Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The peak of Autumn is celebrated at the Autumnal Equinox, a time when the days and nights are of equal length and nature puts on her most spectacular show. Here in the midwest we are deep within a deciduous forest that erupts with color at this time of year. In addition to the riot of fall color we are enjoying the second harvest of the year. Apples and grapes, melons and tubers, and, of course, the harvest of the corn all take place during this time. In Indiana we are surrounded by vast fields of maize that will be harvested for sweet corn, popcorn, animal feed, and even new bio-fuels. It is truly a time to celebrate.
The Autumnal Equinox is commonly celebrated as the solar Sabbat of Mabon, but we reject this nomenclature as an anachronism. Aiden Kelly was the first to use the term Mabon for this holiday around 1970. Other names for the Autumnal Equinox Sabbat are Harvest Home, the Feast of the Ingathering, Second Harvest, the Feast of Avalon, Wine Harvest, Cornucopia, Winter Finding, and Alban Elfed.
In his book Stations of the Sun the scholar Ronald Hutton makes clear that there was no anciently celebrated festival for the Autumn Equinox in Britain. Rather, this was a time of hard working to get the corn harvest in before the first frost. Each community would hold a small celebration after the harvest was completed, though naturally the date for this event would vary. This time of year is commonly thought of as the Witches Thanksgiving, a fitting tribute to the glorious harvest that this Sabbat represents.
The spirit of the corn harvest is represented by a corn man, or scarecrow. This figure is constructed of stalks of grain from the local fields and is in the rough shape of a man. John Barleycorn, as he is often called, is set to watch over the fields during harvest, and may be burned at the celebration of harvest's end. His ashes are scattered on the fields to spread his powerful fertilizing influence to next year's crop.
Another common feature of these celebrations is the construction of a Kern baby or Carlin. The Carlin is a bundle of the last sheaf of grain from a communities' fields. It represents the spirit of the corn, and is given to the last harvester to finish his field as a "wife". Sometimes the Carlin is dressed and displayed on a phallic wand. This then is paraded through the community to bestow blessings of abundance and fertility.
A powerful symbol of this season is the the Cornucopia, or Horn of Plenty. This is the horn of the goat-mother Amalthea the "Nourishing Goddess" that fed the god Zeus as a fosterling. From this horn flow all of the riches of the earth: crops, wealth, and livestock. Pluto, ruler of the wealth of the earth was often depicted bearing the cornucopia. It has a parallel in the cauldron of the Dagda of Celtic myth. This cauldron was ever-full of nourishment. It could not be emptied.
At the Autumnal Equinox we of the AFW tradition honor the cauldron in its many symbolic forms, including the Holy Grail which heals the wounded king and restores the land. As the trees turn from verdant green to blood red and shining gold so do we turn inward, and begin the vigil of the ancestors that this time represents. This is a wonderful time to prepare an ancestral shrine in anticipation of the coming blood harvest of Samhain when the veil is thinnest.
May you have an abundance of blessings as you harvest that which you have sown.