Celebrating the Seasons
Lore and Rituals by Selena Fox
The Solstices, Equinoxes, and mid-points between, also known as the Cross Quarters, have been celebrated by a variety of Nature peoples around the world and across the ages. Today, Wiccans and other Pagans often blend together ancient as well as contemporary approaches to celebrating these seasonal festivals.
The Sabbat cycle I describe here reflects the climate zone in the Northern hemisphere where I live as well as my own multi-cultural, spiritual approach with a Wiccan emphasis. Feel free to adapt these customs to reflect your own environment and spiritual path.
Wheel of the Year: Circle of Sun and Seasons
Pronounced "sow-in," Samhain
is the time during which life and death walk hand in hand. On this day,
the veil that separates the worlds (our plane of living and the plane of the
dead) is at its thinnest. Many things are possible on this holiday.
The God has arrived at the edge of live and is conceived as a seed that will be
reborn soon. The Goddess in the form of the Crone rules, teaching us
lessons and allowing our ancestors to guide us.
Samhain is one of the most maligned and least understood holidays. Contrary to the modern media images of Satanic worship and animal sacrifice, Wiccans believe that this is a time to remember and honor those who have gone before us.
Many of our current day Halloween activities are taken from this holiday. The jack-o-lanterns that we carve and place outside are evolutions of the ancient practice of leaving candles in windows to guide the dead to the underworld. Handing out candy to children was gleamed from the practice of leaving food out to nourish ancestors as they traveled the path to the underworld.
Since the veil is indeed thin, this is the ideal holiday to contact ancestors and initiate communication. Because it is the Wiccan "new year" it is also a time to cut away practices and behaviors that inhibit our growth, and the Crone is present to assist in removing that which is unhealthy from our lives. It is also a time to plan for the future through divination practices. Appropriate rituals include contacting ancestors within sacred circle, honoring the lives of those who have gone before us, releasing destructive habits, divination activities, and all transformation rituals.
Also called: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, All Saints & All
Souls, Day of the Dead
dates: October 31, early November
colors: black, orange, indigo
tools: votive candles, magic mirror, cauldron, pumpkins, divination tools
energy: death & transformation; Wiccan new year
goddesses: Crone, Hecate
gods: Horned Hunter, Cernnunos, Anubis
rituals: honoring ancestors, releasing old, foreseeing future, understanding death and rebirth
customs: jack o'lanterns, spirit plate, ancestor altar, divination, costumes
The Winter Solstice,
sometimes referred to as Yule, celebrates the rebirth of the sun to the earth,
and the solstice itself is the longest (hence, darkest) night of the year.
Throughout the world, from Scotland to Iran to the Americas, ancient and modern
peoples have called forth the sun on the longest night of the year.
You may have noticed that the solstice falls near the Christian holiday of Christmas, and that the word Yule is usually associated with that same holiday. Upon closer inspection, you will find many remnants of the pagan holiday within the current Christian celebrations. For example, the Christmas tree that is erected in many homes is a nod to the original pagan celebration of creating a Yule tree. The sturdy, evergreen tree represents life surviving in the darkest time of the year. The Yule tree was decorated with natural ornaments such as berries, rosebuds, and cinnamon sticks. Candles adorned the tree, representing the light of the sun, soon to be reborn. In many traditions, a Yule log is burned throughout the solstice night to provide a light in the darkest night, symbolizing hope and a belief that the sun will return.
Yule is a time of celebration and rebirth, as the light of the God once again is reborn and shines within our lives. The winter solstice is also the time when the Goddess, in her aspect as Crone, is reborn as the Maiden. Rites to celebrate the return of the sun and the respective rebirths of the God and Goddess are appropriate, as are rituals to guide your spiritual path and honor the lessons learned within the dark time.
Also called: Yule, Jul, Saturnalia, Christmas, solar/secular
dates: around December 21 colors: red, green, white
tools: mistletoe, evergreen wreath, lights, gifts, holly, Yule log, Yule tree
energy: regeneration & renewal
goddesses: Great Mother, Isis, Mary, Tonazin, Lucina, Bona Dea
gods: Sun Child, Horus, Jesus, Mithras, Santa/Odin, Saturn, Holly King
rituals: personal renewal, world peace, honoring family & friends
customs: wreaths, lights, gift-giving, singing, feasting, resolutions
Imbolc, or the
Festival of Brigid, celebrates the growing strength of the God, still in His
child form, as well as the return of the Maiden aspect of the Goddess. As
their strength and light grow, we grow with them. It is a holiday of light
and inspiration, a time when our path becomes more fixed, and the seeds that
will grow later begin to stir within us. The Irish celebration of this
festival was dedicated to the Goddess Brigid, a triple Goddess who represented
inspiration, muse, healing, and the arts. This holiday also celebrated
lambing, and as such the feast of this holiday should contain dairy products if
As with many of the Wiccan Sabbats, Imbolc has made its way into the lives of non-pagans. The foretelling and omen properties of the holiday gradually evolved into Groundhog Day, the day when the end of winter is foretold by the appearance (or non appearance) of the groundhog.
Appropriate rituals for this holiday include celebrations of the Sun or Brigid and the light and inspiration they provide, as well as initiation and Goddess dedication rituals. This is an ideal time to divine your future through tarot, runes or trance. You may also draw upon the growing strength of the Sun to provide inspiration for your growth. If you need to look into the future or past to aid in your path planning, this is the ideal holiday. Finally, light and candles should adorn the ritual area--celebrate, the earth will soon awaken from Her winter sleep!
Also called: Candlemas, Oimelc, Brigid's Day; merged with
dates: February 2, early February
colors: white, red
tools: candles, seeds, Brigid wheel, milk
energy: conception, initiation, inspiration
goddesses: Brigid, Maiden
gods: Groundhog, other creatures emerging from hibernation; young Sun
rituals: creative inspiration, purification, initiation, candle work, house & temple blessings
customs: lighting candles, seeking omens of Spring, cleaning house, welcoming Brigid
Those of us who live, or have
lived, in cold climates where winter may stretch for eons, can tell you with
some glee exactly what the Spring Equinox celebrates--the return
of life and growth to the thawing earth. For the first time since the Fall
Equinox, the time of light and dark in a single day are equal. From this day
forth, Spring will arrive, and with her, a wild spurt of growth begins. Shoots
of young grass appear, leaves sprout on trees, birds and their songs return. The
Spring Equinox is the celebration of the return of the Maiden Goddess, and the
young life energy she brings with her. Winter and the dark time have finally
been put behind us, and the season of growth has begun. This holiday is truly a
celebration of life and nature.
Since the Spring Equinox represents new life and growth, this is the perfect holiday for planting seeds of your own on the path of your life. New ventures may be aided by the spirit of life and growth that abound, and many people decorate eggs at this time with symbols of fertility. Celebrations honoring the Maiden aspect of the Goddess are appropriate, as are celebrations recognizing the strength (physical or emotional) of women and young women. Fairies abound and you might invite a few to celebrate the Equinox with you. This is a time of the Maiden, and all is new and possible. In addition, this holiday is an ideal time to break the last of the chains that may halt our growth.
Also called: Ostara, St. Patrick's Day, Easter
dates: around March 21
colors: green, yellow
tools: eggs, basket, green clothes
energy: birthing, sprouting, greening
goddesses: Ostara, Kore, Maiden
gods: Hare, Green Man
rituals: breakthrough, new growth, new projects, seed blessings
customs: wearing green, egg games, new clothes, egg baskets
Beltaine, is the celebration of two powers joining to bring creation, in this
case, the Goddess and the God. The two form a sacred union, from which
comes creation, growth and harmony. The God, now grown, becomes enraptured
with the Goddess and from their love, all of nature grows and flowers.
There are numerous celebrations and rituals associated with Beltane, or May Eve as it is also called. The most recognizable is the celebration of the Maypole. A large pole, representing the God, is erected, and ribbons of different colors representing the Goddess are wrapped around the pole in a spiral dance. The Maypole and ribbons represent the joining of God and Goddess and symbolize the fertile nature of the season.
This holiday also has an ancient custom associated with it called the "leaping of the flame." In this modern adaptation of the old ritual with a bonfire, a small fire or candle is lit, representing the cleansing aspect of fire. People literally leap the fire, leaving behind negative behaviors or influences. In farming communities, animals were often herded between two fires to ensure their fertility in the coming mating season. Couples may be handfasted on this day, choosing to celebrate the God and Goddess aspect within themselves on this holy day of union.
Appropriate rituals for this holiday include those outlined above, as well as rituals celebrating love between yourself and your partner. You may also want to do work in the physical world to help nature grow, such as tree planting, working in a garden, or other ecological volunteer work.
Also called: May Eve, May Day, Walspurgis Night
dates: April 30, early May
colors: rainbow spectrum, blue, green, pastels, all colors
tools: Maypole & ribbons, flower crowns, fires, bowers, fields
energy: youthful play, exhuberance, sensuality, pleasure
goddesses: May Queen, Flora
gods: May King, Jack in the Green
rituals: love, romance, fertility, crop blessings, creativity endeavors
customs: dancing Maypole, jumping fire, mating, flower baskets
The Summer Solstice,
also called Litha or Midsummer, is the celebration of the sun's peak of power at
the end of the waxing cycle of the wheel. Mirroring the winter solstice,
this is the longest day of the year.
This holiday is celebrated throughout many cultures as the time when the God begins to weaken and leaves the side of the Goddess to travel to the underworld where He will ultimately meet His death. This pending "death" of the God, illustrated in nature by the death of the sun and the coming of winter, is difficult to imagine during the scorching heat of summer. Nevertheless, the wheel of the season turns and we acknowledge His fate, knowing that we have planted seeds that will soon reap benefits before the long winter arrives.
Appropriate rituals for this holiday include personal purifications, charging ritual objects with the sun's power, the making of mead (honey ritual wine) and all healing work.
Also called: Midsummer, Litha, St. John's Day
dates: around June 21
colors: yellow, gold, rainbow colors
tools: bonfires, Sun wheel, Earth circles of stone energy: partnership
goddesses: Mother Earth, Mother Nature
gods: Father Sun/Sky, Oak King
rituals: community, career, relationships, Nature Spirit communion, planetary wellness
customs: bonfires, processions, all night vigil, singing, feasting, celebrating with others
Celebrated on August 1st or 2nd
(depending upon your tradition), the holiday Lughnasad or Lammas
marks the first harvest celebration. It is also referred to sometimes as
the grain holiday. While at the summer solstice the God began His journey
through the underworld, here He continues deeper into the underworld.
Light begins to diminish as the days shorten and we begin the trip towards
The most traditional ritual for this holiday is the baking of bread. The rising of the dough symbolizes the cycle of life--for as the God will soon weaken and go to the Underworld, He will rise again. During this time, you may choose to do volunteer work for the less fortunate to express your thanks for the blessings in your life. This also a good time to banish fears.
Also called: Lughnassad
dates: August 2, early August
colors: orange, yellow, brown, green
tools: sacred loaf of bread, harvested herbs, bonfires
energy: fruitfulness, reaping prosperity
goddesses: Demeter, Ceres, Corn Mother
gods: Grain God, Lugh, John Barleycorn
rituals: prosperity, generosity, continued success
customs: offering of first fruits/grains, games, country fairs
The Fall Equinox,
or Mabon, is celebrated as the final harvest of the season. This holiday
was pivotal in ancient times, since a good final harvest was crucial to
surviving the winter months ahead. This is the time of year where we truly
reap what we have sown and we prepare for the long winter that lays before us.
The day and night are again equal in time and the God has traveled at last to
His place of rest. Now, He has sacrificed the last of Himself to
provide us with a final harvest of food before the winter begins.
Celebrants gather to mark the turning of the wheel and to give thanks for the
ultimate sacrifice of The God, recognizing that He will be reborn at Yule.
This holiday has been called "The Witches' Thanksgiving" and is a time
for feasting together with family and friends.
This is also the time to welcome the season of the Crone. Kore' goes to the Underworld to learn the secrets of the Crone (or in some stories she is kidnapped by Hades), and the earth is bare as Her mother, Demeter, mourns Her loss. But although the winter is before us, we know that the wheel will turn again, life will be reborn, and our blessings are bountiful.
Also called: Mabon, Michaelmas
dates: around September 21
colors: orange, red, brown, purple, blue
tools: cornucopia, corn, harvested crops
energy: appreciation & harvest
goddesses: Bona Dea, Land Mother
gods: Mabon, Sky Father
rituals: thanksgiving, harvest, introspection
customs: offerings to land, preparing for cold weather, bringing in harvest
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