The Seasons of the Witch, the “Wheel of the Year” and Our Circle
The Seasons of the Witch, the “Wheel of the Year” with its eight spokes — the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and the four minor solar festivals of the solstices and equinoxes are all celebrated throughout the yearly seasonal cycles.
The wheel of the year spins ever onward as our mother Earth makes her journey around the sun. The Sabbats, or eight holidays of the ancient tradition, honor the transition from one season to the next, as well as celebrating the height of each season and their influence over all life on this earth.
Within our sacred circle, much like a church to those of other faiths, but yet for us, two main things occur: celebration, and the practice of magickal side of our Craft. What’s pivotal at our major seasonal holy days, our Sabbats is the Celebration of life’s major changes. At these times, the myths of that particular holiday are enacted in ritual drama, there’s dancing, singing, feasting, and revelry all of which is part of the festivities. On these occasions we celebrate our oneness with life on Earth, as well as assimilating on the deepest level the many myths and the archetypes which map and assist our own life-passages.
Magick is an art which requires adherence to certain principles, and a conscious direction of will toward the desired end. We believe it to be an attribute of magick that results toward which the will is directed return to the sender threefold. Therefore, Witches are very conscientious in their use of magick.
Our magicks is more often performed at our smaller gatherings, called Esbats (Full Moon, New Moon & Black or Sidhe Moons), which are the many phases of the moon, as we do ritual magick at the peak of each phase which gives our magick its potency. Types of magick practiced include psychic enhancement, healing sessions, focusing and directing of energy to achieve positive results, and work toward the individual spiritual development of the group, coven, or temple members.
When the celebration, teaching, or magickal work is finished, the blessing (Goddess and God) is called into food and drink which are shared by all. The circle is opened, and the space is no longer consecrated.
The Solstices, Equinoxes, and mid-points between – – also known as the Cross Quarters – – have been celebrated by a variety of Nature peoples around the world and across the ages. Today, Witches and other Pagans often blend together ancient as well as contemporary approaches to celebrating these seasonal festivals.
Our Sabbats and Esbats shows that despite competition from the modern way of life, the awesome spectacle repeated in the pattern of the changing seasons still touches our lives. In the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous power of this pattern had supreme reign. Rituals and festivals evolved to around the seasons and its’ many changes of the cycle of life. So for the good of the community toward a good sowing and reaping of a bountiful harvest of food through herds and hunting.
For each of these holidays, I have given a brief overview and share some associated customs. I have had direct experience with all of these Sabbats. The Sabbat cycle I describe here reflects the climate zone in the Northern hemisphere where I live as well as my own multi-cultural, spiritual approach.
In common with many ancient people, many Witches consider the day as beginning at sundown and ending at sundown the following day. So, for example, Samhain starts at dusk on the 31st, ending the evening of the 1st.
SAMHAIN – DEATH AND REBIRTH [10/31] – Greater SAMHAIN: October 31 — November Eve
Samhain is often equated with Halloween, but Halloween is a Christian holiday and has nothing to do with Witches and Samhain which is a pre-Christian holiday. Today we celebrate it as a three day celebration, starting at sunset on the 30th with the High Holy Day being on the 31st and then ending on the 1st of November. The night lengthens and we work with the positive aspects of darkness as it increasing. Many Craft traditions, following the ancient Celts, consider this the eve of the New Year (as day begins with sundown, so the year begins with the first day of Winter). It is the one night when the barriers between the worlds of life and death are uncertain, as the veil between the worlds are at its thinnest, allowing the ancestors to walk among the living, welcomed to feast with their kin, bestowing the Otherworld’s blessings. We may focus within ourselves to look “through the glass darkly”, developing our divination and psychic skills. It also allow us a greater awareness and connection with the realms of magick and with those who have gone before.
Because Samhain is our High Holy Day our New Year we do a grand celebration and dress up – the idea of dressing up to is to use your magick to become what we want to be for the coming year. We invoke our future by wearing what we want to create for ourselves, the way we want our community to see us. We are casting a spell about who we are and what we are going to become in the coming year. Most witches dress in the finery, wearing their jewelry and best magickal clothing. Some may do it in a comical, fun way.
For the ritual cast a magick circle honoring those who died for our freedom. We always honor our ancestors, when we honor our ancestors we give honor to ourselves as well as those in our families who have also passed on.
- Also called: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, All Saints & All Souls, Day of the Dead
- Colors: black, burnt orange, brown
- Tools: votive candles, magic mirror, cauldron, pumpkins, divination tools
- Energy: death & transformation; The Witches new year
- Goddesses: Crone, Hecate, Morrighan, Danu
- Gods: Horned Hunter, Cernnunos, Anubis, Dagda
- Rituals: Honoring the ancestors, releasing old, foreseeing future, understanding death and rebirth
- Customs: jack o’lanterns, spirit plate, ancestor altar, divination, costumes
- God within the Goddess/tomb becomes the womb, yet also Leader of the Wild Hunt.
- Crone and Hunter [Lord of Shadows] reign together
YULE – WINTER SOLSTICE [12/21] – Lesser YULE: December 21 — The sun is at its nadir, the year’s longest night, a time for gathering together, after which the world begins to awaken again, as the light and warmth of the reborn sun come ever closer. We internalize and synthesize the outward-directed activities of the previous summer months. Some traditions hold a Festival of Light to commemorate the Goddess as Mother giving birth to the Sun God. Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of Light over the Lord of Darkness as the turning point from which the days will lengthen. The name “Yule” derives from the Norse word for “wheel”, and many of our customs derive from Norse and Celtic Pagan practices (the Yule log, the tree, the custom of Wassailing, et al).
- Also called: Yule, Jul, Saturnalia, Christmas, solar/secular New Year, Winter Solstice
- Suggested Colors: red, green, white
- Tools: mistletoe, evergreen wreath, lights, gifts, holly, Yule log, Yule tree
- Energy: regeneration, abundance, prosperity, beauty & renewal
- Goddesses: Great Mother, Isis, Tonazin, Lucina, Bona Dea, Rhiannon
- Gods: Sun Child, Horus, Mithras, Santa/Odin, Saturn, Holly King, Pryderi
- Rituals: personal renewal, world peace, honoring family & friends
- Customs:wreaths, lights, gift-giving, singing, feasting, resolutions
- Mythos: Birth
- God as Oak King is born of the Goddess
- God as Holly King prepares to depart.
- Goddess is Mother of the Sun God.
- Goddess is Crone of Winter.
IMBOLC – PURIFICATION AND FIRE [2/1] – Greater February 1st – February 2nd As the days’ lengthening becomes perceptible, we would light the candles as an act of magick to embrace the growing light and help it grow. Our candlelight would also help hasten the warming of the earth and awaken the Earth Mother and emphasize the reviving of life. Imbolc meant the spring was coming. When the breath of life begins to awaken the sleeping earth and craftwork, both magickal and mundane, is honored. The blessing of seeds, newborn lambs, and new life to come. “Imbolc” is from Old Irish, and may mean “in the belly”, and Oimelc, “ewe’s milk”, as this is the lambing time. It is the holiday of the Celtic Fire Goddess Brigid daughter of the great God Dagda, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, poetry/inspiration, and healing. Brigid’s fire is a symbolic transformation offering healing, visions, and tempering. Februum is a Latin word meaning purification — naming the month of cleansing. The thaw releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) — all that was hindered is let flow at this season.
- Also called: Candlemas, Oimelc, Brigid’s Day; merged with Lupercalia/Valentines Day
- Suggested colors: white, red
- Tools: candles, seeds, Brigid wheel, goats milk
- Energy: conception, initiation, inspiration
- Goddesses: Brigid, Maiden
- Gods: Groundhog, other creatures emerging from hibernation; young Sun
- Rituals: creative inspiration, purification, fire, initiation, dedication, candle work, house & temple blessings
- Customs:lighting candles, seeking omens of Spring, cleaning house, welcoming Brigid
- Goddess is cleansed and purified
- Milk flows for lambs and for the baby God as Oak King.Quickening of the Earth.
- Goddess is preparing to return to Maiden.
OSTARA – SPRING EQUINOX [3/21] – Lesser March 21 — Vernal Equinox
This is a time marked by the sowing of seeds and the awakening of he earth. Ostara is also the celebration of the night and day once again coming back into balance. A time Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel “reborn” after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday, or for some the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth. Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter’s daughter Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in whose footprints flowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or absence of life.
- Also called: Ostara, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Spring Equinox
- Suggested 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
- Goddess is Maiden/brings Spring.
- God and Goddess encourage animal fertility, and fertility of the Earth.
BELTANE – FERTILITY AND FIRE [5/1] – Greater April 30 — May Eve — Beltaine
As the weather heats up and the plant world burgeons, an exuberant mood prevails. Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name “May” comes from a Norse word meaning “to shoot out new growth”). We come to celebrate a day of fertility and abundance, full of revelry, feasting and merrymaking in honor of the budding crops and new growth all around us. Festivities of dancing around the Maypole and leaping over the ritual of fire in joyful celebration.
May 1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers. The name “Beltaine” means “Bel’s Fires”; in Celtic lands, cattle were driven between bonfires to bless them, and people leaped the fires for luck. The association in Germany of May Eve with Witches’ gatherings is a memory of pre-Christian tradition. “Wild” water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) is collected as a basis for healing drinks and potions for the year to come.
- Also called: May Eve, May Day, Walspurgis Night
- Suggested colors: rainbow spectrum, blue, green, pastels, all colors
- Tools: Maypole & ribbons, flower crowns, fires, bowers, fields
- Energy: youthful play, exuberance, 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
- God Youth and Goddess Maiden unite in love.
- May Day flowers, romps, and bonfires/fertility encouraged.
LITHA – SUMMER SOLSTICE [6/21] – Lesser June 21 — Midsummer
On this day, the noon of the year, the longest day and shortest night, light and life are abundant. We focus outward, experiencing the joys of plenty, tasting the first fruits of the season. In some traditions the sacred marriage and God is celebrated (in others, this is attributed to the springtime holidays). From this point on, the days get shorter as we head into the dark half of the year. Traditionally some view Litha as the death of the Sun King, often observed with a bonfire at sunset.
- Also called: Midsummer, Litha, St. John’s Day
- Suggested 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
- God turns from Youth to Sage.
- God turns from Oak to Holly King.
- Marriage of God to Goddess.
- Holly King impregnates Goddess with Oak King.
LUGHNASSADH – BREAD HARVEST [8/1] – Greater July 31 — August Eve — Lughnasadh or Lammas
A time to revere the first harvest and fruits of the season, and to prepare for the dark months ahead. Often celebrated with loaves prepared from the first wheat of the harvest. This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh, Lugus to the Gauls). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games). The second aspect is Lammas, the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in ritual loaves. These aspects are not too dissimilar, as the shamanic death and transformation of Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong “John Barleycorn”. This time is also sacred to the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, Artemis.
- Also called: Lammas
- Suggested 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
- God enters the Earth in marriage, giving his energy into the grain, now his body.
- First Harvest/Bread Harvest – grains.
MABON – AUTUMN EQUINOX [9/21] – Lesser September 21 —Mabon or Harvest Home or for us at WFT – A Witches Thanks Giving for the bountiful harvest we have been given.
This day sees light and dark in perfect balance again, before the descent to the dark times. For the final harvest of the year, this is a time for feasting, and being mindful to rest, to enjoy all our blessings, ad prepare for the longs nights ahead. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these.
In this way the Wheel turns, bringing us back to Samhain where we began our cycle. Many of the festival days coincide with holidays of the Jewish and Christian calendars. This is no accident; these points in the year were important community celebrations, and were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian God or a saint. The names may have changed, but the old Pagan practices still show through.
- Also called: Michaelmas, Fall Equinox
- Suggested colors: orange, red, brown, purple, blue
- Tools: cornucopia, corn, harvested crops
- Energy: appreciation, thankfulness & 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
- God gives his spirit into the vines, fruit, and barleycorn, wine, cider, whiskey, beer, and mead are now his blood – He rules Underworld.
- Goddess alone and pregnant with the God.
Feel free to adapt these customs to reflect your own environment and spiritual path.