A Cymric and Gaulish God, also known as Maponos, Maponus, Mabon fab Modron, Mabomus: Divine Son
Mabon (Maponos, Maponus, Mabon fab Modron, Mabomus) is a Cymric (Welsh), Brythonic and Gaulish god known from inscriptions in Gaul and Britain, as wll as Welsh legendary texts. Mabon or Maponos is the divine son of the divine mother Matrona or Modron.
Mabon is a deity known from both Gaul and Britian. In Gaul he is invoked as Maponos at Bourbonne-les-Bains (a Latin inscription) and possibly at Rouen (though the inscription is worn and incomplete. He was also invoked on a lead plate discovered at Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme
However, the majority of inscriptions come from Northern Britain where the deity is invoked under the Latinized form of his name, Maponus the first of these being a silver lunula (crescent-shaped ornament) inscribed DEO MAPONO (to the god Maponus) the next insciption was found on a red sandstone altar at Brampton and reads: Deo / Mapono / et n(umini) Aug(usti) / Durio / et Ramio / et Trupo / et Lurio / Germa/ni v(otum) s(olverunt) l(ibentes) m(erito) (To the God Maponus and the Spirit of the Emperor, the Germans Durius, Ramius, Trupus and Lurius willingly and deservedly fulfil their vow). The next inscription comes from Ribchester, Lancashire (the Roman fort and settlement of BREMETENACVM VETERANORVM and reads: DEO SAN APOLLINI MAPONO PRO SALVTE D N ET N EQ SARM BREMETENN GORDIANI AEL ANTONINVS > LEG VI VIC DOMO MELITENIS PRAEP N ET PR VSLM DEDIC PR KAL SEP IMP D N GORDIANO AVG II ET PONPEIANO COS (To the sacred god Apollo Maponus, and for the health of our Lord and the Company of Gordians Sarmatian Horse at Bremetenacum, Aelius Antoninus, centurion of the Sixth Victorious Legion, from Melitanis, in charge of the Company and the Region, willingly and deservedly fullfilled his vow. Dedicated on the first day of September when our Lord Imperator Gordianus Augustus — for the second time — and Pompeianus were consuls). Finally we have two inscriptions from the Roman fort of Corstopitvm, Corbridge, Northumberland. The first of these reads: APOLLINI MAPONO Q TERENTIVS Q F OVF FIRMVS SAEN PRAEF CASTR LEG VI V P F D D (To Apollo Maponus, Quintus Terentius Firmus, son of Quintus, of the Aufentine voting tribe from Saena, Praefectus Castrorum² of Legio Sextae Victrix Pia Fidelis, donated out of devotion) and the second DEO MAPONO APOLLINI P AE… LVS > LEG VI VIC VSLM (To the god Maponus Apollo, Publius Ae[lius Lucul]lus, centurion of the Sixth Victorious Legion willingly and deservedly fulfills his vow). It is interesting to note that all the final three inscriptions indicate the assimilation of Maponus with the Roman deity, Apollo by the process of interpretatio Romana.
A site known as [Locus] Maponi ([the place] of Maponus) is known from the Ravenna Cosmography and though the location of this Roman settlement remains uncertain it is possible that the Roman Auxiliary Fort at Ladyward, Lockerbie in Dumfries & Galloway represents the location of this fort. Indeed, the fort is located near the modern town of Lochmaben (Lake of Maponos) and the name of the deity is also preserved in Clochmabenstane (the Stone of Lochmaben) to the South on the Solway Estuary. The site known as Maporition (The Ford of Maponos) is considered to be Ladyward near Lockerbie.
The name Maponos is derived from the reconstructed proto-Celtic root *makwo- (son) with the divine particle os- and gives us ‘Divine Son’. This explais his equation with the ever-youthful Roman deity, Apollo. The image shown above is derived from a very imposing sculpture ound at Corstopitum (Corbridge, Northumberland). Though prevously identified with Maponus this identification has recently come into quesion because of the sculputre’s beard that seems to contravene the god’s youthfulness. However, the trimmed nature of the image’s beard may stil represent youthfulness and the image might still represent the deity described here.
In the later mediaeval sources Mabon is known only from the Cymric tales and poems. Part of his mythology is preserved in the Mabinogion of Culhwch ac Olwen where, to gain Olwen’s hand Culhwch must preform a number of anoetheu (literally ‘foolish [impossible] tasks’) for Olwen’s father, Ysbaddaden Pencawr. In order for the climactic hunt for the magical boar, the Twrch Trwyth to be succesful Culhwch must locate Mabon fab Modron. Mabon had been taken from his mother, Modron when he was but three nights old and it was unknown as to whether he lived or died. Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd, Cei and Bedwyr are sent by Arthur on the quest for his (Arthur’s) cousin Mabon fab Modron. Gwrhyr is included on this quest because ‘he knows all languages and is familiar with those of the birds and the beasts’. First they come to the oldest known creature, the Ousel of Cilgwri and Gwrhyr enquires as to what the bird knows of Mabon’s whereabouts. The Ousel protests that it knows nothing of Mabon but points them in the directin of an even more ancient creature than itself, the Stag of Rhedynfre. Again Gwrhyr asks of his quest and the stag directs them to the Owl of Cwm Gwlwyd who directs them to the Eagle of Gwernabwy. Again, this bird has not heard of Mabon but it knows of one being older even than itself an directs them towards Llyn Llyw where the great Salmon lives. Finally, then encounter a creature who knows of Mabon and takes Cei and Gwrhyr upon his back to the prison where Mabon is held. Thus is Mabon found and freed by Cei and Bedwyr. Later, mounted on his steed Gwynn Mygdwn (Fair Dun-mane) Mabon pursues the Twrch Trwyth into the river Severn and snatches the razor from between the great boar’s ears. The events in Culwhch ac Olwen are alluded to in Triad 52 of the Trioedd Ynys Prydein where Mabon ap Modron is named as one of the ‘Three Exalted Prisoners of the Island of Britain’ and thus it seems that the mediaeval tradition of Mabon was as the most noted of all prisoners. In the latter parts of the tale the Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch version of the tale twice names Mabon with a patronymic as Mabon fab Mellt which suggests that Mellt (Lightning) may be Mabon’s father (see below).
Mabon falls iinto the list of ancestral deities known by their matronymic rather than their patronymics. Thus Mabon is known as Mabon fab Modron (Mabon being the cognate of the Gaulish Maponos) and Modron being the equivalent of the Gaulish mother goddess Matrona and the matronymic can be rendered literally as ‘Son, son of Mother’. The name Mabon does occur elsewhere in Cymric poetry. The first instance occurs in the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin. He is referred to twice in the poem Pa Gur yw y Porthawr (What Man is the Porter). The first time he is mentioned he is called Mabon am Myrdon (a corruption of Mabon ap Modron) and the second time he is called Mabon am Melld (Mabon ap Mellt ie ‘Mabon son of Mellt’). This, along with the mention of Mellt in the LLyfr Gwyn Rhydderch would suggest a belief in the middle ages that Mellt was Mabon’s father. This also suggests the existence of a Brythonic deity known Meldos who, in his Gaulish form may actually be the god Meldius. The link between Mabon and the lands in south-western Scotland is indicated by the poem Kychwedyl am dodyw o galchuynyd which describes the battles of Owein fab Urien from Rheged. This names several places in southern Scotland and describes them as Gvlat Mabon (the Realm of Mabon). Like many mythological of folkloric figures Mabon was brought into the orbit of Arthur during the middle ages which explains why, in both the Llyfr Du poem, Pa Gur and in the Mabinogi of Culhwch ac Olwen Mabon is enumerated amongst Arthur’s men.
Outside of Cymric literature some of the few other references to Mabon come from France. In the Old French Merlin/quasi-Arthurian Roman du Silence there is one reference to a popular Breton poem, Lai du Mabon, which is unfortunately now lost to us. A document of 1090, from the abbey of Savigny, Rhône, mentions a de Mabono fonte indicating the existence of a spring sacred to the god though its site, once more, is lost to us.
Though he has no direct cognete in Irish mythology, in terms of name at least, his closest counterpart is probably the figure of Mac(c) ind Ó’c (literally ‘Young Lad’) which is an epiithet of Oenghus, the eternally youthful spirit who frequently features as both a trickster god and a god of love.