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The sun shining through Stonehenge

5 pagan traditions for celebrating the autumn equinox


Mabon, or the autumnal equinox, nestles neatly between the sun-ripened cavorting of Lammas and the darker death-tinged feasts of Samhain. While the specific date of the Equinox shifts slightly each year it occurs around 20th-22nd September and marks the second point in the year when both day and night are of equal length.

It’s both the second Equinox and second harvest festival in the Pagan party calendar, so from Hedgewitch to High Priest there’s really no excuse for a faux pas. Without further ado, prepare to celebrate this autumn equinox like an expert!

1. Dusters at dawn

Being a celestial event means two things, firstly it’s going global. As with the solstices, there is evidence documenting equinox celebrations from all over the world for thousands of years. Secondly, the party at sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury start at sunrise. Is it even a Pagan sabbat if someone isn’t up at the crack of dawn?

Similar to Lammas, this Equinox is primarily a celebration of thanksgiving; but one key difference is that, traditionally, people would also take stock of what no longer serves them, physically and spiritually. In the same way that spring cleaning is associated with the spring equinox, people would declutter at Mabon making way for the necessary resources and resilience to take them through the approaching winter.

2. The guest list

There are many players in the Pagan pantheon, and even when only considering those from the UK, it can be hard to know who to give a sacrificial shout-out. American author Aidan Kelly named this sabbat ‘Mabon’ in 1970 and many Pagans globally refer to it as such. Mabon is the Welsh God of Youth, also hailed as the divine child. Perhaps more relevantly the son of Modron - the name many British Pagans use for this celebration, as she is the Goddess of motherhood often depicted with bread, fruit, and babies. Ireland’s Earth Mother is Banba (Banbha), who ruled with her sisters Fodla and Ériu.

The triumvirate of Goddesses reigning through the year is a repeating theme across British Paganism with Maiden, Mother, and Crone aspects welcomed and worshipped in turn. At the autumn equinox when harvests draw to a close, the bountiful Mother aspect prepares to give way to the harsh wisdom of the Crone.

Many British Pagan Gods are linked with growth and sunlight and so play a smaller role in autumnal sabbats. But there are those such as Arwen, Welsh God of stags, dogs, and hunting or Cernunnos, the horned Celtic God of hunting, fertility and wild things, wwhoseimportance increased at this time, particularly before people had livestock to sustain them through winter.

3. Nail the decor

The theme for this sabbatical shebang is one of balance between light and dark both physically, with the equality of day and night, and spiritually. The double spiral has been used since neolithic times to represent this and is often partnered with the cornucopia or overflowing horn of plenty on the altar.

Trees would be left outside for the time being but were still decorated with hanging bells, chimes and ‘clooties’. Beautiful wreaths of grape vines, ivy, and autumn leaves would be attached to doors. In Cornwall, Elder leaves were incorporated for protection, with Rowan wreaths placed over the doorways to cattle pens to keep them safe through winter.

4. Don’t forget the nibbles

As it was the end of the harvest season food was abundant, with many wild crops such as mushrooms, berries and nuts supplementing more traditional ones. Harvests like apples and grapes would be split between food and wine or cider production. A previous year’s vintage would be on standby to be enjoyed alongside the first ale from Lammas’ harvests during the evening’s feast.

With this abundance comes the need for some precautions to be taken. This food still needed to last through the winter and so it was a time when fruits and vegetables would be preserved. Herbal tinctures and remedies such as rosehip syrup, which is still used today for coughs, would also be prepared in large batches.

5. Slaughterhouse rules

This was seen as an auspicious time for animals to be slaughtered not only to provide meat and blood sacrifices for the equinox celebrations but to be preserved for winter rations. It also helped ensure that there would be enough food for the remaining livestock.

The ritual of cakes and ale was also repeated across many Pagan cultures. It was a ritual for health, prosperity, and fertility with the cakes and ale first being blessed. The cake represented earth and the material world while the ale embodied the spirits of fire, water, and air.

Every pro-party planner knows to get the next event in quickly and our Pagan predecessors were no different. For all the celebrating at equinox, it also marked the approach of something much bigger. Preparations would begin for the late October/early November full moon when the Crone held sway and the sacred feast of Samhain kept all manner of nasties away.