The Turning Of The Wheel Posted on 31 Jan 14:33
In the Pagan community, it is common for groups and circles to come together to celebrate the annual cycles of The Sabbats.
Based on the Celtic ‘Wheel of the Year’ Calendar, we celebrate the journey of time and the passing of the seasons, which are attuned to the natural rhythms and cycles of nature.
The four main sabbats;- Spring Equinox, Midsummer, Autumn Equinox and Yule, are placed at the cardinal points of East, South, West and North with the four Celtic festivals; - Imbolc (north-east), Beltane (south-east), Lammas (south-west) and Samhain (north-west) placed between them.
Now every branch of Paganism celebrates the passing of the seasons differently, and so below we have noted what each sabbat means to us. If you're new to this wonderful calender, it is a good place to start, but we always recommend our readers research further.
Imbolc occurs on February 2nd. It is when the God steps aside so that the Goddess can be in more favour, leaving her 'Crone' phase to enter as 'The Maiden'. It is when the first plantings of spring crops occur and when the Earth Goddess prepares for her consort, the Sun God to return.
Imbolc involves the lighting of ritual fires which symbolises birth, healing and inspiration. A lit candle, carried through the house, room by room is a way to banish darkness and encourage the return of the sun’s light and the eagerly awaited warmth of spring.
A major symbol of Imbolc is the Candle Wheel. A small circular frame of lighted candles that are either worn by the High Priestess or carried into the ritual circle.
Another symbol is the Grain Dolly, which is made of last years grain sheaves twisted or woven to represent the figure of the Goddess.
Imbolc is a time for cleansing and purification. Initiations happen more often around this time as well as the retaking of vows of dedication to the Goddess.
For decoration, evergreen plants or willow are traditional, with the candle colours being pink or pale green.
Ostara is the celebration of the Spring Equinox which usually falls on or around March 21st. It’s a celebration the Goddess and God coming together to mate. It represents new beginnings, the balance between day and night, where the light is overtaking the darkness and the rebirth of life with plants starting to re-emerge, a symbol of the fertility of the year to come.
This Pagan festival is symbolised by eggs as they represent rebirth. You may notice the similarities of the Christian holiday of Easter, who appropriated the tradition later on.
The decorations for Ostara should be your favourite spring flowers, you altar candle should be light green.
This is the time where you should be thinking about new beginnings and fresh ideas. A time for growth and change.
Beltane is celebrated on May 1st. It celebrates the coming of summer, and thus the marriage of the Goddess and God. It represents the end of the spring planting season and the movement from hunting, as the main source of food, to farming.
Both Beltane and Ostara are fertility festivals, Beltane in particular is a holiday of rejoicing and merriment, for example, the Maypole and the Maypole Dance - a readily acknowledgment of phallic symbolism and still a tradition in many villages and towns today in Britain.
The bells that are rung throughout the morning along the bells the dancers wore around their ankles, was a mean to scare away any bad spirits and to bring forth protection. The bells are then hung above the entrances to homes until the following year.
Beltane is from the Celtic word meaning ‘balefire’. A Beltane fire is lit on May Eve in the village, where it is traditional of the Pagan community to take home with them some smoldering embers from the fire to start their own cooking fires.
Jumping over the smoldering balefire is thought to insure protection for the individual, even livestock was driven through its smoke for the same reason. Likewise, any tools or equipment you wish to purify should also be passed through the smoke of the Beltane Fire.
The decorations for Beltane is again, any spring flower, though roses are better as they are the symbol of Beltane. Your altar candle can be white, pink or red, each a symbol of love and affection.
It is a time to appreciate the love given by your partner or by the God and Goddess themselves and to dwell on the new beginnings and ideas you had at Ostara.
Litha, or Midsummer Festival is the celebration of the Sun and represents the peak of the God’s strength, celebrated on June 21st.
Litha is the midpoint of the year, the longest day, and the beginning of preparation for the winter months.
It is a time for family and friends, celebrations and gatherings (Stonehenge has a huge gathering every year, the atmosphere is impossible not to fall in love with) and entertainment, usually around a bonfire to ward off evil spirits. Other customs include decorating your home with birch, St. John’s wort and white lilies. Litha is known for the blessing of animals, and the decorations are usually summer flowers and a pale yellow or white candle.
Lammas, also more traditionally known as Lughnasadh, occurs on August 1st. It’s a holiday where we celebrate the harvest , a time for feasting and honoring.
It is about the way we honor the god Lugh, which is where this sabbat gets its name from. Lammas was the medieval Christian name for this holiday, meaning “loaf mass”.
It was traditional to hold craft fairs and festivals where the highlight was a large wooden wagon wheel was taken to the top of a hill, covered in tar and set alight, to then be rolled down the hill, symbolizing the God in his decline.
Portions of the harvest would be plowed back into the fields as a sacrifice to ensure remaining crops flourish at the time of harvest, honoring, as well as the god Lugh, but Earth Mother.
For decoration, nuts and grains are perfect as well as late summer flowers with candles being either gold or bright yellow.
Mabon, which is the Autumn Equinox or Harvest Home, is the holiday of rest, where we be thankful to the Goddess for the yield in crop and ask for her blessing for the future. This sabbat usually falls upon September 21st, though this can vary from year to year.
It represents another day of balance, like Ostara, though it is the time of year where darkness overtakes the light.
After the ritual is complete for Mabon, there is usually a large feast containing all of the crops harvested, where everyone comes together to give their thanks and blessings for the previous year, and to accept and be grateful for everything you have been given.
For decoration, you can use any of the harvest food, such as apples, wheat, corn, grapes or peaches. The candles are usually red or dark brown.
Samhain, or as most people know it, Halloween, occurs on October 31st. It is the feast of the dead, where the veil between the dead and living is drawn close to one another.
In Celtic, Samhain simply means “summer’s end”, thus this is the end of autumn and the beginning of winter.
In the past, it was thought that summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter was between Samhain and Beltane. Therefore in most Pagan communities, Samhain is considered the Celtic New Year Sabbat.
It is a time for possible travel between worlds, where the dead can come back from the Summerland for one night and share in the joys with their families or tribes. Samhain is also a celebration of reincarnation, as the old God dies, to be reborn at Yule, as the Wheel of the Year continues to turn.
Extra place settings are set at dinner tables for anyone who had died that year, and food offerings are left on your doorstep for weary souls travelling between worlds.
It’s also a night for fun and festivities where mischievous pranks will be played on one another, only to blame the spirits, and where there’s more feasting from the harvest of that year and from the final slaughter of animals.
You can see the origin of Halloween, and the tradition now of young kids (sometimes adults, we know your secret...) dressing up as scary ghosts or goblins, knocking on your door for treats and sweets and then ‘TPeeing’ your house if you cannot provide.
Carved turnips were the original jack-o’-lanterns and were carried by Celtic travellers going from feast to feast to help deter wandering spirits from interfering with the celebrations, which has now been replaced by pumpkins, mainly to light the way for the kids so they don’t damage themselves making their way to your door.
For decorations, autumn fruits such as apples, berries, grains and nuts are suitable and candles are either orange, brown or black.
Yule celebrates the birth of the young sun God on the shortest day of the year, usually around December 21st. It is the Winter Solstice, where we celebrate the Goddess becoming the Great Mother, giving birth to the God who died at Samhain previously and the return of the sun from the longest night of the year.
The wreath is a typical Yule decoration, it symbolizes the Wheel of the Year to help the Goddess in the birth of our God. The Celts would decorate evergreen trees with nuts, fruits, coins and ribbons (or if they were very brave, candles).
The yule log is another Celtic custom, where the log would be decorated in evergreen leaves and holly branches, which would be lit at sunset and left to burn until sunrise, representing the sun returning.
Decorations are usually holly, mistletoe, pine branches or pine cones, with candles being purple or dark green.