Moon of Mabon

Moon tree

We have two celestial events to mark this week. First, the Moon goes full today, September 20, 2021. Then we shift gears to autumn on Wednesday, the 22nd.

The common name for this September Full Moon is the Corn Moon but this is pretty late in the corn season in my part of the country. You can also call this the Harvest Moon which is the name attached to the Full Moon closest to the September equinox. (Most years it is in September, but around every three years, it is in October.)

The Celtic autumn festival is on the equinox marking when the sun is almost directly over the equator and so there is an equal amount of day and night. This Celtic traditional holiday is called in modern times as Mabon, after the name of the God of Welsh mythology and is still celebrated by New Agers and Wiccans.

This is the second Celtic harvest festival. The first begins the harvest and is called Lughnasadh, and the third, Samhain, ends the harvest season.

Many cultures – the Greeks, Bavarians, Native Americans, and Chinese – have a similar celebration on or near the equinox which could be determined by those who observe and measure the movements of the Sun.
The symbol of Mabon is the cornucopia which is still used to represent a bountiful harvest. The original cornucopia was a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, fruit, and corn. Although the word “corn” is part of cornucopia, the word’s origin is actually from Latin cornu + copiae meaning horn + plenty. In mythology, this horn was able to provide whatever is desired.  You often see the image used around the American Thanksgiving holiday.


Celtic Tree Divination

apple tree card
Some years ago, I was given a gift of a book and card set about the Celtic tree oracle and the ancient beliefs about certain trees which could be used to see into the future.

In the Celtic Ogham, also known as the tree alphabet, each letter embodies the spirit of a tree or plant.

I don’t profess any consistent ability to do divination (the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means), but I have been known to use runes or cards. I have found that their “answers” offer an opportunity to consider possibilities – often ones that I would not have considered on my own.

Ogham (in Modern Irish or in Old Irish: ogam) is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the early Irish language dating back to the 4th to 6th centuries AD) and later into Old Irish language. Ogam alphabet is the Celtic equivalent of the runes and seen as a way to teach, rather than tell, us about our future. You do a cast of the cards/runes and their order and position tells a story.

It possible that the Irish scholars or druids who created the alphabet might have done so a way to pass on political, military or religious communications secretly. At the time we believe it was created, the Roman Empire ruled over southern Britain, and was a threat to Ireland.

Druidic mythology contains this 1,500-year-old oracle which uses the symbolism of the “tree letters” and their “magical” properties, characteristics and folklore.

As a boy, I felt a connection to a big apple tree that was in our backyard. I climbed it, sat in its shade to read, and ate the apples that came from it. It didn’t surprise me that the apple tree has many associations in different belief systems. I wrote about that earlier.

The apple represents the light half of the year, from May 2 until the end of October. My birthday is in late October.

Drawing the Quert (apple) card signals a choice that you need to make and commit to following. The Major Arcana card in tarot, The Lovers, correlates with Quert in divination and it is also about struggling with choices. Our immediate association with The Lovers is romantic and the choice might be romantic but not necessarily so.


When I used the tree cards recently, the holly card caught my attention. There is a large holly right outside my window. Holly is considered the male counterpart to the female Ivy. The evergreen holly tree, or “holy tree,” has thorny, prickly leaves and red berries that represent suffering, but taken with the other cards I cast, the holly can predict a fresh start, or time of renewal. A reunion also lies ahead. This almost post-pandemic time suggests a number of reunions and I also have a big high school one ahead of me.

I remember that when we planted it, it came with a little booklet that said that as a protective herb, it was believed to guard against lightning, poison, and evil spirits.

This “Tree of Sacrifice,” called Ilex as the eighth month of the Celtic Tree calendar (July 8 – August 4) is the eighth consonant of the Ogham alphabet (Tinne).

Three of the beliefs associated with holly relate to dreams – another topic I pay a lot of attention to. Dreaming of holly means you should be mindful of what is troubling you, and picking holly in your dreams means you will have a long life. If you want your dreams to come true (which can be a dangerous wish), you are supposed to silently collect nine holly leaves after midnight, on a Friday, and wrap them in a white cloth using nine knots to tie the ends together. Place this beneath your pillow and your dreams will come true.

If you want to learn more and try some divination yourself, a second book on my shelf is Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees: Understanding, Casting, and Interpreting the Ancient Druidic Alphabet which is a practical (not scholarly) guide to the ancient oracle.

St. John’s or Midsummer’s Eve

Illustration from a vintage edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (public domain

“Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.” – Swedish proverb

I’m sure you think of this summer as being new and young, but tonight is Midsummer Night’s Eve, also called St. John’s Eve. This holiday goes back to the time of Old English and the Anglo-Saxon calendar that divided the year into only two parts instead of our 4 seasons. On this calendar with only summer and winter (each being 6 months long), summer ran from April through September) makes now midsummer. It also placed the time at or near the solstice.

St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers and this was a time of full hives and the time to use that honey to make honey wine, popularly known as mead. We believe that it was Irish monks during medieval times who learned to ferment honey and make mead.

The June Full Moon was called the Mead Moon and mead supposedly enhanced virility and fertility and was an aphrodisiac. This led mead to be part of Irish wedding ceremonies, and contributed to the idea of a honeymoon, referring to the literal moon and also the first sweet month of those June marriages.

Many people know the holiday because of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream which is set on this night. The comedy of two young couples who wander into a forest outside Athens on this night which is known for magic proves’ Shakespeare’s premise that “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

In England, this night was once an established holiday celebration. For the fairies, this night was second only to Halloween in importance. These “Faeries” enjoyed making mischief with humans.

This may be a short night (the summer solstice being the shortest night) but celebrants made the most of it. They would light bonfires after sundown. This “setting the watch” kept bad spirits at bay, and gave light to the revelers who also might carry cressets (lanterns atop poles) d bedecked in garlands, along with dancers, and some dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and the six hobby-horse riders.

St. John's Wort
Flowers of St. John’s Wort

Having a party at your home tonight? Decorate the door with birch, fennel, and the herb St John’s wort. That herb is so named because it commonly produces blossoms that are harvested at this time. “Wort” is a Middle English word (wort, wurt, wyrte) simply meaning a plant, that in Old English wyrt was used for any herb, vegetable, plant, crop, or root. Tonight or on St. John’s Feast Day (June 24) hanging this herb on doors would ward off evil spirits, harm, and sickness for man and beast.

The plant is in the genus name Hypericum is possibly derived from the Greek words hyper (above) and eikon (picture), in reference to the tradition of hanging these plants over religious icons in the home during St John’s Day.

In modern times and still today, many people use St. John’s Wort as a medicinal herb as a mild antidepressant. The plant itself is actually poisonous to livestock.

Tree worship was also part of Midsummer festivities and trees near wells and fountains were decorated with colored cloths. This was especially true for oak trees, as the Oak King ruled the waxing of the year and the oak tree symbolizes strength, courage, and endurance.

The Oak has always been particularly significant at Litha, the name Germanic neopagans use for the summer solstice festival Litha. In their ancient calendar, June and July were se Ærra Liþa and se Æfterra Liþa (the “early Litha month” and the “later Litha month”).

The Celtic name for Oak is ‘Duir’ which means ‘doorway’ and so this was the time when we enter the doorway into the second, waning part of the year.

Quarter Days and the Wheel of the Year


The recent summer solstice reminds me that many of our current rituals and holidays have some basis in the calendars of the ancient Celts and other cultures. The turning of the “Wheel of the Year” was a concept used in varying ways by several cultures.

Historians don’t all agree about whether the ancient Celts observed the solstices and equinoxes. They may have divided the year into four major sections: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. Today those days are referred to as Quarter Days.

Some historians believe the ancient Celts observed eight divisions of the year – the four major sections, which are the equinoxes and solstices each beginning with a quarter day, and then a further halving into four cross-quarter days.

It is important to remember that the seasons as we know them today are not ancient division, though they are certainly based on some of the same celestial observations. The solstices and equinoxes nicely divided an agrarian lifestyle year.

The adoption of the 12-month Roman calendar for civil and then religious purposes began to align closely with the liturgical year of the Christian church.

The eight divisions are: Midwinter (Yule), Imbolc, Vernal Equinox (Ostara), Beltane, Midsummer (Litha), Lammas/Lughnasadh, Autumnal equinox (Mabon) and Samhain.

The Cross-Quarter Days marked the midpoint between a solstice and equinox, and for the ancient Celts, these marked the beginning of each season. As far as “seasons,” there were only two divisions: winter marked with Samhain which was the start of the dark half of the year, and summer/Beltane to begin the light half of the year.

The Wheel of the Year is the annual cycle of seasonal festivals, still observed by many modern Pagans. It consists of either four or eight festivals depending on whether they observe the solstices and equinoxes, or include the four midpoint cross quarter days.

A sun cross is a design found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods of European prehistory. Its importance in prehistoric religion has made its interpretation as a solar symbol.

Popular legend in Ireland says that the Celtic Christian cross was introduced by Saint Patrick or possibly Saint Declan, though there are no examples from this early period. The legend is that St. Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross to bring the pagan followers a connection to the Christian cross. The cross also divided the solar year into quarters.

November’s Sleeping Full Moon

Moon rising over a barn in rural central Texas by Mike Mezeul II
A “Blood Moon” rising over a barn in rural central Texas by Mike Mezeul II via tumblr

Thursday, the 6th will be the Full Moon for November 2014.

Each month I try to choose a different name for the Full Moon and a new story of its origin. If you want to choose from observations of nature there are the Frost Moon, Fog Moon, Snow Moon and Sassafras Moon (Choctaw) as possibilities. You can choose a name from the activities of insects and animals: Beaver Moon, Moon When Horns Are Broken Off (Dakotah Sioux). Full Moon names that are more symbolic include: Initiate Moon, Dark Moon, Kindly Moon (China), and Mourning Moon (Druid).

This year, I chose to mark Oveanh, the second month in the Celtic calendar, which marks this as the Sleeping Moon. This is a time for deeper thought and contemplation. Perhaps this was partially due to the weather being colder and people having to spend more time indoors and having more time (with field work ending) to read, talk and think.

As with some other cultures, including American Indians, the Celtic Full Moons are not a one day event but rather a day that begins a month-long period. Oveanh is actually from the November full moon to the December Dark Moon.

The Celtic calendar consists of thirteen months based on the lunar cycle and starts in our October. Samhain, the end of the year, falls on the last full moon of October. However, after Samhain there is a “no time” period of five days that are not a part of the calendar year to mark this transition between the states of chaos and change and the old and new year.  The month of Maghieden, the shortest of their months, began after the “no time” period and ends with the next full moon of our November.



The Time of No Time

The Celtic calendar consists of thirteen months based on the lunar cycle. The holiday called Samhain marks the end of  the year. It is celebrated from sunset on October 31st until sunset on November first.

This time was chosen because it was the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and so this Gaelic festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.

An interesting feature of this lunar calendar is that after Samhain there is a period of five days that are not a part of the calendar year. This is a time considered to be between the states of chaos and change. It is a transition between the old and new year. It is a period of “no-time” and we enter that period tonight.

After we pass through these transitional five days of “no-time,” the new year begins.

Of course, a lunar calendar isn’t as accurate as our modern calendar, but in its time it served the needs of people. The no-time was  a way to adjust the lunar calendar to make a year that coincided with astronomical events.

Afte the period of no-time, a short first month of Maghieden launches the year. It is considered an auspicious time for births, beginnings and a good time to start a journey. Maghieden lasts until the next full moon making it the shortest month of the year.

In this kind of lunar calendar the “Full Moon” marks a period of time rather than an event on one night. It would be as if when the Full Moon came next for us we called it the November Moon and started the month on that day and it lasted until the December Full Moon.