This is the Mystery of Mabon son of Modron, who was stolen from between his mother and the wall when he was scarcely three nights old. Imprisoned and hidden from mortal sight, he yet grew to be a great hunter and guardian of all the totems. Those who seek him must ask the oldest animals if they have news of him. To find them, you must pass through fire, earth, darkness, air, and water. When you have sung with Wren, run with Stag, hunted with Owl, and flown with Eagle, you come at last to Salmon, the oldest of all. Salmon bears you upstream on his back to free Mabon from his prison and find the hidden treasures of the Underworld.
This is the Mystery of Kore and Demeter, maiden of flowers and mother of fruit and grain. At the full moon nearest the equinox, initiates gathered in Athens to celebrate the nine-day Eleusinian Mysteries. Those who have danced the Mysteries know and remember the joy of the soul's journey and return. Death no longer holds terror; nor does rebirth. It may be that you remember this: First we went down to bathe in the sea. We made offerings of barley to the Two Goddesses and to Dionysus and Hades. We gathered in the streets of Athens to follow the kistophoroi, four women carrying baskets on their heads--baskets laden with sesame, carded wool, salt, pomegranates, reeds, ivy, cakes, and a young snake. On Torch Day, we danced for thirteen miles down the narrow road to Eleusis, following the boy Iacchos with his fennel torch. Crossing a narrow bridge, we stopped to drink Demeter's kykeon, a mixture of water, mint, honey, pennyroyal, barley, and ergot. In the evening we met the salty-tongued Baubo by the well where Demeter wept for her lost daughter. The moon and stars danced with us as we crossed the threshold of the pillared temple. On Holy Night, we saw the Mystery in an ear of grain sprouting in the dark, in a woman giving birth. Flame leapt from the roof of the temple, and we cried out, "Brimo has borne Brimos." The Terrible Mother has borne her Wonderful Child.
Mabon is the son of the mother of animals, as Kore is the daughter of the mother of grain. "Mabon is everywhere and nowhere, a dream of the child Merlin, an echo of Apollo's lyre, a cry within a prison wall: Modron is visible and invisible, as woman and land, as giver of life and receiver of the dead, as Persephone the abducted and Persephone Queen of the Underworld. Whoever enters their story shares their story, becomes Orpheus to Eurydice, Demeter and Persephone, companion to Mabon, child to Modron: they leave it singing, singing . . ."*
This is the moon of stories, Cantlos, the song-time in the Celtic Coligny calendar, when bards paused from their journeying to spend the winter telling tales and harping at the hearth. The children of a village where a bard wintered learned the wisdom of their people from the autumn tale-telling.
This is the season to search and mourn for lost children. In Japan, the autumnal equinox is the date of a Buddhist ceremony of mourning for miscarried or aborted babies. Greek families honored their beloved dead at the equinox. Roman families celebrated Venus Genetrix as the mother of their ancestor, Aeneas. In Switzerland, a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Black Madonna is held just before the equinox. Christians worship the Black Mother as Mary. Her older name is Isis, whose Feast of Divine Life was held at the equinox.
In Sumeria, Dumuzi of the grain goes down into the Underworld for a season, taking the place of his sister, Geshtinanna of the vine. Attis, the tallest pine in the forest, is cut down. Medusa dies at the equinox. Her serpent-haired head guards Athena's temples. Nemesis, Goddess of implacable fate, is born.
At Mabon, we celebrate the wisdom of the totems. In Finland, Mielikki protects young animals. In Greece, Artemis Agrotera hunts the deer before their mating season. The Aztec Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, is born at the equinox. Sedna, the Inuit Sea Goddess, is born at the equinox. She protects whales and seals and serves as a soul-leader and guide in the Underworld.
The Wild Hunt ride from the faery hills, led by Arawn or Arthur or Herne or Gwynn ap Nudd or Odin or the angel Gabriel. If you listen as the days grow shorter, you will hear them calling in the night sky like wild geese flying south. In the Hebrides, couples rode double to a horse fair at the seashore on the eve of Michaelmas, September 29. Michael was honored as Lugh or Manannan, God of high places and contests. All night long the folk camped on the shore, baked bannocks over a fire of oak, rowan and bramble, and raced bareback. It was legal to steal a horse for the races, so long as you returned it to the owner at the end of the Riding Day. In the morning, the folk rode up from the shore in a wild cavalcade that circled the nearest village, then went on to the nearest stone circle or standing stone. Children begotten the night the Wild Hunt ride had good luck.
Rhiannon rides at this season, her mare ambling just ahead of you. No matter how swiftly you give chase, you will never overtake her. You must ask her politely if she will stay to speak to you. She is the Maiden of the Underworld and the Great Queen of the world of the living. She is Epona and Modron and Macha, the Celtic Mare Mothers. She is the black, mare-headed Demeter, the Nightmare and the rider of shamans. She finds lost children. She bears the burdens of women. She pours blessings on the world from her magic bag. She rides a cock horse to Banbury cross, and her mare is etched in chalk on the hillside at Uffington. She is the sovereignty of the land and the mother of all its creatures.
Arawn the Lord of the Underworld traded places with Pwyll Pen Annwn. For a year and a day they lived in each other's shapes and ruled each other's lands. Pwyll defeated Arawn's enemy and was rewarded with the chance to follow Rhiannon when she rode from her green howe. He is a stag-hunter and an impostor and a pig-keeper. He was the first to play badger-in-the-bag, ensuring his enemy's rebirth from Rhiannon's infinite bag. Pwyll is a shaman who travels between worlds as easily as crossing a street. He is a mad poet who has spent a night on a faery mound. He is Gawain, who must bow his head to the Green Knight. He is called Head of the Underworld, and his speech is prophecy.
* from "Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain" by Caitlin Matthews
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