Friday, 21 September 2012

Mabon Medition: A Time to Dance, A Time to Mourn.

Mabon is the Autumn Equinox in the Wheel of the Year, coming up this week.

With the way that Mabon has developed in modern Paganism, it includes fruits including pomegranates, stones including Sapphire, Lapis Lazuli, and activities such as gathering dried herbs, walking in the woods, honouring the dead. I've incorporated these elements in the meditation.

"Mabon" comes from Welsh tales of Mabon ap Modron, the Welsh God, (the "great son of the great mother"). The Equinox is the birth of Mabon, from his mother Modron, the Guardian of the Otherworld, the Healer, the Protector, the Earth.

However, while elements of this story have been taken up by modern Paganism, there is no historical evidence of any authentic ancient festival of that name, or around that date. An earlier Welsh term "Aban Efed" was invented by Iolo Morgannwg, and the term "Mabon" was invented by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s to be a more authentic-sounding "Celtic" term than "Autumn Equinox" for the Wiccan tradition.

There was no celebration recorded of the autumn equinox in Celtic countries, and any reconstruction of it is a modern work of the creative imagination - that doesn't mean that it can't be celebrated, just as harvest festivals are celebrated, but just that claims of authenticity are misplaced. In Anglo-Saxon customs, September (as we know from Bede) was known as haleg-monath or 'holy month', but as Ronald Hutton notes in "Stations of the Sun", "it can be surmised that this was derived from religious ceremonies following the harvest; but of these apparently no testimony remained by the time of Bede himself."

I have eschewed any allusions to the Welsh Mabon, or the mythology which is part of modern Paganism concerning the dying God of the Corn, and instead concentrated on the theme which runs through much harvest lore, ancient and modern, that of balance between light and dark of the equinox.

I have however drawn on Breton folk lore, especially the story "The Kerion's Feast" (The Kerions are the "little people" of Breton legends) and also there's a reference to the Susan Cooper book book "The Grey King", set in Wales, so there's still a certain amount of Celtic lore here. Sharp eyed readers may spot an allusion to Dante, and of course Ecclesiastes.

Mabon Meditation: A Time to Dance, A Time to Mourn. 

I was wandering along the path in the woods, when I came across a clearing. There, blackberry bushes were full of ripe fruit, luscious and ready to pick; I collected some in my basket, and carried on, wandering further along the path, as I espied one bush after another.
And so it was that I did not notice, beneath the canopy of branches, that the sky was changing hue; a darkening blue, and then to black. Night descended swiftly; a cloak thrown over the land. The birdsong was suddenly still; the woods were silent. I could still see, but dimly; branches silhouetted against the stars; fingers pointing in the night sky.
It was a warm Autumn night, and the air was dry, and I was suddenly very tired, so I decided to rest. I found a dry patch of grass to the side of a glade, and took out the rug from my rucksack, and placed it on the ground. I had thought to rest a short while before returning home, but drowsiness crept up swiftly on me; soon I lay there fast asleep.
I was awaked by the sound of many voices; there were not loud voices, but soft voices, yet lively, excited, and I opened my eyes to see the strangest sight.
Now I had been lying behind a bush, and through the gaps, in the clearing, was lit a fire. Around the fire were a little sturdy people, male and female, all dressed in white robes, and making merry. On branches of trees hung flickering candles in tiny lanterns; casting moving shadows over the ground as the branches swayed gently. On part of the trunk of a felled oak, laid out as if on a table, were jugs of elderflower wine; dishes of every kind of berries and nuts were spread out on the grass around. And they danced and sang so gleefully that I watched entranced.
A voice spoke softly: "This is the time for celebrating the harvest."
A lady, also short in stature, but with a golden robe, stood in their midst, and all were silent; they were waiting, in anticipation, listening for what she had to say.
She stood up, and sang this song:
Come, oh come, to the autumn lands
Come now, farewell to the golden sands
The summer is gone, the mist is here
Berry ripe, pick blackberries near
Come, oh come, to the autumn lands
Come now, so quick, and take my hands
Dance barefoot over leaves so brown
And gold and red, of autumn's gown
Come, oh come, to the Autumn lands
Picking fruit from the meadowlands
So harvest ripe, such golden days
As Fall descends, rejoice her ways.
Then the merry-making began again, and I leaned forward to get a better look, and one of my feet snapped a twig on the ground. There was silence, and the dancing stopped. Suddenly, all the lights went out, and I could see no shapes moving in the glade. I stumbled forward, but as I groped in the near darkness, I found only dry ashes from the fire; of the little folk and their feast, there was no sign.
I found myself shivering, and all the heat and warmth from the fire seemed to have drained from the woods. An owl hooted in the distance. The stars and moon were obscured by thickening wisps of cloud, and I felt the cold clammy fog starting to blow through the forest. I found myself astray in this dark wood where the straight track had been lost.
A voice spoke in my mind: "Warmth is behind us, cold lies ahead."
But in the distance, along the track, was a light, and I made my way towards it. I suddenly came out from the woods, and onto an expanse of wild grass and sand dunes, rising at the edges of the land, great hills of white shining in the moonlight, whose peaks were enfolded with a thick, dense, grey mist.
Ahead of me was a gypsy caravan, a Romany Vardo, brightly painted in green; on one hook by the entrance was an oil lamp, the beacon that had led me hither. The door was open, and I went inside. There was a warm carpet, fair white curtains on the windows, a table and two chairs. There I saw an old woman, wearing a bright blue shawl, a blue as bright as lapis lazuli, and on one of her fingers was a sapphire ring. She beckoned me to come in, and take a seat.
When I was seated, she gave me a drink of pomegranate juice, and I drank deeply, because I was very thirsty. Then I had time to pause, and take in my surroundings.
Behind her, a fine tapestry partitioned off a sleeping area, and there was also a small stove whose small chimney passed through the roof. Bunches of dried herbs, bound with yellow ribbons, hung from small hooks on the walls.
She gazed into a dark obsidian mirror on the table in from of us, and it seemed to clear and instead of reflections, I could see a burial site, grave stones, stone angels weeping, crosses, and large ornate tombs. They were all adorned with leaves spread out at their base, and small clusters of acorns and pine cones. Small pebbles and sea shells were also placed around the gravesides.
A voice spoke in my mind: "This is the time for honouring the dead"
The mist was now thicker, and through the door of the caravan, I could scarce see more than a few feet. The rays of the oil lamp caught the mist, the smoke like strands of white, creeping to the door, and it felt colder still.
Then the old woman looked up and me, and intoned the following:
The Grey King awakes, the mist arises
Cold touch on earth, his hands of bone
Damp as the grave, in his disguises
His cloak flows down as chill as stone
The Grey King awakes, and reaches out
Hedgerows and hills grow dim and fade
In swirling mists, vague shapes to doubt
His cloak flows down, the land in shade
The Grey King awakes, he rules the land
Sight fades in grey, makes a world alone
Old aches return, touched by fell hand
His cloak flows down, upon his throne
The Grey King awakes, so mighty, tall
Embraces the land with his mistfall.
Then she picked up a crystal, hexagonal in shape, and shining like quartz, but blue in colour, and bade me look into its depths. I saw a blue light flickering, softly, then brighter, and brighter, and I could not avert my gaze.
A voice spoke in my mind: "A time to mourn, a time to dance"
The blue light grew into a shining beacon, reaching into my mind, and I could feel it softly clearing the fears for the future, brushing away all the stresses and worries. Images of the little people dancing flittered across my eyes. And I felt myself drifting away, losing all sense of self in the swirling light. Soon I was fast asleep.
The sound of birds in the garden awoke me, and I found myself in my bed, in my cottage. My basket of blackberries was on the table. Somehow, I had returned home. I felt refreshed, renewed. The scent of rosemary drifted into the room from the bush below the window.
I looked out of the open window, and it was daylight, the mists had gone. Overhead was grey and cloudy, and the rain was gently falling on the grass, raindrops glistening on the green blades.
I remembered a very old child's story book I once had, and looked in my bookshelf. Sure enough, it was there, and one page, yellowing with age, had a picture depicting a ring of little people, in white robes, dancing around a fire. Beside the picture was a poem.
Outside, the rain is softly falling down
Cobwebs glitter, a fine spun gown
With pearly drops. The harvest moon
Comes out but briefly, the clouds will soon
Roll back across the darkening sky
And batwings flap as fast they fly
To catch their prey - a tiny vole
A-scurrying swiftly down its hole.
And softly tread the woodland folk,
Creep out beneath the ancient oak,
Unseen, to work away the night,
Always there, but out of sight
They rustle fallen leaves in play,
As if the wind had come to stay
Only to dawn; for at first light,
They go, these little folk of night
And when the cock begins to crow,
They are asleep, so deep below.
I looked out at the golden leaves falling from the tree. With velvety black and red wings, a red admiral butterfly flew over the garden, a browser of late flowers, the final bloom before winter.
Autumn had come. The harvest, and the slow, but beautiful dying back of the land, where it would sleep during the long cold months to come. It was a time of great joy and great sorrow, it was the time of great change, a threshold between light and dark, day and night. And I remembered the harvest dance of the little folk, and the coming of the Grey King. And I was at peace.

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