Hi, my loves and welcome to WiccaNow. Recently I’ve been talking quite a bit about what it means to be Wiccan including these posts on how to become Wiccan, who the Wiccan Gods are, a post about the Wiccan afterlife and one about Wiccan Weddings. Today I want to talk about something that is vitally important to the Wiccan way of life, namely the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.
The Wiccan Wheel of the Year – Living the Magical Life
One of the core values of Wiccan practise is the attempt to align with mother nature. The Wiccan calendar, called the ‘Wheel of the Year, helps practitioners of Wicca to celebrate earthly and celestial cycles. The celebration of these dates is intended to encourage a way of life which is in harmony, rather than against, mother nature. The calendar functions in a nonlinear system of time, thereby removing the focus on a predefined beginning and end. This allows practitioners to experience life as an ongoing continuum, wherein whenever one cycle ends, another begins.
What is the Wheel of the Year?
The Wiccan Wheel of the Year forms the basis of the Wiccan calendar year. The wheel emphasises the ever-changing cyclical nature of life and is divided into eight segments. Each segment is six weeks in length and is celebrated by a designated holy day or Sabbat. The eight segments correspond to the movements of the sun and the stars and mark the passage of time which pays homage to nature and her seasons. Because Wicca concerns itself with a desire to reconnect with the spiritual practices of our ancestors, the wheel of the year follows a mixture of ancient pan European traditions as well as incorporating elements of ancient Celtic, Norse and Egyptian lore.
What are the Origins of the Wheel of the Year?
The Wiccan year of the wheel has its origins in the work of Margaret Murray, Gerald Gardner and Aidan Kelly. During the 1920s Murray developed a calendar based on ancient pagan festival rites. This calendar was further refined by Gerald Gardner during the 1950s. Gardner added solstices, equinoxes and incorporated elements of Celtic fire festivals into the calendar. It is Aidan Kelly who is credited with giving the calendar its name ‘wheel of the year’ during the 1970s.
What Role do the God and Goddess Play in the Wheel of the Year?
The cyclical nature of the year of the wheel is understood by some to symbolise a dynamic dance between god and goddess. This is described by Lisa Chamberlain in the following paragraph:
“Each year at the Winter Solstice, the Goddess gives birth to the God, andWicca Wheel of the Year Magic: By Lisa Chamberlain
each spring she is restored to her Maiden aspect as the two grow together. As summer begins, they unite as lovers and the God impregnates the Goddess, ensuring that he will be born again after his death in late autumn when the Mother Goddess once again becomes the Crone”
The non-linear quality of the year of the wheel as demonstrated by the ever-changing nature of the god and goddess is intended to honour our own shifting roles as we move through the seasons. This is what Wiccans refer to as the ‘turning of the wheel’.
What Sort of Rituals are Celebrated During The Wheel of the Year?
The wheel of the year celebrates eight primary rituals or Sabbats. A distinction is made between greater and lesser Sabbats. Sabbats are often thought of as ‘days of power’ due to their alignment with specific solar, celestial or seasonal constellations.
Because of this many Wiccan’s who practice spell work or magic will do so on a Sabbat. It is thought best to align your spell work with the Sabbat most suited to it. As such, magical work related to relationships, love and energy may be more suited to the summer. The winter is a time for inward-looking work such as healing and spiritual development.
Sabbat days are also considered a time to connect with the ancestors and for many Wiccans, this involves coming together for feasts and communal gatherings as a way to celebrate past and present.
Wheel of the Year – The Eight Sabbats Explained
Yule – Winter Solstice
Northern Hemisphere December 20 -23
Southern Hemisphere June 20 – 22
Yule is the celebration of the longest and darkest day of the year, the winter solstice. Fittingly, many Wiccans see yule as a time for introspection and inward-turning reflection. As yule marks the darkest days of the year, the date also heralds a new beginning. This new beginning, wherein the days, start to become longer and the sun has reached its lowest point, marks the beginning of a new year for many Wiccans. The rebirth of the sun and the gradually lengthening days illustrate the cyclical nature of the Wiccan calendar wherein winter is reborn as spring and all cycles reach an end only to begin again.
Many Wiccan covens meet just before dawn on the day of the winter solstice to hold their rituals. Fires or candles may be lit to celebrate the return of the light. A yule log might be fashioned and the ritual space may be decorated with branches and bows of trees. A yule ceremony may be organised around the theme of regeneration and the setting of new intentions.
Colours: red, green, gold, silver, white, orange
Stones: bloodstone, emerald, garnet, diamond, ruby, clear quartz
Herbs: bayberries, blessed thistle, frankincense, chamomile, mistletoe, ivy, rosemary, all evergreens, oak and holly trees
Incense: frankincense, juniper, cedar, pine, cinnamon, myrrh, bayberry
Alter decorations and symbols: candles, evergreen wreaths, holly and mistletoe, pinecones, yule logs, snowflakes, pinwheels, yellow disks, other solar symbols and imagery
Foods: fruits, nuts, baked goods, cider, spiced cider, eggnog, ginger tea
Northern Hemisphere February 1st or 2nd
Southern Hemisphere August 1st or 2nd
Imbolc marks the beginning of spring and the end of winter. As winter begins to loosen its icy grip, Imbolc celebrates a time of hope and new beginnings. The sun god’s power is gaining in strength and the days are starting to become longer. Imbolc is also associated with the goddess Brigid, guardian of the home and harvest.
Fire plays a big part in any celebration of Imbolc, heralding the rising of the sun and the warming of the days. Bonfires or candles may be lit, and your home may be energetically ‘cleansed’ to symbolically herald the beginning of a new spring. A special feast may be celebrated and donations to the less fortunate might be offered.
Colours: red, white, yellow, orange
Stones: garnet, ruby, onyx, bloodstone, amethyst
Herbs: angelica, basil, bay leaf, myrrh, coltsfoot, heather
Incense: myrrh, cinnamon, violet, wisteria, jasmine, vanilla
Foods: pumpkin and sunflower seeds, poppyseed pastries, early spring vegetables and dairy products
Ostara – Spring Equinox
Northern Hemisphere March 19 – 21st
Southern Hemisphere September 20th- 23rd
Ostara marks the spring equinox and one of two dates during which the night is equally as long as the night. Ostara marks a strengthening of the sun’s power with each passing day becoming longer. This is a time to begin working with the earth, gardens are planned and seeds are planted. Ostara also marks a time to reflect on the balance of male and female energies, with some Wiccans believing that Ostara marks the coupling of the God and Goddess.
Ostara may be celebrated outdoors with a focus on the theme of fertility and new life. Coven may meet just before dawn to watch the new sun rise. Eggs might be painted and ritual spaces could be decorated with flowers and petals.
Colours: yellow, light green, light pink, light blue, all pastel colours
Stones: amethyst, aquamarine, jasper, moonstone, rose quartz
Herbs: irish moss, lemongrass, meadowsweet, catnip, spearmint, cleavers, dogwood, ash trees, woodruff
Flowers: daffodil, honeysuckle, iris, violets, easter honey, roses, dandelions, tulips, lilacs
Incense: jasmine, rose, violet, lotus, magnolia, ginger, sage, strawberry, lemon
Alter decorations and symbols: spring flowers, seeds, potted plants, coloured eggs, rabbits/hares, birds, pinwheels, yellow discs, other solar symbols, ladybugs, bumblebees Foods: eggs, honey, sprouts, dandelion greens, strawberries, all spring vegetables, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, pine nuts
Northern Hemisphere April 30th or May 1st
Southern Hemisphere October 31st or Nov 1st
Beltane marks the full exuberance of spring, with the winter months now officially over. Nature explodes in vibrant shades of green and the air is becoming increasingly warm. Birdsong fills the skies and the buds of spring flowers burst free. Wiccans celebrate Beltane as a time of passion and renewed energy. Beltane symbolically marks the love affair between the God and the Goddess, and the Goddess is pregnant with new life. To celebrate this divine union, Handfastings – or Wiccan weddings – are customarily held during this time.
Beltane is often celebrated with a bonfire. The maypole and its ribboned dance are also customary for Beltane celebrations. Some Covens may celebrate the ‘great rite’ or literal coupling during Beltane. Places of worship might be decorated with spring flowers and branches. The Beltane celebration participants might decorate their hair with wreaths of flowers.
Colours: light and deep green, yellow, light blue, red and white for the God and Goddess
Stones: malachite, amber, orange carnelian, sapphire, rose quartz
Herbs: birch trees, hawthorn, honeysuckle, rosemary
Flowers: yellow cowslip, lily of the valley, lilac, hyacinth, daisies, roses
Incense: lilac, frankincense, jasmine, African violet, sage, mugwort
Alter decorations and symbols: maypole, ribbons, garlands, spring flowers, young plants, God and Goddess statues
Foods: oatmeal cakes, bannock and other bread, dairy foods, cherries, strawberries, spring greens
Litha – Summer Solstice
Northern Hemisphere June 20 – 22nd
Southern Hemisphere December 20 – 23rd
Also known as midsummer’s eve, Litha celebrates the longest day and the shortest night of the solar year. Abundance is everywhere as the crops reach harvest, the days are warm and the power of the sun is at its zenith. Symbolically Litha celebrates the Goddess in her mothering aspect, providing food and warmth in abundance. Herbs and plants are thought to be at their maximum potency during Litha.
Litha is generally celebrated outdoors to make the most of the warm summer weather. Some Covens may stay up all night to watch the rising of the sun. One common ritual acts out the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King to symbolise that there is no light without dark. Magically Litha is a great time to focus on love, healing, friendship and beauty.
Colours: gold, green, red, orange, blue
Stones: emerald, amber, tigers eye, jade
Herbs: st john’s wort, mugwort, vervain, mint, thyme, chamomile, parsley, oak and holly trees, lavender
Flowers: all flowers but especially rose, honeysuckle, daisy and lily
Incense: pine, myrrh, rose, cedar, frankincense, lemon, sage, lavender
Alter decorations and symbols: roses, sunflowers, berries, holly and oak leaves, birds, butterflies, seashells, pinwheels, yellow discs, other solar symbols
Foods: early summer fruits and vegetables, honey cakes, strawberries, fennel, lemon balm tea, red wine
Lammas – also known as Lughnasadh
Northern Hemisphere August 1st or 2nd
Southern Hemisphere February 1st or 2nd
Positioned opposite Imbolc which heralds the end of the winter season, Lammas signifies the ending of the summer cycle. Although the days are still warm, the telltale signs of autumn are all about. Nuts and seeds begin to drop to the ground, fruits ripen and the fields have reached their maximum height. Lammas is known as the ‘first fruits’ and is celebrated by Wiccans as the first of three harvest festivals. Lammas shows that even the power of the sun god is beginning to wane and reminds us that all things are temporary.
Although all Sabbath celebrations may incorporate a feast, the feast of Lammas is particularly important as it marks the beginning of the harvest. Bread is often used to symbolise the importance of grains, with offerings being made to the God and Goddess to ensure a successful harvest and to give thanks for the abundance. Coven rituals might celebrate the waning influence of the sun God and the waxing power of the pregnant Goddess.
Colours: gold, yellow, orange, red, green, light brown
Stones: carnelian, citrine, peridot, aventurine, sardonyx
Herbs: sunflower, passionflower, acacia flowers, cyclamen
Flowers: all flowers but especially rose, honeysuckle, daisy and lily
Incense: sandalwood, frankincense, copal, rose, rose hips, rosemary, chamomile, passionflower
Alter decorations and symbols: first harvest fruits and vegetables, freshly baked bread, grapes and vines, corn dollies, sickles and scythes, Lugh’s spear
Foods: apples, bread, all grains, berries, hazelnuts, summer squash, corn, elderberry wine, ale
Mabon – Autumn Equinox
Northern Hemisphere September 20 – 24th
Southern Hemisphere March 20 – 22nd
Mabon marks the undeniable end of Summer. The days have started to become shorter and a crisp chill fills the air. The trees begin to turn red and orange and lose their leaves. Plants die back and the animals squirrel away provisions for the coming winter. The time of Mabon reminds us that the exuberant life energy of spring and summer must always be followed by the bleak and barren times of winter.
Mabon marks the second harvest festival of the year and represents the maximum abundance offered to us from the gardens and fields. Like Ostara, Mabon marks the time when day and night are of equal length. This reminds us of the shifting balance inherent within all life. The sun god further wanes in power as the days become shorter and the Goddess is no longer young herself yet she is still in her mothering aspect as the harvest continues. As the Goddess morns, the diminishing power of the sun god, the seasons move towards the darkness of winter.
The chief symbol of Mabon is the ‘horn of plenty’ or cornucopia. The cornucopia symbolises the abundance of the harvest. To celebrate Mabon, a cornucopia might be filled with fruits and vegetables and used in a ritual to symbolise gratitude for the abundance. Covens may focus their rituals around balance and giving thanks for life’s blessings. The feast of Mabon might be particularly lavish as it celebrates the height of the harvest.
Colours: deep reds, maroon, orange, yellow, gold, bronze, brown
Stones: amber, topaz, citrine, tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli, sapphire, yellow agate
Herbs: chamomile, milkweed, thistle, yarrow, saffron, hops, Solomon’s seal, sage, rue, hazel, ivy, oakmoss, mace
Flowers: marigold, sunflower, rose, aster, chrysanthemum
Incense: benzoin, cedar, pine, myrrh, frankincense, sandalwood, cinnamon, sage, clove
Alter decorations and symbols: cornucopia, gourds, acorns, pine cones, pinwheels, yellow discs, solar and celestial imagery and symbols
Foods: nuts, wheat and other grains, bread, grapes, apples, pumpkin, pomegranate, all autumn fruits and vegetables, wine
Northern Hemisphere October 31st or November 1st
Southern Hemisphere April 30th or May 1st
Samhain is considered to be the most important and potent of all Sabbats. Samhain honours the death element of the wheel and is a time of intense inward introspection. The fields are empty, the crops have been harvested and the days are short and cold. The elemental God is at his most diminished and the Goddess is in her Crone aspect.
In her Crone aspect, the Goddess represents both death and life, as it is from her rebirth in the spring that all new life will blossom. This symbolises the Wiccan belief that death is a necessary component of life as it is from death that new life arises.
For Wiccans, Samhain is very much rooted in ancient traditions. It is often described as the night where the veil between the dead and the living is at its thinnest and because of this many Samhain celebrations focus on honouring the ancestors.
Food and drink may be left out for the spirits and form of divination may be undertaken to make contact with the underworld. Coven rituals at Samhain are often held outdoors at night around a special bonfire. The rituals might focus on letting go of bad habits and other unwanted energies and symbolically giving them to the fire to be transformed.
Samhain is the perfect time to practice any spell work as many Wiccans consider it to be the most potent time of the year for magic.
Colours: black, orange, rust, bronze, brown, grey, silver, gold
Stones: jet, obsidian, onyx, smokey quartz, all other black stones, bloodstone, carnelian
Herbs: mugwort, wormwood, valerian, rosemary, sage, catnip, broom, oak leaves, witch hazel, angelica, deadly nightshade*, mandrake*
Flowers: marigold, chrysanthemums, sunflower, goldenrod, Russian sage, pansies
Incense: nutmeg, sage, copal, mint, myrrh, cloves, heather, heliotrope, benzoin, sweetgrass, sandalwood
Alter decorations and symbols: oak leaves, other fallen leaves, pomegranates, pumpkin, squashes, gourds, photos or other tokens of deceased loved ones, acorns, corn, besom, cauldron
Foods: pumpkins, pomegranates, apples, all root vegetables and autumn/winter squashes, nuts, bread, beans apple cider, mulled cider, ale, herbal teas
*These plants are highly toxic and should never be ingested!
I hope this gives you a good overview of our 8 powerful Sabbats. Go forth and celebrate!