There are eight major festival rites that make up the wheel of the year. All the Sabbats are solar in nature, marking the passing of the year with natural milestones. These Greater Sabbats or Solar Holy days occur at roughly six and a half weeks intervals. They reflect the growing cycle in both agrarian and hunting societies. Mythologicaly, they represent the yearly cycle of the Goddess, and the birth, marriage, maturation, and death of the God.
The wheel of the year is not to be confused with the twelve or thirteen new and full moon rituals, which are termed Esbats, or Lunar Holy days. The Great Circle of the Year is celebrated by many Pagan groups, such as the Druids and Witches and other Earth based religions.
Many of our readers of might hail from the Southern Hemisphere. For these folk, the standard progression of the seasons is shifted… i.e. they are celebrating spring in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, when those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are celebrating Fall.
Clearly the “standard” correspondences of holidays to dates of the year don’t really apply to those in the Southern Hemisphere. What are they to do? Do they “rotate” the wheel of the year around?
Yule, also called Winter Solstice, celebrates the rebirth of the Sun, the Sun God and honors the Horned God. On Yule we experience the longest night of the year. Although much of the winter’s harshest weather is still ahead of us, we celebrate the coming light, and thank the Gods for seeing us through the longest night. It is a time to look on the past year’s achievements and to celebrate with family and friends. From this day until Midsummer, the days grow longer, everyday banishing the darkness a little more in a glow of the warm sunlight that brings the world to life again. This day is the official first day of winter. This holiday will fall somewhere between the dates above and varies from year to year depending on when the Sun reaches the southern most point in its yearly trek.
Samhain (pronounced sow-inn), also goes by the name Halloween. This is our time of endings and our time of beginnings, so at Samhain, we celebrate the New Year.
This is a quieter time, a time when the secret veil between worlds is thin and the spirits may pass more easily.
At Mabon, the God Lugh died in order for us to live through His abundance. During the intervening time, He has gathered the spirits of those that have died over the year and waits for this night so that they may pass through the gate to the other side. Read more
Mabon, or the Fall or Autumnal Equinox, (Druids call it Alban Elued) celebrates the end of the harvest.
Again we find ourselves with a day and night equal in length. On this day, which will fall somewhere between the dates above, the Sun again passes the equator, this time on its trek south.
Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, is the Celebration of Harvest and begins what is called “the chase of Lugh”.
Lugh is the great Celtic Sun God and He rains down upon the crops, living within the golden fields.
This is the time of the first harvests. At this celebration we give thanks to the Earth for its bounty and beauty. It is from these harvests that we eat through the upcoming winter.
Honoring the God Lugh, games and sports are played to celebrate strength and good health. The grain Goddesses Demeter and Ceres are also honored at this time.
Litha, also called Midsummer and Summer Solstice, (Druids call it Alban Heruin) celebrates the abundance and beauty of the Earth.
This is the longest day of the year, and will fall somewhere between the dates above depending on when the Sun is at its northern most point. The God is at His peak of manhood and from this day forth alas, will start to die as the wheel continues t turn.
From this day forth, the days will wane; growing shorter and shorter until Yule. The trees and fields at this time are full and prosperous. The young animals and birds are learning to live and frolic in the fields and trees. This is a time of the Faery, when a festival called the Feast of the Faery is held.
Beltane, also called Walpurgis – May Eve or May Day, is a Great Sabbat celebrating pure fertility and the union of the young Horned God and the beautiful Goddess.
At this time, life is renewing itself. Birds and animals are mating. In the fields, newly planted seeds are beginning to grow.
Great fires are lit (usually on hills) honoring the fertility God Belenos. Some leap the fires to show the exuberance of the season and in the old days livestock were also driven to run through the fire for good luck. Read more
Ostara, also called the Spring Equinox or Vernal Equinox, (Druids call it Alban Eiler) celebrates the arrival of spring. This holiday will fall approximately on or around the 1st March, depending on which day the Sun, on its northern trek, crosses the equator.
Ostara marks the day when night and day are equal and balanced. Ostara is honored on this day, who is the Norse Goddess of fertility and Her symbol the egg and her sacred animal the hare or rabbit, might still be recognized today albeit in a twisted way where a lame attempt by the Christians to stop the people worshiping the Goddess overlaid their own holiday upon that of the Goddess. Read more
Imbolc, also called the Feast of Brighid, and celebrates the approach of spring. The term “Imbolc” actually means “in milk” and at this time, pregnant sheep, or ewes, begin to lactate. This is one sure sign that spring is right around the corner. The Christians invented a holiday and overlaid it over Imboc, calling it Candlemass.
Although the days are getting longer, this is still the heart of winter and Brighid, the Celtic Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft is honored. Her gift of Smithcraft comes with an added bonus, fire. This may be the reason some celebrate this day as the day of the Celtic Fire Goddess. This is a time of new beginnings and growth. At this time, think of your goals and dreams for this year that you will plant. At this time, greet the pregnant Maiden Goddess and give Her thanks for soon She will give birth to the spring. Light many candles and perhaps make a Bridgit’s Cross to hang outside your door for the year to come. Read more