The Autumn Equinox / Mabon: A time for balance, gratitude and animals

When the earth balances on the equator and night and day are equal, it is said that you can balance an egg on end. I've tried. Balance is hard won. 

Living, parenting, working, playing, gardening, canning, feeding, listening, talking, shouting sometimes when integrity demands that one speak up--it feels like standing in a river with the water rushing hard against my legs.

Creative Commons image by James Jordan

Creative Commons image by James Jordan

In the last days of summer, I did just that. I braced myself in the river below a small levy, so that my kids and then other people's kids could slide down over a little bit of white water in safety. I caught each kid as they hurtled toward me in the current and sung them toward a calm eddy. It was exhilarating--feeling the pull of the river, knowing its power and being in league with it in some small way.


It isn't passive. It's rolling with the stream of events and not getting bruised on the rocks.

The autumn equinox is also called Mabon. It is the central harvest feast, the natural Thanksgiving day and likely closer to the "original Thanksgiving" in the United States than the one in November. But regardless this has been a time for giving thanks for thousands of years, for counting up the food warmth, energy and hope stored up for the season ahead and for looking at what has been accomplished in our lives.

As leaves begin to turn and the first hard, cold rain falls, I am looking toward a different sort of winter this year. For the first time, our modest urban homestead includes more animals than just a cat. We do have a cat again, a growing young cat, pushing beyond kittenhood. But we also have ducks, who have spent the summer saving our garden from marauding slugs. Now it is time for us to deliver on promises made, The ducks will have to be fed and kept warm through the long, gray winter. This is our very real thanks for their service and our hope that they will do so again next year.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

In many ancient cultures, this time of year was connected with animals--both wild and domestic--and probably for similar reasons. This is when hunting begins in earnest in many areas. It is a time, when domestic animals are drawn in closer to home and we appreciate what they give us. Those who don't have domestic animals are reminded simply by the theme of the season to extend their gratitude to the animals that give us food, clothing and other goods. We also recognize the invaluable companionship many animals give, while living with people. And last but not least, the animals who provide skilled and greatly needed aid to people with disabilities and serious illnesses.

If you find yourself wishing for a connecting to nature, mark this Autumn Equinox with attention to the balance (or lack their of) in your life. Make adjustments, ensure that you have stores of energy and hope as well as the means to see yourself and those you care for through the winter. And in that balance, whether you are vegetarian or not, acknowledge your interconnection with animals. They rely on us and we rely on them.

Find a way to show your thanks for their part in your life. Give your animals a treat, put out bird food or a treat for the deer that isn't a hunting lure. 

May Mabon's blessings bring you joy and plenty!

Mabon as an earth-centered thanksgiving

Some people poke fun at the number of holidays Pagan families celebrate. In reality we don't have that many more than other people. The problem is more that we often feel obliged to celebrate mainstream secular and/or Christian holidays as well, so that our children don't feel left out of school celebrations or to please extended families of different faiths.

Mabon is about the warmth of a home and a hearth as well as an open door to travelers and guests - image by Arie Farnam

Mabon is about the warmth of a home and a hearth as well as an open door to travelers and guests - image by Arie Farnam

That does sometimes leave us trying to do too much and rushing through what should be fun  and relaxed family traditions.

Sometimes the holidays work out fine. When we have Yule before Christmas it simply frees us up to be less stressed about it when the extended family wants to do secular Christmas and demand their preferred dates. We are done with our most important holiday of the season and we get to be flexible about it. So, we sort of include secular Christmas and Easter in our calendar. We ignore most political holidays and that leaves us with the issue of Thanksgiving.

We now live in Europe where we don't get a day off for American Thanksgiving and it is more difficult to have a fresh harvest feast in November in northern latitudes anyway. It is no surprise that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in September. And that got me thinking. 

For me the primary theme of Mabon is giving thanks and celebrating the bounty of the harvest. It also has to do with hospitality, honoring elders and giving both thanks and comfort to the animals in our vicinity. A few years ago, I realized that these themes work very well with the US Thanksgiving traditions of my youth.

And in fact, they fit much more with my sensibilities than a holiday devoted to a legend about Christians invading a country of cousin Pagans, abusing their hospitality and then giving all the credit for what good came of it to their foreign god. I never could relate to it from the time I was in kindergarten. And as an adult I can't eat a Thanksgiving dinner in November without feeling more grief over our history of genocide than gratitude for the blessings of the season. 

Yet we celebrated it because there was obviously something very important about a feast of harvest foods where the whole family gathered and gave attention to our gratitude. That is too good a thing to give up, which is why people who are uncomfortable with the history continue to celebrate that Thursday in November.

And that led me to a perfect solution. Mabon is the Pagan equivalent of Thanksgiving. It comes at a better (and more natural) time of year and we can use US Thanksgiving for what it should be, a day to commemorate a painful history and make restitution. So, I moved Thanksgiving to a weekend nearest to Mabon. 

Sharing the Mabon feast - image by Arie Farnam

Sharing the Mabon feast - image by Arie Farnam

In September I often have that comforting feeling of primal security when I look at the rows of canned fruits and vegetables and the bins of apples, potatoes, pumpkins and carrots in our root cellar, the freezers bulging with organic meat we have bartered for, the jars of dried fruit and the cupboards overflowing with dried, emulsified and tinctured herbs. 

And this all sets a natural mood for thanksgiving. We usually get a turkey or a half turkey, make a giant pan of stuffing, mashed potatoes, apple and pumpkin pies, even cranberry sauce when we can, often baked pumpkin from our garden. We often share the holiday with another family because my extended family is back home in North America. But even if we only eat a great harvest meal of our own, there are several specific traditions that make this day special.   

The children make beautiful Mabon crafts of tiny little acorn people (nature spirits who paint the leaves) and leaf rubbings framed with colorful paper on which we write Mabon blessings. The kids and I spend some time reading in front of the fire. We read from several Mabon editions of Pooka Pages, which both kids love, as well as a few seasonal books, including “Smoky and the Feast of Mabon” and “By the Light of the Harvest Moon.” As Mabon is also about thanking our animals, we snuggle with Eliska, our hardworking mouser, and thank her for keeping the rustlings in the walls at bay. We make sure she gets a generous portion of the feast as well.

I make a wreath for our door with corn husks, dried apples, dried herbs and currants, all things actually from our own harvest. I often make a centerpiece for the table consisting of sand in a nice bowl with vary-colored popcorn decoratively arranged on top to form a flat spot. Then, on that I place a cornhusk doll, symbolizing the full-bodied harvest goddess. Around her I put some of the children’s tiny toy animals representing all the animals that either help us in our daily lives or have given themselves for our sustenance.

On Mabon day, the those who wish to take part hold a Mabon ritual of thanksgiving and reciprocity. We sing the song “Ancient Mother”. And we made up an alternative to the standard goddess chant that focuses on the harvest goddesses of many cultures.

Creative Commons image by Julia Falk

Creative Commons image by Julia Falk

Lajja Gauri, Zulu, Freya,
Sowathara, Sara Mama,
Rosmerta, Zeme, Demeter,
Oh, Mother Earth!

Lajja Gauri is a Hindu harvest goddess. Zulu is African. Freya is Scandinavian. Sowathara is Vietnamese. Sara Mama is Native American. Rosmerta is Celtic-Roman. Zeme is Slavic. Demeter hopefully needs no explanation. Our spiritual focus is international due to the international make-up of our family and home.

We also make symbolic offerings and bless a handful of coins that will be used to give to street musicians and people who forgot their train fares at the station. We don't have much in the way of financial resources, but it is important to share our harvest in whatever ways we can. When the harvest is good we give away extra pumpkins and squash to those who will actually eat them. Thanksgiving is after all in the end about interconnectedness.

A few years ago, I made up a Mabon song, which has become traditional in our house.

Mabon decorations - Image by Arie Farnam

Mabon decorations - Image by Arie Farnam

Autumn Song
By Arie Anna Meadowlark

Hail to the Gods of winter.
Hail to the Night.
Hail to the dark times
With your stars bright.

Bring healing with your darkness.
Be gentle with your cold.
Give insight with your solitude
That brings comfort to the soul.

Farewell to the summer days.
Farewell to old man sun.
Farewell to the times of toil
And rough and tumble fun.

And though I love the summer,
I shall not shed a tear.
For the promise has been given.
The sun returns next year.

I love your comments on these posts. Share your own ideas and traditions below. How do you juggle both the Wheel of the Year and holidays celebrated in the wider community around you?  What are your traditions of thanksgiving and harvest?

And thank you for all the shares of these posts! May your harvest be blessed.


Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.