The Wheel of the Year
In the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous power of this pattern had supreme recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and bountiful herds and hunting.One result of this process is our image of the "Wheel of the Year" with its eight spokes -- the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and the four minor solar festivals of the solstices and equinoxes. In common with many ancient people, many Witches consider the day as beginning at sundown and ending at sundown the following day. So, for example, Samhain starts at dusk on the 31st, ending the evening of the 1st.
(Sow-en) October 31
The first celebration of Winter and the day in which the Celtic New Year begins. A time for both beginnings and endings, through death in Winter to rebirth in Spring. In ancient times the celtic people celebrated the Celtic Feast of the Dead to honor the memories of their ancestors. Witches today often share this custom by lifting the veil on this night of high psychic charge to contact their own ancestors. Spells are also performed to do away with old negative patterns or situations to make room for new life. Samhain is also known as Hallomas, Samana, Samhuinn and Samonios (Halloween in modern Christian times as well). The colors are black and orange. Symbols are the cauldron, jack o'lantern, mask, and balefire. Dieties for this Sabbat are Crone Goddesses, Dying/Aging Gods, Sacrificial Gods, Death and Otherworld Gods and Goddesses.
The night lengthens and we work with the positive aspects of darkness in the increasing star- and moonlight. Many Craft traditions, following the ancient Celts, consider this the eve of the New Year (as day begins with sundown, so the year begins with the first day of Winter). It is one night when the barriers between the worlds of life and death are uncertain, allowing the ancestors to walk among the living, welcomed and feasted by their kin, bestowing the Otherworld's blessings. We may focus within ourselves to look "through the glass darkly", developing our divination and psychic skills.
Winter Solstice -December 21
Yule is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. The precise date will change year to year. The darkest time between Samhain and Yule draws to an end as the Goddess, Mother Earth, gives birth to the Sun again. It is a sabbat for fond memories, reflection on the interconnectedness of all and glory of knowing the Sun has been rebirthed and his rays of warmth will soon start to spill upon us. Yule is also known as Midwinter and Fionn's Day (Christmas is the Christianization of Yule). Yule colors are red, green and white. Symbols are the Evergreen, wreath, Yule Log, holly and spinning wheels. Dieties for this Sabbat are Newborn Gods, Triple Goddess and the Virgin Goddesses.
The sun is at its nadir, the year's longest night. We internalize and synthesize the outward-directed activities of the previous summer months. Some covens hold a Festival of Light to commemorate the Goddess as Mother giving birth to the Sun God. Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of Light over the Lord of Darkness as the turning point from which the days will lengthen. The name "Yule" derives from the Norse word for "wheel", and many of our customs (like those of the Christian holiday) derive from Norse and Celtic Pagan practices (the Yule log, the tree, the custom of Wassailing, et al).
(EM-bowl'g) - February 1st
Imbolc is the Sabbat that celebrates and honors the Goddess as the bride-to-be of the returning Sun God. The soon arrival of the plant life whispering beneath the soil, the full warmth of the Sun God being birthed from the Imbolg Virgin Goddesses womb, the promise of fertility that is celebrated on Beltaine, are all honored on this sacred day. Witches typically charge and annoint seeds that are harbored by their hearths until Ostara, the day in which they are planted. Imbolg is also known as Oimelc, Brid's Day, Bride's Day and Imbolc. Imbolc colors are white, pale yellow and silver. Symbols are candles, grain, burrowing animals, ewes and marigolds. Dieties for this sabbat are Gods as Young Men, Boys or infants,
Virgin, Maiden or Child Goddesses.
As the days' lengthening becomes perceptible, many candles are lit to hasten the warming of the earth and emphasize the reviving of life. "Imbolc" is from Old Irish, and may mean "in the belly", and Oimelc, "ewe's milk", as this is the lambing time. It is the holiday of the Celtic Fire Goddess Brigid, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, poetry/inspiration, and healing. Brigid's fire is a symbolic transformation offering healing, visions, and tempering. Februum is a Latin word meaning purification -- naming the month of cleansing. The thaw releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) -- all that was hindered is let flow at this season.
Spring or Vernal Equinox - March 21
Ostara is the Sabbat of Balance. The days and nights are of equal length but the Sun God is gaining more power over the darkness of Winter. Ostara is also celebrated as the time of courtship of the God and Goddess in preparation for their consumation on Beltaine. Witches typically plant the seeds that were annointed on Imbolg on this Spring Equinox. Ostara is also known as Eostre or Lady Day. Ostara colors are anything soft and muted, such as pastels. Symbols are the egg, equilateral cross and the butterfly. Dieties for this sabbat are Youthful Gods and Goddesses, Warrior Gods, and Faerie Queens.
Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel "reborn" after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday. It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth. Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter's daughter Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in whose footprints flowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or absence of life.
As Samhain was the beginning of the cycle of Winter, Beltane marks the second major cycle of the year: Summer. This May Sabbat is a celebration of new life in all it's forms. This is the day God and Goddess are united in sacred marriage, their relationship consumated. This melding of God and Goddess symbolically fertilizes the animals and crops for the rest of the year.Witches celebrate the great fruitfulness of the earth and the exuberance of spring this night with a playful sense of carefree abandon. This is the traditional day of pagan handfastings. A vow made between two, witnessed and blessed by the God and Goddess that commonly lasts for a year and a day (which then can be continued for life). Jumping over broomsticks and dancing around the maypole typically entwining the red and white ribbons (symbols of the God and Goddess) are both symbols of fertility. May Day is a good time for Fire and Fertility magicks. Beltane is also known as May Day, Bealtaine, Rudemas, Giamonios and Bhealltainn. Beltane colors are red and white (symbolizing the God and Goddess). Symbols are the May Pole, baskets, flowers and the butterchurn. Dieties for this Sabbat are Flower Goddesses, Divine Couples, and Dieties of the Hunt.
As the weather heats up and the plant world burgeons, an exuberant mood prevails. Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name "May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth"). May 1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers. The name "Beltaine" means "Bel's Fires"; in Celtic lands, cattle were driven between bonfires to bless them, and people leaped the fires for luck. The association in Germany of May Eve with Witches' gatherings is a memory of pre-Christian tradition. "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) is collected as a basis for healing drinks and potions for the year to come.
Summer Solstice - June 21
Litha or Midsummer
Midsummer is the time when Father Sun reaches the highest power, Mother Earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful harvest. While steamy Midsummer marks the beginning of the Sun's dying strength the season itself is very lush, erotic and sexy. The Sun, flowers and Earth are in full bloom. Hot Midsummer creates a fiery, mature, breathless passion. Midsummer is also known as Litha, Feill-Sheathain, and Gathering Day. Midsummer color is green. Symbols are Fire, sun dials, feathers, and swords/blades. Dieties for this Sabbat are Gods at Peak Power and Strength, and Pregnant, lusty Goddesses.
On this day, the noon of the year and the longest day, light and life are abundant. We focus outward, experiencing the joys of plenty, tasting the first fruits of the season. In some traditions the sacred marriage of the Goddess and God is celebrated (in others, this is attributed to the springtime holidays). Rhea, the Mountain Mother of Crete, has breathed out all creation. It is also the festival of the Chinese Goddess of Light, Li.
(Loo-NAHS-ah)- July 31
Lughnasadh is a grain harvest festival. The Goddess is honored as the Mother who has given birth to bounty and abundance and the God as Father of Prosperity. This is the first harvest on the Wheel of the Year. The splendor of the bountiful cornucopia of wheat, fruits and vegatables is also reflected upon as it pertains to our lives. Lughnasadh is also known as Lammas, Elembiuos and August Eve. Lughnasadh colors are gray, green, yellow and gold. Symbols are threshing tools, breads, cornucopias and all grains. Dieties for this Sabbat are Harvest and Grain Dieties and New Mother Goddesses.
This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh, Lugus to the Gauls). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games). The second aspect is Lammas, the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in riutal loaves. These aspects are not too dissimilar, as the shamanic death and transformation of Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong "John Barleycorn". This time is also sacred to the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, Artemis.
Autumn Equinox - September 21
Mabon is the second harvest festival on the Wheel of the Year. This Sabbat particularly celebrates the harvests of the vine, wine and apples as symbols of life renewed. Partaking of the fruits of this season as well as leaving apples upon burial cairns and graves as a token of honor are all common neopagan and Old Celt practises. There is a thankfulness for this abundance as well as a wish of the living to be be in touch with the dead which comes up in Samhain. Mabon is also known as Feast of Avalon and Wine Harvest. Mabon colors are russet, maroon, orange and all the colors of autumn. Symbols are the apple, wine, vine, gourd, cornucopia, burial cairns and garland. Dieties for this Sabbat are Wine Gods, Aging Gods and Goddesses and Harvest Dieties.
This day sees light and dark in balance again, before the descent to the dark times. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these.
The Celtic Year
The Ancient Celts saw time as a non-linear cyclic process which was deeply interwoven into their mythology. Astronomy was regarded as a spiritual science and the sun and moon were the ultimate deities. The Ancient Calendar was based on the astronomical divisions of the year - the equinoxes and solstices but uses a midpoint between the two known as the cross-quarters to mark the Celtic calendrical divisions. The Celtic Year was primarily divided into: Gamh (Winter) beginning at SAMAIN, and Samh (Summer) beginning at BELTAINE.
Samain was the start of the Celtic New Year, an intensely spiritual time when different dimensions of reality came closer. It was believed that at this time the Celtic underworld became visible as the sídhe or mounds were open. In Celtic Mythology, an integral part of Samain was the ritual mating between the Goddess and the Gods. A new fire was kindled on the Eve of Samain, and from this sacred flame all the fires in Ireland were rekindled.
The shortest day of the year when the sun is furthest south. The death and rebirth of the sun is one of the most important turning point of the cyclic year. The chief deity is often born at this time or the Sun Goddess characteristically withdraws into a cave, mountain or beneath the earth at Winter Solstice and has to be lured out by certain games or rites.
Imbolg is a pastoral festival celebrating the coming into milk of the ewes. It is sacred to the Goddess Brigit a truíne Goddess of fertility and poetry, healing and smiths. When later christianised it became known as St. Brigid's Day but the ancient rites and superstitions associated with it still carried on. A ribbon or cloth exposed on St. Brigid's Eve became endowed with curative powers and St. Brigid's Crosses hung on the house or byre were believed to protect the home and livestock.
Marks the moment when the sun cross the equator and days and nights are of equal length but sunlight is increasing. The midpoint of the traditional season of spring Light triumphs over darkness.
Beltaine marks the beginning of Summer and in former times, all fires of locality were extinguished on May Eve, the relit from the village's Beltaine fire to symbolically give everyone a fresh start. Cattle were driven in the ancient stone circles between two fires as a symbol of purification and as a safeguard against diseases. Beltaine rituals are often included a sun-rise vigil on a high place where the Sun was encouraged to come out of its darkness with the help of a bonfire.
The sun is furthest north resulting in the longest amount of daylight in a year but night-time hours are increasing. On Midsummer's Day a burning wheel was rolled down a hill in imitation of the sun's course in the sky as its annual declination begins. Midsummer fires were lit at country crossroads and hilltops.
An older name for Lughnasa is Brón Trogain meaning the beginning of the harvest or the earth sorrows under its fruits - a metaphor based on the trevail of Birth. Celebrating the beginning of harvest of the main subsistence crops Lughnasa was the most joyful of all the festivals because the threshold of plenty had been crossed. There was often a popular assembly of the whole surrounding countryside at a traditional site such as the top of a saced mountain or by a lake.
Day and night are of equal length but daylight hours are continuing to diminish. Time of the main harvest and the midpoint of Autumn. Darkness triumphs.
The Celtic unit of reckoning is the night followed by the day, hence the four cross quarter - Samain, Imbolg, Beltane and Lughnasa were divided into two parts: the eve of the festival which was regarded as the magical, spiritual time, and the day of the festival where the celebrations and local gatherings took place at a sacred place such as a holy well or mountain. The cross quarter festivals had an implicit recognition of an end as well as a beginning, marking the transition from one season or phase of the agriculture year and the beginning of the next. They fluctuated either side of the solar date, in order to follow the new moon's wanderings as great importance was attached to the right day for celebrating a festival.
|Leap year and year after:||22nd March/September||21st June/December|
|2 years preceding leap year:||23rd March/September||22nd June/December|
The worship of the Sun goes back to pre-Celtic times and represents that older pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, who as travellers of the heavens moved across the sky. The great monuments of the Boyne Valley were built in honor of ancient celestial deities and are oriented upon the Solar Positions of the Solstices, Equinoxes and Cross Quarter Days. Megalithic Art that is found on these monuments is a sacred symbolic expression of the cyclic motion of the heavens.
|23rd December||MISTLETOE Tree of Virility|
|24th December||BIRCH Tree of Inception|
|21th January||ROWAN Tree of Life|
|18th February||ASH Tree of Sea Power|
|15th March||ALDER Tree of Fire|
|15th April||WILLOW Tree of Enchantment|
|13th May||HAWTHORN Tree of Purification|
|10th June||OAK Tree of Triumph|
|8th July||HOLLY Tree of the Waning Year|
|5th August||HAZEL Tree of Wisdom|
|2nd September||VINE Tree of Joy & Wrath|
|30th September||IVY Tree of Resurrection|
|28th October||REED Tree of Established Power|
In this way the Wheel turns, bringing us back to Samhain where we began our cycle. Many of the festival days coincide with holidays of the Jewish and Christian calendars. This is no accident; these points in the year were important community celebrations, and were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian God or a saint. The names may have changed, but the old Pagan practices still show through.
This page is dedicated to a celebration of our Earth. Witches have an inseparable partnership to Mother Earth and celebrate Her turns of the Wheel as Sabbats and Esbats. The Wheel of the Year is a very sacred and ancient ritual calendar that marks the Sun's journey across the sky, the Solstices, Equinoxes and the Earth's changing seasons. Each spoke of the wheel marks an important moment of progression and change in the Earth. Witches will celebrate the holiday starting the day before until the day after the Sabbat date.
Bright Blessings and Gentle Breezes!
Graphics by NOMAD