Not deferential enough: Mabon (Mea'n Fo'mhair)

Posted Tuesday, September 16, 2014 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Mabon (Mea'n Fo'mhair)

by Gina Hamilton

The second of the three great harvest festivals in the Celtic pagan year is named for a Welsh god who was the son of the Earth Mother, called Mabon by some and Mea'n Fo'mhair by others, especially the druids of Ireland. In modern paganism, he is often referred to by his appearance, "The Green Man".

Mabon is a harvest celebration that has a particular focus on trees and their fruits in the Celtic tradition, and like all good festivals, is marked by a feast -- usually of harvested vegetation rather than animal matter. But the defining characteristic of this festival is the appearance of the Green Man, which is affixed to the sacred Oak. Along with the corn dolly, representing the unborn Brighid, created at Lammas from the first grains harvested, the Green Man watches the rest of the harvest rituals, including the sacred bonfires and sacrifices at Samhain.

The Green Man is traditionally formed of branches, vines, leaves, and fruit and vegetables, and is a face only that is expected to be ephemeral -- unlike the corn doll that is to be protected throughout the winter months, the Green Man will wear away with the winds, his component parts going not to the new year's harvest, but to support the sacred grove. It is hoped that he will survive more or less intact through Samhain, and the men and boys who construct it may have to touch it up a little in the six weeks between Mabon and Samhain. Beyond that, he is allowed to decay naturally. The Green Man also usually is depicted with horns, symbolizing male fertility at the time of the year when the horned mammals mate.

Mabon is also associated with life-giving rainfall.

The celebratory harvest festival at Mabon is tinged with a little darkness, however. The autumnal equinox means that the days will get darker faster now, and part of the festival is a willful bidding farewell to the things of summer. Summer garments are to be put away; summer pastures are abandoned in favor of hearth and home, and the plants nurtured all year are to be stripped bare of their gifts and prepared for sacrifice.

The ancient Celts brought in the cattle and sheep from the high meadows and identified those which would be slaughtered for winter food. These animals were kept in separate, more luxurious surroundings for the last few weeks of their lives and fed spent barley and corn from ale and beer brewing, as well as apple pressings, a real treat for the animals. So too were the pigs fed, as nearly all of them would be slaughtered in the week leading up to Samhain. The animals that would be kept alive -- mostly females -- would be covered at this time of year to ensure new livestock in the spring.

The ritual slaughter would take place within the "sight" of the Green Man, usually by hoisting the animal into a neighboring tree. Mabon was offered ritual gifts of apples and beer, with the apples cut through the center to expose the seed core with its pentacle, by each family.

As part of the ritual, the detritus of the fields after the harvest was gathered up and placed on planks before the sacred oak where the Green Man and the corn dolly were displayed. They would remain on these planks as they were fashioned into a human form sometimes called the wicker man. The wicker man was stuffed with detritus from the fields and spoiled fruits, often having a pumpkin for a head. It lay "in state" for the six weeks between the two festivals while Mabon blessed the sacrifice.

Not all the vegetables and fruit could be collected by Mabon, so the third and final harvest festival, Samhain, would celebrate the root stocks, such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and turnips. The first frost would likely occur between the two festivals, and only the thick skinned pumpkins and squashes and the root vegetables would survive intact after the frosts. The fruit that could not be collected in time and which fell to the ground was gathered for animals, pressed for cider, or left as windfall for Mabon and the wild creatures with whom the people shared their lives. A deer or pheasant taken while feasting on windfall was considered the property of the village and the meat shared out as equally as possible.

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