Above: "Snow White," c. Portia St. Luke
Mabon, also called the Autumnal or Fall Equinox, was also known throughout Pre-Christian Europe by names such as the Second Harvest, Festival of Dionysus, Wine Harvest, Alban Elfed and Cornucopia. With its browns and oranges, violet, maroon, russet and deep gold, this was the festival for grapes and wine, vines and garlands and gourds, with beautiful images of the Horn of Plenty spilling forth its tasty bounty of the fruits of "Second Harvest." In the New World, Indian corn, rattles, and sun wheels were added to the symbolic elements of this turning of the seasons. It is also a holiday for recognizing ageing and the end of the natural lifespan of the Sun God, born the previous Yule. It was known to the indigenous people of Europe that, as every year, he would die his natural death on Samhein, at the mid-point between this Equinox and the Winter Solstice. After His death, November and much of December pass before the new God-as-Sacred-Child returns to the world, bright and shining, when the light returns after the darkest night of the year.
But, for now, he is aged, and that age is to be honored. In this festival, gods and goddesses associated with ageing took their place alongside the more boisterous gods of wine. Wine making and adorning graves both had their place in Mabon custom. The indigenous people of the British Isles often tended to their ancient burial cairns in reverence to this "Autumn of Our Days." To pass a burial sites and not honor the dead was a terrible taboo.
Dogs, wolves and birds of prey came to be associated with Mabon, as did the stones Amethyst and Yellow Topaz. In addition to the ubiquitous grapes, any vines, and especially ivy, were part of Mabon. Hazel and Cedar trees, hops and tobacco added to celebrating the second harvest. Traditional herbalists were known to recommend attunement teas with elements (individually or blended) of berries, grape, heather, hops, and sassafras. (Sassafras has been found to have serious health risks, however... I would not recommend it.)
A slightly safer method of honoring the deities can be with ritual oils. I find the scent of ritual oil or incense perfuming a room can transform that space as easily as good music. Apple blossom, hay/straw, black pepper and patchouly go hand-in-hand with the traditions of Mabon.
Speaking of honoring the Deities, there are plenty to choose from throughout Pre-Christian cultures across the world. All grape and berry goddesses and fruit-vegetable deities seem to play a part in Second Harvest. Specific Goddesses included: Akibimi (Japanese), Anapurna (Indian), Cessair (Welsh), Epona (Celtic-Gaulish), Harmonica (Greek), Lilitu (Semitic), Mama Allpa (Peruvian), Modron (Welsh), Morgan (Welsh-Cornish), The Muses (Greek), Nikkal (Canaanite), Ningal (Sumerian), Ninkasi (Sumerian), Pamona (Roman), Rennutet (Egyptian), Sin (Irish), Snake Women (Aboriginal), Sophia (Greco-Hebriac), Sura (Indian).
Likewise, with the gods, all wine gods and non-grain harvest gods, as well as gods of fruits, ageing, and abandonment, came to be part of this day. Dionysus (Roman), Bacchus (Greek), Haurun (Canaanite), Hermes (Greek), The Great Horned God (European), Hotei (Japanese), Iacchus (Greco-Tuscan), Mabon (Welsh), Orcus (Roman) and Thoth (Egyptian) were honored.
A traditional practice is to walk in wild places and forests, gathering seed pods and dried plants. Some of these can be used to decorate the home; others saved for future herbal magick. (Personally, I try to save them to plant next year, but I'm a gardener as well as an armchair cultural anthropologist.) Feasts tend to revolve around grains, fruits and vegetables, especially corn. Cornbread is traditional fair, as are beans and baked squash.
To celebrate the fortune of a good harvest while also honoring the dead strikes me as being an amazing combination for this day which, above all else, is about balance: the balance between light and dark, since, tomorrow, the nights will be longer than the days, and we must begin to brace for the oncoming cold. Gather friends and family close and celebrate what you have, for, tomorrow, it may not be there.