Maybe Mabon Might Be Made Better?

Autumn Equinox, the poor relation of all the Sabbats. We are on familiar ground with the customs of all the others; Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas. The names are paganised nowadays, but those of us old enough to have had legally compulsory daily hymn singing at school, know them from the church approved versions of our youth. We are familiar with what these festivities are, what they mean to us, from early years. But Mabon? Mabon is the black sheep.

a black hebridian sheep front horns

I see a black sheep looking at me

First up it was only named in 1970, by a known person. This makes it a ‘made-up’ festival (unlike the others…). This middle of the three harvest celebrations marks what I recall from my own childhood as the first religious highlight of the school term. Traditionally the Church celebrates on the Sunday near or on the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox, which this year grew to golden glory on the 15-16th September, making last Sunday (the 18th), Harvest Festival in the Church calendar. Unlike that other lunar based moveable feast of Easter, its counterpart on the opposite side of the Wheel, it never acquired any holiday time, probably because it falls at such a vitally busy period. We used to bring in to school homegrown produce to be sent to those in need; vegetables and apples, jars of freshly made jam, but health & safety in the intervening years meant that my children got to take tins of food to their schools… not quite the same!

Our present day detachment from the rural cycle has accompanied the removal of our dependence upon local foodstuffs, so harvest simply doesn’t mean much these days, not in the ‘how pleasant will life be this winter?’ way it did until fairly recently.  What might Mabon (previously known as Harvest Festival) mean to us in 2016?

(Parking that question for a parenthesised paragraph, I’d like to remind those suffering from premature annunciations each year on Sept 21st that the autumnal equinox falls on the 23rd, give or take a day. This year, to be precise, at 1421h UTC on the 22nd.)

I have wondered about it in the past but this year, so soon after my recent visit to Cae Mabon, where part of the story of the hero of that name was related with such spirit, I felt moved to think about it.

Mabon is the middle of the three harvesting festivals. The work of the year reaches a frenzy of picking, preserving, and packing away of the fruits of our (or others) labours. Time to pause and take stock comes at Samhain, at the end of the harvest which started at Lammas, but for now we can count on a period of work, active devotion to the processes of our lives, gathering in as we prepare to feed ourselves while making plans in the months ahead. In this time of evenings which are neither one thing nor the other, half light half dark, we sit outside in the last of the sunshine knowing that in a few minutes the night will fall; catching up with friends takes place in snatched moments between all that shifting into the dark season entails, and brainstorming future projects.


The sun shines on

Merry Easter to those in the other hemisphere, and Merry Mabon to those closer to home. How to celebrate or mark it is more or less up to individual tastes; now that the redistribution of surplus fresh food to those lacking is deemed unsafe, perhaps make an equivalent gesture in a more magickal way, by conjuring for a better, fairer future using the resources you have to hand?

These pagan festivals of ours, rooted in Church festivals of past centuries, in turn rooted in earlier festivals of this land, continue to grow and take shapes as our culture alters. Corn dolls and Harvest Suppers have faded, perhaps to be replaced with carefully constructed photo albums and tales of summer adventures, full of insights to share. Long dark nights are on the horizon, during which we can sit with friends around fires, philosophising, enjoying what we do have, and feeling inspired about what we can grow next year.


Top Secret Occult Secrets

Dear readers, I have recently been enjoying Yvonne Aburrow’s excellent All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca published by Avalonia Press. What I have really enjoyed is Yvonne’s thoughtful and inspiring reflection on how a contemporary Pagan path (in this case Wicca) can evolve and become more conscious regarding issues around inclusivity and power. For our magic to be real, it needs to impact directly on issues regarding justice, freedom and seeking political change within society. To meet with the Gods means not only to access archetypal forces from times past, it can also ask that we engage with the on-going impulse of cultural transformation that fed into the Neo-Pagan revival.

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Inspired by Julian’s recent musings on Priesthood, I’ve got to thinking about the exoteric dimensions of our occult or esoteric paths. As magicians it can be easy to get lost within the labyrinthine halls of our spooky clubs. In seeking to plumb the depths of mystery and our own process of psychological change we can be endlessly inventive in developing techniques and elaborate symbol systems. While folks may find value in roaming the paths of the Qliphoth or in liaising with denizens of the Nightside, it seems fair that at some point we should ask “and what difference does that actually make?”

Personally I think that the socio-political implications of our paganisms will be as diverse and complex as the religions themselves. It may well be that the libertarianism of a Setian and the eco-collectivism of a druid are equally valid ethical stances generated by their personal philosophies. To me what feels critical is that our claims to personal development or magical advancement need to birth something that contributes to the betterment of humanity.

This is not to suggest that we all need to be reduced to blanket prescriptions as to the focus and shape that our activism should take. The manifestation of our spiritual passion into the realm of Midgard can take many forms. Whether via writing, music, marching, advocacy or innovative financial investment, the forms of our engagement are rightly tailored to our personal preferences and drives.

In Yvonne’s book, we are given a really helpful overview of Wicca’s historical development and the wide variety of theological positions that initiates into that tradition might hold e.g. forms of monism, duotheism, polytheism and animism. These are rarely neatly delineated positions and there are often huge overlap and apparent inconsistency as people seek to live the reality of how they engage with their experience of the Gods.

As with all good books, Yvonne’s work triggered my own reflections as to how my own take on Pagan Theology might help shape my own attempts to evolve a deeper sense of engagement. This list is by no means definitive and each deserves a blog post of its own:

  1. Multiplicity: Even if one’s Paganism takes a decidedly scientific and monistic form, there is usually an engagement with the concept of Polytheism at a mythic/psychological level. The idea that we should understand the divine as a series of differing beings (or principles) that have an interaction or relationship with each other is appealing for many of us. While Polytheism can take many theological forms, what it does seem to entail is a move towards acknowledging the multiple, the complex and the relational nature of how we experience life and contemplate the numinous-what we might call “Pantheonic” consciousness.

In our devotional work we may well chose to focus our energies towards a specific deity within a given pantheon e.g. the God of consciousness, the female destroyer, the Son of new endeavours etc. but we remain conscious of the whole. Similarly in our activism we may focus on a given issue (Indeed we have only such much time and energy) but seek to resist becoming overly narrow in perspective.

In reflecting on this emphasis on theological interconnection, I couldn’t help but think about the general increase in awareness of intersectionality with regards both identity and social issues- issues rarely (if ever) stand in isolation, rather the parts effect the whole in a way that demonstrates the subtle ecology of any given situation. Such awareness helps us more fully appreciate both the weight of multiple struggles and also the positive impact that change in one sphere can have in creating larger scale change.

  1. Localised discourse: In my practice, much attention is given to location and what might loosely be called “the spirit of place”. As much as my being a magician is located somewhere my head and heart, it only really becomes activated within the context of “what’s out there”. I can only really focus and shape magical attention when I am in the place of doing it.

In many ways my activism (i.e. living my life in relationship with self and others) is profoundly shaped by the place I find myself in. Yes I am increasingly connected globally and engaged in struggling to evolve macro scale principles, but “small is beautiful” still has meaning. Yes I may contribute by signing numerous on-line petitions, but what am I willing to do within my immediate communities. How can I use a form of “social animism” to tune-in to how reflection and change might occur at a grass-roots level?

  1. Importance of human drives: In her book Yvonne helpfully seeks to examine ideas of what holiness, piety and sacredness might mean for the modern pagan. In contrasting an integrative Wiccan perspective with potentially more dualistic paths, we can begin to evolve ethical and spiritual positions that have sensuality at their core.

While issues such as sexual liberty and artistic expression may be seen as somewhat periphery when confronted by issues such as poverty, war and terrorism, it is my view that they are often at the very heart of why these conflicts take place. The drives to experience pleasure and to express creativity are central to humanities’ attempt to find meaning in life. Many conflicts and the resulting social inequalities seem to result from trying to overly police these passions via either religious or political means. In seeking such constraint and potential suppression, it is sadly all too common that that those threatened by their own humanity then project onto an “Other” who becomes demonised in the process. For our spiritual paths to take seriously the pursuit of sacredness in its fullest sense, it must call us back to the sensual and provide a challenge to thin-lipped piety.

While there are always dangers inherent in the process of seeking to evolve forms of religion that are more inclusive and liberal (consumerism and over-simplicity spring to mind!), they do offer the possibility of informing any process of social change. Yvonne’s book provides us with an excellent example of how religions can evolve. These are processes that rejoice in the way in which our ever inventive humanity interacts with the divine. To be open about this unfolding does not rob our religions of power, rather they ask us to seek and use power consciously.