Winter Solstice (Yule): December 20-23Considered in most Wiccan traditions to be the beginning of the year, the Winter Solstice is a celebration of the rebirth of the God. It is the shortest day of the year, offering a welcome reminder that even though the cold season is still just getting underway, it doesn’t last forever, as the days will begin to lengthen again after this point. Some consider the first Full Moon after the Solstice to be the most powerful of the year. This is a festive holiday celebrating light, as well as preparation for a time of quiet, inner focus as the Earth rests from her labor. Among many Wiccans the holiday is more commonly called “Yule,” a name derived from midwinter festivals celebrated by Germanic tribes. “Yule” is still referenced in modern Christmas carols, and many of the traditions surrounding the Christian holiday, such as wreaths, Christmas trees, and caroling have their roots in these older traditions. It was common for the Christian churches to “adopt” pagan holidays, repurposing them for celebrating saints or important events, as a way of drawing people away from the Old Religion. Imbolc: February 2Imbolc marks the first stirrings of Spring, as the long months of Winter are nearly past. The Goddess is beginning her recovery after the birth of the God, and the lengthening days signal the strengthening of the God’s power. Seeds begin to germinate, daffodils appear, and hibernating animals start to emerge from their slumber. It is a time for ritual cleansing after a long period of inactivity. Covens may perform initiation rites at this time of new beginnings. The name “Imbolc” is derived from an Old Irish word used to describe the pregnancy of ewes and has been sometimes translated as meaning “ewe’s milk,” in reference to the birthing of the first lambs of the season. It is also called “Candlemas,” and sometimes “Brigid’sDay” in Irish traditions. Associated with beginnings of growth, it’s considered a festival of the Maiden. Spring Equinox (Ostara): March 20-23At the Spring Equinox, light and dark are finally equal again, and growth accelerates as both the light from the still-young God of the Sun and the fertility of the Earth grow more powerful. Gardening begins in earnest and trees send out blossoms to participate with the pollinating bees. The equal length of day and night brings about a time for balancing and bringing opposing forces into harmony. The name “Ostara” comes from the Saxon Eostre, the Goddess of Spring and renewal. This is where the name Easter comes from, as this is another holiday that was “merged” with the Christian tradition. Beltane: May 1As Spring begins to move into Summer, the Goddess begins making her transition into the Mother aspect, and the God matures into his full potency. Beltane is a fire festival, and a celebration of love, sex, and reproduction. It’s at this time that the Goddess couples with theGod to ensure his rebirth after his death at the end of the life cycle. Fertility is at its height and the Earth prepares to flourish with new life. The name “Beltane” comes from an ancient festival celebrated throughout the Celtic Isles that marked the beginning of Summer, and is derived from an old Celtic word meaning “bright fire.” The ancient Irish would light giant fires to purify and protect their cattle, and jumping over fires was considered a way to increase fertility and luck in the coming season. Summer Solstice / Midsummer: June 20-23Long considered one of the most magical times of the year, the Summer Solstice sees the God and the Goddess at the peak of their powers. The Sun is at its highest point and the days are at their longest. This is a celebration of the abundance of sunlight and warmth, and the physical manifestation of abundance as the year heads toward the first of the harvests. It’s a time of ease and of brief rest after the work of planting and before the work of harvesting begins. Some traditions call this Sabbat “Litha,” a name traced back to an old Anglo-Saxon word for this time of year. Lammas: August 1Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest season. The first crops are brought in from the fields, the trees and plants begin dropping their fruits and seeds, and the days are growing shorter as the God’s power begins to wane. This is a time for giving thanks for the abundance of the growing season as it begins to wind down.
The word Lammas stems from an old Anglo-Saxon word pairing meaning “loaf mass,” and it was customary to bless fresh loaves ofbread as a way of celebrating the harvest. Lammas is alternately known as “Lughnasa,” after the traditional festivals in Ireland andScotland held at this time to honor the Celtic god Lugh, who was associated with the Sun.Autumn Equinox (Mabon): September 20-23The harvest season is still in focus at the Autumn Equinox. The animals born during the year have matured, and the trees are beginningto lose their leaves. Preparations are made for the coming winter. The God is making his exit from the physical plane and heading towardhis mythical death at Samhain, and his ultimate rebirth at Yule. Once again, the days and nights are of equal length, symbolizing thetemporary nature of all life—no season lasts forever, and neither dark nor light ever overpowers the other for long. As with the SpringEquinox on the opposite side of the Wheel, balance is a theme at this time.The Autumn Equinox is considered in some traditions to be “the Second Harvest,” with Lammas as the first and Samhain as the last ofthree harvests.A more recent name for the holiday is “Mabon,” after a Welsh mythological figure whose origins are connected to adivine “mother and son” pair, echoing the dual nature of the relationship between the Goddess and the God.Samhain: October 31Considered by many Wiccans to be the most important of the Sabbats, Samhain is the time when the part death plays in the cycle of lifeis acknowledged and honored. The word “Samhain” comes from old Irish and is thought by many to mean “Summer’s end,” thoughothers trace it to a root word meaning “assembly,” which may refer to the communal gathering of a pagan festival, especially during theharvest season. As the Sun aspect, the God retreats into the shadows as night begins to dominate the day. As the God of the Hunt, he isa reminder of the sacrifice of life that keeps us alive through the long winter months. The harvest is complete and the sacred nature offood is respected. Among some traditions this is viewed as the “Third Harvest.”Wiccan and other pagan traditions view Samhain as a point in the Wheel when the “veil” between the spiritual and material worlds is atits thinnest, and the days around Samhain are considered especially effective for divination activities of all kinds. Ancestors are honoredand communicated with at this time. Many of the Halloween traditions still celebrated in contemporary cultures today can be traced backthrough the centuries to this festival. Pagans of the old times left food offerings for their ancestors, which became the modern custom oftrick-or-treating. Jack-o-lanterns evolved from the practice of leaving candle-lit hollowed-out root vegetables to guide spirits visiting onEarth.Some Wiccans in the Celtic traditions consider Samhain, as opposed to Yule, to be the beginning of the year, as the death and rebirthaspects of creation are seen to be inherently joined together—death opens the space for new life to take root. Honoring the ancientCeltic view of the year having a “light half” and a “dark half,” their Wheel of the Year begins anew on this day, the first day of the darkhalf of the year.