It’s that time again.
Your co-workers are all back from their vacations, and kids are back at school. The slower, languid days of late summer are giving way to cooler temperatures. And yes, there are even people who are living for the fact that pumpkin spice everything has hit the food sector.
The season has changed again. The wheel is turning again. It is now harvest time.
Technically, in paganism, there are three holidays that are considered celebration of the harvest. Lamas or Lughnassah, which falls at the beginning of August, is considered the first. Samhain, technically, is considered the end of harvest season, and the commencement of the time we travel in the dark part of the year.
In between is Mabon, which falls at the fall equinox.
Of all the sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, Mabon is the one that seems to carry the least legend and story. There is some indication that it was added to the calendar sometime in the mid to late 20th century as a way to round out the calendar and ensure that there was some kind of Sabbat roughly every six weeks.
But while Mabon may feel like a bit of a sidekick among pagan sabbats, it would be foolish to underestimate the spiritual power of this holiday. If the Wheel of the Year is to be viewed as a continuous cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth, then Mabon happens at a very critical moment in the cycle of the wheel. In the midst of the harvest is when you really start to see what the Wheel is really bringing you on this turn, and when you really need to step up and work to bring it all to fruition.
Americans associate the harvest with Thanksgiving, which has become the sine qua non of indolence, with a big meal and watching television while lounging on the couch waiting for the tryptophan to kick in being the only things on the agenda. Full bellies and heavy eyelids and much satisfaction. But that is not how harvest works in real life. Harvest is actually the busiest time for those who grow food from the earth and sea.
Harvest time is a race — a struggle to bring all that you’ve planted into storage and make ready for the winter, when the cold and the dark cover everything. It is work not only to collect the harvest, but to find a place to store it, and the inevitable sorting where that which is consumable is separated from that which is not, and that which is to be stored is separated from that which will be enjoyed now, and that which is going to be left to “go to seed” to fuel next year’s growing season is identified and laid aside.
If this all sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. And none of it may be done ahead of its time. Harvest is also about ripeness and readiness. Timing is essential. Crops must be picked at the precisely appropriate time, and that time differs depending on the crop, and what the fate of the objects harvested will be. Vegetables and fruit that are to be eaten that day require one level of ripeness. Those that will be canned for the winter may need a different level of not-quite ripeness. One cannot leave things to the last minute or get ahead of the game by starting early. The harvest is ready on its timetable, not yours.
Harvest time is when all the answers to all the questions that have been posed throughout the growing season finally receive their answers in an avalanche of information. Did it rain enough this season? Did we use enough of the right kind of fertilizer? Did the aphid infestation we had last year impact crop yields? How are the soil nutrient levels in the soil? We now know because of the crop yield. There is a lot to process, and sometimes it can be hard to tell how all the information fits together. A lot of processing the harvest isn’t just the physical management of the actual crops, but also doing an assessment of what actually happened during the growing season, and deciding what, if anything, we’ve learned from what happened.
Given all these goings on, harvest time is not a time to check out, it is a time to be fully checked in and engaged with your life. It’s actually exciting and invigorating. But unlike the bursting forth that happens at Ostara and which spreads rapidly through Beltane, this is not an abstract thing. As the intensity climbs, there is a narrowing of focus as the days grow shorter and the window of time to bring the harvest in starts to close, and we see the tangible results that are our harvest. Unlike the spring, where we plant things without fully knowing what will come of them, harvest lets us see, touch, taste and feel what we’ve created in all its fullness. All the hard work feels good, especially when it comes with the satisfaction of enjoying the fruits of one’s labors.
There is a temptation in our circles to think of Mabon as “Pagan Thanksgiving.” But that’s actually lazy thinking. Harvest time is anything but lazy. It’s time to gather the harvest, glean all the lessons learned from your endeavors this year, and that time is running out, so you’d better work fast. What do you have left to do this harvest season? What crops are you bringing in, and what will you do with the fruits of your labors? What have you learned? How will you make the most of the time you have left before the darkness falls? Mabon is the time to answer those questions.