Mabon, or the Autumnal Equinox, occurs when the Sun is at zero degrees Libra, and as the name implies, it is the time when day and night are of equal length. Libra is the sign of the zodiac symbolized by the scales in balance, and it is a perfect symbol also for the day and night in balance. Balance is the theme for many of our Mabon rituals, as this is a good time to restore balance to your life. As we see the winter time approaching, it is a time to get your priorities in order. The night conquers day, as we slide into the dark half of the year.
This was the true Thanksgiving, the Harvest Home, the second of the harvest festivals, and the most important one to the agricultural cultures as this is when the majority of the harvest came in. The Harvest Moon is the brightest of all the Moons, and a good thing, because many farmers had to work long into the night under the light of this Moon to get all their harvesting finished in time. Usually the last bit, or a small corner of the harvest was left in the fields and not taken up. It was bound and left to stand until the Harvest Festival, when it would be symbolically sacrificed to represent the Sacrificed God of Vegetation. It was considered unlucky to cut down the very last of the Harvest, and so was also left to stand in the field by some traditions. If wheat or a grain, it was bound tightly, and also could be dressed in men's clothing, and was the fore-runner of the scarecrow. This "man" was often burned in a sacrifice to the Gods, as well as animals, in a large "wicker man". In many fields today, you may see one small area left unharvested, as many farmers still believe it to be unlucky to harvest the last corner.
Animals are also preparing for the winter, storing food, getting fatter, eating more. And as we are also animals, you will find your body tending toward the same trend. It isn't lack of willpower that puts pounds on you at this time of year, it is centuries of the species survival training that tells your body that fat will keep you from starving through the winter! People also get testy, edgy, and more competative at this time, because subconciously we still see this as the beginning of the "lean time". Just as the animals compete, butting heads, so do people, and males will especially be more apt to want to be in control of things. This is not sexist, this is ingrained survival of the species. Men at this time would take stock of their hunting equipment, to repair or replace whatever they need to, in order to provide for their families in the coming winter months. This is the height of the agricultural harvest, and the beginning of the hunting time of year.
As the Goddess is in the Mother stage, bountiful, full and ripe, so we celebrate this aspect, we celebrate what we have harvested in our lives up to this point. We look to see what has grown and matured from the "seeds" we have sown earlier. We take stock now to see what we still need for our own growth, both mentally and spiritually. And we also give thanks for what we have, this is the true Thanksgiving season. The reasons the American Thanksgiving is so late in November are twofold: firstly, the Pilgrim's were ignorant of the growing season and had the Indians not gone and brought in the harvest, they all would have died during that first bitter winter; secondly, the United States government changed the date of Thanksgiving to always be the fourth Thursday of the month, so that more shopping days could be added for Christmas shopping, thus improving our economy at that time. (But that's another story for another holiday!)
This was also the time for replacing your old broom with a new one. As the broom corn is ripe now, besom making is traditional and magickal this time of year. (Unless you live in an extreme southern sub-tropical climate such as south Florida or southern California, when more things are ripe in Feb!)
The Harvest Moon was also referred to as the Wine Moon, because the grapes also ripen now in the wine making countries. The first wine dieties were female, and wine is one of the oldest libations known to us; it symbolizes the blood of the Sacrificed God in many religions.
The apple is also a fruit that comes ripe now, and is a staple of Mabon recipes, such as apple pie and apple cider. Tradionally apples were rubbed before eating to remove all demons or evil spirits that were thought to be within them. Apples are thought to restore health, aid longevity, and restore physical strength. Apples have long been associated with health, as "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" will tell you! Apple cider, or hard cider was often a traditional wassailing drink, appropriate as the term "wassailing" means to wish good health.
Beer is also appropriate at this time of year, as at Lammas, and so also is Mead, which is a lightly alchoholic drink made from fermenting honey and water. As honey is mostly gathered in the fall, mead was made at this time of year. Small mead, which only takes about 12 days to mature, is still a favorite of ours at all the harvest festivals. (See also Baron Sir Riekin's Mead Making Recipe at this website.)
Incidentally, the word Sabbat comes from the Babylonian SA-BAT meaning heart's rest and was when the Goddess Ishtar had her period & rested. This was her period of "tabu" which originally meant "set apart" and had no negative connotations, but instead was a time for women to rest from their normal labors. Only woman had the sacred bleeding, therefore, only women could bless the harvest, or the crops. The word blessing comes from the anglo-saxon word BLES which means blood. Women were the greatest mystery, since only women bled, and did not die, and when they did not bleed, they gave birth, and shed milk. Thus the two colors most associated with the Goddess are red and white.
Colors for Mabon are reds, maroons, oranges, golden yellows, deep greens, russets, browns, and other colors reflective of the autumn season. The incenses are woodsy and musky, such as pine smoke, sage, or animal musk. Your altar decorations could be fall leaves, ears of corn, nuts, acorns, apples, fall colored flowers, or any seasonal thing which is common where you live.
Themes for our Mabon celebration can be the harvest, as an individual and as a community, what have we reaped? What did we sow? Also realizing that we need to share abundance, and that there is abundance for all - one person's good fortune doesn't diminish another's! We are thankful for blessings, especially those we normally take for granted, i.e. good jobs, homes, friends, freedoms, food, etc. There are many who don't have the lifestyle that we enjoy today in this country. This is also a time to reflect on the nature of sacrifice, the God of vegetation, and also the plants and animals who sacrifice themselves so that we may survive. Willing sacrifice must always be honored.
Other themes include the equality of day and night, and also equality among ourselves, sexual equality, racial equality, etc. and what real equality means to us as a community. The ability to draw on one anothers strengths and to honor equally all strengths, not just those of one sex, or age related ones. Balance is another theme, balance in our lives, and in other areas of our culture, as symbolized by the Libran scales, and what we might have to do to achieve that balance.
The legend of Lugh and Goronwy, in some versions, takes place at the Equinox, rather than the Solstice, and can be a theme for Mabon Sabbats. As also can the legend of John Barleycorn, who symbolized the Sacrificed God. You can, if you have outdoor facilities and a fire permit - even make a "wicker man" and fill it with tokens of your harvest, to burn as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Gods! Your imagination is all you need to create as powerful a ritual as you can wish.
"The Magic In Food" by Scott Cunningham (presently out of print)
"Ancient Ways" by Pauline Campanelli