Mabon: Fall Equinox Myths and Meditation

by Vivian Hadleigh on September 13, 2014

Sacrifice – the King is Dead. Long Live the King!

At the moment of the Fall Equinox, between September 20 and 23 in the Northern Hemisphere, the goddess and the god are once again equal in power and light, but this time the goddess is in ascendancy. She will take over the care of the Earth and its inhabitants during the harvest and the time between the worlds which begins at Samhain, until the Spring Equinox.

The god/king prepares to sacrifice his very being to make next year’s harvest possible.

Celts named the Fall Equinox after Mabon, the Welsh God who is, among other things, the king of death and the Otherworld, and a deity of the harvest and fertility. Cernunnos, the horned god (who was probably demonized as the Christian Devil), and Lugh, who appeared at the August pagan holy day, also step forward to share their lessons regarding life, death and appropriate or meaningful sacrifice.

The Fall Equinox is the time of the “second harvest,” primarily of apples and wine, and of the Feast of Avalon, which literally means “land of apples,” and which is directly related to the Arthurian legend and Camelot, which is believed to have been on the Isle of Avalon.

This harvest is also associated with Dionysius, the Greek god of wine who, like the other gods associated with the period between Fall Equinox and Samhain, was regularly sacrificed as part of rituals in his honor…the climax of the orgiastic frenzy of his worshippers, fueled by sacramental intoxicants, was the tearing to pieces and eating of the raw flesh of a sacrificial animal, believed to be an incarnation of the god. This, of course, reminds us of the symbolic role of communion wine and bread in Catholic and Episcopal Christian rituals, and the stories of Jesus’ last supper.

Goddesses who preside over this harvest-to-Samhain period include the crone Cerridwen, of course; and the horse goddess Epona, bringer of dreams and “night mares,” she who conferred sovereignty on Celtic kings; and Demeter/Ceres of Greek and Roman mythology, mother of Persephone…the daughter who, like the sacrificial god-kings, makes an annual journey to the Underworld on behalf of humankind.

Martyrdom, the act of sacrificing oneself for the greater good, is a misunderstood and often unpopular concept in our culture. Like the Virgin and the Innocent, the Martyr is viewed with cynicism by western cultures, not without good reason.

Somehow for us martyrdom has become associated with the idea of sacrificing for ulterior motives, and to the tune of endless whines and laments…to manipulate, to buy acceptance or favors, to buy one’s way into heaven, or even to pre-empt the Puritan ethic’s belief that we must pay for our pleasures. For more information, I recommend reading the chapter on the Martyr in Carol S. Pearson’s The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By.

The true Martyr does not sacrifice her or himself in order to buy something or achieve a personal goal or desire. The Martyr is summoned from unrealized sources deep within the hero at the moment it is needed, from the recognition that he or she is uniquely qualified to make a sacrifice that will contribute to the greater good. A phrase from a Native American ceremony that has stayed with me for years is this: “I give this so that my people may live.” This is the Martyr’s reason for sacrifice, nothing less!

Modern Examples

The most compelling movie portrayal of a Sacrificial King/Martyr in decades, though, is Ken Watanabe’s Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Katsumoto in the 2003 film The Last Samurai. If you want to understand this difficult archetype, watch The Last Samurai again…several times.

Another excellent modern example is the unwilling superhero David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, in M. Night Shyamalan’s movie about comic book superheroes, Unbreakable. Dunn has denied his super powers, even to himself, out of guilt and fear for his marriage which, when we begin the movie, is ending in spite of his sacrifices (a frequent result of inappropriate sacrifice). When he faces who he is, accepts it, and begins to act on it in spite of the threat to his relationships, those relationships are transformed and renewed rather than broken apart.

Both films make two important points.

First, no matter how much is sacrificed, the experience is ultimately transformative rather than negative. And second, no matter how much suffering the Martyr experiences, she or he absorbs it all, saying, in essence, “suffering ends with me.”

Ancient kings, according to some myths and legends, literally sacrificed their lives to fertilize the land for the next year’s crops. They ruled for a year, were honored, feasted and revered in thanks for their willingness to give life blood for the good of the people, to literally fertilize the crops with their essence, their blood and flesh and bone.

Everyday people do this all the time, although usually not as literally, and they do it without the benefit of a year of preparation and reward.

It doesn’t take a superhero with special powers to recognize the important moment, and how you are uniquely qualified to meet the challenge facing you, and on behalf of others.

There are special powers within each of us—whether a woman finds the strength to literally lift a car off an injured child, a solder leaps atop a grenade, a child finds the courage to face an abuser on behalf of a sibling, or a widower gives up a prestigious promotion because his children need him—we are each visited by the Sacrificial God at such moments. And we are empowered and blessed by his special wisdom and powers, powers which lift and transform us into something nobler, and larger than our mundane selves.

Honor the Sacrificial God/King in ritual with a glass of wine, and honor him in yourself by recognizing the times when you have made appropriate sacrifices. Eat a tart and juicy apple in honor of the gifts from the goddess as our Mother Earth. Then prepare yourself for the Time Between, when we rejoin the Crone and go within, surrendering what is no longer useful to the womb of the Goddess, and to rebirth in new form.


Once you’ve created quiet and relaxing space, and have writing tools on hand, get comfortable, and go within. You may want to use the clearing and grounding meditation in the final chapter of my book Sacred Cycles: Ancient Doorways to Inner Space, which is also a free download at, as a beginning.

Since Martyrdom is an act of surrender as well as heroism, and there is an inevitability to the steps which must be taken, enter into this encounter with the Goddess and the God unplanned and unadorned. Without expectations or agendas.

If you like, bring along symbols of what you plan to release to Cerridwen’s cauldron.

But expect the unexpected, and embark on this stage of the journey with the god’s certain knowledge that the next steps are a period of quiet and nourishing gestation in the goddess’s womb, and then rebirth.

Surrender, now, to what emerges from your psyche during this meditation, welcome its wisdom, and integrate the fires of transformation.

And then rest and prepare to begin again at Samhain.

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