The date for the autumnal equinox is Saturday, September 23, 2023. The equinox signifies the official arrival of fall in the northern hemisphere. (Goodbye, summer! Move over for my FAVORITE season!)
Besides pumpkin spice everything returning to our palate, this is a great time to recognize the temporary balance and gradual transition in the natural cycle. Many cultures celebrate Mabon and the autumn equinox.
Mabon happens to be one of my favorite Sabbats. In this article, we’ll explore its origins plus ritual ideas, altar decorations, and simple recipes to try.
What Is the Autumnal Equinox?
During the equinox, the amount of daylight is equal to the length of night. This happens twice a year — once in March when we celebrate Ostara, and once in September when we celebrate Mabon. The term “equinox” is derived from the Latin words “aequus” (equal) and “nox” (night).
According to EarthSky:
Due to Earth’s tilt, the Northern and Southern Hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. The solstices indicate our greatest (or least) tilt toward the sun, in either hemisphere. The equinoxes fall midway between the solstices.
Our ancestors spent a lot more time outside than we do, and they used the lengths of the days and nights as a natural calendar. The winter solstice was the shortest day of the year, while the summer solstice was the longest day. In between, we have the equinoxes when the days and nights are the same.
The equinox symbolizes a time of perfect balance between the dark and the light. Symbolically, it’s the tipping point. While Ostara welcomes the shift from winter to summer (and light finally overpowering the dark), Mabon is the other side of the coin. It signifies the period of transition from light, warmth, and prosperity to the cold, dark period of rest.
What Is Mabon? A Look at Its History & Origins
Celebrated by many different Pagan and Wiccan traditions, Mabon is the mid-harvest festival.
It’s a celebration of the changing seasons and also a time to rest after the fruitful harvest. Although the mid-harvest festival can trace its history back to ancient times, Mabon became a staple celebration among modern witches and Pagans in the 1970s.
During Mabon, we acknowledge that we have reaped what we’ve sown in both the physical sense as well as the spiritual; Mother Nature has bestowed us with abundance to prepare for winter, and we can look back at our goals and aspirations from Imbolc and Ostara to see how our positive intentions have manifested.
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The Spiritual Meaning of Mabon
At the heart of Mabon is the deep sense of gratitude, fulfillment, and reflection.
Food plays a major role in Mabon celebrations, but perhaps equally as important as the harvest itself is the role of community. The harvest festivals have always been a time for the community to gather and share in their good fortune, not hoard it all for themselves.
Mabon reminds us to be grateful for all that we have, including our friends, family, and support system. Humans are social creatures, after all, and even us introverts have a network of people we hold dear to our hearts. This is a good time to reach out and rekindle friendships. Volunteering would be a wonderful way to deepen your ties to your community.
The shifting season reminds us that change is inevitable, but it can also be beautiful. Mabon has deep roots (no pun intended) to nature as we move through the transition between summer and fall. Remember that the equinox is a time of balance — we must also strive to achieve balance within ourselves. Personal reflection and introspection are invaluable, as is reconnecting with nature and letting it teach us lessons we need to learn.
Mabon Rituals to Try at Home
The most common fall equinox celebration is a lavish feast with friends and family. It’s best to use as many locally sourced and homegrown in-season ingredients as possible. If you don’t have a garden of your own, consider visiting your local farmer’s market or roadside stands in the countryside.
One of the easiest traditions is using this time to decorate your home for autumn. Light candles; cut fresh fall flowers; decorate with pine cones, acorns, and gourds; set chrysanthemums on your porch steps.
Other activities that suit the spirit of Mabon and autumn equinox traditions well include earthing, taking a walk and appreciating nature, foraging, and planting bulbs that will rest in the upcoming period of darkness to grace us with new, invigorating life in the spring.
You might be tempted to clean your garden, but I recommend doing so minimally. Deadhead only what is necessary. Remember that fallen leaves and old debris help to insulate your plants during the winter if you live in a cold climate, not to mention they provide hiding places for animals and insects. Old stalks can also add winter interest from an artistic aesthetic.
Prioritize reflection and introspection by journaling or finding another way to record your gratitude. You might consider consulting runes or tarot/oracle cards for additional guidance.
There’s a lot of hustle and bustle with the harvest. People feel rushed to take advantage of the last warm days; farmers are clearing their fields; animals are frantically scavenging, storing food, and preparing for winter. All of that energy can be overwhelming! Rebalance with some self-care. Consider setting aside some quiet time with a ritualistic bath (and be sure to check out Hemlock Park, which crafts beautiful aromatherapy candles and spa packages, all handcrafted with natural ingredients sourced locally in the USA).
Although we often think of spring as the time for cleaning, now is a great time to complete your unfinished projects and clear out unneeded rubbish from your home. As the flora and fauna around us prepare to hunker down for the winter, we also must prepare our hibernation space. Take an extra moment to purify your crystals and choose the right smoke bundle (also known as smudging in some cultures) to cleanse your home.
Tips to Decorate Your Mabon Altar: Colors & Symbols
If you honor the tradition of arranging an altar for seasonal celebrations, Mabon’s should be lavished with bounties from the harvest. Dress it with produce from the orchard, field, forest, garden, and market. Acorns, apples, blackberries, corn, elderberries, gourds, grains, grapes, squash . . . you can be creative with whatever you can find.
(Remember to be mindful when harvesting from the wild. Be sure to leave behind plenty of fruit, nuts, and berries for the wildlife. We aren’t the only ones preparing for winter.)
Mabon’s colors are red, brown, gold, orange, and yellow. Three of the most common symbols of Mabon are the cornucopia, pine cone, and apple:
- The cornucopia, also known as the Horn of Plenty, represents the wealth of the harvest.
- The pine cone is often seen as a symbol of fertility. It forms a perfect Fibonacci sequence and is an iconic part of fall and winter.
- The apple holds great significance in many cultures and sacred traditions. Not only is it a symbol of life, renewal, vitality, and wholeness, but it also holds a secret within; when cut in half across its girth, the interior of the apple forms a pentagram, which is a symbol of faith and represents the five elements: Spirit, Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. A circle around the pentagram symbolizes the circle of life, the cycle of nature, and the universe connecting all five points.
Simple Recipes for the Autumnal Equinox
Below are a few traditional recipes to celebrate Mabon:
SOMERSET APPLE CAKE
4 apples, peeled and finely chopped
3 oz butter or margarine
1/2 qt milk
3 tbsp sugar
2 oz flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 oz sultanas (optional)
Milk (if needed)
1. Fry the peeled and chopped apples in hot butter. Combine the milk, eggs, and flour, then stir in the apples and butter and mix well. If the dough is too stiff, add more milk as needed.
2. Place mixture in a greased 7″ cake tin and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top.
3. Bake for one hour at 375°F until bread has risen and is firm to the touch. Cooking times may vary based on the oven. Place on a wire rack to cool. The cake can be eaten either cold or warm with cream.
STUFFED ACORN SQUASH
2 acorn squash
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of crushed crackers
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1. Wash and cut the acorn squash in half longways from stem to bottom. Scoop out the seeds and rub butter on the inside of the squash, then place on cookie sheet.
2. Melt the butter. Mix in walnuts, brown sugar, and crackers, and place in the squash.
3. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350°F.
8 red potatoes
8 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground pepper
1/3 cup of minced fresh rosemary (or 2 tbsp dried rosemary)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1. Scrub the potatoes and chop them into quarters. Peel and chop the garlic, mix with potatoes, and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil.
2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary, then toss to ensure potatoes are evenly coated.
3. Roast for 30 minutes at 400°F or until the potatoes are crispy on the outside but tender on the inside. Garnish with chopped green onions and serve.
However you choose to celebrate the autumnal equinox, remember that this time of year is a celebration of life. Choose the practices that best apply to you and make them your new tradition with your own personal spin. There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to celebrate.
Do you have any Mabon traditions or recipes? Please share in the comments! I’d love to see how you celebrate the autumnal equinox!
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Award-winning fantasy author, freelance writer, spiritual explorer, and sole founder of Green Witch Lunar Witch. She created her first website in 2016 and published her first novel two years later. Sara spends most of her time writing, creating, and daydreaming.