Winter Solstice: (Yule, December 20-23, varies on the standard calendar according to when the Solstice will occur astronomically) The name "Yule" derives from the Norse word for "wheel". This is the longest night of the year and the turning point when the days shall afterwards grow longer as winter begins its passage into the coming spring. It is the time when the Goddess (in her Divine Mother form) gives birth to the Sun God Child who shall eventually become her lover and father of the next child in the coming solar cycle. The Goddess, after giving birth, once more assumes her Virgin/Maiden form. Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of Light (or the Oak King) over the Lord of Darkness (or the Holly King) as the turning point from which the days will lengthen. Winter Solstice is a time for feasting and exchanging gifts. Traditional adornments are a Yule Log (usually of oak) and a combination of mistletoe and holly. For more information see: You Call it Christmas, We Call it Yule by Peg Aloi
Spring Equinox (Ostara, March 20-23, varies on the standard calendar according to when the Equinox will occur astronomically) The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the main deity of this holiday. The Spring Equinox defines the season where Spring reaches it's apex, halfway through its journey from Candlemas to Beltane. Night and day are in perfect balance, with the powers of light on the ascendancy. The God of light now wins a victory over his twin, the God of darkness. In the Welsh Mabinogion, this is the day on which the restored Llew takes his vengeance on Goronwy by piercing him with the sunlight spear. For Llew was restored/reborn at the Winter Solstice and is now well/old enough to vanquish his rival/twin and mate with his lover/mother. The coloring and giving of eggs at this time is a common pagan tradition. Eggs are clearly one of the most potent symbols of fertility, and spring is the season when animals begin to mate and flowers and trees pollinate and reproduce. In England and Northern Europe, eggs were often employed in folk magic when women wanted to be blessed with children. The great Mother Goddess, who returned to her Virgin/Maiden aspect at Candlemas, welcomes the young sun God's embraces and many wiccans believe that she conceives the new Sun Child now. (to be born 9 months later at the Winter Solstice). For more information see: You Call it Easter, We Call it Ostara by Peg Aloi
Beltane (Walpurgis, April 31 or May 1) This is the last of the three spring fertility festivals, the other two being Imbolc and Ostara. This festival and it's counterpart, Samhain, divide the year into it's two primary seasons - Winter and Summer. Whereas Samhain is about honoring death, Beltane is about honoring life. This festival heralds the beginning of summer and honors the joining of the God and the Goddess. Those wiccans who don't place the conception of the new Sun Child at Ostara place his conception here at Beltane. As such it is a common time for wiccan engagements and trial handfastings (a year and a day). Beltane translated means "fire of Bel" or "bright fire". Bel is known as the bright and shinning one, a Celtic Sun God. Beli is the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess. On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large Bel fires lit from the nine sacred woods. This is an invocation to the Sun God Bel to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires. Another prominent part of Beltane is dancing around the Maypole. The Maypole is a tall phallic pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth's womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness. For More information see: You Call it May Day, We Call it Beltane by Peg Aloi
(Litha, June 21st or 24th) Directly opposite Yule on the Wheel of the Year, this
is the Longest Day of the year and the time when we honor the Sun God as He
ascends to His height of power before beginning His descent towards death and
rebirth. The Mother Goddess is now heavily pregnant with the divine Sun Child
representing the growing bounty on Earth.
Couples in the Old Ways often didn’t get married until after they had a baby
on the way, incidentally; it was necessary for farming couples to have children
to help work the farm, and if a woman and man couldn’t prove themselves
fertile before making a promise to stay together, it would not be a blessed
marriage. That is why the Goddess is impregnated at Beltane but not actually
married until Litha.
In some Wiccan traditions, this is
also the time
that the Oak King (Lord of the summer) will be killed by the Holly King (Lord of
the winter) turning the Wheel from the summer half to the winter half of the
year. Midsummer Eve is the evening for harvesting your herbs for the coming
year. It's also the best time to gather branches and make new wands and staffs.
The herbs and flowers gathered this night are considered exceptionally potent.
St John's wort, burdock, thorn, and nettle, harvested on Midsummer Eve are hung
on doors and windows and placed around the home for protection. Couples who
handfasted the year before at Beltane, tend to marry in a more formal
handfasting at Midsummer or Lughnasadh. Divination on matters of love are
especially powerful Midsummer's eve.
Lammas (Lughnassadh, August 1-2) Lughnasadh, which means "Lugh's assembly", is named for the Celtic deity Lugh who presides over the arts and sciences. Lughnasadh, in fact, has an even older name, Brón Trogain, which refers to the painful labor of childbirth. For at this time of year, the earth gives birth to her first fruits so that her children might live. Thus this is one of the four great celtic fire festivals, this particular one having it's emphasis on the first harvest. Now is the time when the powerful gods of the grain harvests are honored. One traditional Lammas custom was the construction of the kern-baby, corn dolly, or corn maiden. This figure, braided into a woman's form from the last harvested sheaf of grain, represented the Harvest Spirit. (In America, the tradition is continued in the making of corn husk dolls.) The doll would be saved until Spring, when it was ploughed into the field to consecrate the new planting and insure a good harvest. This is just the first of the Three Harvest Festivals (the second and third being Mabon and Samhain). This is a time of waiting, the Goddess now waits for the new Sun Child to be born and changes aspects from Mother to Crone as She oversees the harvest of the Earth.
Fall Equinox (Mabon, September 21) The autumnal equinox is commonly called "Mabon" after the Welsh god Mabon ap Modron, which means literally "son of mothers." Another name for this festival is from the Gaelic, Alban Elfed, or "Light of the Water." Now, as at Ostara, the days and nights are equal once again. This is the second of the three fall harvest festivals. Mabon marks the completion of the grain harvest begun during Lughnasadh. Celebrations revolve around the gathering of crops and thanksgiving for the abundances of the harvest, and rituals to insure the success of next year's harvest are characteristic during this harvest time. This is a time for reflection on the past year, a time to slow down a bit and ponder on the meaning of life and death. I suppose you could call this the Wiccan Thanksgiving. For more information see: You Call it Autumnal Equinox, We Call it Mabon by Peg Aloi
Halloween (Samhain, October 31) From the old Gaelic meaning "summer's end", this is third and last of the harvest festivals. Lying directly opposite of Beltain, this is one of the two great Celtic holidays which separates Summer from Winter. Many traditions consider this the eve of the New Year (as day begins with sundown, so the year begins with the first day of Winter). This is the best night for all forms of divination because the veil between the world of the seen and unseen is at it's thinnest allowing us to better see the unknown. This is the time to revere our ancestors and to say farewell to those that have passed this last year. The Crone Goddess, the ruler of the Otherworld, bids farewell to the Sun God as He passes over into death to face His rebirth at the upcoming Yule. As the Sun God journeys to the Underworld, He gathers unto Himself all those who have passed over to death since the previous Samhain to guide them on their way to the afterlife. For more information see: You Call it Halloween, We Call it Samhain by Peg Aloi