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Mabon: The Autumn Equinox Festival
Mabon is the second of the harvest festivals in the Pagan calendar. Sometimes it is called the Fruit Harvest as this is usually the time of year that the berries are ripe and ideal for picking, eating and storing for the winter. Storage could involve making them into conserves, drying, or fermentation, anything to preserve as much of the nutrients as possible. In hunter-gatherer society, or even in ordinary agriculture not that long ago, you only had relatively short times to get the harvests in before weather and competing animals thinned it out. So a good harvest followed by successful storage was central for survival
This was even more important for the Lugnasach/Lamas/Lunasa the festival before Mabon. This was the grain harvest and as wheat, barley and oats ripened at about this time and the maximum number of people were needed in the fields to get it in before anything happened was important. This is why the school summer holidays are so long as the children were needed to help in the fields, and the painting “The Haywain” by Constable actually shows a logging cart being used to carry hay as every available form of carrying the hay to safe storage was used.
Mabon is more focused on gathering the wild fruit and berries from orchards and the countryside, sugars rather than carbohydrates, with their essential vitamins – especially vitamin C. Right up to the end of the 1800s it was common for members of remote rural communities to end up suffering from scurvy and this condition was widespread during the eras before that after the onset of winter. You can still see evidence of this in many British towns that have a “Green Lane”, “Scurvy Lane”, or “Scratchface Lane”, in memory of people flocking to them in early spring to eat the fresh leaves and shoots for their vitamin C content.
Scurvy is the result of the connective tissue in the body breaking down due to low or no vitamin C. Teeth fall out, haemorrhaging and excessive bleeding from the mouth and other orifices occur in advanced stages. If left untreated it is invariably fatal. Although it was known that the treatment was fresh or dried fruit from early times no one knew why, as a result this “occult” (as in hidden) secret was lost and discovered many times over the centuries.
This is the basis of the earth plane celebration of Mabon, thanking fruitarian Deities such as Pomona, Amethon, and Brigantia for their bounty that will enable your tribe to survive the rigors of winter and into the next year. In memory of this Pagans today decorate their altars with fruits and berries and thank/appreciate the same types of Divinities. Sacrifices in the form of food donations and planting of trees are part of many modern day rituals too. These days Pagan sacrifices aim to aid all living things rather than taking from them and help promote positive outcomes.
In addition to the harvest and appreciation aspect there is also the magical and psychological factors. The Equinoxes are tremendous times of flux on the inner and outer planes; this is expressed in the outer planes in the form of the ‘Equinoxal gales/ winds’. This tends to make magical operations (including divination) more difficult, so most Pagans concentrate on worship/appreciation of the divine and meditation.
The term “equinox” means “equal night” and goes back to tribes such as the Celts that measured time from evening to evening rather than sunrise to sunrise. Psychologically night and day tend to be associated with the conscious and subconscious minds so in accord with the “as above so below” this is a good time to meditate. The best system to use is the simple observing the breath meditation, as it is one of the best for uniting these aspects of the mind. Also by practicing stillness you are less likely to be caught up in the atmosphere of agitation that can be about at this time of year.
With all our modern ways of preserving food, and access to different fruits and vegetables out of season it can be difficult to appreciate the precarious nature of our ancestor’s existence and the uncertainty of the food lasting longer than the winter. To understand it better I suggest you try the traditional British Royal Navy recipe below for Marrow Rum:
1 medium to large Marrow
Sugar or honey
Chop the end off the marrow about half a thumb, to a thumbs length – depending on the size of the marrow – from the top. Scoop out the seeds and pith using any long handled implement from a long spoon to a chopstick. Rinse out the hollow if you want, but it’s not necessary, and ideally do that with fresh rainwater or filtered water rather than tap or bottled because of the chemicals in those two sources. Then fill the hollow with sugar or honey. Replace the top and hold in place with cocktail sticks. Hang vertically, with the cut end uppermost in a warm dry place for about a week.
Then gently pierce the bottom of the marrow with another cocktail stick and place a container under the hole or holes to catch the liquid that drips out. This is the rum. You can drink it immediately or keep it for the Samhain (Halloween) celebrations if appropriate. If you decide to keep it put it in a bottle with either cotton wool in the neck or a loose cork, AVOID SCREW TOPS! The liquid may still be fermenting and the build-up of CO2 can cause an explosion that is messy at best and dangerous at worst.
Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? It’s not. Sometimes you will get an evil smelling mess, sometimes liquid that tastes like cough syrup, or alcoholic cough syrup. Mould may grow on the liquid or the marrow which may or may not affect it. You could open where you stored it to find 2,000 vinegar flies and their friends have moved in drawn by the fermentation taking place in the marrow. Something may have taken it. It may have dropped and spattered.
Multiply the “how is my marrow doing”? feeling by about 2000 and you will also get some insight as to how our ancestors felt about the fate of their food supply.
But, if it all goes to plan, you end up with a beautiful golden drink that is very strong, and if still fermenting, sparkling. Just in time for Halloween too. It’s the process of getting this result that helps you appreciate the spirit behind this celebration and attune with the ancestors and the essence of this festival.
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