Before coming to the "New" World, English settlers were accustomed to celebrating thanksgiving feasts near the end of September. It is generally believed that the Pilgrims' first "Thanksgiving:' which was more of a harvest festival, took place in October. The history of this holiday is rather shrouded and it depends largely on the source. In 1863, President Lincoln began the modern tradition of observing Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.
To the early Americans, the beginning of autumn was marked by what became the Harvest Home festival. The first winter in this land was very difficult for the Pilgrims and many were lost to hunger and illness. With spring, they tended the earth, knowing that their lives depended on the crops they had sown. With that first autumn came the glorious crimson and gold of the forests. Animals of all kinds were seen roaming the countryside. The harvest was bountiful and the people stored it carefully for the coming winter. The great Wampanoag sachem, Woosamaquin, brought ninety men to the feast along with five deer they had hunted specifically for the occasion. Then they rested, feasted, and played in the first Harvest Home of the New World. The settlers entertained visiting Native Americans and shared the meat they were given by these native peoples. The first feast at Plymouth was rich. They savored oysters and fish, turkey, goose, venison, Indian maize, barley bread, all sorts of beans, grains, and root vegetables, along with cabbages, cucumbers, melons, and wild grapes.
Mabon is a relatively recent term for the neopagan festival celebrated on the Autumn Equinox, generally around September 21. This is the second of the three harvest festivals; a cross-quarter day midway between Lughnasadh and Samhuinn (Samhain).
In many modern Wiccan traditions, this is considered to be a Lesser Sabbat, along with the Vernal Equinox and the solstices that were the only annual celebrations of the early recreationist druids. It has been said that Ross Nichols, former Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, cooked up the modern neopagan Eightfold Year by getting together with Gerald Gardner and combining the two systems.
Our modern traditions are reminiscent of the ancient festivals of the Second Harvest. This is the Pagan Thanksgiving: a time of reflection, sharing, balance, and celebration of the bounty of life. While our modern lives may not revolve around an agricultural way of life, and we may even need to drive to a farmer's market to see fresh crops being sold, this is one of the eight times each year that we consciously attune ourselves to natural cycles. Life may get in the way the rest of the year, but at Mabon we once again connect with the ways of our ancestors and the understanding of the Second Harvest.
Mabon is the time to meditate on the fruits of our own labors as well. What have you sown in this year? Are you reaping healthy and constructive fruits or are you paying the price for not nurturing your seeds, or for attempting to plant them in poor soil? This is the time to begin to consider what we want to change and the gardens we plan to sow in the coming year.
This is a time of community and kinship with the land and all creatures. Many modern pagans will volunteer their time at soup kitchens or bless and donate wild animal food as part of their Mabon rites. It is also a time of community with all beings in all worlds. As such, we offer special honor to the dead and our spirit allies during this time.
The traditions surrounding the cutting of the last sheaf of the harvest are varied throughout Europe. Some areas hold that the sheaf must be cut by a man; others insist that it must be a woman to take the final sheaf of grain. It is alternately kept in a place of honor, burned, thrown onto the fields to be ploughed into the soil, and fed to livestock in order to ensure health and abundance for the community. This harvested grain is frequently associated with the dying God who will be reborn in the spring. John Barleycorn was the spirit of the grain that
was made into beer (or Scotch as the Scottish poet Robert Burns would likely prefer).
While the last sheaf is honored as the body of the vegetation God by many modern pagans, it was more often than not was believed to belong to the Goddess by ancient peoples. This last sheaf was known as the Ivy Bride, the Wheat Girl, and the Corn Mother. The Corn Dolly is reminiscent of this perception.
This informative article, and much more, can be found in:
by Kristin Madden
Autumn is the season of changing colours. At this time of equal day and night, we give thanks for the harvest that will sustain us through the dark winter months. This book explores the history, legends and traditions of the season that is honoured the world over. Create your own Mabon tradition with the help of the book's many recipes, magical workings, equinox rituals, and crafts for all ages.