Pagan Sabbats - Understanding the Wheel of the Year

Samhain Night of October 31st  

The Grand Sabbat, The Night of all Hallows,  The Feast of the Dead and the Pagan New Year  

Those who have passed over are remembered and honoured on this night that marks the end of summer and the dying of the light. Food and Lanterns were left outside house to guide returning spirits home. As at all 8 Sabbats the borders between the land of the living and the inhabitants of the otherworld are open but Samhain is the most prominent and powerful. It is a time of reflection and sacrifice and acceptance of the inevitable tides of life and death. The Sun is in Scorpio, a sign of the dark secrets and mystery of regeneration. The image of a man burning in the fire of transformation was kept alive in Britain in the form of the Bonfire Night and this truly belongs to Samhain. Fires play an importance at all Sabbats but at Samhain they are also muted into pumpkin lanterns, grinning faces like skulls. People dress in dark clothes; wear masks and paint, and feel close to the folk of the fairy world and the joker of death.

Yule - December 21st (approx.)  

Midwinter, The Winter Solstice,  The Longest Night and Shortest Day  

The Sun reaches its lowest ebb in northern skies as it enters Saturn’s sign of Capricorn the Goat. But from this moment it grows again, and everyone will celebrate as the sun god is successfully reborn from the womb of the earth goddess on this longest night. Fires, warmth and merriment follow as we honour the turning of the year and bring light to the dark. This season can stretch to Twelve Holy Nights; one for each month or zodiac sign of the sun’s annual journey. Plants that are alive and green in midwinter like the holly, the ivy and the mysterious mistletoe are representative of this Sabbat. The Holly King rises as the Oak King retires and the Yule log burns as we eat and drink and give gifts to our true loves. 

Imbolc - February 2nd  

Candlemas, The Day of Brigid. Brigantia,  Feast of Torches and Groundhog Day  

The earth shows the first signs of the coming spring. To honour the increase in fertility and light, candles and torches mark this celebration of purification long associated with the goddess Brigid. Measuring the light and shadows on this day was once of rural importance in predicting the warmth of spring and the festival initiates and invigorates the quickening of the land. The Sun is in Aquarius at Imbolc giving a slightly offbeat energy, and it is parallel to the Scorpio feast of Samhain (the hours of daylight are roughly the same at both Sabbats). Where Samhain was entering and honouring darkness Imbolc is joyfully emerging from it. 

Ostara The Full Moon after the Spring Equinox.

Easter, The Festival of Spring  

On or very near to the 21st of March the sun god is truly reborn as it crosses the Celestial Equator and enters the sign of Aries and the start of the zodiac year. As the sun rises exactly due east it is the resurrection of life on earth, the days and nights are equal, the planetary hours are equal, and buds, blossoms and early flowers are visible proof that this is the first Day of Spring. The official Easter holiday is unique in being the only surviving festival still held that is determined by the position of both Sun and Moon, hence its varying calendar date. Because both Sun and Moon are involved in its calculation Ostara joins the potent youthful God and the fertile mother Goddess together in a way that no other Sabbat can, unless such a combination happens accidentally (a full moon on the day of a solstice for instance), and the equality of masculine and feminine power make this a colourful creative event with its symbols of leaping March hares, fertile eggs and shining risen Gods.

Beltane  Night of April 30th leading to May 1st

May Eve, May Day, Walpurgis Night  

Six months from Samhain, halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, Beltane is the start of summer, the morning of the year, and is one of the greater Sabbats or fire festivals. It is an unfettered celebration of the vigour and fertility of life.  To dance in circles around the phallic Maypole under the smiling eyes of the Queen of the May weaves the threads of life into a multi-coloured womb or web. The May king and queen make their union. The Sun is in Taurus, the earthiest of Earth signs, and ruled by Venus. It is a favourite time for marriages and handfastings. Children conceived on this night were traditionally blessed by the green earth and the shining stars. As at Samhain, outdoor fires are a feature amidst the general revelry of this festival, with couples jumping over the flames to ensure fertility, abundance and good luck. 

Litha - June 21st (approx.) 

Midsummer Day, Midsummer Night.  The Longest Day and the Summer Solstice  

The Sun stands still for three days at its height in the northern sky. The moment of solstice is when the Sun enters Cancer the Crab and is overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, but the joyful gentle energy is spread over the several days that follow.  The moment of Solstice is sacred; monuments like Stonehenge were supposedly built for it, with the merriment and feasting which is also a necessary feature to come after. The earth is bountiful with life and colour, scents, fruits and flowers. The world of faerie is close at hand. Light has defeated Dark. The Oak king rises and the Holly king retires.  

Lammas - August 1st   

August Eve, First Harvest, Loaf-fest,  Loafmas, Feast of First Fruits, Lughnasadh  

The Northern hemisphere of the Earth is at the height of summer in terms of climate with the Lion heat of the Sun in Leo, but the long evenings are noticeably starting to shorten and the hours of daylight are now roughly equal to those in the first half of May. Lammas celebrates a first harvest and the baking of cakes and loafs of bread in various designs. These are blessed and eaten ceremoniously or broken into parts to use for protection of the stored food and grain.  

Mabon - September 23rd (approx.)  

Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home  

Days and nights are equal as the Sun enters the sign of Libra the Balance and crosses the Celestial Equator heading south. From this point the nights get longer and the days get shorter until the shortest day of all at Yule. The warmth of the Sun is leaving the Earth and it is the time to give thanks to Father Sun and Mother Earth for the bounty their union has provided over the summer. It is the time of the harvest festivals, fully completing the initial harvest celebration at Lammas, sharing and offering the fruits of the earth to the God and Goddess, ensuring their favour through the coming winter.