The Seasons of the Witch
The Wheel of the Year is the Wiccan model of the annual calendar, which is viewed as a circle. Eight major observances or sabbats are important to Wiccans, pagans, and many witches (see Chapter 4 for more information). Every season has specific meaning and symbolic value, and within each season there are other celebrations that mark the Wheel of Time's motion.
For Wiccans, the rituals that mark the following sabbats are most significant:
Samhain (All Hallows' Eve or Halloween): October 31
Winter Solstice or Yule: Late December (around the 21st)
Imbolc, Brigid's Day, or Candlemas: February 1 (some celebate around February 5)
Spring Equinox or Ostara: Late March (around the 21st)
Beltane: May 1 (although some mark this holiday around May 5)
Summer Solstice or Midsummer: Late June (around the 21st)
Lughnassadh or Lammas: August 1 (or as some choose to celebrate it, about August 5)
Autumn Equinox or Mabon: Late September (around the 22nd)
The Wheel of the Year depicts the journey of the Sun King, who rides his chariot through the sky. At Yule, the longest night of the year, he is reborn out of the darkness of winter and begins his annual ascent into the heavens. The sabbats describe the cycle of his growth, maturity, decline, and death.
Samhain (pronounced SOW-een) is the most sacred and solemn of the sabbats. Rituals honor ancestors and loved ones who have passed out of the visible world into the world of spirit. Celebrated on October 31, Samhain is the witch's New Year's Eve, the end of the old and the beginning of the new cycle.
The ritual of wearing costumes on Halloween stems from the custom of making wishes on the new year. Dressing up as the person you'd like to be in the coming year is actually a colorful magick spell.
Winter Solstice or Yule
Yule celebrates the sun's return and the renewed cycle of life. Commemorating ties to family and tribe, as well as nature, are also part of this sabbat's rituals.
Many witches exchange gifts and gather with loved ones at Yule. Burning a Yule log (typically oak) in a ritual fire is a favorite custom, and decorating the home with evergreen boughs symbolizes the eternal nature of the spirit.
Imbolc, Brigid's Day, or Candlemas
The word Imbolc means “in the belly” and this holiday honors fertility in all forms. Brigid, the beloved Celtic goddess of the hearth, healing, and smithcraft, is also known as “Lady of the Flame.” Consequently, fire (the element of inspiration) is featured in the rituals held on this sabbat, where candles are lit in her honor.
Imbolc is also a time to work magick for the land and the welfare of young animals. Some witches like to do health and healing rituals on this day. Spells, affirmations, and meditations that nurture creativity are appropriate now, too.
Spring Equinox or Ostara
During this season of hope the earth blossoms and new life of all kinds appears after the cold winter months. Spring rites focus on fertility and abundance.
The Spring Equinox is an ideal day to cast spells to launch new projects and creative ventures so that they get off on the right foot.
“This is the time of spring's return, the joyful time, the seed time, when life bursts forth from the earth and the chains of winter are broken. Light and dark are equal: It is a time of balance, when all the elements within us must be brought into a new harmony.”
— from an Ostara ritual in The Spiral Dance, by Starhawk
Another fertility holiday, Beltane coincides with a period of fruitfulness. The Maypole, around which young females dance, is an obvious phallic symbol; the ribbons represent the weaving of fate's threads in the coming year.
Fire, which symbolizes the sun's increasing strength, is a key element of Beltane rituals. Modern witches toss wishes into the “balefire” or jump the fires to encourage fertility of the body or mind. Beltane is said to be a favorite holiday of the faeries — leave them an offering of sweet bread and cream to make them happy.
Summer Solstice or Midsummer
This joyful holiday marks a time of plenty, when crops are ripening and the sun is at its highest point in the heavens. Midsummer rituals are celebrated with feasting and revelry in thanksgiving for the earth's bounty.
Traditionally, witches harvest magickal herbs on the Summer Solstice for greatest potency. They also make good-luck charms, especially those designed to attract abundance, health, and power.
Lughnassadh or Lammas
This is the first of the harvest celebrations. Lammas means “loaf mass”; traditionally, this is when loaves were baked from the first harvest of wheat. Contemporary Wiccan rituals still involve baking and breaking bread together.
Lughnassadh (pronounced LOO-na-saad) honors the Lugh, the Celtic god of craftspeople. Therefore, this is the time to honor your craft and to symbolically harvest the magick that you've nurtured up to this point in the year.
Autumn Equinox or Mabon
The second harvest festival, this sabbat represents a time of balance and harmony as well as thanksgiving. The days begin to grow shorter and the harvest is gathered in abundance. However, the gathered food must last a long time, so one of the themes for this celebration is frugality.
Mabon is also a good time to express gratitude for the blessings bestowed. Rituals might involve feasting, putting up food for the winter, and giving back to the earth by making offerings.