A Happy Mabon To You

The Pagan Wheel of the Year turns once more, and we’re technically at the end of it now… Samhain is the start of the Celtic New Year, but we have one last landmark date before then. Mabon, the Autumn Equinox! Mabon is another one of Wheel of the Year points I wasn’t familiar with, but as I read up on it Mabon seemed to be my speed. Summer is ending, Halloween is coming, and it’s a time of harvest feasting. Let’s check out what, exactly, Mabon is (and historically was not) before enjoying some harvest folklore from around the world. SECTION BREAK – Middle Harvest Okay, then. Autumn Equinox, the flipside of Ostara and the perfect point of balance between the shortening days and lengthening nights. Named after Mabon ap Modron, a Welsh deity. Their name roughly means “Great Son” and they are said to be the Child of Light born from the Gaulish goddess Modron and a member of King Arthur’s warband. Which sounds a bit odd if this is a traditional Celtic festival, given that King Arthur was maybe a later historical figure, maybe an amalgam of myths, maybe even a collection of proto-French mythologies the Norman invaders stamped onto the conquered culture; and given how messy folklore gets probably all of the above. It makes a long term festival named after the British hero of myth seem odd, and that’s because it is. The Autumn equinox being named Mabon appears to come from the neo-pagan revival in the 1970s. It’s not for nothing, however. There’s very much something here culturally! It’s just had a modern bit of branding applied as part of a push to reconnect to an older history, than compared to the ones written up by the victorious invaders of the Isles across the years. Autumn equinox is the second harvest, after Lughnasadh being the first, ahead of Samhein being when the late crops are rounded up. It’s a major fruit harvest and the perfect time for a great feast after the labour is done! Honestly, this is far messier than I was ready to unpick. I may not do a full Wheel of the Year again, but I think I need to go annoy some university professors of folklore and try to work this one out on a future Mabon. The equinox itself is Friday 23rd September this year, although the harvest festival isn’t something that could get done in a single day and so extends from Wednesday 21st of September up until Thursday 29th September. The weirdest modern connection I’ve found suggested is that Oktoberfest, a 200 year old wedding celebration that began on October the 12th 1810, may have traditional roots surrounding this second harvest, giving it a connection to what is now known as Mabon. I shall annoy Bavarian Germany at some point over this one. So that it is Mabon as relatively contrived by the letter of history, being added as part of the 8 Wiccan Sabbats that combine two older calendars into the grand Wheel of the Year. But it IS the equinox, a liminal time with the day as long as the night. The knife’s edge between verdant life and the coming dark. Mabon is pretty much the pagan Thanksgiving, so break out an overflowing cornucopia, round up a collection of family whether they be by blood or found, then why not enjoy the old stories while the food is plentiful? SECTION BREAK – Mabon, The Myth The actual figure of legend Mabon is something of a muddled one. Another translation of “Mabon ap Modron” is “divine son of the divine mother”, but that still doesn’t tell much alone. The older the myth, the harder it is to find whole sources; some mentions of Mabon are incomplete poems, and that’s about it. Cultural heritage is terrifyingly easy to lose if there’s little enough care across the centuries. When Mabon does show up, he’s already old and has a tragic story of being separated from his mother at only three nights old, frequently starting out as a captive with his liberation being key to a quest. We’ve actually encountered a story that involves Mabon in a previous Wheel of the Year episode, although I didn’t get into detail of his role! It was part of the tale of Culhwch, and the giant boar Torc Traith, which was one of the stories from the Imbolc episode. (I remain Team Murder Pig, by the way) As a part of that quest, Mabon was the greatest huntsman, and his dog was needed to track the King of Swine. The problem being, that no one knew where Mabon was, so they first had to hunt Mabon before they could go find Mabon’s legendary tracking dog Drudwyn, who can only be controlled by Mabon himself, who could then help them hunt Torc Traith before Ireland was completely levelled in a mystical gluttonous rampage. For Culhwch to find Mabon he had to go on a further side quest to talk to the oldest and therefore wisest animals in Britain. None can help until the find the oldest of all the animals, a salmon called Llyn Lliw. The salmon tells them that any time he swims up the River Severn he can hear Mabon lamenting in the dungeons beneath Gloucester castle. King Arthur personally heads over to liberate him, and the marvellously bizarre rampage across Ireland and Wales unfolds that gets most of an army annihilated by an angry magic piggie. (definitely go see the Imbolc episode for the battle with Torc Traith) The strange nature of this side quest of a side quest suggests this may be adapted from a much older story. Mabon himself seems to be emphasised as an ancient force within the Arthurian legend, and other mentions of him refer to Mabon as having been a part of Uther Pendragon’s retainers, the father of Arthur. His other mentions can be referring to the Arthurian retainer, or the god, or maybe a part of Cumbria and/or Scotland. The source material here is old languages across incomplete texts, it’s a minor miracle we’re able to talk about Mabon at all. He can turn up in battles, or be boasted about by King Arthur in an eminently frustrating way because the rest of the bloody poem he should turn up in seems to be lost. One such poem is that of Pa Gur, meaning “Who is?” An alternative longer title is Pa Gur yv y Porthur, or “Who is the Gatekeeper?” This poem is about how King Arthur has to vouch for each of his men before they are allowed in to rest by the gatekeeper of a fort, and there’s a huge section that has survived the ages about Cai the Fair, or Sir Kay, Arthur’s stepbrother. The parts with Mabon, however? “Mabon, the son of Modron, The servant of Uthyr Pendragon;” Then, eight lines later: “And Mabon, the son of Mellt, Spotted the grass with blood?” That’s then your lot from Mabon in Pa Gur. Although we do know Mabon is included as a part of “the best men in the world”, so we at least know his warriors in arms liked him. That we know he was a significant figure of British folklore, but we’re so frequently working from fragments, or older tales folded into more recent ones, makes me sympathetic to the use of the figure for what is now the modern Wiccan Sabbath of Mabon. The neo-pagan revival was seeking to restore these old stories, and there’s clearly something compelling here. I certainly want even more! SECTION BREAK – Golden Apples Mabon is in large part a fruit harvesting festival, and apples are a significant part of that. While arguably more important for Samhein and Halloween, the harvest at the Autumn equinox is your first big run at apple crops so they’re a significant part of the time of year. Apples turn up quite a lot in folklore, and they’re usually pretty important when they do. Weirdly famous for the story of the Garden of Eden, although that one seems to be a bit of rogue eurofication given that the fruit of the Biblical tree of knowledge was most likely a fig. Blame artistic license on that one, it’s a meme that has long infested the collective pop culture unconscious, and the fig thing is more a pub quiz level folklore factoid at this point. There’s plenty more apples in mythology, though. Which is likely how as Christianity moved out of the Middle East and settled primarily in Europe the apple stole the starring role off of the fig. We have the native crabapples of the British Isles growing everywhere and ending up in everything, Snow White learned about taking treats from strangers the hard way via poisoned apple, one set of golden apples kept the Norse gods young, but the story I want to talk about is the Eleventh Labour of Heracles, or Hercules as he is more commonly known (and I will be calling him this time out since it cuts to the chase over slipping up and doing it anyway). In yet another LukeLore throwback we’ve already covered the Twelfth labour of Hercules, with the story of Cerberus back on the Monsters of Myth episode. Chasing Eurystheus into a pot with the Goodest Boy of Hades was well earned by the time the Twelfth labour came about, and this penultimate story leads into those just deserts. The Twelve Labours of Hercules were supposed to be ten, but aforementioned arsehole Eurystheus threw a wobbler claiming the killing of the hydra and the cleaning of the Augean stables didn’t count as properly done so he was owed two more. Before borrowing his uncle’s monster puppy, came some divine scrumping. Desperate to find some tasks that actually would be impossible, Hercules was commanded to go steal golden apples off of Zeus, said fruit having been a wedding gift off of Hera. Any given labour was supposed to be impossible to complete, but this one was a doozy! Hera already didn’t want Hercules to succeed at these tasks, so there’s already an angry goddess in play here. Then there are the Hesperides, the nymph daughters of Atlas, who were full time guardians of the garden. Oh, also, the one hundred headed dragon Ladon, who also guards the golden apples themselves. On top of all this? The location of the garden is a secret, so you have to somehow find it before you can even start trying to fight the guardians in the way! At this point, Hercules does what Hercules does best. He wanders around drunk getting into fights, since he has no idea where he’s going anyway. Roaming lost across multiple continents, doing the occasional murder for good measure. Kyknos, son of Ares, turns up for a fight that doesn’t end until a lightning bolt breaks them up (presumably Zeus got bored and told them to knock it off). Hercules chases the sea god Nereus to shake him down for information on where the garden is, which leads to Antaeus, son of Poseidon, picking a fight with Hercules for harassing Nereus. Hercules wins the ensuing wrestling match, only to then be captured by another son of Poseidon called Busiris. Busiris tries to sacrifice Hercules to Poseidon, but this makes Hercules cranky and Busiris becomes one of the murders he does on this rampage around the world. Hercules ends up interrupting Prometheus’s punishment for stealing fire from the gods of his liver being eaten daily before regrowing each morning by killing the eagle Zeus set to punish Prometheus. This was either a genius ploy to get information from Prometheus, or a happy accident off of Hercules as he stomped around the classical world. Your mileage may vary on that one, but Prometheus was happy at the reprieve and told Hercules the secret of the garden. You don’t fight your way around the world hoping for the best, only to probably get your hide whupped when you finally do get there. You go and get Atlas, father of the garden’s guardian nymphs, to go do it for you. Atlas had a job he hated, making him one of the most easily identified with figures of myth. He was stuck holding up the heavens away from the Earth, as he was pretty much the only being in existence strong enough to do the job. So the way to get Atlas on your side, was to hold up the weight of the world for him. Giving him a break would happily get Atlas on your side. Hercules, not lacking for muscles, swapped places and Atlas, who then went off to stretch his legs. To work the kinks out of his shoulders he strangles the dragon Ladon to death, says hello to his daughters as he grabs the golden apples, and Hera is presumably keeping one suspicious eye on Hercules instead of watching out for what Atlas is up to - so misses the theft itself. A brief standoff ensues, as Atlas is now free and does NOT want his crappy job back. He tells Hercules he will take the golden apples to Eurystheus for him, but Hercules can now hold up the heavens instead. Atlas will be off doing literally anything else. Hercules agrees, but plays possum. He’s mighty, but no Atlas. Can Atlas just please quickly grab the heavens for a moment so that the not as strong, poor only-a-demigod can put some padding on his shoulders to help with his eternity of shouldering the weight of the world? Atlas agrees, and so Hercules grabs the golden apples up off the floor and runs away, leaving Atlas stuck in place and presumably still swearing his head off to this day. Victory belonged to Hercules! All it took was a muderhobo world tour, and some minor oathbreaking followed by hastily fleeing how far Atlas could reach by kicking. So the golden apples were given to Eurystheus, technically completing the labour. Technically, as the new ownership didn’t last long. Athena turned up to take the golden apples off of them, since they belong to the gods. Nice try Eurystheus, but you’re an even bigger arsehole than Hercules so no golden apples for you! The labour said nothing about him keeping them, so it’s on to Labour Twelve. Monsters of Myth episode for the finale, listeners! I do, as well, have a slightly anticlimactic footnote about what “golden apples” might in fact be. It was a name for oranges, likely back before the name of the colour entered common language. So… This was quite possibly a legendary palaver over Hera’s favourite oranges, something far more mundane than the translation of a time when there was no word for the colour “orange” would lead you to believe. (Athena still showed everyone who was boss over them either way) SECTION BREAK – A Fairy Guardian We have time for one last quick story, and as so we can check in with one of The Good Neighbours. Fairy folklore, or to give them a more accurate name Aos Sidhe folklore, is incredibly varied across the British Isles. One almost common type of story however, is that of guardianship, or at the very least dominion over a place or thing. This seems to tie into their duality of nature, as well as how you need to follow the rules around these unusual entities to stay safe. They are protectors, which is good! Yet also dangerous, which can sometimes lead to devoured children, as is the case here… Known as Awd Goggie across Scotland and Yorkshire, they are known by the simpler name The Gooseberry Wife on the Isle of Wight. This fine lady is a singular Sidhe creature, as opposed to a broader type of bogle. Children get given a simple enough warning when the gooseberries are not ripe: “If ye goos out in the gearden, the gooseberry-wife’ll be sure to ketch ye.” So far, so cautionary tale. Keep kids away from the unripe gooseberries. So, it’s some sort of fairy, right? How bad can they be? As I keep warning people, the Disneyfication of these native folklore monsters is a far cry from what you really get, should the foolish mortal world cross over with the fae otherworld. Awd Goggie is a lady in her own right, and due respect should always be given to the Good Neighbours, but they aren’t one of the little folk. She’s a giant hairy caterpillar, stalking the thickets that are her domain watching out for tasty morsels who didn’t pay their parents enough mind. Once you cross The Gooseberry Wife, you are either at her whim or else there are deeper hidden rules at play. Some children she catches and releases, they get a time out trapped in her silk. Other times, she is said to devour her victims, or at the very least disappear them for good. She has her time and place, and doesn’t even seem to kill all that many children dumb enough to mess with the giant flesh eating caterpillar. Her exact rules and hunger levels seem pretty vague, however. Your best bet is to leave Awd Goggie well alone, and only go picking gooseberries when they’re ripe. They’re more of an August harvest, come Mabon the gooseberries should already be jam set to go into cakes as part of the big festival feast. Definitely do NOT mess with them earlier in the Summer, though. Or Awd Goggie will grab you, and she may be hungry… SECTION BREAK Merry Mabon, everyone! Come the end of the second harvest, is the pagan thanksgiving. It was more of a challenge to research than I expected, so I may need to return to Mabon in a future year better armed to unpack the festival. But until then? We know the basics. The fruit harvest is in, the second crops of grain are done, the squashes are ripe, the onions are already hanging up; it’s time to feast together! LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email lukeloregsg@gmail.com, and the general show email ghoststoryguys@gmail.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. If you want to support the show directly check out our Patreon at Patreon.com/ghoststoryguys. We do have LukeLore merchandise available at the Ghost Story Guys online store, feel very free to show off any you get online! Just recently we have begun a push to promote LukeLore more, and the dedicated Facebook group for the show is now live if you want to come join us over there.

As ever though, the absolute best thing anyone can do to support the show is to give it a listen. Share this around if you think you may know someone who may be interested, leave a review if you get the chance to help signal boost me, and most of all I simply hope you enjoy what I’m doing here.

Goodbye for now.