Big thanks to Teller who asked me ‘So, when are you putting up the blog?’ And a huge thanks to Cthulhudruid who managed to find my original post after it had been accidentally deleted!
Maponus image from Gettyimages
Ah, yes. Autumn! The season of falling leaves, bounties of fruit and vegetation, bird migration and garden spiders coming out to capture unsuspecting prey (shudder). This season also sees the Equinox as the dramatic increase of the dark overtakes the long summer nights. The balance is struck and the wheel turns once again….
Within the usual modern Pagan circles, the Autumnal Equinox has been given a name…. Mabon. Whom or what does this name come from? What the hell is a Mabon anyway?
The short story is that in the 1970’s Aiden Kelly, Wiccan High Priest, came up with the name for the simple fact that he didn’t like that the Autumnal Equinox celebrations didn’t have a grander name. In his own words, please read this.
The long story…..
Mabon is a now shadowy figure, one who once had a cult all of his own stretching from Wales to Lancashire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Scotland. Mabon means ‘Son’ in Welsh and the most familiar version of this is the character of Mabon ap Modron (Son of Mother), from the tale ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen‘.
In the story, the hero Culhwch falls in love with the beautiful Olwen. Which is great, because she loves him too and it turns out that marrying her will lift the curse that was put on him by his jealous step-mother. Problem solved. However, her Dad is Yspaddaden Bencawr, chief giant and realm owning badass. He is so against the idea of the marriage, he sets Culhwch 40 impossible tasks which must be completed. No victory from the young upstart, then no nuptials. Amongst these tasks was one where Culhwch must obtain the comb and shears from behind the ears of the dreaded supernatural boar, Twrch Trwryth. But this could not be done unless he somehow obtained the mardiest dog in the world, Drudwyn. And even then Drudwyn had to be controlled by Mabon ap Modron, a huntsman who must ride the steed Gwyn Dunmane…. and the snag was: “Mabon ap Modron who had been stolen from his home when he was three nights old, and his whereabouts not known…..”
Luckily for Culhwch, his uncle Arthur (yes, THAT Arthur) had given him some of his knights as companions who helped accomplish most of the impossible tasks like some adrenaline charged-Redbull fuelled group from Dungeons & Dragons…. but they could not find Mabon ap Modron.
It was only after Arthur discovering hint about asking the Oldest Animals in the World the heroes stood a chance. So Culhwch’s band sought out the Blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhendynfre, the Owl of Cam Cwlwyd, the Eagle of Gwernabwy and the Salmon of Llyn Lliw, to find Mabon’s location: the fortress of Caerloyw. Even then they have to break him out by force. Skipping to the end; Mabon and another hunter, some wild dude called Cynedyr Wyllt manage to corner Twrch Trwryth and grab the comb (Mabon) and shears (Cynedyr) before the Chief of Otherworldly Boars escapes and runs into the sea, prophesying he and Arthur shall fight at the end of the world…… well, a big rumble between them in the far future anyway.
In one version of the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘, Mabon is one of the advisors of Arthur, although this could be a confusion with another, Mabon ap Mellt (Son of Lightening) is described as a huntsman also….. This version hints at either this Mabon was as quick as lightening or was descended from some cthonic sky-god.
Interestingly, the character of Mabon was taken up by Roman occupiers in Britannia. Or perhaps, was taken up by Romanised Celts in the form of Maponus ‘Divine Youth’. Coins and inscriptions show Maponus with his dog (Drudwyn?). It appears that Maponus was equated with Apollo, the god of healing and poetry….. and linked with the bow and arrow, tools of the hunt?
What of Modron? Does the mother give any indication as to who Mabon is? She is of the ‘Washer at the ford’ variety of supernatural women, and is daughter to Afallach, one of the lords of Annwn (Welsh Otherworld), specifically, the ruler of Avalon. If true, then she was a magical being and therefore a woman of Sovereignty (The right to choose and the right to rule) and supposedly bore two sons to Urien Rheged, king of Rheged (supposedly a kingdom in Northern England and Southern Scotland). One of these sons, Owein, plays chess with Arthur in the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘…. see how these things always go in cycles?
Bizarrely enough, one of the stanzas of the Graves reads: “The grave in the upland of Nanllau; his story no one knows. Mabon the son of Modron the sincere.” So which is it? Is this the grave of Mabon who was in the quest for Olwen’s hand in marriage? Or was he always a mystery and none knew his details? If so, then why was he so popular? Could it be that Mabon ap Modron was in fact the figure of a mystery tradition? Like a Brythonic version Mythras?
The fact that there are remnants and inscriptions to Mabon/Maponus means there was some kind of reverence to him. What this originally was is sadly lost to time, but things have a very strange way of returning. In Modern Druidry, especially in OBOD, where the role of Mabon is given to the youngest member in the ceremony. When Aiden Kelly chose that name, did he do it because it fitted his aesthetic or was there a whisper from a long forgotten heroic huntsman? Also, how the hell did a babe taken away from his mother’s breast of only three nights old learn to become a hunter in the prison of a fort!? Perhaps….. and this is my interpretation…. perhaps Mabon in the story is meant as a metaphor for the adventurous spirit. He is the youthful part of us that dares to do the impossible once he has broken free of the dark prison of our minds. The Mabon hones it’s skills and when is broken free by bravery and need it can go forward and seize the fierce dog of anger to accomplish great things. For when the sun goes down at the Autumnal Equinox does the night get stronger. And as the nights draw in, it is the perfect time to develop our own skills and look inward until we need to release the adventurous spirit within.
The Isles of the Many Gods, David Rankine & Sorita D’Este. Avalonia, London, 2007.
The Mabinogion, a new translation by Sioned Davies, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.
The Keys to Avalon, the True Location of Arthur’s Kingdom Revealed, Steve Blake & Scott Lloyd, Element Books Limited, Dorset, 2000.