The Wheel of the Year
For centuries, Earth-honoring cultures have followed the sun's passage through the sky. Our ancestors divided the Wheel of the Year, as the sun's annual cycle is known, into eight periods of approximately six weeks, with each spoke corresponding to a particular degree in the zodiac wheel.
In Wicca and other Pagan belief systems, these eight holidays (or holy days) are called
The most holy and solemn of the sabbats, Samhain (pronounced
Magicians believe the veil that separates the seen and unseen worlds is thinnest on Samhain. Therefore, this is an ideal time to try to connect with nonphysical entities such as ancestors, angels, or spirit guides. Many people also do divination on Samhain, when insights and information flow easily.
Winter Solstice or Yule
The Winter Solstice occurs when the sun reaches 0 degrees of Capricorn, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, usually around December 21. In pre-Christian Europe and Britain, the joyful holiday celebrated the birth of the Sun King, who brought light into the world during the darkest time of all. It's easy to see parallels between this ancient view and the Christmas story.
Putting up an evergreen tree symbolizes the triumph of life over death, for these plants retain their needles even during the cold winter months.
The Wheel of the Year
Traditionally, a Yule log is burned on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Ashes from the Yule fire are collected and used in magic charms to bring blessings in the months ahead.
Imbolc, Brigid's Day, or Candlemas
This holiday honors Brigid, the beloved Celtic goddess of healing, smith-craft, and poetry. The sabbat is celebrated either on February 1 or around February 5, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Aquarius.
Spring Equinox or Ostara
Usually celebrated around March 21, the Spring Equinox occurs when the sun enters 0 degrees of Aries. This sabbat recognizes one of two dates each year when daylight and night are of equal length. Thus the holiday celebrates a time of balance, equality, and harmony.
The first day of spring, Ostara is a fertility holiday, a time for planting seeds — literally or figuratively — that you want to bear fruit in the coming months. This is an ideal time to launch new ventures or begin a new relationship. The word
Beltane is usually celebrated on May 1, although some people prefer to mark it around May 5, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Taurus. The second fertility holiday, Beltane coincides with a period of fruitfulness, when flowers blossom and new life emerges. The Maypole, around which young women dance, is an obvious phallic symbol.
In early agrarian cultures, celebrants built fires on Beltane and led livestock between them to symbolically bless them and increase their fertility. Human couples, too, saw Beltane as an auspicious time to express creativity, sensuality, and fertility. Beltane rituals often included sexual activity, and children conceived on this date were said to belong to the Goddess. Whether you wish to spark creativity of the mind or body, Beltane is an ideal time to cast spells for growth and abundance.
Summer Solstice or Midsummer
The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice generally occurs around June 21, when the sun enters the zodiac sign Cancer. To agrarian cultures, this was a time of plenty, when crops were ripening and winter's barrenness seemed far away. They celebrated this joyful holiday with feasting and revelry.
The symbolic seeds you planted earlier in the year now begin to bear fruit, too. This is a good time to collect herbs and flowers to make good-luck charms, especially those designed to attract abundance. Remember to give thanks on this holiday for the riches you've already received.
Lughnassadh or Lammas
Named for the Celtic god Lugh, this holiday is marked on August 1 or around August 5, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Leo. Lughnassadh (pronounced
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1.
Pagans today still enjoy sharing bread and beer with friends on this sabbat. While you're kneading the bread, add a dried bean to the dough. The person who gets the bean in his or her piece of bread will be granted a wish before the next turn of the wheel. Remember to share your bounty with the nature spirits who helped produce the harvest — leave some food out for them as a gesture of thanks.
Autumn Equinox or Mabon
The second harvest festival, the Autumn Equinox usually falls around September 22, when the sun moves to 0 degrees of Libra. Day and night are now equal in length, so this sabbat represents a time of balance and harmony.
Early Pagans fashioned a doll from corn, wheat, or straw to represent the Sun King, whose powers are waning, and tossed it into a fire as an offering to Mother Earth. You might also choose to braid three stalks of grain together, each stalk symbolizing a wish that you want to come true. Hang the braid in your home to remind you of your intentions.