Once, a long time ago when this ancient world was still very new, there was a mother. Her name was Modron, which means Great Mother, for she was beautiful and strong, and her love shone from her as light from a great sun. And Modron had a son whose name was Mabon, which means Great Son. Mabon glistened and glimmered with his mother’s love, and within him, his own heart also shone with love in return. Those who looked upon him were dazzled by his great youth and energy. But when he was still just an infant, a tragedy occurred. Mabon had not yet slept three nights at his mother’s side, suckling at her breast and nuzzling into her arms, when he was stolen away into the darkness! When Modron awoke to find her beloved son gone, and no one who could tell her who had stolen him away, she mourned and wept, and her tears swelled and flowed like a great ocean. For a Mother’s sorrow, too, can be great as her love.
This story was originally published on the former site of Meadowsweet & Myrrh back in 2009. In the comment section of the original post, a reader asked, “I’ve never understood the connection between this tale and the Equinox. Can you help with that connection?” This was my reply:
I’m not sure how much help I can provide, but I’ll give it a shot!
In Druidry, the autumnal equinox is not actually called Mabon, but instead goes by the name Alban Elfed/Elued (Welsh, meaning “Light of the Water/Sea”). The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear to me, but the Druid names for the other solar festivals translate to “Light of the Earth” (vernal equinox), “Light of the Shore” (summer solstice) and “Light of Winter” (winter solstice), evoking an interplay of the three elements (land, sea, sky) throughout the turning year.
As far as I’ve been able to discover, the name “Mabon” only recently began to be used for the autumnal equinox (coined by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s) and is primarily found in American Pagan traditions, rather than British. Kelly pulled the name from the story of Mabon, Son of Modron, which is found in Welsh mythology. It seems to be a random association to give a more evocative, authentic-sounding name to the holiday rather than using the dull astronomical term.
But I suspect one reason Kelly decided on “Mabon” was because the story of the lost child and grieving mother has some obvious parallels in the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, which has often been used around this time of year as a mythological explanation/metaphor for the fading life of flora and the coming winter. During the winter solstice, Alban Arthan, the Welsh deity of Mabon (who has parallels with Apollo in Greek mythology and Aengus Og, the god of love in Irish mythology) is celebrated as the divine child of light who is born/restored on the darkest day.
In my retelling of the original Welsh myth, I tried to find some connection between the more generally used and recognized name for the holiday, Mabon, and the Druid name for the day. I played around with these ideas in the story, thinking of Mabon in his role as skilled huntsman (autumn being closely associated with hunting season in my mind), and his grieving mother, whose grief is as great as the sea and yet contains within it the Salmon of Wisdom, the light which leads to new revelation and restoration at the winter solstice. In this way, the “Light of the Water/Sea” resonates deeply with themes of autumn, waning light, hunting and harvest.
You can read the full story here. And whatever you happen to call it, have a happy autumnal equinox!