THE WICCAN CALENDAR is referred to as the Wheel of the Year. The wheel represents a full cycle of the seasons. Each season is marked by a series of holy days called sabbats to honor the particular qualities of each time of the year, life’s lessons as revealed through Nature, and our relationship with the Goddess and God. These holy days are divided into what is termed the Greater Sabbats and the Lesser Sabbats which reflect the themes of
birth, death, and rebirth. Although Samhain (Halloween) is considered the beginning of the Wiccan year, the holidays are presented here in the format of the customary Western calendar.
THE GREATER SABBATS (which actually begin at sundown of the previous day) are Imbolc Feb. 2nd (Feb.1st); Beltane May 1st (Apr. 30th); Lughnasadh or Lammas Aug. 1st ( July 31st); and Samhain Nov. 1st (Oct. 31st.)
THE GREATER SABBATS are highly spiritual occasions, undertaken with the greatest regard and dignity. In all Wiccan rituals and ceremonies the sanctity and sacredness of the occasion is always honored and respected. Because these rituals are meant to embody the powers of Creation and our connection to the Gods, they should be considered serious; however, this does not mean that laughter, celebration, and joy are not present.
THE LESSER SABBATS are Yule (the Winter Solstice) which occurs around Dec. 21st; Ostara (the Spring/Vernal Equinox) which occurs around March 21st; Litha (the Summer Solstice) which occurs around June 21st); and Mabon (the Fall/Autumnal Equinox) which occurs around September 21st.
THE LESSER SABBATS, although called so, are not to be thought of as any less spiritually important or significant. These are the points when the lessons of balance and place in time take greater meaning.
Although Samhain is considered our New Year as it is both an ending and a beginning, we begin with Imbolc to fit the accepted calendar year.
The Wheel of the Year – The Turning of the Seasons
IMBOLC (say EM-BOLK, also known by Christians as Candlemas), a Celtic Fire Festival, is a time of reawakening, a lighting of the way to new hope as the first quickening of the earth heralds the beginning of Spring. The flame of the candle is a testimony to transformation and the power of the spirit. It is a time of cleansing and purification. It is the opportunity to expunge the things that may stand in the way of our goals and to prepare ourselves for initiation or rededication to deeper spirituality. Now is the time
when we sow the seeds of our life. This sabbat honors Bird (or Bride), the goddess of
inspiration, healing, and smithcraft. Goddess of sacred wells, goddess of fire and the hearth, Her inspiration leads us to truth; Her waters heal us; Her flame burns in our hearts. Significant symbols include the Sacred Flame, the making of Brid’s Cross, candle lighting ceremony using white candles, seeds.
OSTARA, (say Os-Tah-Rah) the Spring Equinox, derives it name from the Goddess Eostre. The Earth is now clearly awakened from her slumber. The day and night are
equal but the light is gaining; life is gaining in momentum. This is a time of feasting and celebration. There is a sense of energy and promise personified by the beauty, strength, and freedom of the young virgin Goddess. This is when the clover appears in the fields, a symbol of the rebirth of the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. Significant symbols are the lamb, the hare, and the egg, all universal archetypes of fertility, renewal, and new life, and they are all sacred to Her; the decorating of the eggs with sacred symbols.
BELTANE, (say Bell-Tane, or Beal-Tine) a Celtic Fire Festival literally meaning “Bright Fire” and refers to ritual extinguishing and rekindling of all fires. Fire means warmth,
life, transformation. The Sun God comes to the Earth Goddess signaling good fortune and change. It is the first day of Summer and celebrates the half of the year dedicated to growth and fertility as manifested by the sac red union of the God and Goddess. In this Sacred Marriage of the Goddess, as the land, with the young God as the force of life, the earth bursts forth with sprouting green and the tender colorful blossoms celebrating the
fulfillment of their passion, calling us all to participate in their gladness. This is a celebration of life above all! Significant symbols include the bonfire as represented by a candle lit ritual using red candles, maypole with ribbons, and the hawthorn.
LITHA, (say Lee-Thuh) the Summer Solstice, represents the time of fulfillment. The God and Goddess ar wrapped in the ecstasy of their union. Midsummer is one of the significant turning points in the year. The sun is in the highest point in the heavens. However, there is also a change. Once the God has reached his zenith the dark begins to grow; the God begins to become introspective and to accept that his path leads to sacrifice and death. The Goddess must prepare herself for Cronehood. Nothing is certain but change and change is the basis of life. This is a time of celebration of the earth in full glory but it is also a time for the realization that change is inevitable and an anticipation of the harvest to come. Significant symbols are the making of Sun Wheel on a Solar Disk, bonfires as represented by candles, flower wreaths.
LUGHNASADH, (say Loo-Nah-Suh, or Lah-Mass) the Festival of Sacrifice (also known as LAMMAS) is the first of the three Celtic harvest festivals; the grain (or corn) harvest. The union of the God and Goddess gave birth to the bounty of the earth. This is a time of great joy but no longer is the God the virile groom of Beltane nor the Goddess the young Bride. Now He is in the Autumn of life and She the Great Mother who uses Her power to bring forth a bountiful harvest. Now is the time that we, too, reap the harvest our our own seeds that were sown at Imbolc. The God personifies the the Spirit of Nature that dies each Autumn, while the Goddess is the principle of Eternal Life. Now the God is the Spirit of the Grain; willingly cut down, he is a sacrifice for the sake of the living. His spirit descends into the Earth, the womb of the Goddess, waiting to be reborn at Yule. This is a bitter-sweet time. Death is incomprehensible but the God and Goddess speak to parts of us that are
deeper and higher, helping us to feel peaceful and in harmony with this eternal process. Sacred symbols include the making of a corn wheel and the corn dolly, wheat, the loaf.
MABON, (say May-Bahn) the Autumn Equinox is the second of three harvests and a time of delicate balance between light and dark. Now is the time for gathering nuts, berries, and fruits of the vine. It heralds the need for valuing, storing, conserving. It is a time to recognize our blessings and to honor and thank the Goddess and the God. Mabon is the traditional time for celebrations of thanksgiving and harvest festivals. The Goddess is the Harvest Queen but the God’s presence is shadowy; he is deep within the Underworld. He is heard in each sigh of the wind and glimpsed in the shades of early dusk. He leads us to the hidden, inward places of our souls and invites us to explore. It is time to make room for contemplation on the quest for balance. Significant symbols include nuts, berries, and grapes, the making of God’s Eye talisman, apples/apple disks cut to reveal the pentacle; the making of hazelnut divination pendulums.
SAMHAIN, (say Sow-een) or Halloween, the final harvest, is indeed our most holy and sacred Sabbat. The commencing of the season of darkness, it is the festival of Death, and
as so it is the celebration of the of the Eternal Cycle for without death there can be no rebirth. This is the time that the new cycle truly begins. The spirit of the God has descended into the Underworld and the Sun Child is growing within the Goddess, waiting in the depths of the Earth to be reborn at Yule. It is the time when the Goddess is in Her aspect as Crone. She is Destroyer and Healer, Wise Woman and Midwife of Transformation. Her cauldron is the great womb in which all things are conceived, grow,
and are born. Samhain is the time of introspection, it is the time to assess and re-tune
ourselves to the beliefs in the oneness of all spirits, and in our firm resolution that physical death is not the final act of existence. The veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and the consciousness which separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. We
remember and honor our loved ones and ancestors; we release the spirits of those we
have lost. We mourn but we rejoice. We laugh, feast, tell stories, sing…for this is the triumph of Life! Symbols include the lighting and ritual extinguishing of candles, the cauldron, the web, black candles, the practice of all forms of divination.
YULE, the Winter Solstice, is the season of Midwinter festivities and the return of the sun and light. The God as Sun Child is reborn of the Virgin Goddess. We honor the birth of Life and the first hopeful glimmer of light that confirms renewal. Participating in the magic of Yule enables us to join in with the potential for rebirth and to be part of the cycle which is central to our existence. Only the Sabbat of Samhain is as rich in sacred symbolism. The evergreen tree, sacred to the Goddess who never dies, represents the uniting of the Underworld, the world of humankind, and the Gods. The wreath is a symbol of the Wheel of the Year ever changing, never-ending. This time of joyousness is also a time of reverent reflection on the gifts of the Goddess. Significant symbols include the making of the Yule Log and the ritual lighting of it’s candles, the ceremony of lighting Solstice candles, holly and ivy.
Learn more: Read about the Rhythms of the Moon