The Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is symbolic of eternity, and one turn of it equals one year. We celebrate the eternal circle of life – birth, death and rebirth. Each of the spokes on this wheel represents one of our eight pagan holidays – the Sabbats.
The Eight Sabbats
The Sabbats divide into two categories: Greater/Lesser, and Fertility/Harvest Sabbats.
- Samhain: October 31st
- Yule: Circa December 22nd (Winter Solstice)
- Imbolc: February 2nd
- Ostara: Circa March 21st (Spring Equinox)
- Beltane: May 1st
- Litha: Circa June 21st (Summer Solstice)
- Lughnasadh: August 1st, or 2nd
- Mabon: September 22 (Autumn Equinox)
The dates vary because traditions vary. Also, some practitioners will have their celebrations on the weekends before or after the Sabbat holiday. Whether you want to hold a proper pagan ritual, solitary or with friends, or whether you want to carry out a simple acknowledgement through prayer or a quiet activity in your home, is up to you – so as long as you honour the Sabbat in some way; this helps us follow the flow of life and the change of seasons.
Samhain, on of the four Greater Sabbats, is the Witches’ New Year – the Last Harvest. This holiday is known by many names. In the Western World it is commonly known as Hallowe’en. It is also known as The Feast of All Saints Day, All Hallows, Day of the Dead, Third Harvest, Harvest Home and many more.
On this holiday we honour those who are no longer with us, those who have passed over to the other side. On this night, the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. It is a good time to contemplate death as part of life, and many people (Wiccans and otherwise) take to the cemeteries to visit their passed loved ones, or to perform a cemetery ritual. (Note – if you are to perform a cemetery ritual, it is important that you ask the dead for permission first, and follow what guidance you receive.)
Samhain marks the end of summer. Our God has once again “died” – to be reborn at Yule – while the Goddess carries his fire from the sun within her womb. We celebrate the last harvest before winter comes to clean the slate once more. Some like to work with divination, reading tarot cards for the coming year. Watch out for the fairies, who are said to be out causing mischief on this night.
Yule, one of the Lesser Sabbats, marks the Winter Solstice and the return of light and life. This is a joyous pagan holiday indeed, where the Goddess once again gives birth to the God. Many divine babies were born on this day – famously baby Jesus, but also Mithra, Oedipus, Hercules, Dionysus and many other holy beings. It is a day to contemplate reincarnation, fertility and the cycle of life.
Many things that Christians use to celebrate Christmas have Pagan origins – for example, the Yule tree, decorated with all sorts of decorations. Pagans of the ancient times probably decorated with candles and food, instead of lights and coloured balls.
Also the wreath, the mistletoe, the Yule-log (with a sun etched onto it symbolizing the Baby Sun God’s return) burning in the fire-place, and they say that Santa was once a Shaman…
After breathing new life into the God and the world, the Goddess now sleeps until Imbolc, when she will awaken again as a young maiden.
Imbolc, a Greater Sabbat, is the pagan holiday where we are reminded that Spring will be here soon. The Earth still sleeps under her blanket of snow, and the Young Maiden Goddess is beginning to awaken from her long winter’s nap. It is the Celtic Goddess Brigid’s day – the Goddess of smithcraft, arts and crafts, poetry and medicine. She is the Triple Goddess – the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone – and we celebrate her in all her aspects.
This is a time for initiations, and plotting and planning for the year ahead now that spring is finally awakening and warmth and light returning. Light candles to celebrate the coming of light.
A Lesser Sabbat, Ostara marks the Spring Equinox. Fertility is now beginning to rise up slowly from the earth. Two symbols of this holiday, and of fertility, originate in this pagan holiday – the bunny and the egg. We celebrate fertility by decorating eggs; the basket full of eggs symbolises the womb bursting with fertility.
This is the time of the Wheel of the Year which we celebrate the courtship of the Goddess and God. You can acknowledge and celebrate this Sabbat by going into nature, taking a walk or spending time in your garden, and recognise the changes in the Earth as she awakens further each day.
Beltane, a Greater Sabbat – May Day. Beltane is a fertility holiday – dancing around the phallic may-pole is a tradition still carried on today. This Sabbat represents the sacred union of the Goddess and God. Fertility bursts forth from the shell that once contained it and the greenery of the Earth is fast returning.
It is a fire festival, and during celebrations people often jump over fires to represent contact with the sun. Rituals are carried out to promote fertility and to bless the crops for the coming summer. This is a time for lovers to celebrate their union, and many mark this sacred day by making love.
Litha is one of the Lesser Sabbats – the Summer Solstice; Midsummer. This is a time of high magick, faery magick, balefires (bonfires), promises of a bountiful harvest, and visions of pregnant Goddesses. This is the time when the power and energies of magick are at their highest. Draw down the sun as you would draw down the moon, but use a wand or athame instead of a chalice, and feel the power of manhood at its peak.
Go into nature and immerse yourself in the fruits of the God and the Goddess. Fairies and other mystical creatures are out in the woods and dancing in the fields – go out and see if you can see, feel or hear them. Sit in peace with Mother Earth and bathe in gratitude for her abundance.
There are plenty of traditions and games to be played on this holiday – for example, they say if you collect seven bluebells and put them under your pillow, then walk seven times backwards around a well, then you will dream of your next lover that night.
Lughnasadh is a Greater Sabbat and the first of the three pagan harvest holidays. The work of the summer and spring is finally paying off in the first harvest.
Offerings of bread can be offered to faery folk, and left for wild animals. During this time you may wish to honour the pregnant Goddess, and the waning energy of the Sun God, as the sun begins to fade. You can honour them by leaving libations (offerings) of bread and cider.
Mabon, also known as the Autumn Equinox or Fall Equinox, marks the middle of the harvest. We celebrate the harmony of nature, and the balance of the God and Goddess and day and night. It is a time to reap what we have sown, and we give thanks to the harvest and the fruits of our labour.
This is the second of the three Harvest Sabbats. The Goddess is now heavily pregnant with the God, and the God’s warmth is still slowly fading away. As his power fades, the Goddess begins to mourn his warmth, but she knows his power will return at Yule.
We honour the Goddess and God by leaving another offering of the second harvest – you may leave an offering of wine (if you are of age). Thank the Goddess and God for the bountiful harvests, and wonderful year of teaching and lesson-giving.
Esbats are traditionally held on Full or New Moons, but can actually be held any time you wish when you want to honour the Deities. When held on a Full Moon you may use milk as the drink, and crescent-shaped cookies, or cakes for the simple feast. It is just another holiday to say “thank you” to Them, and time to honour them; especially if something in particular has occurred recently where you felt they had some positive influence. They appreciate the gratitude!
Note – I have credited the artists of the artwork used in this article where I could, but if you know the origin of any of the other images, please do let me know.
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