Just kidding! Happy Autumn Equinox!
As usual at this time of year, heated discussions break out all over social media about whether or not this festival should be called “Mabon”.
Aidan Kelly proposed naming the Autumn Equinox after a youthful deity by analogy with Rosh Hashanah and the Eleusinian Mysteries. This seems pretty hypothetical and tenuous to me, and I am not keen on universalising mythology, because it fails to engage respectfully with other cultures and it distorts them to fit another context.
Since Mabon (Maponos) is a youthful god and his nearest similar deity seems to be Aengus Mac Og, I don’t see how he fits the harvest or the autumn equinox. None of these figures were sacrificial or underworld figures; and there is no historical association between the Autumn Equinox and the god Mabon, Maponos, or Aengus Og.
Calling Midsummer “Litha” seems entirely reasonable, as the months before and after it were called Aerre Litha and Aeftere Litha.
Calling Spring Equinox “Eostre” is fairly reasonable (as long as you don’t try to claim that she’s the goddess of bunnies and eggs).
On the other hand, if a non-Pagan wishes me happy Mabon, I will say thank you – because at least they have made the effort to learn the name of a Pagan festival (even if it is the wrong name).
Why it matters
Calling the Autumn Equinox “Mabon” has no ancient precedent whatever, and does have the effect of erasing what the god Maponos is really about, and obscures the fact that the autumn equinox was not marked by ancient pagans as the autumn equinox.
If you want a short catchy name, Harvest or Haerfest would be more logical.
Sure, you can create new mythological associations for festivals, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t erase other cultures and obscure the real meaning of the mythology. As Adrian Bott has frequently pointed out about Eostre and Spring Equinox, her real mythology and symbolism is much more interesting and satisfying than bunnies and eggs.
No ancient pagan culture celebrated all eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year, though most of them were celebrated in some form somewhere in the ancient pagan world. The Wheel of the Year is a symptom of modern tidiness and the perceived need to have a festival every six weeks (which I think is a great idea, but it has to be admitted that it has meant shoehorning things into the Wheel of the Year that shouldn’t have been thus shoehorned).
That doesn’t make it wrong for Wiccans to celebrate the Wheel of the Year (though personally, as a LGBT person and as a polytheist, I object to the nonsense of attaching the “story of the God and the Goddess” to it, but that is a separate issue).
It does make it wrong to lift Maponos completely out of context and attach his name to a festival that distorts the real meaning of his story.
Some people have claimed that “the whole of Wicca is appropriated anyway, so what?” However, this is not true. Calling the quarters and casting a circle weren’t appropriated from an oppressed culture (they’ve been around in the Western Magical Tradition for centuries). Likewise, the quarter days (Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, Hallows Eve) have been in English culture for centuries. And celebrating the solstices too. And Spring Equinox and Harvest.
In my opinion, adding Kabbalah to the mix is cultural appropriation; the same applies to chakras etc. I’ve removed chakras from my Wiccan practice, and whilst I have a deep respect for Kabbalah, it has never been part of my practice.
But the solid core of Wicca is not appropriated material. It is quite possible to do a Wiccan ritual entirely based on British mythological material (or your own local culture) within a sacred space created entirely from symbolism out of the western magical tradition.