Caller for the East: “Hail Artemis, Maiden of the Silver Bow, Divine Huntress! Bless us with steady aim and clear sight to see the mind of our quarry. Quicken us with your touch.” Caller lights the East candle.
Caller for the South: “Hail Dionysus, Lord of the Vine and the Field! Bless us with exuberance in our festivities. Make us merry with your touch.” Caller lights the South candle.
Caller for the West: “Hail Carridwen, Goddess of the Cauldron, Barley Mother! Bless us with abundance and inspiration. Stir us with your touch.” Caller lights the West candle.
Caller for the North: “Hail Herne, the Hunter and the Hunted! Bless us with the power of death and life. Calm us with your touch.” Caller lights the North candle.
Priestess: “Autumn has come. The year ripens into maturity. Now day and night stand equal, so we give thought to the balance and flow in our own lives. We celebrate the abundance of the land, in the harvest and the hunt. Let us also honor all the hard work that went into producing what we now enjoy. From discipline and diligence come the fruits of our labors. From experience and reflection comes wisdom. These, too, are the signs of the season.”
Harvest Chant Our hands will work for peace and justice, Our hands will work to bless the land. Gather round the harvest table. Let us feast and bless the land.
Priest: “Autumn has come. Artemis draws her bow in the cold morning sky. Dionysus twines his way through the fields. Carridwen stirs her cauldron full of barley. Herne stalks his prey and lays down his life in the golden woods. This is the time of thanksgiving and joy. Each year brings its own lessons and rewards. Each year brings us things to make us grateful. We have sown, and tended, and gathered. Now we name the fruits of our harvest.”
Priest addresses each of the coveners in turn, asking three questions: “What have you accomplished since Mabon last? What do you currently give thanks for in your life? What have you learned in the past year?” Each covener answers. Priest answers last.
Priestess: “Autumn’s grain is spring’s seed.” Priestess lifts the platter of bread. “Blessed be the Goddess of all life and death. Blessed be the grain that comes from Her and returns to Her.”
All: “Blessed be.”
Priestess partakes of the bread and then shares it with the coveners.
Priest: “Autumn’s fruit holds the memory of spring’s flower.” Priest lifts the chalice of grape juice. “Blessed be the God of all that lives and dies. Blessed be the drink that we raise in His honor.”
All: “Blessed be.”
Priest partakes of the grape juice and then shares it with the coveners.
Priestess: “By our time and attention, we give honor to what we value most. Artemis and Carridwen, we thank You for Your gifts. Dionysus and Herne, we thank You for Your bounty. Now let us retire this circle and partake of the Feast.”
Caller for the North: “Farewell Herne, the Hunter and the Hunted! Go with our thanks into the forest.” Caller extinguishes the North candle.
Caller for the West: “Farewell Carridwen, Goddess of the Cauldron, Barley Mother! Go with our thanks into the grain.” Caller extinguishes the West candle.
Caller for the South: “Farewell Dionysus, Lord of the Vine and the Field! Go with our thanks into the crop.” Caller extinguishes the South candle.
Caller for the East: “Hail Artemis, Maiden of the Silver Bow, Divine Huntress! Go with our thanks into the crescent moon.” Caller extinguishes the East candle.
Priest: “The circle is open but unbroken.”
All: “Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again!”
Ritual for Mabon 2004
Background: This is one of our generalist rituals, honoring not a singular deity but the gods at large. The structure works with the cyclic nature of this holiday. Celebrants acknowledge what they have received and what they hope to accomplish, and offer gifts to the gods in thanks for symbolic and actual autumn harvests.
Preparation: Set up altar. Celebrants gather around altar.
The four Callers invoke the Quarters.
Caller for the East: “I call for the East, and to the harvest of the gardens: herbs to sweeten our food and flowers to gladden our hearts. Hail and well met!”
All: “Hail and well met!”
Caller for the South: “I call for the South, and to the harvest of the fields: vegetables and grains to fill our bellies. Hail and well met!”
All: “Hail and well met!”
Caller for the West: “I call for the West, and for the harvest of the orchards: fruit and nuts to nourish our souls. Hail and well met!”
All: “Hail and well met!”
Caller for the North: “I call for the North, and to the harvest of the pastures: animals who strengthen and warm our bodies. Hail and well met!”
All: “Hail and well met!”
Celebrants cast circle.
High Priest begins Offering of Thanks.
High Priest: “Today we are gathered to celebrate all we have been given by the gods: the rewards that have been earned through human effort, as well as things bestowed as gifts outright. We stand now, hands locked, with family and friends, as the days are in balance with the nights. But the night is slowly winning. In the coming months of darkness and cold, we will turn to each other for warmth and comfort. For that gift alone, we give thanks. We have the harvest, its bounty weighting our tables and pantries, and for that we give thanks. We have shelter and clothing, and we give thanks. But what else have we to be thankful for? On this day of balance, let us look at the other gifts we have in our lives, and let our praises soar to those who have seen fit to bestow them upon us.”
Celebrants drop hands. Starting with High Priest, each in turn (going clockwise) says something they are thankful for, or write it upon a piece of paper. This list continues until all have exhausted their lists.
High Priestess begins Offering of Hopes.
High Priestess: “What we have is truly great. But this is also a time of planning ahead, of preparing. What we have must last through the darkness. What do you have planned for the future, and what aid do you hope for from the gods?”
Beginning with High Priestess, celebrants again speak or write, this time their hopes and plans.
High Priest leads Offering of Gifts.
High Priest: “What we have spoken today is carried on the wind. Let our gifts and words be so gathered here that those we honor may enjoy.”
Gifts of gourds, corn, herbs, and flowers along with written thanks and hopes are gathered on the altar. Celebrants all rejoin hands.
High Priestess acknowledges upcoming Feast, in lieu of “Cakes and Ale.”
High Priestess: “We have shared on a spiritual plane, with each other as well as with the gods, our appreciation and our hopes. Let us now share on the physical plane by re-gathering in the house to partake in the bounties of the harvest as manifested in our mutually-assembled feast! Callers, release the circle."
The four callers release the Quarters.
Caller for the North: “I release the North, with thanks for the harvest of the pastures. Stay if you will; go if you must. Hail and farewell!”
All: “Hail and farewell!”
Caller for the West: “I release the West, with thanks for the harvest of the orchards. Stay if you will; go if you must. Hail and farewell!”
All: “Hail and farewell!”
Caller for the South: “I release the South, with thanks for the harvest of the fields. Stay if you will; go if you must. Hail and farewell!”
All: “Hail and farewell!”
Caller for the East: “I release the East, with thanks for the harvest of the gardens. Stay if you will; go if you must. Hail and farewell!”
All: “Hail and farewell!”
Celebrants release the circle.
High Priest: “The circle is open, but unbroken. Merry meet…”
All: “… merry part, and merry meet again!”
Mabon Ritual for 2008
Background: This ritual has an abstract theme, drawing on the seasonal aspects of the autumn equinox. It focuses on Light and Dark and the Balance between them. Three leaders each represent one of these aspects, teaching the celebrants about it during the ritual.
Ritual Prep: Theme is Light/Dark/Balance. Participants should dress in black, white, or a combination of the two. Lay bonfire. Fill and place tiki torches. Set up altar and altar tools/supplies. Light the tiki torches in advance and process to ritual meadow.
Caller for Balance:Casts circle deosil.
Invocation of Aspects:Trinary leaders read their invocations simultaneously.
Caller for Light: Equinox is now at hand; Autumn comes to bless the land. Hear me, Brightness, as I call For the sun begins its fall. Though the shadows take their flight, Let our hearts walk in the light. Brightness, harken unto me: Hail and well met! Blessed be!
Caller for Dark: Equinox is now at hand; Autumn comes to bless the land. Hear me, Darkness, as I call; Cast your cloak above us all. Shade us from the sunbeams’ bite; Shelter us in gentle night. Darkness, harken unto me: Hail and well met! Blessed be!
Caller for Balance: Equinox is now at hand; Autumn comes to bless the land. Hear me, Balance, as I call Lest the wheel of seasons stall. Sun and shadow, left and right Leave us level in your sight. Balance, harken unto me: Hail and well met! Blessed be!
All: “Hail and well met! Blessed be!”
Caller for Light: Delivers a brief statement of intent for the Light section, then reads “Powerful Song.”
Powerful song of radiant light Weave us the web that spins the night Web of stars that hold the dark Weave us the Earth that feeds the spark.
Meanwhile, Caller for Dark leads the circle to dance widdershins. Then Caller for Balance leads the circle to dance in the opposite direction (deosil) and breaks it apart into a spiral dance. The spiral dance ends when he wraps it around Caller for Light, and everyone sits down, leaving the energy hung in the air for later use.
Caller for Dark: Delivers a brief statement of intent for the Dark section, then reads “Mother/Father of Darkness.”
Mother of darkness, Mother of night: Earth beneath us, soul in flight Songs of love and love of life: Guide us to our hearts
Father of darkness, Father of night: Sky above us, soul in flight Songs of joy and joy of life: Guide us to our hearts
Then Caller for Light begins a slow heartbeat rhythm on drum. Caller for Dark walks around the circle widdershins and douses the torches. Allow 2-3 minutes for silent meditation. Then Caller for Dark calls everyone back from the meditation, as Caller for Light tapers off the drumming.
Caller for Balance: Relights the tiki torches and lights the bonfire. Delivers a brief statement of intent for the Balance section. Then calls each person forward to take their Balance Jar from the altar and say something about what “balance” means to them or what they seek from it. To charge the Balance Jars, Caller for Balance weaves together the light and dark energies raised earlier. The trinary leaders share the reading of “The Wheel Goes Round.”
Caller for Light: Honor the day and honor the night, Caller for Dark: Honor the darkness and honor the light. Caller for Light: Honor the heat and honor the cold, Caller for Dark: Honor the young and honor the old. Caller for Light: Honor the head and honor the heart, Caller for Dark: Honor the ending and honor the start. Caller for Light: Honor the child and honor old age.
Caller for Dark: Honor gentleness and honor the rage. Caller for Light: Honor the west and honor the east, Caller for Dark: Honor the fasting and honor the feast. Caller for Light: Honor the south and honor the north, Caller for Dark: Honor the homecoming and going forth. All: There is a sacred one inside All: There is a sacred one inside
… repeat until Caller for Balance signals the end. Caller for Balance: All the stars and all the galaxies Caller for Balance: Run through Her hands like beads.
Caller for Balance: Offers oreo cookies, saying,“Taste of Balance.”
Caller for Dark: Offers hot chocolate, saying, “Drink of the Darkness.”
Caller for Light: Offers white milk, saying, “Drink of the Light.”
Release of Aspects:Trinary leaders read their devocations simultaneously.
Caller for Light: Equinox has come and gone; Autumn’s time will carry on. Hear me, Brightness, as I speak For the sun is past its peak. As the leaves begin to fly, So our gratitude runs high. Brightness, lift your holy spell As we say, hail and farewell!
Caller for Dark: Equinox has come and gone; Autumn’s time will carry on. Hear me, Darkness, as I speak Thanks for bringing what we seek. Now the time of night is nigh And the stars are passing by. Darkness, lift your holy spell As we say, hail and farewell!
Caller for Balance: Equinox has come and gone; Autumn’s time will carry on. Hear me, Balance, as I speak You who brace us when we’re weak. We give thanks beneath the sky Flesh and spirit, hand and eye. Balance, lift your holy spell As we say, hail and farewell!
All: “As we say, hail and farewell!”
Caller for Balance: Releases circle widdershins. At the end, says, “Merry meet, and merry part…”
All:“… and merry meet again!”
* * *
Our theme this year is the balance of light and dark. The day's activities will lead up to the ritual by focusing on different aspects of the theme.
11 AM-Noon – Advance setup helpers arrive.
1:00 PM – General attendees arrive. Snacks and appetizers set out for lunch.
1:15-2:00 PM – Craft activity: make Balance Jars.
2:00-2:45 PM – Tug-of-War and discussion.
2:45-3:00 PM – Break.
3:00-3:45 PM – Dramatic presentations and discussion.
3:45-4:15 PM – Setup for supper Feast.
4:15-5:45 PM – Supper Feast.
5:45-6:30 PM – Ritual prep.
6:30-7:30 PM – Ritual at twilight.
7:30-8:00 PM – Dessert.
8:00-8:30 PM – Cleanup and then socializing. Official activities end.
Notes: The day's activities all feature Light/Dark/Balance in some way. The Balance Jars are small glass craft jars filled with the maker's choice of black beads and white or clear beads, then decorated on the outside with stickers, glitter glue, or other materials. They represent inner balance. The Tug-of-War game was held between two people, each balanced on a stump, the object being to unbalance the opponent off the stump: a game of skill and cunning more than brute force. It dealt with physical balance and strategy, the challenge of remaining balanced in a life that often seeks to thwart that. The dramatic presentations deal with a single aspect of Light, Dark, or Balance. Good examples are short animation: "Symphony No. 5" from Fantasia 2000 for Light, "50% Gray" for Dark, and "Balance" for Balance. Readings of poetry, play excerpts, etc. would also work for this activity. * * *
Chants for this ritual were found online: "Powerful Song" from Reclaiming, "Mother/Father of Darkness" from Enchantment, and "The Wheel Goes Round" from Kacheri.
Mabon 2011 Quarter Calls & Releases
For this sabbat we designed a ritual around protection. One noteworthy component was this set of quarter calls and releases, which could be used in any sabbat or esbat with a similar purpose.
QUARTER CALLSCaller for the North: Powers of Earth, hold away all threats approaching from the North or below. Hail and well met. All: Hail and well met.
Caller for the East: Powers of Air, blow away all threats approaching from the East or above. Hail and well met. All: Hail and well met.
Caller for the South: Powers of Fire, burn away all threats approaching from the South or within. Hail and well met. All: Hail and well met.
Caller for the West: Powers of Water, wash away all threats approaching from the West or beyond. Hail and well met. All: Hail and well met.
QUARTER RELEASESCaller for the West: Powers of Water, thank you for washing away all threats approaching from the West or beyond. Hail and farewell. All: Hail and farewell.
Caller for the South: Powers of Fire, thank you for burning away all threats approaching from the South or within. Hail and farewell. All: Hail and farewell.
Caller for the East: Powers of Air, thank you for blowing away all threats approaching from the East or above. Hail and farewell. All: Hail and farewell.
Caller for the North: Powers of Earth, thank you for holding away all threats approaching from the North or below. Hail and farewell. All: Hail and farewell.