Apple cake for Mabon (Pagan equinox festival)

apples in basketWe may not be ready to say goodbye to summer, but Wednesday, Sept. 23,  marks the autumn equinox, one of two days a year when the hours of daylight equal the hours of darkness. After that, it’s downhill all the way, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, until the equinox next spring.

In Pagan tradition, the autumn equinox is known as Mabon, and it’s a celebration of the fall harvest. As we rejoice in the bounty of the fields, orchards and gardens, it’s a good time to invite friends to gather and share.

Mabon is part of the Wheel of the Year, an annual cycle of seasonal festivals that include the solstices (the longest and shortest days) and equinoxes and the midpoints between them.

Mabon celebration at Stonehenge

Mabon celebration at Stonehenge

One of the sabbats

Wiccans refer to the festivals as sabbats – sources of the expression “witches’ Sabbath.”

Mabon is a time of rest after the labor of the fall harvest, a time to complete projects, let go of that which is no longer needed or wanted, and prepare to use the winter as a time for reflection and peace. Followers plant the seeds of new ideas and hopes, which will be nourished spiritually over the next months until the return of spring.

Many Pagans create a Mabon food altar with foods from the harvest. These may include fruits, nuts, grains (or fresh bread made from grain), vegetables, and squashes, especially pumpkins.

A cornucopia displays the fall harvest (photo by Carmen via Flickr Creative Commons).

A cornucopia displays the fall harvest (photo by Carmen via Flickr Creative Commons).

The wealth of the harvest

The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is another symbol for Mabon, representing the wealth of the harvest; it is a balanced figure, including both male (phallic) and female (hollow and receptive) images.

Many Pagan groups use Mabon as a time for food drives, followed by a ritual for the blessing of donations.

Some Pagans have an apple harvest rite at Mabon. I find this interesting because we Jews just finished celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which includes eating apples with honey to signify wishes for a sweet year to come.

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite apple cakes. It’s very moist and full of nuts. I very rarely add the frosting, because it’s plenty sweet without it.


Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

41 Years. That’s the milestone my husband Joe and I celebrated on our wedding anniversary this week. We were married in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. We had next to no money, so for our honeymoon we rented the cheapest van we could find, put a flimsy foam mattress in the back and tooled around the south of England for four wonderful days.

My husband and I visited Stonehenge on our honeymoon in 1972.

My husband and I visited Stonehenge on our honeymoon in 1972.

Of course we visited Stonehenge, in Wiltshire. It was a popular tourist site, but wasn’t yet attracting the hordes that led the British government to cordon off the stones so that they could only be seen from a safe distance. In 1972, we could go right up to them and touch them. In fact, I posed for the obligatory photo showing how I was single-handedly holding up the massive structure.

No one really knows why Stonehenge was built or the purpose it served, but it definitely seems to be connected to the solar calendar. Every year at the summer solstice, the sun aligns perfectly with the space formed by some of the stones.

Thousands visit for summer solstice

I thought about our visit to Stonehenge when I read that tens of thousands of people converged on the ancient monument June 20 and 21 to watch the sun rise on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Here is the Guardian newspaper’s article about it. English Heritage, which manages the site, allows people to go right up to the stones for ceremonial purposes during the summer solstice – something it calls Managed Open Access.

Celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge

Celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge

Some were undoubtedly just out for a good time, but some were actual pagans celebrating an important date on their spiritual calendar. For Wiccans, the summer solstice is one of eight annual festivals, called sabbats (which is where the expression “Witch’s Sabbath,” a gathering of witches, comes from.)

Pagans are not non-believers!

Pagans have suffered from a lot of negative associations over the years. Many of us think “non-believer,” or “heathen” or even “savage” when we hear it. But professing pagans – most are Wiccans or Druids – take their faith seriously. Even the U.S. military recognizes paganism as a world faith and now provides pagan headstones in military cemeteries, when they are requested.

Paganism may be attracting new followers because it is based on a belief in the divinity of nature which appeals to many young adults. Professor Ronald Hutton, of Bristol University in England, a leading expert on paganism, believes there are at least 100,000 practicing pagans in Britain. Considering that fewer than 1 million people regularly attend services at the country’s official church, the Church of England, he says, “paganism matters.”

Read more about the history of paganism.

Pagans believe in magic, and use spells to encourage desired outcomes.

Different pots for different types of spells

About 20 years ago, while on assignment for my employer, I met a woman called Gundella the Witch who was a practicing Wiccan. She told me she had separate pots for cooking up potions for different kinds of spells – one set for “quiet” spells, like something to calm you down, and another set for more active spells, like something to give you extra energy. As someone who keeps the Jewish dietary laws, which involves separate sets of pots and dishes for meat and dairy foods, I found this fascinating.

There’s no witchcraft in today’s recipe, but it does have an appropriate name, Wiccan Magic Cake. There is definitely something magical about it. You mix up a batter, which is quite thin, bake it, and it magically separates into a bottom crust, a custard layer and a thin brown top. It’s got a lot of eggs and milk, and it’s not too sweet, so you can even eat it for breakfast.  I got the recipe from a friend who posted it on Facebook — the only attribution was “Frisky.” So thank you, Frisky, whoever you are.