Mother and Child by Gustav Klimpt
THE STORY OF MABON
As the story goes Mabon disappears three nights after being born and his Mother laments his loss. A call is put out to the champions of the land to find the infant. At first the seekers have no clue as to where to start looking, for Mabon's disappearance seems quite mysterious indeed. But Modron tells them that if they are to have any hope of finding her son they will have to go to the five most ancient and wisest animals on earth, the Blackbird, the Stag, the Owl, the Eagle and finally the Salmon and ask each one the question: "Tell me if thou knowest anything of the child Mabon, son of Modron."
Each animal has important clues and memories that guide the seekers on their quest and they eventually find Mabon who had been safe all along, magically returned into his mother's womb. Modron's womb is a nurturing and magical place filled with many challenges designed to renew Mabon's strength and wisdom so that once again he may be born and rise as his mother's champion and source of all joy and light.
You may find this confusing and maybe even silly. Why would Modron put out a call and a challenge to find her son if she knew all along where he was? Why would she seemingly waste the seekers' time and energy? The answer lies in knowing that her son Mabon is a symbol for the light and the joy of the divine in all of us. She did not send the seekers out on this quest for her benefit but for theirs. For in taking on this quest and seeking the council of the wise and ancient creatures of her forest they learned much about their world and about themselves and learned to look for truth and wisdom in places they never thought to look before.
This quest is still put forth to all of us even today. This story reminds us to have respect for creatures of our world for they have wisdom that they can share with us simply by watching them. And also to remember that ultimately the light and joy we seek so desperately can be found at it's source, within us where it's been all along. It is up to us to be brave enough to give birth to it from our own souls.
The corn dolly is an ancient harvest custom, still widely practiced throughout Europe. In ancient europe it was customary at harvest time to leave a small portion of the grain in the field, often twisted or tied into the shape of a man or the symbol of a god or goddess. Sometimes, it was even dressed in men's or women's clothes, kept in a cradle, or hung atop a pole. This bundle or effigy (immortalized in Burns' ballad of John Barleycorn) was believed to contain the essence of the spirit of the grains- a representation of the solar deity who would be burned and 'reborn' as the spring grain. At the end of the season (usually at the winter solsticee), the bundle would be ritually sacrificed, burnt, or plowed under to ensure the year's crops.
In later times, corn dollies evolved into a household tradition, with elaborate symbolic figures crafted from straw, which were usually hung over doors or in barns and burnt at Christmastime; sometimes small grain dolls were kept in cradles or given 'pride of place' in the home through the winter. Today the corn dollie is little more than a craft tradition, with each region 'specializing' with a particular design.
The last sheaf of the harvest, dressed in a woman's dress or woven into an intricate shape and decked with ribbons, is regarded as the embodiment of the spirit of the crop, the spirit of the growing grain itself. The safe-keeping of this corn dolly over the winter insures fertility for the following harvest, provided that some portion of it is given to cattle and horses to eat, and some portion of it strewn in the field or mixed with the seeds for the next crop.
This practice of saving the spirit of the harvest is extensive throughout Europe.
In Northumberland, the corn dolly is attached to a long pole and carried home to be set up in the barn. In some communities it goes home on the lastload. Sometimes it is fairly small. In parts of Germany, the heavier it is, the better.
On the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, the corn dolly's apron is filled with bread, cheese and a sickle. In other parts of Scotland, the reapers hold races. The man who finishes reaping first designates his last sheaf the corn maiden; the one who finishes last makes his last sheaf into a hag.
In some localities, the corn dolly is made by the first farmer who finishes his harvest and then passed from farm to farm as each farmer finishes his harvest, ending up with the farmer who finishes last. In this case, no one wants the dolly as it is a sign of procrastination.
In Wales, others try to snatch the dolly from the reaper who carries it from the field. If he gets home safe, he gets to keep it on his farm for the rest of the year.
French, Slavonic, and some Germanic regions use the last sheaf to create a Kornwolf, believed to hold a wolf-like spirit that resides in the last sheaf and provides the same life force for the next season. This is a fiercer version of the corn dolly and is sometimes used to scare children.
Today, corn dollies are seen as emblems of abundance.
This old folk song that has survived to this day, tells perfectly the story of this time of year called Harvest Home or Mabon. John Barleycorn was called the spirit of the fields.It was believed the sun’s life was trapped and crystallized in the corn (corn was a word that referred to wheat mainly, but also described other types of grain). Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing. And yet, if we listen to the old ballad of John Barleycorn, we find we have not heard the last of him.
They let him stand till midsummer’s day,
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
And so become a man...
They’ve hired men with scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the waist
Serving him most barbarously...
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
And he’s brandy in the glass,
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the strongest man at last.
The song of John Barleycorn is a metaphor of the mystery of death and rebirth. The song describes the life, death and resurrection of the grain as it tells the story of John Barleycorn, who was killed, buried, sprang up in the spring, grew stronger in the summer and grew weaker in the autumn. This is a story of life and not death. The cycle of the year and of the sacrifice and transformation of grain into food and drink.