The Wiccan calendar of holy days or sacred days is referred to as The Wheel of the Year. It is called “The Wheel of the Year” because when drawn, it resembles a wheel with each spoke representing a progression or celebration of the season as it passes. In this way the wheel turns as the season changes. Wiccans honor the turning of the wheel by celebrating with a sabbat or festival and in doing so they stay aligned with the energy of the Earth. When the wheel has done a complete rotation, a full cycle of seasons has passed.
The spokes on the wheel mark the quarters and cross quarters. The quarters mark the four seasons which are caused by the sun and are considered Solar Festivals. They are divided by the Summer Solstice, the longest day, and Winter Solstice, the shortest day, and the Autumn Equinox and the Spring Equinox, times when night and day are nearly exactly the same length and the cross quarters which are the Fire Festivals that fall between the quarters and are marked with an agricultural event such as planting and harvesting. Each of these spokes is considered a Greater or Lesser Sabbat. The Greater Sabbats are the cross quarters, which include: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh or Lammas, and the solstices and equinoxes are considered the Lesser Sabbats, which include: Yule, Ostara, Litha, and Mabon.
All the sabbats represent the active and dormant states of nature, including those in agriculture and human beings, and though the sabbats were not organized as the Wheel of the Year until the 1950’s when a man named Ross Nicholls introduced the concept to the pagan population, they were of great importance to our ancestors as their very survival depended upon events such as: a plentiful rainfall, a bountiful harvest, and a mild winter.
It is important to recognize that not all Wiccans celebrate the same sabbat at the same time. Wiccans in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate the opposite sabbat as Wiccans in the Northern Hemisphere due to the Earth’s rotation which affects the seasons and sabbat they will celebrate on that particular date. So while Wiccans in Salem, Massachusetts are celebrating Samhain, Wiccans in Melbourne, Australia are celebrating Beltane.
The Wheel of the Year begins with the Witches’ New Year of Samhain (pronounced: sa-win) and is celebrated on October 31. It is also known as Hallowe’en, and All Hallows Eve and is the one sabbat that is widely celebrated amongst non-Wiccans. It is the third and final Harvest Festival commencing the season of darkness. It is the festival of death which will lead to rebirth with Yule. Within Wiccan mythology, the God has descended into the Underworld and is awaiting his rebirth as the Sun God. He is growing to full strength within the womb of the Goddess who at this time is in her aspect as Crone. The veil between the worlds is thin at this time of year allowing for communication between the land of the living and the realm of the dead. We honor our ancestors, commune with our beloved dead, and release the spirits of those who have recently transitioned.
The next spoke in the Wheel of the Year is Yule (pronounced: yool) and is celebrated on between December 20 – 23. This is the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year and from this day forward the days grow longer as the sun light returns. Within Wiccan mythology, the God is reborn as the Sun God to the Virgin Goddess and we celebrate and honor his rebirth. Yule is full of sacred symbolism: the evergreen tree which is a symbol of the undying Goddess and the wreath a representation of the Wheel of the Year itself.
The Wheel turns and brings us to Imbolc (pronounced: im-elk) and is celebrated around February 2. It is also known as Candlemas, and the Festival of Light. It is a Fire Festival and a time of reawakening, of lighting the way to new hope as we glimpse the first signs of Spring. Within Wiccan mythology, the God is youthful and the Goddess is recovering from giving birth. It is a time for cleansing, purification, and sowing the seeds of our desires. This sabbat honors Brighid, the goddess of inspiration, healing, smithcraft, sacred wells, fire and the hearth.
Ostara (pronounced: o-star-a) is the next spoke on the Wheel and is celebrated around March 19 – 22. It is the Spring Equinox when night and day are nearly equal, but the light is gaining in momentum and the Earth is awakening from her Winter slumber. Within Wiccan mythology, the God is youthful and the Goddess is reborn in her Maiden aspect. This sabbat is a time of planting the seeds of long-term goals and celebrating. This sabbat derives its name from Eostre, the goddess of fertility, conception, and rebirth.
The next spoke in the Wheel of the Year is Beltane (pronounced: bel-ta-na) celebrated on May 1 and is also known as May Day. This sabbat is a Fire Festival refers to ritual of extinguishing and rekindling of all fires. This sabbat is a celebration of fertility, growth, love, and passion. Within the mythology of Wicca, the God born at Yule is now a man representing the force of life, and the Goddess is manifested as the Earth and together they are joined in Sacred Marriage (Handfasting) at Beltane. Just as with Samhain the veil between the worlds is thin at this time allowing for communication between the land of the living and the realm of the dead.
The Wheel turns and brings us to Litha (pronounced: li-tha) and is celebrated June 19 – 22. It is the Summer Solstice or Midsummer, which is the longest day of the year and from this day forward the days grow shorter as the sun begins to fade. This is a time of fulfillment. Within Wiccan mythology, the God and Goddess are wrapped in the bliss of their union which was celebrated at Beltane, but once the God reaches his zenith his strength begins to wane, he becomes introspective and recognizes the need for his inevitable sacrifice and death. The Goddess has left her Maiden form and is in her Mother aspect preparing for Cronehood.
Lughnasadh (pronounced: loo-nah-sa) or Lammas (pronounced: lah-mas) is the next spoke on the Wheel and is celebrated on August 1. It is also known as the Festival of Bread. It is the first of the three Harvest Festivals and the focus of this sabbat is grain such as wheat and corn. Within Wiccan mythology, it was the union of the God and the Goddess that gave birth to the bounty of this first harvest. The God personifies the Spirit within nature, the Spirit of the Grain, that willingly sacrifices himself for the sake of the living each Autumn, while the Goddess is the Great Mother, the principle of Eternal Life, who brings forth the harvest. He is the spirit that descends into the Earth, the womb of the Goddess, awaiting rebirth at Yule.
The next spoke in the Wheel of the Year is Mabon (pronounced: mab-on) celebrated September 21 – 24 and is the Autumn Equinox when night and day are nearly equal, but the light is fading and the Earth is preparing for her approaching Winter slumber. This is the second of the three Harvest Festivals and is a time for gathering, storing, and conserving. It is the sabbat when we recognize our blessings and thank the Earth for her bounty. Within Wiccan mythology the God’s presence is shadowy as he prepares for his death at Samhain. He is heard in the wind and glimpsed in the shadows while the Goddess is the Harvest Queen in the beginnings of mourning his loss.
And as the Wheel of the Year turns it brings us back to Samhain.