The Welch call it Gwyl canol Hydref, the other Celts refer to it as Mabon, the Harvest Home, or Harvest Tide. This celebration runs from September 21 through September 23, coinciding with the annual astronomical phenomenon that gives us nearly equal hours of daylight and night. (Okay...okay... the Autumn Equinox). During this phase, the sun enters the sign of Libra, and brings balance to the earth. The vivid colors of fall, oranges, reds, and browns are associated with this festival.
Also on this day, the god of darkness, known as Goronwy the Horned King, defeats his twin brother Llew, the mythical god of light. Llew transforms into an Eagle or Scorpio. Goronwy then sits on Llew’s throne as King of our world and as a lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess who betrays Llew. (Aren’t myths fascinating?) Goronwy now functions as the King even though he has to wait six weeks for his coronation at Samhain (Halloween)—or the beginning of Winter. He mates with Blodeuwedd, and sires his own incarnation, the Dark Child. Eventually, Gwydion, Llew’s uncle, hears this news. He sets out to find and cure his nephew. He finds the wounded eagle perched on the branch of an oak tree and restores him to human form.
Moving right along...
The character of John Barleycorn, made famous in an English folk song, is a personification of barley, its byproducts—beer and whiskey—and Llew. As Llew, he represents the sun’s power and life trapped within the corn. The very last autumn sheaf or shock harvested—and where this spirit resides—is dressed in fine clothes and fashioned into the Wicker-man. During the celebration, our revelers cut the effigy down, carry it from the field, and then burn it with much rejoicing. And thus, they release his spirit.
The possibility exists that the mock sacrifice of John Barleycorn is the origin of the misconceived notion that the Druids conducted human sacrifices, as set forth in Julius Caesar’s writings of the Gaulish campaign. Caesar, nor for that matter any of the Roman historians, have ever recorded an eye witness account, nor is there any archaeological evidence to support the allegation of human sacrifice, let alone burning a live human sacrifice inside the wicker man. Still, the legends live on....
Incidentally, the Druids were forbidden weapons, had a reverence for life and any direct evidence to human sacrifices by the Celts is notably lacking.
So that concludes our discussions on the annual event, set to take place on Saturday, September 22nd. Happy Autumnal Equinox everyone!