YULE (December 21)
(Winter Solstice, December 20-23. This is the longest night of the year. The turning point when the days after will grow longer as winter begins its passage into spring. This is the time when the Goddess gives birth again to the Divine Sun child who will be both child and eventually lover and father of the next child in the cycle. Winter Solstice for pagans is a time of feasting and the exchanging of gifts and is the original Holiday that the Christian religions modified into their own Christmas, including the birth of the child (Most theologians who have spent time studying the birth of Jesus admit he was born in either March or April, not the celebrated Christmas date we all know from the standard calendar – it was moved to this date to help induce Pagans to give up their old ways yet allow them their holidays during the spread of Christianity through Europe and the British Isles). Traditional decorations are the Yule Tree, Yule Log, usually of oak, and a combination of mistletoe and holly (also all later plagiarized into Christian ways).
IMBOLC (February 2)
(Candlemas, Brigid’s Day) Brigid is the Celtic goddess of fire and inspiration (Poetry, smith craft and healing) as well as another representation of the Fertility of Femininity and Love. Brigid had such a strong following among the Celtics that the Christian church decided it was easier to assimilate her into their own system, and so there came about Saint Brigit and all the stories they created about her so that her followers would leave their old beliefs so they would not side with the Druids, who were known at that time as ‘the snakes’ because of their tendency to have tamed snakes that were used to help produce various healing mixtures via their venom, and who were violently opposing the Catholic church. In History, of course, the druids lost against the overwhelming odds presented by the church, led by a man who would then be himself sainted by the church, Saint Patrick (who was not a clergyman but a warrior). Thus Christian rule of various sorts came into Ireland. Handcrafts are often sacrificed to Brigid or dedicated to her as they are started on this day. The celebration is done with many candles and as usual much feasting. The Christians also took, moved slightly and used this date by creating St. Valentine and using the day for one of chaste love reflections. Imbolc marks the recovery of the Goddess after birth of the God. The warmth of the power of the God fertilizes the Earth and so the earliest beginnings of spring occur. This is a sabbat of purification, a festival of light and fertility. It is also a traditional time for initiations into covens and self-dedication rituals. Also known as: Feast of Pan, Feast of Torches, Oimelc.
OSTARA (March 21)
(Eostar, Spring Equinox) The Goddess blankets the Earth with fertility as the God stretches and grows to maturity. The hours of day and night are equal and light is overtaking darkness. This is a time of beginnings, action, planting spells, and of tending the gardens. This is the start in the pagan year of spring, at least among Wiccans and Celtics. The first flowers are praised and the God and Goddess thanked for the return to happier times for all. Ostara is one of the more colorful holidays, not one of the somber colors found in Yule and Candlemas. Feasting and socializing are the important factors in this holiday as well as the celebration of the return of color to the natural world. In the Christian calendar, again to draw early worshipers, they marked this as the final days and rebirth of Jesus (according to history he died in June.)
BELTANE (MAY 1)
(May Eve) Most important to pagans, save for Samhain, I don’t know of any Pagan group that doesn’t celebrate this holiday. 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 sexual nature of the holiday. 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 a bonfire is present, and members of the group are encouraged to jump the flames for luck and fertility. Food, drink and love are the order of the evening. 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). It is said that a child conceived on this day will grow up to wield great power and knowledge and to be healthier than upon any other.
LITHA (June 21)
(Midsummer, Summer Solstice) 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 is a celebration with much joy, and feasting. Many wiccans will dress in bright colors and bright adornments of flowers. Litha’s usual food fare may include honey cakes or cornbread. Litha is not celebrated by all or in the same way. In the past, bonfires were leapt to encourage fertility, purification, health and love. Midsummer is a classic time for magick of all kinds.
LUGHNASSADH (August 1)
The great corn ritual of Wiccan belief. This is the big celebration of the harvest. Much feasting and dancing occurs, 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 God is dying yet lives on inside her swelling womb. As summer passes, Wiccans remember its warmth and bounty in the food we eat. This sabbat is also called Lammas, August Eve, and Feast of Bread.
MABON (September 21)
(Fall Equinox) A lesser holiday, this is not widely celebrated. This is the weavers festival, and a braiding of cords are done in the process of casting a spell to add to ones life from what it is, each person weaving unto themselves what they wish and the coven as a whole weaving all the cords together to unite the power and efforts symbolically. 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 begin the great adventure into the underworld, toward renewal and rebirth.
Symbols of the Season:
The harvest is a time of thanks, and also a time of balance — after all, there are equal hours of daylight and darkness. While we celebrate the gifts of the earth, we also accept that the soil is dying. We have food to eat, but the crops are brown and going dormant. Warmth is behind us, cold lies ahead.
Some symbols of Mabon include:
Mid-autumn vegetables, like squashes and gourds
- Apples and anything made from them, such as cider or pies
- Seeds and seed pods
- Baskets, symbolizing the gathering of crops
- Sickles and scythes
- Grapes, vines, wine
You can use any of these to decorate your home or your altar at Mabon.
SAMHAIN (October 31)
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 for the winter. The God fell as well to ensure the turning of the wheel of life. This is a time of reflection and coming to terms with death. On this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realms are at its least guarded and its veil thinnest. It is a time for dimensional openings and workings, and also the celebration of the death of the God. It is a somber holiday, one of dark clothing and thoughts for the dead. It is certainly a time to remember the dead. It is a time of endings of relationships and bad situations and it is the time when one can see hope in the future. There are as many concepts attached to this holiday as any other.
Samhain (pronounced Sow-in, Sah-vin, or Sahm-hayn), known most popularly as Halloween, marks the end of the third and final harvest, is a day to commune with and remember the dead, and is a celebration of the eternal cycle of reincarnation. Samhain (Halloween) is the most coveted sabbat by the Wiccan (and many Pagan) religions.
Halloween is my favorite time of year. This is a time for Witches, Witchcraft and those who feel that this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realities is least guarded and its veil the thinnest.