Despite competition from twentieth century “life in the fast lane”, 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 recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and bountiful herds and hunting.
One result of this process is our image of 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. 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.
October 31 – November Eve – Samhain
The night lengthens and we work with the positive aspects of darkness in the increasing star- and moonlight. 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 one night when the barriers between the worlds of life and death are uncertain, allowing the ancestors to walk among the living, welcomed and feasted by their kin, bestowing the Otherworld’s blessings. We may focus within ourselves to look “through the glass darkly”, developing our divination and psychic skills.
December 21 – Winter Solstice – Yule
The sun is at its nadir, the year’s longest night. We internalize and synthesize the outward-directed activities of the previous summer months. Some covens 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 (like those of the Christian holiday) derive from Norse and Celtic Pagan practices (the Yule log, the tree, the custom of Wassailing, et al).
January 31 – February Eve – Imbolc (Oimelc or Brigid)
As the days’ lengthening becomes perceptible, many candles are lit to hasten the warming of the earth and emphasize the reviving of life. “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, 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.
March 21 – Vernal equinox – Ostara
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 or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday. 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.
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