Goats & Sheep: A season of Autumnal Fruitiness

Sorita d’Este, esoteric author, shares this post from her own blog about the use of the word “Mabon” in reference to the Autumn Equinox, the Wheel of the Year, and the importance of original thinking:

"To Autumn" by William James Neatby

“To Autumn” by William James Neatby, from A Day with Keats, 1899

My friends and colleagues will know I am keen on common sense, whichever way it manifests its a good thing.  Being mindful about our actions and words, and in all aspects of our spiritual and mundane lives, can only be a good thing too.

And so we are nearing the Autumn Equinox again here in the Northern Hemisphere.  A beautiful time of the year.  Keats really understood it, and shows his connection with and understanding of the natural seasonal change, its strengths and symbols in his poetry:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Keats wrote the above words 193 years and 2 days ago.  And the words still hold true, most certainly so.

Pagans today often muse that they are lovers of nature, that they care about the cycles of the Earth, Mother Earth – and that they honour the Divine in nature.  I often hear that Pagans like to be freethinking and individualistic, that they question what they are told and that they try and avoid being like members of other religions in which misinformation was used at times to direct and manipulate the masses.  Yet, it would seem that in particular aspects of modern Paganism these things are simply not true and that especially when it comes to avoiding misinformation, being armed with knowledge and ensuring that one is not lead into a world of delusion, illusion and fantasy by others, there is something wrong.  Very wrong.   Maybe it is just that there are leaders and followers in any movement, and no matter how freethinking individuals claim to be, to themselves and their friends, they are more likely to be followers, who are happy to do what they are told, repeat what they are taught and do all of this without question – just like the followers of other religious movements whom they accuse of being “sheep” for doing so.  Goats are more difficult to herd than sheep, but they are still herd animals really, and according to this goat farmers website, not only are they herd animals, but “More so than any other livestock, goats depend upon staying together for safety. They have few natural defenses and many predators.”   So maybe the sheep and goat analogy which is so often passed around holds more truth than some people realise, again due to a basic lack of knowledge about the goats they compare themselves to!

Like all historical religions before it and ones to come, modern Paganism relies on making links with its perceived historical past.  This manifests itself in all kinds of ways which cannot be supported by factual information, and unfortunately for modern Paganism the claims are usually so broad and incomprehensible that it leaves outsiders thinking they are all uneducated and a bit silly in the head for believing it.  Of course there are exceptions, a wonderful example is sitting here on my desk at the moment in the form of THRACIAN MAGIC by Georgi Mishev in which the author provides details of his practices as a modern day practitioner of magic and priest to the Gods; providing a historical basis for the beliefs in his region (Bulgaria) and careful comparisons between ancient exemplars and modern survivals.  It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but then isn’t that the point?  That we all find our way to the Mysteries, to Nature and to the Divine in our own unique way, without barriers which confine our freedom and creates obstacles for further learning.

You know, we have all been there.  I was told things and read things when I first started out on my own journey into the world of mysticism and magic which I believed because it was convincing.  It sounded right.  And years later I found that it was wrong, sometimes completely – sometimes slightly.  And with wrong I mean factually incorrect and that it would be better for me to adapt my thinking with the facts as I found them in the here and now.  Language is a barrier and I know that all to well.  I am multi-lingual and was raised with more than one language around me.  Sometimes, as a young child I would use the term I was most familiar with for something around people who did not speak the language the term originated from, and boy did I confuse people!  So eventually, through experience and further education, I learned and corrected myself so that I could be understood. That is an ongoing process, no-one is perfect, least of all me!

And words have power.  So much.  Mythology is filled with stories telling us about the power of words and names, you don’t have to look far – my favourite example is the story of how the Egyptian Goddess Aset (Isis) tricked the secret name of power from the Sun God Re (Ra).  And with that name, gained his power.  And in contemporary society we are all very aware of identity fraud, armed with your date of birth, full name and address fraudsters can cause you a lot of damage, anguish and loss of both time and money.  Names are also so much more.  It is who you are, and can be who you become.  This is why the practices of many of the mystery traditions involve the taking of a magical name or motto upon initiation, the “witch name” of modern initiatory Wicca being one such example. But it is not just what we name ourselves which matters, what we name others also matter.  Insults and compliments, pet names and names of endearment can change someone’s mood and self-esteem.  Doubt that words have power, just think of a time you were insulted (wrongly or rightly!) or when you received a deep felt compliment …  and if you tell me that you have never felt a change of mood or energy in yourself and your environment at such times, no matter how small, then I will probably think you are telling me a fib!

So then, we return to the subject of the Autumn Equinox – and indeed the entire “Wheel of the Year” phenomena.  I used to love the festivals, and I still love the times which mark them and celebrate each in my own way, but I cringe and become incredibly irate when anyone suggests that by doing so I am a “Pagan”.  If Keats’ poem was an example of Pagan mysticism and thought I would be first in line to have the word “Pagan” tattooed on me – but instead it seems to me that Paganism is mostly very confused about itself, about the Wheel of the Year celebrations and on the symbolism of it all.  And that is a weakness, a disease even which seems to be getting worse with each passing year, as the mistakes of yesterday is repeated and the idea of learning from the past is largely ignored by some of the loudest components and leaders of the movement.

On the one hand I keep hearing stories of how hard done by Pagans are for still being persecuted and not being taken seriously as a religion; but then those very same individuals who complain about being persecuted seems less than keen to ensure that they are well informed about their own religious / spiritual beliefs and practices.  No instead the same old stories are repeated without question, without thought – and then the same surprise reactions are manifested when those stories are questioned and challenged by outsiders.  A warrior knows his / her own strengths and weaknesses, and ensures that they learn as much as possible about the same in their enemies, and how it compares.

So that brings me onto one of my ‘knickers-in-a-twist’ irritations with the Wheel of the Year, an irritation I once contributed to by ‘repeating what I was taught’ being the so called “Celtic Names” for the festivals. Some of the names used at least have a seasonal relevance to the time of the year; so for example Beltane, for May Day, or Samhain for Halloween.  Not at all offensive or idiotic as the words have bearing on that time of the year.  But then there is this business with Mabon.

Now I have written about this before, see Who, or rather WHAT is Mabon http://sorita.co.uk/what-or-rather-who-is-mabon and Modron the Mother http://sorita.co.uk/modron-the-mother if you want the source references.  But let me make it very clear, this is foolishness manifest in complete stubborn ignorance which makes many of the claims Pagans make against some of the so called patriarchal religions seem tame in comparison.  At least those claims more often have their claims in superstition or religious belief!

Mabon is NOT an alternative name for the Autumn Equinox.  Mabon is a character, maybe a God, from Welsh mythology. His name is Mabon Ap Modron, which literally translates as “The Son of the Mother” – his name being “Son” and that of his mother, being “Mother” to make it clear.  Mabon is described amongst other things as a Wizard and as “the oldest of men or beasts living on earth”.  It is also said that his story was unknown, probably tying in with the idea that he was the oldest of men or beasts, therefore how could it be known!

Then came along an American author who named the festival after this God, based on misinformation and a misunderstanding, and because it sounded authentic and because everyone decided to follow, rather than question, it soon became the name for the festival.  Strangely, the majority of those using the name did not, and still does not seem to know, that it is the name of a God / male hero from Welsh myth.  Now putting my mystical hat on this might lead me to believe that;

Mabon is mighty!  Long live Mabon!  He is so mighty that he discreetly gave his name to the festival, no-one noticed, but soon everyone was worshipping him without even knowing!   ~ and if this is true, Mabon also wants you to send me your life savings so that I can build a nice temple to him, so get writing those cheques!

or possibly that;

Mabon has a secret priesthood, who are operating undercover to convert all Pagans to his cult.  And then when they succeed they will also take all your money, but probably your souls too.  So, better you just send me the cheque, I promise I am not interested in your soul.

Come on people, don’t turn me into a conspiracy theorist!  Mabon ap Modron has nothing to do with the Autumn Equinox, he should be honoured for what he is, if you are going to honour him.  If you want to include him in your Autumn Equinox celebrations, good for you!  You can declare it a festival of Mabon ap Modron to co-incide with the Autumn Equinox – I look forward to seeing hymns and rituals dedicated to him, as I find him utterly fascinating, so if you do be generous and share it with me here on my blog, or facebook .  But please, don’t try and tell me its an alternative name for “Autumn Equinox” or that it is a historical festival of Mabon at the time of the Autumn Equinox, as I really don’t like having to offend you by laughing and likewise, I don’t like being offended by what I perceive as power being taken away from the gods and goddesses of the British Isles, especially not my beloved Wales.

Honour Mabon as a Wizard, a Merlin type figure, as the oldest of men and beasts, honour him as the Son of the Mother, and a hero – don’t take that away from him by ignorantly using his name as if it is a different word for Autumn Equinox.  If you really believe that the Old Gods of these lands still live, that they should be honoured and respected, then do that.  Don’t join the generations who tried to belittle the Gods in an effort to diminish their power.  And don’t be either a sheep or a goat, be yourself – an individual with a voice, with the ability to think for yourself and to question what you are told so that you can walk your path freely as you.

And honour the changing season at the Equinox!  It is a time when Summer turns to Winter, Light turns to Dark, but in itself a time of balanced forces, balanced light, a tipping point.  A time when you harvest the fruits of your labours and enjoy walks down country lanes with the beautiful seasonal colours all around.  Celebrate nature, celebrate the celestial wonders which creates the seasons.  Reflect on how your ancestors, our ancestors, lived and understood nature, and how you and your children live and understand it now and into the future.  Mark the occasion with a simple smile at the falling leaves, or with something more elaborate – but understand it through observation and experiencing it.

By experiencing Nature, you will also soon realise that words are irrelevant. Learn from Nature will lead you to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom, and when wisdom is gained, it will be time for you to learn something more, and build on what you have learned, experienced and gained in wisdom before.  An infinite process.  Never quite completed.  And throughout there will be times when you realise that some things you were told, taught and even things you taught are wrong.  And then it is time to clear space for new experiences, new knowledge and more wisdom.

Many blessings from me to all of you in the Northern Hemisphere for this Autumn Equinox.  Let it be a time of balance, as the wheel turns from light to dark once more on this wonderful spiral we call life.

ps. And if you are desperate to name Autumn Equinox by another name, try Fall Equinox, but ask yourself WHY?  Is the word Autumn offensive to you?  Is it the word Equinox which is offensive?  Learn more about Equinox at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equinox

I will leave you with this less known, but noteworthy poem also entitled Autumn:

By Thomas Hood

I SAW old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like Silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;–
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.

Where are the songs of Summer?–With the sun,
Oping the dusky eyelids of the south,
Till shade and silence waken up as one,
And Morning sings with a warm odorous mouth.
Where are the merry birds?–Away, away,
On panting wings through the inclement skies,
Lest owls should prey
Undazzled at noonday,
And tear with horny beak their lustrous eyes.

Where are the blooms of Summer?–In the west,
Blushing their last to the last sunny hours,
When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest
Like tearful Proserpine, snatch’d from her flow’rs
To a most gloomy breast.
Where is the pride of Summer,–the green prime,–
The many, many leaves all twinkling?–Three
On the moss’d elm; three on the naked lime
Trembling,–and one upon the old oak-tree!
Where is the Dryad’s immortality?–
Gone into mournful cypress and dark yew,
Or wearing the long gloomy Winter through
In the smooth holly’s green eternity.

The squirrel gloats on his accomplish’d hoard,
The ants have brimm’d their garners with ripe grain,
And honey bees have stored
The sweets of Summer in their luscious cells;
The swallows all have wing’d across the main;
But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
And sighs her tearful spells
Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain.
Alone, alone,
Upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone
With the last leaves for a love-rosary,
Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
Like a dim picture of the drowned past
In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away,
Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.

O go and sit with her, and be o’ershaded
Under the languid downfall of her hair:
She wears a coronal of flowers faded
Upon her forehead, and a face of care;–
There is enough of wither’d everywhere
To make her bower,–and enough of gloom;
There is enough of sadness to invite,
If only for the rose that died, whose doom
Is Beauty’s,–she that with the living bloom
Of conscious cheeks most beautifies the light:
There is enough of sorrowing, and quite
Enough of bitter fruits the earth doth bear,–
Enough of chilly droppings for her bowl;
Enough of fear and shadowy despair,
To frame her cloudy prison for the soul!

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    4 Responses to Goats & Sheep: A season of Autumnal Fruitiness

    1. Mish says:

      “Mabon is NOT an alternative name for the Autumn Equinox”, as an eclectic hedgewitch I would like to suggest that Mabon is an alternative name for the Autumn Equinox as of about twenty or so years ago.

      Aidan Kelly and the Feri tradition started it, sure, but names have power and Mabon gains in his because not every Pagan using his name for this time of year does so in ignorance. The sheer number of people calling the Equinox Mabon indicates that it is now an alternate name and communicated as such.

      To my mind Mabon ap Modron is an appropriate leader of this celebration. He is the Son of Mother, who better to lead a Harvest festival?

    2. Angharad says:

      Historical authenticity is a slippery standard. What historical basis would the Bulgarian forebears of Georgi Mishev have given for their practice?

    3. Tanga ---------- says:

      Many thanks Sorita, for this comment – which resonates with alot of my own quiet thoughts. Words have power. And they have power in the context, time and social structure in which they are used – which in my mind changes over the years, as people change their minds, discover things they never imagined before, or have experiences that lead them to new understanding.

      Human beings tend to cling to history and may take what is writ or taught as “the absolute truth”. Missing the inevitability of how information mutates with time (recorded through the victor’s eyes, surmised from whatever broken and decayed bits of the past we manage to dig up, translated into a new language without the possibility of fully understanding the old language as it was spoken then, etc). Your laughter at Mabon being an “alternate name” equates to my laughter at hearing someone say “Will and Kate stole our pagan handfasting thing at their wedding” :-).
      Misinformation will forever be a challenge to surmount because of our nature, and a larger number of us will always feel more comfortable as “goats” or “sheep” trusting in the security that our “herders” provide us. Not every individual will be hugely motivated or able to explore the roots of history for themselves to get to the closest version of what was. If names end up being used in ignorance – it’s the job of those with the teaching hat on to point it out, just as you have here, and to nurture the idea of change, the lack of “the absolute truth” and the awareness that it’s not mandatory to be a “sheep” or “goat”.
      I doubt The Deity is ever diminished – only the power that people have to express The Deity as they perceive it in their own eyes is diminished by the control from the “herders” that are.

      Buckle up – as a teacher – you will just be repeating this chapter again and again with each new generation. It’s what teachers do.
      Happiest wishes!

    4. Rhianna Read says:

      Hmmm…is it very wise to push some stuff one heard from SOME pagans into a watering can and emptty it out over ALL pagans? It’s a bit like saying ALL publishers use EVERY opportunity to promote new books 😉

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