The Wheel of the Year is celebrated as the Natural Cycle of the Seasons, commemorated by the eight Sabbats. In Paganism all of Nature is Cyclical, the passing of Time is a Cycle, represented by a Circle or Wheel. The course of Birth, Life, Decline, and Death that we see in our human lives is echoed in the Seasons.
The Eight Sabbats
The Eight Sabbats are holidays that celebrate the passing of the year. Each Sabbat also symbolises a Time in the Life of the Wiccan God, who is born from the Wiccan Goddess, grows to full manhood, mates with her, and reigns as king during the summer. He then declines and dies, rising anew the next year.
The dates of the various Pagan Celebrations in the Wheel of the Year change from year-to-year and even differ in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The dates given here are for reference and example only. They are provided to assist one in approximating the Time of the year in which the particular Celebration is observed.
The Sabbats divide into two catagories: Greater/Lesser, and Fertility/Harvest Sabbats.
The Sabbats (Seasons of the Witch)
Yule – Winter Solstice (circa December 21)
The date varies from December 20 to December 23 depending on the year in the Gregorian calendar. Yule is also known as the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere due to the seasonal differences.
Imbolc – Imbolc (February 2)
As with all Old Tradition observances, this holiday is usually celebrated beginning at sundown on February 1 and continuing through the day of February 2. Imbolc means in the belly of the Mother because that is where seeds are beginning to stir as it is Spring.
Ostara – The Vernal Equinox (circa March 21)
As Spring reaches its midpoint, Night and Day stand in perfect Balance, with Light on the increase. The young Sun God now celebrates a Hierogamy (sacred marriage) with the young Maiden Goddess, who conceives. In nine months, she will again become the Great Mother.
Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds, and so nature’s fertility goes a little crazy. In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol — this is a species of rabbit that is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. The female of the species is superfecund and can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with a first.
The story of the Roman god, Mithras, is similar to the tale of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Born at the winter solstice and resurrected in the spring, Mithras helped his followers ascend to the realm of light after death. In one legend, Mithras, who was popular amongst members of the Roman military, was ordered by the Sun to sacrifice a white bull. He reluctantly obeyed, but at the moment when his knife entered the creature’s body, a miracle took place. The bull turned into the moon, and Mithras’ cloak became the night sky. Where the bull’s blood fell flowers grew, and stalks of grain sprouted from its tail.
Beltane – Beltane (May 1)
Many Wiccans and Pagans celebrate Beltane. It is one of eight Solar Sabbats. This holiday incorporates traditions from the Gaelic Bealtaine, such as the bonfire, but it bears more relation to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its Rituals (such as May pole dancing). Some traditions celebrate this holiday on May 1 or May day, whiles others begin their celebration the eve before or April 30th.
Litha – Summer Solstice (circa June 21)
Although the name Litha is not well attested, it may come from Saxon tradition – the opposite of Yule. On this longest day of the year, light and life are abundant. At mid-summer, the Sun God has reached the moment of his greatest strength. Seated on his greenwood throne, he is also lord of the Forests, and his face is seen in church architecture peering from countless foliate masks.
Litha is a time at which there is a battle between light and dark. The Oak King is seen as the ruler of the year between winter solstice and summer solstice, and the Holly King from summer to winter. At each solstice they battle for power, and while the Oak King may be in charge of things at the beginning of June, by the end of Midsummer he is defeated by the Holly King.
June is a traditional time for weddings, but if you’re Pagan or Wiccan, a Handfasting ceremony may be more appropriate. The actual term “handfasting” comes from the tradition of the bride and groom crossing arms and joining hands – basically, creating the infinity symbol (a figure-eight) with the hands. In Neopagan ceremonies, the clergyperson performing the ceremony will join the couple’s hands with a cord or ribbon during the ritual. In some traditions, the cord remains in place until the couple consummates the marriage
Many Pagan couples choose to have a handfasting ritual instead of a traditional wedding ceremony. In some cases, it may be simply ceremonial – a couple declaring their love for one another without the benefit of a state license. For other couples, it can be tied in with a state marriage certification issued by a legally authorized party such as a clergyperson or justice of the peace. Either way, it’s becoming more and more popular, as Pagan and Wiccan couples are seeing that there is indeed an alternative for non-Christians who want more than just a courthouse wedding.
Those who celebrated Litha did so wearing garlands or crowns of flowers, and of course, their millinery always included the yellow blossoms of St. John’s Wort. The Litha rites of the ancients were boisterous communal festivities with morris dancing, singing, storytelling, pageantry and feasting taking place by the village bonfire and torch lit processions through the villages after dark.
People believed that the Litha fires possessed great power, and that prosperity and protection for oneself and one’s clan could be earned merely by jumping over the Litha bonfire. It was also common for courting couples joined hands and jump over the embers of the Litha fire three times to ensure a long and happy marriage, financial prosperity and many children. Even the charred embers from the Litha bonfire possessed protective powers – they were charms against injury and bad weather in harvest time, and embers were commonly placed around fields of grain and orchards to protect the crops and ensure an abundant reaping. Other Litha customs included carrying an ember of the Litha fire home and placing it on one’s hearth and decking one’s home with birch, fennel, St. John’s Wort, orpin, and white lilies for blessing and protection.
Traditional Foods: Garden fresh fruits and vegetables are made into a variety of dishes and eaten
Herbs and Flowers: Mugwort, Vervain, Chamomile, Rose, Honeysuckle, Lily, Oak, Lavender, Ivy, Yarrow, Fern, Elder, Wild Thyme, Daisy, Carnation, Sunflowers.
Colors of the Season: Yellows, oranges, fiery reds and golds
Incense: Lemon, Myrrh, Pine, Rose, Wisteria.
Woods Burned: Oak
Sacred Gemstone: Emerald
Special Activities: An Ideal time to reaffirm your vows to the Lord and Lady.
Litha is a great time to celebrate outdoors if you have children. Take them swimming or just turn on the sprinkler to run through, and then have a bonfire or barbeque at the end of the day. Let them stay up late to say goodnight to the sun, and celebrate nightfall with sparklers, storytelling, and music. This is also an ideal Sabbat to do some love magic or celebrate a handfasting, since June is the month of marriages and family.
Lughnasadh – Lammas (August 1)
It’s time to celebrate the first harvest of the year, and recognize that the hot summer days will soon come to an end. The plants of spring wither and drop seeds to ensure future crops. It’s the dog days of summer, the gardens are full of goodies, the fields are full of grain, and the harvest is approaching. Take a moment to relax in the heat, and reflect on the upcoming abundance of the fall months. At Lammas, sometimes called Lughnasadh, it’s time to begin reaping what we have sown throughout the past few months, and recognise that the bright summer days will soon come to an end.
Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Lammas, but typically the focus is on either the early harvest aspect, or the celebration of the Celtic god Lugh. It’s the season when the first grains are ready to be harvested and threshed, when the apples and grapes are ripe for the plucking, and we’re grateful for the food we have on our tables.
Mabon – Autumn Equinox (circa September 21)
The Autumn Equinox divides the day and night equally, and we all take a moment to pay our respects to the impending dark. We also give thanks to the waning sunlight, as we store our harvest of this year’s crops. The Druids call this celebration, Mea’n Fo’mhair, and honor the The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs and fertilizer are appropriate at this time. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her consort the God as he prepares for death and re-birth.
Samhain – Samhain (October 31)
Samhain means “End of Summer”, and is the third and final Harvest. At Samhain, the Wicca say farewell to the God even though he readies to be reborn at Yule. This grand Sabbat, also known as Feast of the Dead, Feast of Apples, All Hallows, and of course Halloween, once marked the time of Sacrifice. This was the time when animals were slaughtered to ensure food throughout the winter. The God fell as well to ensure our continuing existence. This is a time of reflection and coming to terms with the one thing in life which we have no control – Death. Wiccans feel that on this night the separation between the Physical and Spiritual realities is it’s least guarded and it’s veil the thinnest. It is a time for dimensional openings and workings, and also the celebration of the Death of the year king. It is a somber holiday, one of dark clothes and thoughts for the dead, it is said to be the time when those of Necromantic talents can speak with the Dead.