Wheel of the Year
December 21 - Winter Solstice, December 20-23; varies according to the particular date on the standard calendar according to when the Solstice will occur astronomically.
In the story of the Goddess and the God that is reflected in the solar year, we celebrate the birth of the God as Oak King to the Mother aspect of the Goddess on Winter Solstice (or Yule, approximately December 21st). Because the God is also associated with the Oak tree, the moon falling closest to the Winter Solstice is often called The Oak Moon and is the first moon of the year. As we celebrate the new year, many of us think of the elderly "old year" being replaced by the child "new year." The dualistic God experiences the Holly King dying of old age (the old year passing) even as the Oak King is reborn (the new year arriving). This reminds us once again of the sacred cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
The Winter Solstice is a solar occurrence which the Pagans recognize as a spiritual celebration. In scientific terms, this Solstice occurs when the Earth's swinging as it orbits the Sun puts the Northern Hemisphere farthest from the Sun. At this point, the Earth begins to swing back. The Solstice is experienced on the Earth's Northern Hemisphere as the longest night of the year; the turning point when nights begin to shorten and days to grow longer. (The Southern Hemisphere experiences the same effect, but at the opposite point on the calendar. This is why Australian Christians celebrate Christmas during the hottest time of their year.) The Winter Solstice marks the return of the Sun's warmth and light, and the promise once again of a productive Earth. Pagans celebrate these aspects with candles, fire, and greenery. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time when the Goddess births the new God, representing the return of the Sun.
Also called: Jul, Saturnalia, Christmas, solar/secular New Year
Dates: around December 21
Colors: red, green, white
Tools: mistletoe, evergreen wreath, lights, gifts, holly, Yule log, Yule tree
Energy: regeneration & renewal
Goddesses: Great Mother, Isis, Mary, Tonazin, Lucina, Bona Dea
Gods: Sun Child, Horus, Jesus, Mithras, Santa/Odin, Saturn, Holly King
Rituals: personal renewal, world peace, honoring family & friends
Customs: wreaths, lights, gift-giving, singing, feasting, resolutions
February 2 Candlemas, Brigid's Day.
As with so much in our lives, Imbolc (February 2nd) is a time of promise and expectation. And waiting. The Goddess is still embracing the aspect of Mother, pregnant with the God of the waning year (the Holly King) who will be born at Ostara.
But the unborn god-child in the Goddess's womb isn't the only life beginning to stir. At Imbolc we honor the lengthening of days and, with the increasing sunlight, we honor the stirring of vegetative life in the world. Though it is only February 2nd, warm weather is just around the corner. And although the promise and potential are there, we still have the reminder of winter's darkness to make it through.
Imbolc is the time of the beginning of beginnings, the time to consider carefully what you will do with the year stretching before you. It is the point in the cycle of the year when the returning light can be seen upon the land as the days lengthen. Though the Earth is still cold from winter, the lambs are born now along with the promise of returning spring. The ice begins to melt and the springs flow again. Pagans celebrate this Sabbat with candles and lights, and by honoring springs, wells, and running waters with flowers and song. Celtic Pagans tell of Bride (Breed), the Goddess who lives deep underground during the winter and stirs now to emerge with the water. Where she walks, flowers grow in her footsteps and lambs play in her path. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time when the Goddess as Mother brings the infant Sun back to the Earth. The period between Yule and Imbolc contains all three aspects of the Goddess -- the Mother giving birth, the Crone serving as midwife, and the Maiden bringing new life to the Earth.
Also called: Candlemas, Oimelc, Brigid's Day; merged with Lupercalia/Valentines Day, Feast of Pan, Feast of Torches
Dates: February 2, early February
Colors: white, red
Tools: candles, seeds, Brigid wheel, milk
Energy: conception, initiation, inspiration
Goddesses: Brigid, Maiden
Gods: Groundhog, other creatures emerging from hibernation; young Sun
Rituals: creative inspiration, purification, initiation, candle work, house & temple blessings
Customs: lighting candles, seeking omens of Spring, cleaning house, welcoming Brigid
March 21 - Eostar, Spring Equinox, March 20-23 dependent on actual astronomical event.
In the story of the Goddess and the God, the Holly King (the God of the waning year) is born at Ostara (the Spring Equinox). Just as life is always around us, we are reminded through the birth of the Holly King that death is also a natural part of things. Death is neither good nor bad, but an integral part of the life/death/rebirth cycle.
The Equinoxes are the balancing points in the cycle of the seasons, reminding us of the harmony of the whole. They occur in Spring and Autumn when the day and night are of equal length. Oestara represents the bringing forth of new life, which will be nurtured during the coming Summer. Buds of flowers and leaf, all manner of eggs and just-born life are celebrated in decorations and imagery as Pagans rejoice in the Earth's reawakening. This is the fulfillment of the promise of Spring, the faith in the sacred cycle of life-death-rebirth, which sustains us throughout the dark cold of Winter. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time of the young God coming into his power and the Goddess, fully recovered from giving birth, returning to her Maiden aspect.
Also called: St. Patrick's Day, Easter
Dates: around March 21
Colors: green, yellow
Tools: eggs, basket, green clothes
Energy: birthing, sprouting, greening
Goddesses: Ostara, Kore, Maiden
Gods: Hare, Green Man
Rituals: breakthrough, new growth, new projects, seed blessings
Customs: wearing green, egg games, new clothes, egg baskets
May 1 - May Eve, April 30th-May 1st.
Beltane is the great Fertility rite of life, starting at dusk on the 30th and continuing until the dawn of the 1st. The union of the God and Goddess to conceive the sun-child to be takes place upon this holiday, no matter which tradition of paganism is involved. Beltane is the one holiday most discouraged by the Christians, who didn't even use it as a point for a holiday of their own because the power and nature of the day involved. Still, even in Christianized Ireland the May day dance of the Maypole remained, as did the giving of flowers to those you loved or cared for as friends. The Maypole is a symbol of the union of the God and Goddess to create life, the pole itself a phallic symbol while the dancers and their streamers or vines of flowers represent the fertile womb of the goddess as it takes in the Phallus of the god and takes in his seed. Besides the Maypole often a bonfire is present, and members of the group are encouraged to jump the flames for luck and their own fertility. Food, drink and love are the order of the evening. In most sects the celebration of unions of love are enacted. Beltane is the time of many marriages/handfastings in the pagan community (in some it is the point where one chooses to begin and end relationships of a physical nature). Beltane is a celebration of fertility and pleasure. In the story of the Goddess and the God, the Oak King and the Maiden aspect of the Goddess become lovers, and are joined in sacred union. The Goddess becomes pregnant with the child that will be born at the following Yule; the Oak King reborn.
Beltane is a "cross-quarter" day, marking the point between the solstice and the equinox. New growth spurts forth, fruits begin to form, and grain grows tall in preparation to set seed with the Summer's warmth. With the warming of the Earth and the renewal of her fertility, the Goddess begins her transformation from Maiden to Mother. Beltane was celebrated in agrarian cultures with the fertility symbol of the maypole and by the "crowning" of the May Queen. Pagans today still weave crowns of flowers, and dance and wind ribbons around a pole topped with a wreath of flowers. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time of the Goddess and God coming together as equals to consummate the Sacred Marriage, so that the Goddess may bring forth the new God at Yule.
Also called: May Eve, May Day, Walspurgis Night
Dates: April 30, early May
Colors: rainbow spectrum, blue, green, pastels, all colors
Tools: Maypole & ribbons, flower crowns, fires, bowers, fields
Energy: youthful play, exhuberance, sensuality, pleasure
Goddesses: May Queen, Flora
Gods: May King, Jack in the Green
Rituals: love, romance, fertility, crop blessings, creativity endeavors
Customs: dancing Maypole, jumping fire, mating, flower baskets
June 21 - Midsummer, Summer Solstice, June 20-23, dependent on actual astronomical event
Held on the longest day of the year, the Solstice is the celebration of light's triumph over darkness and that of the bountiful beauty that light brings into life. Flowers are common in the circle, roses and bright cheerful wildflowers are upon the altar and usually worn by all. It is the changing point of the year, and the celebration of the spiral dance of the year is common among Wiccans. It a celebration with much joy, and much feasting. After months of growing sunlight, the sun has reached its peak Midsummer (Summer Solstice). In the mystical story of the Goddess and the God, the Oak King is confronted by his shadow self, the Holly King, and the God of the waxing year is slain. With each passing day, the hours of sunlight will grow less. Even though the crops that were planted will continue to grow, even though we will still experience warm weather and summertime fun, there is a definite change in the world around us. Ever so slowly, the year is beginning to fade. In the past, bonfires were leapt to encourage fertility, purification, health and love. Midsummer is a classic time for magick of all kinds.
The Summer Solstice is a solar occurrence, recognized by Pagans as a spiritual celebration, when our tilted Earth places the Northern Hemisphere closest to the Sun. It marks the Sun's maximum height in the sky, providing the longest day and shortest night of the year. We pause at this center of the year, balanced between what was and what will be, readying ourselves to leap forward with the Earth into the fecundity and fruitfulness of the growing season. Pagans celebrate with light and warmth of this time; in the past this was often marked with bonfires and celebrants staying awake through the short night. To leap over the bonfire was to assure a good crop; some said the grain would grow as tall as the leapers could jump. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this was a time of ascendancy of the God, at his most powerful now, while the burgeoning Goddess brought forth the bounty of the Earth.
Also called: Midsummer, Litha, St. John's Day
Dates: around June 21
Colors: yellow, gold, rainbow colors
Tools: bonfires, Sun wheel, Earth circles of stone energy: partnership
Goddesses: Mother Earth, Mother Nature
Gods: Father Sun/Sky, Oak King
Rituals: community, career, relationships, Nature Spirit communion, planetary wellness
Customs: bonfires, processions, all night vigil, singing, feasting, celebrating with others
In Celtic realms this is the celebration of the wheat god. Lugnasadh is many things. It is a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. And as such, we have a wake for the Oak King. The year is in the Holly King's hands, and we celebrate that fact even as the God and the Goddess make love and she becomes pregnant with the child that will be born the following Ostara. Much feasting and dancing occur, though it is a bit more somber than many of the other holidays. Some Pagans celebrate this day as mearly the day to bake their bread and cakes for the coming winter and do no actual rituals save that of blessing the foods prepared. Pagans see this as a time when the God loses his strength as the Sun rises farther south each day and the nights grow longer. The Goddess watches in sorrow and joy as she realizes the the God is dying yet lives on inside her as her child. As summer passes, Wiccans remember its warmth and bounty in the food we eat.
Lammas is the "cross-quarter" day marking the first harvest of early grain, the "first fruits" of the year. With the harvest, the grain that is cut both nourishes the living and provides the seed that will be planted to nourish us next year, completing the cycle once again. A common Pagan ritual of this time is eating bread made from the first-harvest grain and drinking new wine. It is also a time to honor the Goddess as Demeter, who personifies the bountiful harvest. Stalks of grain, harvesting tools, and breads decorate the altar. Sometimes people make "corn dollys," small decorated figures from cornhusks, to be burned at the next Lammas celebration, symbolizing the sacrifice of the grain. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time when the God, associated with the crops, is voluntarily sacrificed. The Goddess, as Crone, presides over this sacrifice. As His blood flows into the Earth, the land and the Goddess are made fertile. Thus, by His death, the God's rebirth is assured.
Also called: Lughnassad
Dates: August 2, early August
Colors: orange, yellow, brown, green
Tools: sacred loaf of bread, harvested herbs, bonfires
Energy: fruitfulness, reaping prosperity
Goddesses: Demeter, Ceres, Corn Mother
Gods: Grain God, Lugh, John Barleycorn
Rituals: prosperity, generosity, continued success
Customs: offering of first fruits/grains, games, country fairs
September 21 - Fall Equinox, Sept. 20-23, dependent on actual astronomical event.
Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) is a celebration of harvest, a time to reflect on the successes we've had in the fading year, those chapters of our lives that are coming to a close. We celebrate both the abundance of the earth, as well as the abundance in our lives, giving thanks for what we have received during the Wheel of the Year as the Oak King begins to make his descent into the underworld. The autumn equinox is the completion of the harvest begun at Lammas. Once again the day and night are equal as the God prepares to leave the body and the begin the great adventure into the unseen, toward renewal and rebirth of the Goddess.
Mabon is the high harvest, when the produce of the year, the fruits, vegetables, and grains, are brought from the ground and laid away for the coming dark time of winter. Pagans celebrate this as a rite of Thanksgiving, a celebration of harvest abundance, an appreciation of hearth, home, and family. It is balancing point in the light and dark of the year, the day when the sun has equal hours in and out of the sky. Altars are decorated with all the bounty of the harvest, and with Autumn leaves. Apples are shown sliced crosswise, to reveal a hidden pentacle of seeds. The fallen leaves remind us that the active time of the year is almost over and soon the Earth will begin Her sleep, to waken refreshed in the Spring. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time when the Goddess carries within Her the sleeping God, who will come forth again at Yule.
Also called: Mabon, Michaelmas
Dates: around September 21
Colors: orange, red, brown, purple, blue
Tools: cornucopia, corn, harvested crops
Energy: appreciation & harvest
Goddesses: Bona Dea, Land Mother
Gods: Mabon, Sky Father
Rituals: thanksgiving, harvest, introspection
Customs: offerings to land, preparing for cold weather, bringing in harvest
At Samhain, the Wicca say farewell to the God even though he readies to be reborn at Yule. This grand sabbat, also known as Feast of the Dead ,Feast of Apples, All Hallows, and of course Halloween, once marked the time of sacrifice. This was the time when animals were slaughtered to ensure food throughout the winter. The gates of the underworld open to accept the Oak King on Samhain (October 31st). In many traditions, this was the time of year that all spirits entered the afterlife. A time to say a final goodbye to family members and friends that have died during the previous year, as well as a time to give thanks to the animal world for the meat that some witches still eat. It is a time of endings of relationships and bad situations and it is the time when one can see the glimmer of hope in the future. Truly a time of remembrance of our ancestors and all those who have gone before.
The Pagan year began (and ends) with Samhain (sow'-an), also known as Halloween. This is the time when the boundary is thinnest between the worlds of living and dead. It is a time to honor those who have gone before us, and to acknowledge that the Earth, and we on the Earth, are entering the darkest time of the year. From now until Yule the nights continue to grow longer, and the days colder, as the Earth enters her annual slumber, resting after the exhausting production of the summer and fall. In past times, when people lived closest to the land, this was the time when people evaluated their harvest and the number of stock and people that could be supported through the winter. Excess livestock was slaughtered and the meat put by for the winter. Pagans celebrate Samhain as an acknowledgment that without death, there can be no rebirth. In the Sacred Marriage story cycle, this is the time when the God dies and the Goddess sleeps, pregnant with the new God.
Also called: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, All Saints & All Souls, Day of the Dead
Dates: October 31, early November
Colors: black, orange, indigo
Tools: votive candles, magic mirror, cauldron, pumpkins, divination tools
Energy: death & transformation; Wiccan new year
Goddesses: Crone, Hecate
Gods: Horned Hunter, Cernnunos, Anubis
Rituals: honoring ancestors, releasing old, foreseeing future, understanding death and rebirth
Customs: jack o'lanterns, spirit plate, ancestor altar, divination, costumes
Thanks to Graelan Wintertide for this wonderful thorough explication of the wheel.