Background Information

Madron, or the Autumn Equinox, occurs around 21 September. It is a time when day and night are equal, before the days become shorter than the nights. This is the time of balance in preparation for the resting period of winter. Here, at the height of the harvest, we should be looking at whether we have paid for what we have, and will harvest. Have we repaid our debts to the land, the Goddess and the God, to our friends and those around us? As a time of preparation for the resting period of winter this is a time to rid yourself of the unnecessary and unwanted, to finally lay to rest old arguments and quarrels; to dispose of old guilt, envy and other unwanted feelings; to banish anything that might hold us back. This is the time when things should be put back into balance before the winter, lest nothing survive. It has been said that in times past this was the season when the prisoners were released back to their homes and tribes.

The key themes of Madron are balance – day and night are equal – and it is the feast of justice, of the healer and of the released of prisoners.

A few days before you are to celebrate Madron go out and collect a handful of dead leaves. Take them home and put them somewhere to dry out thoroughly. Give some thought to the ‘prisoners’, the regrets you wish to release, and for each one, mark a symbol in the dead leaf. As an example, your symbol of unpaid debt might be a dollar sign. Also consider whether you need to do anything practical, such as paying off that debt, or apologizing for any harsh words you have spoken, in order for your process of healing to begin. Ideally, these practical actions should be performed before you begin your ritual, so that the matter can be completed at the Sabbat, but you may find that some actions cannot be fitted in until after your Madron rites.

When it is time for you to perform your ritual, invite the elements, the Goddess and the God in the usual way.

Now take out your leaves. Look closely at each of the symbols and as you do so, think about the situation that caused you regret and consider what you have learnt from it and how you might avoid a similar situation like that in the near future. Hold the leaf up and ask the Goddess to take this problem from you and to give you strength in the future, then crush the leaf in your hand.

Later you will need to dispose of your leaves. They can be thrown to the winds, placed in a stream, buried in the ground or burned if you have the opportunity, thus casting these problems away from you. If you still have practical actions to perform to put right any problems, you might like to keep back those leaves until the actions are completed. They will act as a physical reminder of the promises you made.

After  discarding your ‘prisoners’, you now need to take some positive thoughts or habits which represent the healing side of this Sabbat. For this you will need a length of white cord. Take your cord and tie one knot in it for each new habit you intend to get into. For example, you might wish to promise yourself that you will pay debts back promptly, that you will try to think before making personal comments or that you will endeavor to think of a positive personal attribute every time you criticize your own appearance. This would be three knots in your cord, you can make as many promises as you wish, but you will find it more effective if you pick three or four main items and focus your intent fully on them, rather than choosing dozens which you can’t remember later.

As with all Sabbats, remember to celebrate the Rite of Wine and Cakes before you close by thanking the elements, the Goddess and the God.

Feasting

This is the feast at the height of the Harvest, when nearly all has gathered. This would have been a time of markets, festivals, processions and general gaiety.

It is also known as the feast of the healer and the feast of the release of the prisoners.

It is a time for balance, a time to discard unwanted habits and traits and to take on the new.

To Eat

Lammas and Madron are very much in common because they are both feasts of the harvest, but Madron is more so. This is a time of plenty; not only that the fruits mentioned in Lesson 7 (Lammas) still in season, but so too are many other foods – hops inshore, fish, oysters, game birds and meats, and vegetables such as turnip, marrow (large zucchini) and cauliflower. Many uncultivated foods grow wild.

This is the best time to get the best of everything which is in season. If you’re not sure, ask your local butcher, greengrocer, who will be probably more that happy to serve you with fresh local produce rather than ‘year round’ imports. Buy or borrow a book which gives a good guide to field fruits, fungi etc., and take it with you on walks to discover what is available.

Goose was the traditional meat of this season, because the gees would have been fattened by the stubble on the fields until they were large enough to feed the whole family. At this time of the year the bird is generally smaller and less fatty than the Goose of Yuletide and so does not need hot water basting, so it can simply be roasted on a rack or oven tin (broiler tray) to catch any fat droppings. Try serving your goose with a berry sauce, perhaps cranberries, raspberries, or rowan. Vegetables should be young and fresh and only just cooked, so that they retain their crispness.

Fish and shellfish are also seasonal. Cook them simply in tinfoil with a few herbs and perhaps a little rind from a citrus plant. Alternatively, steam them together with some finely cut vegetables with boiled potatoes garnished with herb salad.

Fruit Cobbler

Make the most out of your fruit in season by making a fruit cobbler, a blend of fresh fruit and sponge, baked in the oven.

Grease an 8-inch cake tin and then sprinkle with a good amount of sugar. Make up a standard sponge-cake mixture – 4 oz butter, 4 oz caster (granulated) sugar, 4 oz self-raising flower and 2 beaten eggs – and blend well until light and fluffy. Lay large pieces of fruit (with their skins if edible) and dollops of the mixture into the tin. Bake in the oven at 180oC/350oF for around 30 minutes. When it has risen and is cooked through (test with a skewer), turn upside-down onto a plate and serve with fresh cream, crème fraîche or custard.

This is also a great time for making jams (Jelly), preservatives, and marmalades. This is definitely the time to thinking of preserving the bounty of summer and autumn for the winter ahead. Make them using traditional recipes or, rather more simply, preserve fruit between layers of sugar in strong wine or spirits.

To Drink

Fruit wines, some of which only take a few weeks to mature, are popular at this time, just as they would have been in the past. However, an even quicker alternative is to strain the juice of your favorite fruit (s) and add it to chilled sweet wine just before serving.

Similarly, a fruit liqueur can be made by adding fruit juice and fine caster sugar to vodka. Shake well two or three times a day for a week and then served chilled. For a non-alcoholic version, add the juice and sugar to mineral water and repeat the process.

As for Lammas, good quality beers, ales, ciders are very popular at this festival.

To Make Merry

We tend to think of September being the start of autumn, but it is also the tail end of summer and the weather is often still good enough to go outside, although we may have to wrap up a bit more than for previous festivals.

If you can find ‘common land’ which supports fruit, berries and nuts, try taking the whole family on a ramble. If you feel uncertain in to what is edible and what isn’t, take your field guide with you or just collect samples or make sketches of what is available to take home for identification. Either way, you will expand your knowledge of what is available in your area. Obviously you should never eat anything you are not sure of, although few poisonous species taste pleasant enough for you to preserve to the point of making you ill.

Horse chestnuts are readily available at this time (these have less prickly cases than the sweet variety), so revive the tradition of conker fighting. Make a hole through a nut with a skewer and suspend it on knotted string. Each combatant takes it in turn to swing their conker at their opponent’s conker until one or the other breaks. This is not a game for those who don’t like having their knuckles rapped by flying or loose conkers! There are reputedly many ways of enhancing your conker: soaking it in vinegar, polishing it with boot polish, placing it in a warm dark place for several days or preserving it from on year to the next, but for the purist all these are considered cheating!

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