Mabon Mysteries

Yesterday marked the autumnal equinox, also known as Mabon, when night and day are of the same duration – a time of equality and balance. At Mabon, the second of three harvest festivals, we honour the waning sun and growing dark and give thanks for the abundance of crops and other gifts with which we’ve been blessed. We seek to find balance: to stop, relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours – to reap what we have sown. It’s a good time to complete projects that have been left undone, and to begin to prepare for the winter to come.

In the fall, when nature appears to be winding down, I feel more connected to it than at any other time of the year, even more so than spring and all its burgeoning life. Perhaps it’s because the culmination of the growing season is so colourful, so fragrant: honey-brown hay bales and golden corn resting in the fields, glossy red apples, the deep purple of grapes and wild asters, the sugar maples’ amber, green and russet riot. I find the scent of fallen leaves and the smoke of hearth and bonfires intoxicating, and the cooler, crisp air, after the humidity of summer, makes me breathe more deeply and feel more alive. I never take walks in the brutal heat of July or August, so I look forward to getting out more, enjoying the flight of monarchs, the low chucking of robins, and the soft October mist on my skin.

In summer at the cottage, Faeries are in full fancy. But in autumn, there is a shift to darker, more mysterious things than even the Fae. Call it a time of introspection, nesting, or the art of Hygge; knowing that, of a nippy evening there’s a cozy blanket to curl up in and a good book to lose myself in is delicious. That’s when my thoughts turn in earnest to beeswax candles, incense from ancient lands, medieval Tarot, the rustle of parchment, old grimoires, and the secrets held by mirrors and crystal spheres.

My own Mabon ritual – during two rare and blessed consecutive days off – includes wearing an incense-y perfume oil (purchased from a fellow Etsian) called Mabon, relaxing with my feet up, and finishing a few pieces of gemstone jewellery for myself and my shop, a task I’ve been putting off for a while now. As a treat, I’ve enjoyed some delicious baklava, honey- and rosewater-redolent, with my tea. Later, I’ll continue working on a new, just-for-fun craft that I’ll write about soon! How will you celebrate this new season?

Harvest Symbols of Mabon

Symbols: acorns • apples • corn • gourds • horn of plenty • pine cones • wheat sheaves

Colours: brown • burgundy • gold • orange • red

Food & Drink: apples • bread • cider • grapes • nuts • onions • pumpkin • root vegetables • squash • wine

Gemstones: agate • amber • aventurine • citrine • peridot • sapphire • topaz

Herbs & Plants: aster • calendula • ivy • marigold • milkweed • rose hips • sage • sunflower

Incense & Oils: frankincense • myrrh • pine • sage • sweetgrass

Rituals: take a walk in the woods • offer a libation of thanks to the trees • harvest herbs and vegetables from your garden • adorn your home with autumn bounty: wheat sheaves, bowl of rosy apples, grapevine wreath, scattering of acorns and cones, colourful gourds or leaves • buy or make a new broom, either full-sized or symbolic • make spiced hot apple cider • make a protection charm using hazelnuts tied onto red string • volunteer at a food kitchen or donate to a food or clothing bank

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The Secret Garden

Purple coneflower (Echinacea sp.)

The beginning of Autumn is less than a week away, and that makes me a happy little hedgewitch. Fall is by far my favourite season, for all the reasons that most people love it: cerulean skies and crisp, woodsmoke-scented air; blankets and hoodies; the crunch of fallen leaves; blazing colours and bonfires. And yes, pumpkin spice everything!

These past couple of weeks, while other areas of the continent have been ravaged by horrific storms, my own little pocket of the world has been fortunate to enjoy a string of exceedingly pleasant pre-autumn weather. The days are warm but not hot, nights are snugglingly cool, and the air has been still and soft, like a gauzy veil shimmering between the scourge of summer and the cold to come.

I took advantage of this perfection a few days ago when I paid two impromptu visits to a new place for me. For years, on my way to work, I’ve been driving past a large tract of land known as the Riverwood Conservancy. As I’m always in a hurry, I never paid it much attention, but its website says that it’s a city-owned park, free and open to the public year-round, with historic buildings, gardens, nature trails, and a centre offering community art programs. I said to myself, “Self, get thee there one day!” but somehow, I never did. Silly me — now I know what I was missing!

Keeping perfect time!

Last Sunday, I decided on a whim to stop at Riverwood after work to see what it was all about. The late afternoon was fine and there was still lots of daylight left, so I drove down the winding lane leading to the main building which houses the Conservancy’s offices. With only my phone camera in hand, I began to explore the area around the house, with its charming gardens – all maintained by volunteers – secret stairs and pathways, stone walls and old wooden gates, and other interesting architectural features – some of them almost lost to time.

As soon as I saw the place, I was immediately charmed – and fell in love. As Lizzie says at first glimpse of the magnificent Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice (1995 miniseries), “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place so happily situated.” Riverwood may not be on nearly as grand a scale, but it is lovely just the same.

Known as the Chappell House, the rambling bungalow perches atop the Credit River Valley on 60 hectares (150 acres) of woodland that was once used as trading grounds by First Nations peoples. The house was built in 1919 in the Arts and Crafts style as a summer retreat for the property’s third owners – complete with servants’ quarters, billiard room, tennis court and swimming pool.

Viewed from the formal courtyard with original waterlily and goldfish pond and circular paved driveway, the stone house with its massive chimney, family crest, and service wings is quite impressive:

Chappell House, Riverwood Conservancy, Mississauga, Ontario

A closer view reveals that each part of the building has its own character and makes for delightful little vignettes. One of the wings, for example, which I think must have been family bedrooms, looks like the most perfect little cottage, adorned with clematis and its own tiny garden:

The north wing

There was no one else around and I was surrounded by a still, peaceful forest, quiet but alive with birdsong and the rustle of squirrels gleaning chestnuts, so I felt like I was in my own spellbound world. I roamed about gardens planted with a mixture of traditional English cottage and local species. Here were foxglove, chamomile and David Austin roses, there turtlehead (Chelone), purple coneflower (Echinacea) and rudbeckia. There are also all manner of potted plants, some of them exotic and extremely fragrant, such as gardenia and angel trumpet (Brugmansia). Paths and old wooden gates beckoned to more secret nooks and surprises, and everywhere I looked yielded another delight for the senses.

The lily pond, an original feature of the front courtyard

These stairs lead to disappointment!

The back of the house features the Great Room and the formerly open-air dining porch (now enclosed) which once hosted lavish dinner parties for illustrious guests including prime ministers, lieutenant governors and senators. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for example, once played tennis on the now-lost court. (Apparently, traces of it – and the swimming pool – can still be seen … that’s a quest for another day!) The rear lawn dips down to the edge of the ravine through which runs the Credit, one of the longest rivers flowing into Lake Ontario. I imagine white-clad ladies and gents, shaded by immense old pines and oaks, enjoying an amiable game of croquet on that lawn. At its edge are crumbling stone steps down which I’m sure generations of children scrambled on some adventure or another. I wondered where they led, but they were fenced off. When I came back the next day and walked the trail along the valley bottom, I came across what I guessed were the same ones I’d seen from the top. Curious souls making the effort to climb those enticing steps only to find the way barred will soon find out why another visitor dubbed them the Stairs of False Hope!

Through a glass, humidly

The property is located on the northern edge of Carolinian habitat, and plants normally seen in the American south (e.g. sassafras, pawpaw, tulip tree, black-gum) can be found here. (It is also rich in bird and animal species.) Many of the garden plants are propagated onsite, and the house even has its own greenhouse/potting shed. A glimpse inside, with the late afternoon sun illuminating gardening tools and stacks of terra cotta pots, was intriguing.

The following day, I came back to explore more of the Riverwood property. There are other historic buildings, including an 1850s house and barn, and gardens to see as well as trails to hike, and I enjoyed them all. I have yet to get inside the buildings and am curious to know if any of their original features still exist. There is also an intriguing feature in the woods that I searched for but couldn’t find! Later in the season, when fall colour is at its peak, you can bet I’ll be back for more photography. The property will be lovely at any time of year, in fact, so Riverwood is bound to become a regular haunt for me.

My ramblings on those two magickal days inspired the theme for September and October: Autumn Enchantments!

A view from the Sundial Garden