What is Mabon? Understanding the Pagan and Witches' Thanksgiving

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Mabon is a pagan festival celebrating the Autumn Equinox. The name has Celtic and Welsh origins, as do most of the names of the Pagan sabbats. In the original Welsh, it would be pronounced MAH-bon (short a sound), though you will also hear it pronounced MAY-bon (long a sound) by many wiccans and pagans today.

Mabon is one of the "lesser" four sabbats, the others of which are the winter (Yule) and summer (Litha) solstices and the spring equinox (Ostara/Eostre). However, the name Mabon wasn't applied to the Autumn equinox until the 1970s, and there's evidence it may not have originally been a Celtic celebration at all. Mabon is the name of a Celtic god of the sun, the son of the Earth mother goddess Modron.

Contrary to popular belief, the idea of Thanksgiving did not originate with the colonists and Indigenous Americans in 1621. Cultures and peoples from all around the world have been having feasts of thanks for much longer than that. The word "Sabbat" was first associated with witches in the fourteenth century, which predates the American Thanksgiving by about 300 years. But celebrations of the equinoxes and soltices and changing of the seasons have been around much longer than that.

The ancient Mayans designed the main pyramid at Chichen Itza so that a "snake of sunlight" would slither down the stairs when the sun shined directly on the equator - the precise moment of the equinox. The ancient Greeks and Romans recognized the return of Persephone/Pomona to the Underworld, which was when her mother Demeter/Ceres would refuse to use her divine powers and marked the end of the growing and harvest season. China celebrates mid-autumn with the Moon Festival on the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, and is a thanksgiving of the abundance of the summer's harvest. A Hindu festival called Sharada Navaratri lasts over a week and honors the divine feminine, and usually falls during or after the fall harvest. The Buddhists celebrate Higan/Higan-e for six days on both the September and March equinoxes. The Bavarians celebrated a fall harvest festival in the 1700s called Oktoberfest, which included a lot of feasting and partying and is still celebrated in the Bavarian region today. And the original American Thanksgiving was actually celebrated closer to the Autumn equinox, on October 3.

Many cultures see the second harvest and the autumn equinox as a time of giving thanks, as that is when they will see the fruits of their labors, and see how well their crops did, and how well their animals have grown. This is what determines whether they will have enough food to survive during the winter, which is why cultures give thanks to the earth, universe, or deity (or deities) and celebrate their abundance.

The autumn equinox is when night and day, dark and light, masculine and feminine, are in perfect balance and equilibrium. So it makes sense that this is also when the sun moves into Libra, the scales, echoing Mabon's theme of balance. After Mabon, the nights grow longer and darkness reigns over light. This time of year is an important part of the life, death, and rebirth cycle.

"So, at Mabon, we mourn the passing of the Great Son as he returns to Mother Earth; however, he doesn't enter the darkness of complete death. It's the darkness of rest, regeneration, and eventual rebirth, which will occur at Yule when he returns to us as the newborn Sun God"

Kambos, J. (2019). Mabon: The Ripeness. In A. Burdick (Ed.), Llewellyn's 2020 Sabbats Almanac (pp. 268-273)

Mabon signifies a time to begin personal growth, rest, and regeneration. It is a time to share what we have and be grateful for our blessings. Take pleasure in your own abundance and achievements - whether that is a bountiful harvest from your own garden, success in your career, the love of your family, reaching specific goals, etc.

Celebrate and honor this time by donating food to a food bank, sharing a feast with loved ones, put out food for wildlife - like feeders for birds and squirrels, and plant spring bulbs.

"By planting spring bulbs, you are showing that you believe in tomorrow... [it] makes you very aware of regeneration and the concept of renewal." (Kambos, 2019)

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