Wheel of the Year

By LaVonne (LaVonne) on November 12, 2010

I thought you might find it interesting on how our ancestors used the seasons to manage their lives and to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. You will find that I have given you the basics of each “spoke” of the wheel and how it was celebrated. The seasons also helped our ancestors know when to plant and when to harvest so that they would have food and game to keep them through the hardships of winter.





          I thought you might find it interesting on how our ancestors used the seasons to manage their lives and to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. You will find that I have given you the basics of each “spoke” of the wheel and how it was celebrated.  The seasons also helped our ancestors know when to plant and when to harvest so that they would have food and game to keep them through the hardships of winter.

The Wheel of the Year is a Wiccan and Neopagan term for the annual cycle of the Earth's seasons. It consists of eight festivals, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. These festivals are referred to as Sabbats (pronounced /ˈsæbÉ™t/). While the term Sabbat originated from Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism and Christianity and is of Hebrew origin, the festivals themselves have historical origins in Celtic and Germanic pre-Christian feasts, and the Wheel of the Year, as has developed in modern Neopaganism and Modern Wicca, is really a combination of the two cultures' solstice and equinox celebrations. When melded together, two somewhat unrelated European Festival Cycles merge to form eight festivals in modern renderings. Together, these festivals are understood by some to be the Bronze Age religious festivals of Europe. As with all cultures' use of festivals and traditions, these festivals have been utilized by European cultures in both the pre and post Christian eras as traditional times for the community to celebrate the planting and harvest seasons. The Wheel of the Year has been important to many people both ancient and modern, from various religious as well as cultural and secular viewpoints.

These observed eight festivals which we call "Sabbats;” Four of these fall on the solstices and equinoxes and are known as "quarter days" or "Lesser Sabbats".  The word “equinox” derives from the Latin words meaning “equal night” and refers to the time when the sun crosses the equator. At such times, day and night are everywhere of nearly equal length everywhere in the world.

The other four fall (approximately) midway between these and are commonly known as "cross-quarter days," "fire festivals “or” Greater Sabbats". The "quarter days" are loosely based on or named after the Germanic festivals, and the "cross-quarter days" are similarly inspired by the Gaelic fire festivals. When viewed they take on the appearance of an eight spokes, thus it is called the Wheel of the Year. 

The most important thing to understand about the eight Sabbats is that they are not man-made.  By this, I mean that they are not holidays in the same way that Independence Day is a holiday, that is, a calendar anniversary of some date that has a special importance in history.

No, the eight Sabbats were not man-made because they existed long before man was made. These eight holidays might be said to be as old as the Earth itself. The reason these holidays are so old is because they are a basic part of how the Earth works. Consequently, these holidays are not of history; they are of Nature

We begin with our New Year…the celebration of Yule which occurs, at 00 degrees Capricorn, on December 20th or 21st.  This year, 2010, it falls on December 21st.  For modern Witches, Yule is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days.  It is the celebration of the Sun who is considered to represent the Male Divinity in many Pagan Traditions; this time is celebrated as the "return of the Sun God" where He is reborn of the Goddess. It is the shortest day and the longest night. 

As the days progress in this, the New Year we celebrate we come to:

Imbolic, which occurs around February 2nd, from this day forward, the days become longer and night is shorter. It is the birth of Spring.  The earth’s winter barrenness gives way to the warm return of Spring, making the earth once again fertile.

Ostara happens on or near March 20th, and we pass from one time into the other, yet are between one time and another. It's the time of the vernal equinox, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, and it's a true marker that Spring has come. By watching agricultural changes -- such as the ground becoming warmer, and the emergence of plants from the ground -- you'll know exactly how you should welcome the season.

April's showers have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land greens, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility as Beltane. Observed on May 1st, festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April. It's a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long (and sometimes scandalous) history.  It's the time when the earth mother opens up to the fertility god, and their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.

We are now approaching the 2nd half of the year, the Wheel has turned 6 times, and:

The Summer Solstice happens about June 21. All things move in spirals, and we watch the year move in a spiral, right now spiraling up to the sun's climax. We celebrate summer and the heat of the Gods.  For those living in harmony with nature's cycles, it's the season to harvest herbs and honey. Many couples still marry in June, at the peak of nature's abundance. Some traditions would feed the newlyweds honey-laced foods for the entire first month, which is where "honeymoon" comes from. The full Moon in June is the Honey Moon.

Lammas is August 1. Now the Corn King dies as his body is harvested from the fields so that we may be fed, so that we may live, so that we may go into the winter months of darkness rich with his blood and love in my veins. The Dark King, Shepherd of souls, becomes stronger now. With Winter we will go inward, to the inner depths of our own soul. And HE will embrace us with His love in the coming trials and celebrations of the Wintertime. Some of our crops are harvested and we give thanks. Some of our crops are not yet ready and we must insure their harvest.

Fall Equinox happens near or on September 21.Today, the length of night time is equal to the length of daytime. At the Equinox, we become aware that this time is not the balance, or rather the order, one usually sees in nature. Nature is not really balanced but ordered.  A Cyprus by the ocean grows windblown by ocean storm and wind, bowing towards the earth. That Cyprus is the usual balance or order of nature - stable, poised, in harmony. ALL of nature leans like the ocean-blown Cyprus towards the dark earth. But Fall Equinox is a balance of light and dark, night and day and therefore is truly an outlandish moment in time: equality, an equal balancing, and an actual moment of balance. We draw on our roots in the darkness, yet revel in the kiss of summer breeze and sun.  We face the darkness of the fall and winter ahead and so face mysteries. The Goddess has surprises for us in the wintry months ahead that will surpass our best hopes.

We have reached the last wrung on the Wheel of this season….Samhain

dates back to the ancient Celts who lived 2,000 years ago. Contrary to what some believe, is not a celebration of a Celtic god of the dead.  Instead, it is a Celtic word meaning "summer's end." The Celts believed that summer came to an end on October 31st and the New Year began on November 1st with the start of winter. But the Celts also followed a lunar calendar and their celebrations began at sunset the night before.

Religious scholars agree that the word Samhain (pronounced "sow-en") comes from the Gaelic “Samhuin.” Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest has been gathered, cattle and sheep have been brought in from the fields, and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The earth slowly begins to die around us.

Around the eighth century or so, the Catholic Church decided to use November 1st as All Saints Day. This was actually a pretty smart move on their part – the local pagans were already celebrating that day anyway, so it made sense to use it as a church holiday. All Saints’ became the festival to honor any saint who didn’t already have a day of his or her own. The mass which was said on All Saints’ was called All hallows mass – the mass of all those who are hallowed. The night before naturally became known as All Hallows Eve, and eventually morphed into what we call Halloween.

I hope that you have enjoyed this stroll around the Wheel of the Year and that for some it has given a new or deeper appreciation of their path.



Related articles:
seasons, wheel, year

About LaVonne
I am still learning who LaVonne/Dorothy is.

Statistically I am a 65 y/young mother of 3, grandmother of 9, and great-grandmother of 3. I am a High Priestess and founder of the College of the Boundless Truth, am an Ordained Minister and perform Handfastings, marriages during the Spring and Summer season. I am enjoying my Crone years.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
nice historical account CarolineScott Nov 21, 2010 11:08 AM 0
Interesting! Seray Nov 17, 2010 10:14 AM 0
Written from the heart Lynxx Nov 15, 2010 6:14 PM 3

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