Focusing on Mabon without reference to Ostara is like trying to understand abundance without lack, dark without light, death without life. The pagan celebrations of the fall equinox and spring equinox are by definition intrinsically linked. For as we greet the harvests in the Northern Hemisphere, the joy of spring is celebrated in the south. On this day light and dark are equally balanced, dark in ascendancy in the north, light in the south. They are one of the same equation. This balance is the magic of Mabon and Ostara.
The mythology of Demeter, the Ancient Greek Earth Mother, is rich with spiritual, magical, and initiatory symbolism. When we dig into them they reveal tools for gnosis, ascension, and the power to create our lives in the way that we choose.
Such is the magic of the equinox and the paths of:
- Immanence - the divine is present in everything
- Transcendence - the divine is more than the whole of life
The understanding and appreciation of the sorcery of the Equinox produces a kind of spiritual depth. It creates a place beyond the superficial stories in Demeter’s myths and a blueprint to magical growth and personal power.
The Magic of Mabon and Ostara
Mabon - The Coming of Winter
Mabon, the pagan festival of the fall equinox, is the other side of the coin to Ostara. Their dates are exactly reversed like looking into a mirror of your memory and consciousness. At the fall equinox, we celebrate the abundance of the harvest, much of which was sown at Ostara. The vegetables and grasses have been brought in and the meats have been salted and stored. We are ready for the festivals to come as we take the first steps into the darkness.
On this day we experience our senses at full strength. While we can see the physical outcome of our magic and manifestations from spring. We’re gazing into the coming darkness, the inner world where we must go to die and be reborn anew. The Earth is about to move into barrenness and infertility. We are about to commune with our dark sides in the depths of the sleepy unconscious mind. We know for sure the outcome of our magic yet there’s more that is required.
The Triple Goddess
Let's explore the trilogy of the triple goddess, with the magic of Mabon and Ostara. Demeter the mother has given birth. We’re aware of the coming of the goddess as Crone, elderly wise woman, bringer of death in the shape of the goddess Hecate. We’ve seen the benefits and joys of the light. Now is the time to call our power from the time of the long nights, the buried magic nurtured by our unconscious minds. As we observe the coming darkness in our meditations and rites, our minds give form and structure to the inner child. We experience the spirit of that same unconscious mind, as we begin to call it forth into consciousness. In doing so, we can access the power of our primal animalistic selves. This is the gift of the darkness, the sorcery of balance. Here is the magic of gratitude as we own our manifestations in their entirety.
The beauty of the equinoxes is that the other is always present. As the world turns the sun passes through the constellations of Virgo the virgin and Libra the balance. At the same time, the nighttime celebrations of Mabon are under the star canopies of Ostara, Pisces, and Aries. The full power of these sister festivals are always present at the equinox.
Ostara - the birth of the Spring
Ostara is the spring equinox. It falls about March 23rd (give or take a day or so) in the Northern Hemisphere. It is six months later, on September 23rd, in the southern. At the spring equinox, the land is awakening. There’s sap in the trees and the animals have come out of hibernation. Here is the time of the dawning of the light. Representing birth in the sense of the emergence from darkness, the womb, the underworld, or the unconscious mind.
This festival is an awakening of the senses, yet it’s balanced, the light is here but so are the shadows. Everything is moving in reverse of where it was only a few short weeks before. Your magical will is being tested. You can see the probability of your goals or magical rites coming into fruition, yet still, they haven’t arrived.
The passion, drive, and lust are being awakened. The child as maiden goddess, Persephone of the flowers and vegetation, or your inner child has emerged. It’s time for new magic. That dance is the balance of light and shadow bringing about your manifestation at its highest potential. The flames are alight inside you yet this is the festival of Air. This element drives us to create form and structure onto the chaos of your unconscious mind. Ostara is the opportunity for the magic of gratitude, you’ve lived through the cold winter months and the new life is upon you.
Demeter the Great Earth Mother
Demeter, the Ancient Greek goddess was one of the most influential deities of the Olympian pantheon. There are two magical paths of working with her which are both relevant to the magic of the equinox and its correspondences. The first is the more traditional way, honoring Demeter as a living goddess and offering dedication and worship. The other sees the goddess as what the magician Michael. W. Ford calls a deific mask. This is a powerful thoughtform created by humanity and empowered by thousands (or even millions) of people worshiping her over millennia. Both are effective and it depends on whether you choose to follow her path literally or symbolically.
Mabon, like all the Sabbats, is an opportunity to practice gratitude within the various pagan religions. In some of those traditions magic is a part of the devotional practice. One of the earlier myths of Demeter sees her as the all powerful goddess of the harvest. A key figure as the Ancient Greeks were dependent on grain. In terms of your magic the symbolism of Mabon, Demeter, and the harvest equinox together create an energetic opportunity to move into abundance.
How’s this done?
The Magic of Mabon and Ostara begins with gratitude. Revelers, worshipers and magicians would offer the first fruits, vegetables and grasses to the gods of the farm and of the field. Dementer would receive the first grains and cereals often in the shape of bread baked in the shape of male genitalia. Dionysos would be given the first grapes or some of the first wines would be used for libation. (Libation in this context, means to be poured on the ground, altar or statue of the deity as a form of honoring in both worship and magic.) Athene would be offered the first olives. The festival of Thesmophoria celebrated just outside Athens each year is a good example.
The Surface Story: is a moralistic approach to gratitude and abundance. It comes from the idea that by thanking and giving reverence to a divine being, you petition the goddess. You hope to increase the chances that you’ll receive some kind of abundance. Or at least, protection from starvation for you, your family, and tribe.
Gratitude as magic takes us out of the process of petition or begging. It is aligning with energy that attracts towards you what you choose to create. As one of the correspondences of Mabon is abundance, gratitude assumes that that abundance is already present. Therefore, by the law of Sympathetic Magic, abundance arrives.
Gratitude and the Spirit of the Unconscious Mind
In our book Unlock the Power of the Inner Child, we work with the idea of the spirit of the unconscious mind being the inner child. Honoring the soul contract between the conscious and unconscious minds empowers both spiritual growth and magical ability. It is the unconscious mind that leads the process of building and changing reality. A practice of gratitude aligns your conscious and unconscious minds with those things you choose. Consider the following:
- The unconscious mind works in learned patterns. The regular practice of the attitude of gratitude creates a pattern which supports your inner child to work with your desires. It allows you to focus on what you choose with the unbending belief that you can create it.
- The unconscious mind doesn’t understand negatives. The language we use for manifesting is extremely important. Gratitude keeps you in clarity about what you can manifest as opposed to what you don’t want.
- The inner child likely feels abandoned by the conscious mind. It feels like ingratitude for the work it does (i.e. the creation of reality.) This adds to the already present schism between the two minds making it more difficult to realize your magical goals.
The symbolism inherent in this part of the Demeter myth brings us back into the inner balance of the equinox. Through gratitude, we come into the awareness of who we are as creators.
The Balance of Light and Dark
The equinox is the time of balance, the light and the darkness, the day and the night have equal influence upon our physical lives. Here we find the heart of the magic of Mabon and Ostara. At Mabon the dark and the night, the unconscious mind, and the void are on the ascendancy. The time for dreaming the future is upon us. Ostara by definition and contrast is the opposite, the light is growing, the time of the sun is coming, new life is being born.
Demeter and Persephone
Probably the most well known story of Demeter relates to her daughter Persephone. Persephone was the goddess of spring, flowers and vegetation. She is half sister to Despoine, goddess of the winter and the mysteries. Symbolically both the daughters are aspects of Demeter and as mother Earth she’s the goddess of the whole year. As the story goes, Hades Lord of the underworld abducts the beautiful Persephone and takes her to the underworld as his bride. When Demeter realizes her daughter is missing she frantically searches for her across the Earth and eventually learns of her fate. In her anger she refuses to support the Earth with its bounty and the planet begins to become barren. Eventually a compromise was reached. Persephone would remain in the underworld for six months of the year and return to Demeter for the other half of the year.
The Surface Story is an early explanation of the seasons. It shows how the experience of physical life revolves around the seasons. It is a description of immanence, divinity is in the experience of life on Earth and how it functions. The fact that winter is cold and barren and summer is hot and fertile is explained by Persephone’s absence and then presence.
The deeper or symbolic story here is that spiritual and magical maturity relates to both light and darkness. Lets take the point of view of Chaos magic and other approaches devoid of religion. From here the light relates to your higher mind, and the dark to your unconscious primal self. Real spiritual and magical knowledge and power requires a balance of both, the realization of your whole self (holism - holy - holiness.)
Demeter and Eryschthon
There’s another myth of Demeter related to this very theme. Eryschthon was a man who, according to the story, boasted an unreasonable ambition, he cut down a consecrated forest grown to honor Demeter. The goddess cursed him to be consumed by an endless hunger which could never be satisfied. Soon all of his money was spent and eventually, through an insatiable hunger, Eryschthon ate parts of himself leading to his death.
The Surface Story is moralistic. Too much ambition is bad and a lack of respect for divinity leads to terrible suffering. This is a religious idea that often still holds sway today.
Fortunately there are more useful ways to unpack this story. Literal interpretations of this kind of myth are imbalanced. They assume that divine beings are susceptible to the petty jealousies of the herd mind. This story can be read metaphorically, as all mythologies were intended to be. It provides a way to look at the balance of parts of self, the balance of parts of reality.
The deeper or symbolic story. The forest, symbolically, is the unconscious mind, the world of sleep or the void. This is the place of spiritual testing that pushes our ascent forward. It is where we delve into the spiritual and magical mysteries of nature and sexuality. The forest symbolically represents a deep primal symbol of life and abundance. As Eryschthon destroyed the forest, he put himself out of balance. He was cut off from a large part of his true nature. This drove him into self-destructive behavior, or to put it another way, to eat himself. He was unable to evolve.
Initiation and the Magic of Mabon and Ostara
The desire to realize our potential is what draws us towards our spiritual truth and magical practice. Yet, as all who actively choose to follow their paths will attest, it’s never easy. Most of all profound spiritual and magical growth is initiatory. It leads us through experiences that cause us to dig deep within our darkness and face our fears. It pushes us to burn away the hubris of belief, practice and ritual so typical of religion, science and the collective consciousness of the herd mind.
One spiritual definition of hubris comes from Greek tragedy. In this story the protagonist demonstrates excessive pride or defiance towards the gods resulting in having to face his nemesis. How would I read this as a chaos magician? For me there is no greater god than self. Any denial of this leads the individual to give power. It leads us to turn to the safety of that herd mind rather than face the nemesis, our own shadow, in the underworld.
Mabon is the invitation to initiation, all that we fear we’ll be led to, all that we avoid will be manifested. For what you resist persists. As we gaze into the immediate future from Mabon we know we’re gazing into the darkness and all that that symbolizes. The point of initiation is to choose the challenge, the nemesis, the unhealed shadow. It is to face yourself at your deepest and darkest place and transmute it through into balance and power. This is the great opportunity afforded by working with the sabbats to access the Magic of Mabon and Ostara.
Taking on the challenge of the shadow
This is the deeper story of Persephone. She descends by choice to the underworld and faces herself at her darkest and ascends as the powerful goddess of spring. This is the archetypal journey of initiation also taken by goddesses of other pantheons, Ishtar, Inanna, and Lakshmi. This is the myth of Demeter as dark goddess or as the Crone Hecate.
Triptalenous and Demathon were the young sons of King Solis. In the myth the king offered shelter to Demeter while on her quest to find Persephone. In order to return the kindness, Demeter chose to give the two boys immortality and using her magic placed them in the fire. There’s a long story that sees their mother arriving and pulling her children from the fire. The story is deeply initiatory in its structure. It describes the fires of transmutation and also concurrently the symbolic transformation of the inner child in order to ascend.
Initiation is the tearing away of the masks of illusion in the darkness of the unconscious mind. It’s the journey into the mysteries that each tradition reflects. Initiation is the choice to deliberately investigate the knowing of creation and eternity. It is the doorway out of the belief that the ‘things happen to me,’ what Nietzsche calls the Herd Mind.
Growth and Development of Consciousness
Demeter was one of the earliest goddesses in the ancient Greek pantheon. As the Great Mother she was loved by her people and credited with the teaching of the arts of agriculture and husbandry. The Ancient Greeks were transformed from being nomadic to be able to settle in one place, build farms and eventually cities. Their whole experience of consciousness changed. They moved from survival of the nomadic tribe into the opportunity of not only stability but also abundance due to trade.
Abundance is a gift of spiritual consciousness. It is a stepping stone to (or the conclusion of, whichever way you look at it) magical mastery and manifestation. Working with Demeter at Mabon we can gaze into the upcoming darkness with the security of the harvest. The Magic of Mabon and Ostara invites us to penetrate the darkness and with our dreaming minds. It is an opportunity to pause and observe our new goals. Through observation, we give them form, knowing they will come into being as we’ve already evolved our consciousness.
Immanence and Transcendence
Immanence and Transcendence are usually discussed in the context of religion. The magic of Mabon and Demeter, however, gives us the opportunity to collapse the duality into spiritual power. The philosophy of Immanence sees god, goddess, divinity as here and now. They are expressed as the eternal cycles of nature as the spirit of the planet, trees, animals and humanity. Transcendence, in contrast, denies the divinity of the land and sees God as beyond everything which is known and can be known.
From the point of view of Chaos magic and other alternative approaches both and neither are true. The land, the seasons, life and mother nature herself are expressions of the divine spirit, expressions of self as god/dess. The seasons move in cyclic ways for eternity and thus external spirituality constantly reflects back to me as a divine spirit and creator of reality. At Mabon we are seeing into the darkness, the void, the coming expressions of death and rebirth. We can also see ourselves as more, as greater, more powerful, as expressions of the All. The magic of Mabon and Ostara is both immanence and transcendence. They express the unending magic of our potential. Demeter looks into the Underworld and sees Persephone. Persephone is eternal throughout each cycle yet has changed and evolves each cycle as she is both Spring and Death in turn and concurrently.