The Wheel of the Year
I often refer to the Wheel of The Year, but it occurs to me that not everyone is familiar with that the Wheel is and what it represents, so perhaps it’s time for an explanation.
The term Wheel of the Year is used to refer to the changing of the seasons. The spokes of the Wheel are comprised of the greater and lesser Sabbats. Sabbats are holy days 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. the Greater Sabbats and the Lesser Sabbats which reflect the themes of birth, death, and rebirth.
THE GREATER SABBATS are Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh or Lammas and Samhain. These are highly spiritual occasions, undertaken with the greatest regard and dignity.
THE LESSER SABBATS are Yule (the Winter Solstice) Ostara (the Spring/Vernal Equinox) Litha (the Summer Solstice) and Mabon (the Fall/Autumnal Equinox). THE LESSER SABBATS, although called lesser, are not to be thought of as any less spiritually important or significant as the others. These are the points when the lessons of balance and place in time take on a greater meaning.
The Wheel of the Year is seen to begin at Samhain, which is also known as Hallowe'en or All Hallows Eve. This is the Celtic New Year but I’m going to begin with the Sabbat of Imbolc, which matches up the better known calendar year.
IMBOLC falls on February 1st and is also known by Christians as Candlemas) It’s a Celtic Fire Festival, a time of reawakening, a lighting of the way to new hope as the first quickening of the earth heralds the beginning of Spring. Even though some of us can't see it through the cover of white snow, at Imbolc we know the spring bulbs have sent runners into the earth, that the ice floes on our lakes and rivers have begun to thin and move, and that the first of the young animals due in spring have been born.
The flame of the candle represents the transformation and the power of the spirit and this is a time of cleansing and purification. A time to sow the seeds of our lives for the upcoming year, and also a time when we anticipate the Earth’s rebirth. It is a holiday of preparedness. Our homes are scrubbed floor to ceiling, bills are paid, and taxes are filed, so that none of the business of the winter interferes with the pure joy of the earth's rebirth. It is a good time to get rid of the things that may stand in the way of our goals and to prepare ourselves for initiation or rededication to deeper spirituality. This sabbat honors Breed, the goddess of inspiration, healing, and smithcraft, sacred wells, fire and the hearth, Her inspiration leads us to truth; Her waters heal us; Her flame burns in our hearts.
OSTARA between March 19-22nd and is sometimes referred to as the Spring Equinox. 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. It takes place around the same time as the Christian Easter celebration, and in the Jewish celebration of Passover.
Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds, and so nature's fertility goes a little crazy. In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol -- this is a species of rabbit that is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. The female of the species is said to able to conceive a second litter while still pregnant with a first. As if that wasn't enough, the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates, and bounce around erratically when discouraged…which explains the old saying, “Mad as a March hare.” This is a time of feasting and celebration. There is a sense of energy and promise. This is when the clover appears in the fields, a symbol of the rebirth of the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess.
BELTANE falls on May 1st and is also referred to as May Day. It is 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 celebrated with bonfires, Maypoles, and dancing. The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.
It is the first day of Summer and celebrates the half of the year dedicated to growth and fertility. This is a celebration of life above all!
LITHA falls between June 19-22 and is also known as Midsummer or the Summer Solstice. It represents the time of fulfillment. Midsummer is one of the significant turning points in the year. The sun is in the highest point in the heavens. 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.
The Battle of the Oak King and Holly King happens twice a year. At Yule the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him.
LUGHNASADH is on August 1st. It is the Festival of Sacrifice (also known as LAMMAS) and is the first of the three Celtic harvest festivals. Now is the time that we, too, reap the harvest of our own seeds that were sown at Imbolc. The God personifies 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.
By celebrating Lughnassad as a harvest holiday, we honor our ancestors and the hard work they must have had to do in order to survive. This is a good time to give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives, and to be grateful for the food on our tables. Lammas is a time of transformation, of rebirth and new beginnings. In some Wiccan and modern Pagan traditions, it is also a day of honoring Lugh, the Celtic craftsman god. He is a god of many skills, and was honored in various aspects by societies both in the British Isles and in Europe. Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-NAS-ah) is still celebrated in many parts of the world today. Lugh's influence appears in the names of several European towns.
MABON, is the Autumn Equinox… the second of three harvests and a time of delicate balance between light and dark. It falls between September 19-22. This 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. It is said that 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.
Mabon is considered a time of the Mysteries. It is a time to honor Aging Deities and the Spirit World. Considered a time of balance, it is when we stop and relax and enjoy the fruits of our personal harvests, whether they be from toiling in our gardens, working at our jobs, raising our families, or just coping with the hussle-bussle of everyday life.
SAMHAIN, or Halloween, the final harvest, takes place on October 31st. It is 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. 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 at the same time we rejoice because this is the triumph of Life!
Originally the "Feast of the Dead" was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead". Today a lot of practitioners still carry out that tradition. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home.
YULE, the Winter Solstice, falls between Dec 19-22nd. It 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. This time of joyousness is also a time of reverent reflection on the gifts of the Goddess.
The wreath is a symbol of the Wheel of the Year ever changing, never-ending. And here’s a song recorded by Damh The Bard that ties right into the Wheel of the Year. On his website, his comments about this song were, “As we move through each year it is like these brothers accompany us on our journey. And then ‘the January Man comes round again, in woolen coat and boots of leather’, as another year begins. A beautiful song.”