celebrating the Wheel of the Year
There are many flavours of modern day Paganism.
All Pagans don't celebrate the same holidays
but the eight Wiccan Sabbath are a lovely model
for anyone who wants to live his or her life attuned to the cycles of Nature.
Lammas – February 2
Even though Lughnasadh occurs at the warmest time of the year, it marks the time at which days become noticeably shorter and so is considered the starting point of the autumn quarter of the year. The autumn season contains three harvests, and Lughnasadh is the first of these, the time when the first corn harvest is cut. The name is derived from Lugh (pronounced 'loo'), a Celtic deity of light and wisdom. At Lughnasadh, bread from the first harvest was eaten in thanks. Baking, sharing & eating bread is a wonderful way to celebrate this holiday and if you can, attend a Renaissance Faire, Medieval Festival or Highland Games competition. The jousting matches and caber & sheaf tosses were no doubt inspired by that aggressive war god Lugh :-)
Mabon / Autumn Equinox - March 21
Mabon is the time of the second harvest, when fruits are ready for collection. The land is showing clear signs of the journey towards winter - leaves are beginning to turn and birds are gathering for migration. Mabon is a time to consider which aspects of your life you wish to preserve and which you would prefer to discard. This is the Pagan Thanksgiving, a time to appreciate and enjoy the fruits of your labours. Commemorate Mabon by making wine, feasting with friends, planting bulbs to bloom in the spring and put out feeders to help those brave birds who don't migrate get through the long winter ahead.
Samhain – May 1
This is the Last Harvest and New Year's Eve to the ancient Celts. Being "between years," it is considered a very magical time, a day when the veil separating the the physical plane and spiritual realms is most permeable. This is a good day to practice divination: scrying, Tarot readings and Rune casting are all particularly effective. The practice of donning costumes... especially scary ones... grew out of the ancient fear of evil spirits passing through the veil along with the benevolent ones and pumpkin carving evolved from the practice of painting hideous faces on gourds to keep "ghoul's and goblins" away from the home. Samhain is also a day for honouring our ancestors and one of my favourite rituals is the Dumb Supper... laying an extra place at the dinner table for those who have passed over to the Summerlands.
Yule / Winter Solstice on or near June 21st
Here in the northern hemisphere, nights get longer and days get shorter until the day of the Winter Solstice when the cycle reverses. The word Yule comes from the Norse Jul meaning wheel. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth to the Sun God. This is a fire festival so celebrate with a Yule log in the fireplace, candles on the table and lights on the tree. Evergreens, holly, ivy and mistletoe, symbols of fertility and everlasting life, remind us that the cold darkness of winter will eventually give way to the warmth & new growth of spring.
Imbolc / Imbolg / Candlemas – August 2nd
Imbolc means, literally, 'in the belly' (of the Mother) and in the womb of Mother Earth new life is truly stirring. The young Sun God is growing and his strength is beginning to be noticeable. If you look closely, you may notice a snowdrop or a crocus pushing its way out of the still-cold earth. This is traditionally a day of purification, of sweeping out the old to make room for the new... both physically and emotionally. Celebrate by lighting LOTS of candles to encourage the young Sun; if you like to make them yourself, this is an auspicious day to do it. As nuts and seeds symbolize new beginnings, enjoy some sesame cookies or nutbread while visualizing yourself co-creating a loving, joyous & prosperous future.
Ostara - Spring Equinox – September 21st
Named for Eostre the Teutonic Goddess of New Life, Ostara is the first day of Spring. Light and darkness are in balance, but the light is growing stronger as days continue to grow longer. The Young Sun God continues to mature and grow; small tender leaves appear on the trees, young buds are swelling and, here in New York, cheerful white and yellow daffodils are already in full bloom. The Life Energies are building quickly now and the very air seems to vibrate with promise. Celebrate by colouring eggs, an ancient symbol of fertility.
Beltane / May Day – October 31
From the Irish Gaelic Bealtaine meaning Bel-fire (the fire of Bel, Celtic God of light) Beltaine is primarily a fertility festival; the Land represented by the Goddess is now ripe and fertile and the Sun God expresses His Love for Her. Celebrate by establishing a woodland or garden shrine and gathering flowers to adorn your living space... and yourself!
Midsummer / Summer Solstice – December 21st
Midsummer is the longest day of the year. It's not harvest time yet, but Mother Nature is impressively lush. The veil between the Faerie realm and our world is thin so don't be surprised if you catch a glimpse of an otherworldly someone on Midsummer's Eve! Celebrate with a bonfire and if you're into herb magick, any plants gathered at this time are particularly powerful. Or just stroll through a park or woodland area and bask in the glory of our natural world.