The Wheel of the Year
Complied by Holley Diana
The Sabbats are eternal holy days that make up the wheel of the year. They mark the change of the seasons and the cycles of life, death and rebirth. The Lesser Sabbats, or quarter days mark the year into quarters as the two Equinoxes and two Solstices. The four Greater Sabbats bisect the Quarters of the wheel of the year made by the Solstices and Equinoxes and fall at the mid-point of each. For this reason, we refer to them as the "cross-quarter-days". With these in place, the circle of the year begins to look like an eight-spoked wheel. At each holy day the wheel is turned; and as we observe and celebrate that turning we become a more conscious and creative part of the wheel itself. By celebrating the Sabbats we stay in tune with the cycles of nature and we learn about our place on the wheel of life, death, and rebirth.
Samhain to many pagans is the beginning of the New Year. The early pagan celebrations of the dead come down to us as Halloween. It is a time of darkness where the "Dead Lord" whose life is the crops was "sacrificed" to become our food. Winter starts with Samhain- a celebration of death to await renewal. At Samhain the God is journeying into the underworld, a journey that ends when he is reborn at Yule the Winter Solstice. The Goddess has become the Crone. Hence the "old hag" witch that symbolizes Halloween.
At Samhain time the veil is thin between the worlds. It is the time of honoring our ancestors and communing with spirits that have passed to the other side. October has always been my favorite time of year. It is a good time to invite our beloved dead to visit with us. This is a deep time of appreciation and celebration of those who have gone before. Every year I set up an altar to my ancestors and blessed dead and invite them to commune with me. I set out a feast for them. It is a time of Divination.
Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Third Harvest, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and All Hallow's Eve. It is a time when I invoke Hecate, Kali.
Some of the symbols of Samhain are Gourds, Apples, Black Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, and Besoms. Herbs relating to this Sabbat are Mugwort, Allspice, Catnip, and Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Oak leaves, Sage and Straw.
Yule or winter solstice happens near December 21, which is the longest night and the shortest day of the year. I was raised celebrating Christmas, but even as a little girl the holly, mistletoe and pine were for me, the magick of the season.
It is a time of New Hope, of light appearing in the midst of darkness. It commemorates the return of the sun when the new king is born, with promises for the light and longer days ahead. The fact that the Goddess gives birth to the Sun God emphasizes the duality of power ... it is from the fertility of the Goddess that the Sun God and his power to come forth to raise up the grains and fruits.
This year we will tie ribbons to and burn a Yule Logcut from the bottom of our Christmas/Yule tree from the year before. Evergreens are cherished at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life especially in the frozen and stark contrast of white snow and green tree of the British Isles and Northern Europe. Holly was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces- to ward off evil spirits and to bestow protection and hardiness.
Some of the other sacred plants of Winter Solstice are Yew, Oak, Mistletoe, Bayberry, Blessed Thistle, and Ivy. Frankincense and Myrrh are blessed resins burned at this season. During Yule we see the Green Goddesses and Gods, Dionysis, The Holly King, Old Nick, Baccus, Wood Spirits, and The Oak King and of course the birth of the Sun King.
Brigid or Imbolic is a celebration of the return of Goddess in Her Maiden aspect, and the first promise of spring. We bid farewell to the Horned God. The days are getting longer and warmer as we participate in the banishing of winter. We find ourselves halfway between Winter Solstace and Spring Equinox. It is a time of purification and transformation. Also called Omelic, which means ewes milk, this is the time when the first calves, lambs and baby ewes are brought forth. A time for the first mothers milk. It is also a time of blessing the seeds and consecrating agricultural tools.
On Imbolc, we dispose of any Yule decorations we still have in the house. I cut the end off our Yule tree on this day and place it in a special place to dry until the next Yule tide when we will burn it (see above). Another name for Imbolic is Candlemass. When I was a child we blessed all our candles in the Catholic Church on this day. Hence the name Candlemass. It was the feast of the purification of the Virgin. This was her "Churching", the time of isolation a woman went through after giving birth. There is a Christian myth that says Mary's midwife, St Bridget, stayed with Mary during her Churching period. This is symbolic of the transformation of theGoddess from one of her aspects to another.
Brigid is the Celtic Goddess of poetry metal smithing and healing. She is the threefold Goddess of transformation. We celebrate her at this time of the year.
The Catholics adopted her worship with their St Brigit whose feast day is at this time.
Some herbs of Imbolic are Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, Wisteria, and all white or yellow flowers.
Spring Equinox or Oestara happens when the day and night become equal (March 21/22). This is a Quarter day or lesser Sabbat. Some call it Lady Day. Ostre, the spring Lunar Goddess blesses new life in her youthful aspect. Inanna comes back from the underworld. The young Sun God now celebrates his marriage with the young Maiden Goddess. It is a time of balance and awakening from winter's sleep, a time of great fertility, new growth, and newborn animals. We usually attend a spiral dance at this time of the year to commemorate the transition, and celebrate power of the light, as the days will now become longer and the night shorter. This is, of course, a good time for magickal workings for new endeavors.
Marking the arrival of spring, this festival is also the observation of fertility. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ in church but at home still honor the Easter Bunny. The Great Hare symbolizes the Goddess, as Easter Egg represents fertility. I gather with my sisters and paint eggs at this time of year, before the Christian Easterit is a time of new beginnings, hope and the first blossoming of love and new life. It is also a time for spring cleaning, paying off old debts and emotional and spiritual renewal.
Early spring wildflowers, Hyacinths, Daffodils, Jonquils, Woodruff, Violet, Gorse, Olive, Peony, Iris, and Parsley are herbs that symbolize this time of year. It is the Celtic tree month of Alder. Pumpkinseeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppyseed Cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, and hard-boiled eggs are included in the Eostara feast.
or May Day is a celebration of love. The Land / the Goddess is now ripe and fertile and the Young God (The green Man) expresses His Love for Her. This is a time of reveling and celebration as the first flowers of Summer are gathered in honor of the young God and Goddess. Thus, Beltane is perhaps the most hedonist of our Sabbats. It is a time of love, romance, sex and magick. It is a time of Fertility and promise. Traditionally the youth danced around the maypole. Maidens scattered into the fields and forests and the men followed as the celebration became acts of fertility on the land. Great bonfires were lit on hillsides as the folk danced around it. Farmers drove their livestock through the fires to insure fertility of land and animals.
I am drawn into nature myself on May Day and have often made sure to have magickal and loving sex with own lover on this eve. It is a time where my ideas and plans begin to germinate. It is also a time I am usually on vacation and near the ocean. Beltane will always be special to me now for a different reason. May 1, was the last time I saw my mother alive.
The old Celtic name for May Day is Beltane (in its most popular Anglicized form), which is derived from the Irish Gaelic 'Bealtaine' or the Scottish Gaelic 'Bealtuinn', meaning 'Bel-fire', the fire of the Celtic god of light ,Bel, Beli, Belinus or Baal. Other names for May Day include Walpurgisnacht (German), and Roodmas (the medieval Church's name). This last came from Church Fathers who were hoping to shift the common people's allegiance from the Maypole (Pagan lingham - symbol of life) to the Holy Rood (the Cross).
Herbs and flowers of Beltane include sweet pea, lilac, patchouli, lavender, poppies, sweet grass, fennel and yarrow. It is the Celtic tree month of Hawthorne.
Summer Solstice or Litha happens on June 21. It is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The year is now spiraling up to the sun's climax. The Sun God has reached the moment of his greatest strength. Seated on his Greenwood throne, he is also lord of the forests or Jack in the Green. It is the time I rededicate myself to the Divine Mother. Great bonfires are traditionally lighted as the pivotal point in the life of the sun is celebrated. Some witches dance widdershins around the midsummer fire. European Christians celebrate the Solstice of St John's eve (in place of the Green Man or Jack in the Green) and light bonfires on the hilltops to this day..
It is the time that the sun will begin its six-month cycle of death. Lugh the Sun King is traditionally sacrificed on this day; to be born again on the Winter Solstice. Midsummer is a night of preparation for the hard work of the harvest to come. It is also a night to party and celebrate the first fruits of the Goddess great bounty.
Midsummer is also a time of powerful magic. Herbs picked on this night gain special powers of healing and transformation. In Germany, the herbs gathered on Midsummer Eve are called Johanneskraut. Some of the herbs of Midsummer are Mugwort, Vervain, Chamomile, Rose, Honeysuckle, Lily, Ivy, Yarrow, Fern, Elder, Wild Thyme, Daisy, and Carnation. It is the Celtic tree month of the Oak.
Lammas or Lughandsa is August 1. This is a cross-quarter day, one of the four Greater Sabbats, occurring 1/4 of a year after Beltane and is the first of the three harvests. The name Lammas means 'loaf-mass'. On this day we bake loaves of bread from the first harvest of grains. In the Catholic Church loaves of bread were laid on the altars as offerings. Clearly this pagan Sabbat was also passed down to the Christians. It was a day representative of 'first fruits' and early harvest.
The Celtics celebrate the funeral games of Lugh, the Sun King, at Lugansha or Lammas. Now the Sun King or the Corn King dies as his body is harvested from the fields so we are fed. We can now go into the winter months of darkness rich with his blood and love in our veins. These are the Funeral Games of Lugh and the Festival of Early harvest. The death of the sacred king, that life might continue; he is symbolically eaten. The new king weds the Goddess.
Other names for Lammas or Lughandsha are Nos Gwylwst, Festival of August and Southwind Sabbat. These celebrations represent the beginning of the harvest cycle, especially the early grain harvest as well as those fruits and vegetables that are ready to be taken. Handfastings often take place at Lammas time.
Mead, Cider, Grains and bread all are included in the Lammas feast. Grapes, berries, nuts, cinnamon and cloves are some of the herbs and fruits of Lammas
Mabon or Fall Equinox happens on September 21. Today, the length of nighttime is equal to the length of daytime. The aging Goddess begins to pass form Mother to Crone...a time I celebrate my own menopause. We thank the fading daylight and prepare for the days to become shorter as we begin to embrace the darkness. It is a time to bless the faery folk. In Celtic lore, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the god of darkness. The Druids call this celebration, Mea'n Fo'mhair, and honor the Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees.
At this Equinox, we bring in the final harvests and prepare them for storage and for the end of the year-Samhain. I gather the fruits of my magickal learning and prepare for initiation. It is a time to pause and take the time to enjoy the fruits of our harvests as well as to plan for the winter. It is also a time of letting go and sorrow. Now is the period of time we must think about balance in our own lives and that within nature. This is a good time for making wine, gathering and drying herbs, collecting nuts and seeds, walking in the woods or by the sea, scattering offerings in our gardens and fields, and offering libations to trees.
Various other names for this Lesser Wiccan Sabbat are The Second Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, Feast of Avalon, Equinozio di Autunno (Strega), Alben Elfed (Caledonii), or Cornucopia. Some Symbols of the fall equinox are wine, gourds, pine cones, acorns, grains, corn, apples, pomegranates, and horns of plenty. Herbs associated with Mabon Honeysuckle, Marigold, Milkweed, Sage, Solomon's Seal, Tobacco, and Thistle.
Earth and Spirit