Yesterday (September 21st) may have been the traditional date for the Autumn Equinox – that I was born on the Equinox is an excuse I often cite for any eccentricities in my character! – but today is this year’s astronomical Equinox: that point in the Autumn of the year when the day and night are of equal length (“equinox” literally means “equal night”). So I offer this discussion of the day by a friend:
The Celtic festival of Mabon – The autumnal equinox
The autumnal equinox is the time when the day and night are of equal length. This was a solar festival of great importance to the Celts who used the sky as both clock and calendar, as it was seen as a turning point in the year and as such, a time to get prepared for the colder months to follow.
Traditionally, this would have been the second harvest festival, celebrated with a feast and offerings to give thanks for the fruits of the earth and also acknowledge the harsh times ahead. The “Harvest Moon” is associated with the autumnal equinox, as being the closest full moon to it. It occurs when the moon rises approximately 30 minutes later from one night to the next. Thus, there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days following the actual date of the full moon.
The Celts did not seem to have a specific name for this time of year, but it has become widely known recently as Mabon, named after the character from the mabinogian, Mabon ap Modron.
Mabon Ap Modron (son of Modron) is stolen from his mother Modron when he is only 3 days old. While Modron grieves for her loss, Mabon, the bright child of promise, is hidden or locked away (depending on the version ) in a castle for many years. His rescue becomes a quest for one of Arthur’s knights. Cei, Arthur’s adopted brother, and Gwrhyr, the translator of animal languages. In their journey they must seek out many ancient animals, each older and wiser than the one before.
They visit a Blackbird, a Stag, an Owl and an Eagle, until they are finally led to the salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest animal of them all. The enormous salmon carries them downstream to Mabon’s prison in Gloucester, where they hear him through the walls, singing a lamentation for his fate. The rest of Arthur’s men launch an assault on the front of the prison, while Cei and Bedwyr sneak in the back and rescue Mabon.
The name for the festival of the Autumn Equinox in Druidry is Alban Elfed, which means ‘The Light of the Water’. The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light. It is also the time of the second harvest, usually of the fruit which has stayed on the trees and plants that have ripened under the summer sun. It is this final harvest which can take the central theme of the Alban Elfed ceremony – thanking the Earth, in her full abundance as Mother and Giver, for the great harvest, as Autumn begins.
Whether you call it Alban Elfed, Mabon, the Autumn Equinox, or the first day of Fall, I hope you have an enjoyable celebration of this day when light and dark are in balance!