Wheel of the Year
The Eight-Spoked Wheel
For followers of nature-based spiritual paths, such as the Druidry or Wicca, the dynamics of the changing seasons and the interplay between darkness and light are fundamental. This enduring cycle is an expression of deeper truths, and by making a conscious choice to be active participants in the natural ebb and flow of the year, pagans can find harmony with things on all levels, from the natural to the personal to the divine.
From antiquity, people have celebrated the ever-turning wheel of the year in eight festivals that mark important points in the cycle: the two solstices and the two equinoxes, and four cross-quarter days dividing the time between them. These festivals are common across many pagan traditions, including the Druidic, Wiccan, Celtic and Norse (Asatru) paths.
The Solar Festivals
The four festivals comprised by the solstices and equinoxes are defined by the apparent motion of the sun, and are therefore solar in nature. The solstice festivals celebrate the longest and shortest days of the year, and the equinoxes the two days when day and night are of equal length. As pivotal points of change, these four days are the most important in the cycle of light and dark during the year, and in dividing the year into quarters, they are sometimes referred to as quarter days. These festivals are tied to natural events, and so they do not fall on exactly the same day every year, and their solar nature means that they are considered the more masculine of the festivals.
The Fire Festivals
The cross-quarter festivals are sometimes referred to as 'fire festivals', and are celebrated on four days placed approximately mid-way between each successive pair of solar festivals. They are more in step with the changing of the seasons and the cycle of plant growth, and are considered more feminine and lunar in nature than the others. As they are not tied specifically to measurable events, these festivals fall on the same days each year. In earlier times, the fire festivals were linked to lunar events, with each festival being celebrated on the first full moon preceding the dates given below.
Festival Names and Dates
The following table gives the names and dates of the festivals for the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, festivals that are opposite each other on the wheel of the year can be swapped, so Litha is celebrated around 21st December and Lughnassadh on 1st February, for example.
Festival Name Date
Yule (Winter Solstice) Around 21st December
Imbolc 1st February
Ostara (Vernal Equinox) Around 21st March
Beltane 1st May
Litha (Summer Solstice) Around 21st June
Lughnassadh 1st August
Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) Around 21st September
Samhain 1st November
The festivals celebrate a continuous cycle which has no beginning or end, so starting with the winter solstice is purely arbitrary. Many pagans consider the link between the old and new years to occur at Samhain.
With the festivals celebrating the natural rather than the constructed, it is no surprise that each festival is usually considered as starting at sundown on the previous day and ending at sundown on the day in question, rather than our more modern midnight to midnight. In particular, much of the celebration of Samhain does occur at the most appropriate time - Halloween.
Source: Byzant Scriptorium
The Eight Sabbats of the Old Religion
The Old Religion, Wicca, divides the year into eight main high days or Sabbats. Four of these are associated directly with the two equinoxes and the two solstices. The other four fall at dates in between these points.
In the Celtic Tradition, the year begins at SAMHAIN, or as it is called now, Halloween. This is the night that the veil between the world of men and spirits is considered to be the thinnest, so it is of little wonder that people should think of it as a night that all sorts of things roam about. It is New Year to the Celtics and a time to try and peek a little into the time ahead or to see if it is possible to view the future with Divination. Divination is done in many forms but all seek to establish a look ahead, whether the answer appears good or bad. SAMHAIN is also considered to start the reign of the GOD or the dark time of the Year when the Sun goes lower each day and begins to weaken.
YULE - December 21 is called YULE. It is the time of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. From this day forward the sun again begins to grow in strength and rise to new heights each day. It is a time of celebration and gift giving. At each of the Sabbats a number of Covens will meet and those that practice solitary may come to celebrate in the festivities. Families come together traditionally to these festivals. At Yule the celebration is in honor of the Sun being reborn and its start to warm the Earth and drive the Winter from the land. In the early days the LORD of the HUNT, or the HORNED GOD of the HUNT, was most important for survival in Winter since hunting was the means of survival practiced. The Horned God is in no way to be confused with the DEVIL. Wicca does not consider the Devil to be an entity but believes that all good and evil are contained in each individual and it is up to that individual to be as good or as bad as they deem.MAN is man, both good and bad.
CANDLEMAS or BRIGIDDAY (Imbolc) - February 2nd is celebrated as Candlemas. This is a festival of lights. This date is approximately half way between YULE and SPRING. BRIGID was the Celtic Goddess of Fire, Smithcraft, Healing and Wells and this was her day. Candlemas is considered in some traditions as the marker point where the Mother Goddess, the Great Earth Mother marks the path for the Sun God to find her in the dark times. It is a time when the first rush of Spring may be felt in the air and the warmth of the Sun grows stronger.
SPRING EQUINOX (Ostara) - March 21 is the festival of Spring and the return to the land of life after the dead of Winter. It is a celebration of the return of growth and green things to the land. This festival is usually considered to be a sharing oflove between the GOD and GODDESS, a period of equality, a balance between the forces of nature and man and woman. If possible this festival is done outdoors so the feeling of being close to nature is attained. All around the feeling of Spring may prevail from the new grass beneath the feet to the sweet clean smell of the air. The joining of mankind with nature at this festival is easily accomplished with the land renewed all around us.
BELTANE- April 30th (or May 1st) is the celebration of Beltane. This is one of the old fire festival at which BALEFIRES would be started across the country with a new fire that had been started by the Priests and hearths would be rekindled with the fresh flame. In some quarters stock would be driven between two fires , one to each side to purify the animals (not to mention get rid of pests they might be carrying). It is also considered as the coming together of the God and Goddess in fruitful union to add new life to the crops and hasten their growth.
SUMMER SOLSTICE (Litha) -June 21st is the longest day of the year and marks the high point reached by the Sun on its yearly journey. It is the height of Summer and the fields are green with the new crops. Life abounds all around us and in every living thing is the feeling of oneness with nature. It is easy to stand in a woods or a field and feel the Earth around you while the Sun shines on your face. To hear the birds in song or to watch the animals teaching their spring born young what they must learn to survive winter is a beautiful feeling of oneness with all beings.
LAMMAS - August 2nd is the festival of Lammas which is the first harvest. The early crops are being brought in and stored for winter while the abundance of nature is all around. The corn stands high in the fields and the days are warm and luxurious. Lammas is the time of sharing the first harvest and breads that are made from the early grains. It is a festival where sharing between all present of the harvest and its bounty forms a closeness or bond. It is a time of thankfulness to the God and Goddess for their help in the creation of a full harvest for the winter that lies ahead.
FALL EQUINOX (Mabon) -September 21st is the exact opposite of March 21st. Both of these are times of equal night and equal day. Fall Equinox is a reminder that the Sun will now start to grow shorter each day from this point on until again at YULE the longest time of darkness will come again. This is again a time of equality between the God and Goddess, the God represented by the Sun, the Goddess by the Moon. Each represents half of one whole that is fulfilled by their joining as one. Fruitfulness of the land being the end result of their mutuality, the bounty of the harvest will be brought in and stored against winter, and the dark times. From here the next festival is again SAMHAIN and the start of a NEW YEAR.
SO THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR TURNS IN THE OLD RELIGION