The Wheel of the Year is a representation of the eight pagan holidays or Wiccan Sabbats. These holidays honor and celebrate the seasons and cycles of life for those who practice paganism or Wicca. Even those who are not of these spiritual denominations or beliefs recognize these holidays in different ways. It is considered by many to be an earth-based religion.
Where does the wheel start? Considering the Wheel of the Year is a circle and truly has no beginning or end, it is often asked when the new year begins. Some believe the new cycle starts on Samhain as it is the witches' new year. Others believe it falls on or after Yule since that more closely corresponds to our modern calendars. The dates vary when it comes to the solstices and equinoxes because it can vary from year to year, however, they tend to fall within a 3–5-day range.
Yule is held during the winter solstice when our days become shorter. It is the time in which last preparations are made for the coming cold months. It is also a time to remind oneself of the warmth and life-giving source of the sun or fire. Trees are decorated with foods that thrive in the cold months to represent continual growth and life through the dark, cold nights.
Some Christmas traditions come from Yule, such as the use of mistletoe and the use of a yule log, which was believed to have the ability to banish evil spirits and bring good luck. One of the oldest winter traditions in the world, the winter solstice is held on the shortest day of the year.
Imbolc translated literally means "in the belly" in Gaelic. It is called this because it is when the sheep first began to give milk again, signifying they were pregnant.
A joyous occasion, it symbolized the promise of the return of spring and is halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. This is a time in which both crops and animals are blessed to ensure an abundant year that all would be healthy and new life would spring forth soon. Signs of the first buds of spring are appearing.
Maidens and the pagan goddess Brigid are honored on this holiday as they represent fertility. With the conversion to Christianity in Ireland, Brigid the goddess became Saint Brigid, and missionaries incorporated the traditional pagan customs into Christianity in Ireland.
Spring has arrived! Our days are becoming warmer and longer. New life is sprouting all around us. Fertility is abounding and is represented with the hare and eggs, origins of some Easter traditions come from this holiday. Ēostre is a Germanic goddess who became the namesake of the Easter and Ostara traditions.
Beltane is the halfway point between spring equinox and summer solstice. It is an exciting time because spring is now in full bloom, and the longer, warmer days of summer are approaching. The word “Beltane” originates from the Celtic god Bel and the Gaelic word “teine,” which means fire.
A time to give gratitude and thanks to the fertility of spring, festivities start on the eve of May 1st with big beautiful bonfires representing life and end on May 1st with wearing flower crowns and dancing the maypole. Beltane is also considered a time when the veil between worlds is thin as with Samhain; therefore, it is a magical and powerful time. Beltane was also considered to be an important event for celebrating and nurturing the harvest.
Litha is the midsummer celebration of the longest day and shortest night of the year. It is the time when not only all work can be done but enjoyment as well; the days have become long enough to do both. It is also a time when engagements are announced, and blessings are made for a full, abundant crop in the coming harvest.
Traditional methods of celebration include bonfires and torchlight processions—rituals intended to encourage the sun, whose power shall wane throughout the remainder of the season. Many modern pagans refer to Litha simply as “Midsummer.”
The midway point between summer and autumn, this festival marks the first harvest of grains and fruits. It celebrates the new harvest of bread and fresh fruits, gives gratitude for it, and is also the time when many would become married. The festival is named after the Celtic god of light, Lugh, and is the first celebration of autumn and the harvest.
According to legend, Lugh’s mother, Tailtiu, cleared the lands of Ireland to help prepare for the planting of crops. This mythical backstory helps to explain the festival's historical role as a celebration of the harvest.
Mabon is the arrival of autumn and with it the reaping of the harvest. It celebrates the abundance, the fruit of the labor put in throughout the year and signals preparations for the winter soon to come.
Samhain is one of the most important festivals of the year. It is believed to be a very magical time as the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thin. It is on this eve that one honors their passed family, friends and familiars.
Jack o'lanterns are lit to light the way for the passed souls. It is considered a very powerful time and is great to ask for guidance, help, clearing of negativity, and starting of the new year in a positive light. It is a magical time that many still celebrate today.
These are only short explanations of these beautiful pagan holidays. They are truly filled with wonderful traditions, foods, crafts, and gatherings all their own.
The Wheel of the Year and the eight pagan holidays are a representation of the different seasons throughout the year. With each season, there are certain things to ask for or intentions to set that resonate with that particular time of the year. Whether you’re pagan or not, it is good to keep in mind the seasons and what they represent.
Winter is a time of reflection: Hibernation and looking inward is natural during the cold winter months. It is a time in which we can ponder, take a look at the past to learn from it, and contemplate the future and which seeds we want to plant in the coming spring.
Spring brings with it new beginnings, growth, abundance, and fertility. This is the time to set in motion new goals, intentions, and ideas into our life. We are coming out of the cold winter and have reflected and gone inward. Spring beckons us back out to feel the warmer days and plant new seeds, both literally and figuratively.
Summer gives us the longest days of the year, providing more hours for us to accomplish tasks as well as relax, as everything should now be in full bloom. It’s a time to think about what you would like to have come to completion or fruition in your life and to free yourself of those things that will not bring forth a rich harvest.
Autumn allows us to reap our benefits. It’s a time of harvesting and a time when we are able to see the fruit of our labors and hard work we have spent the majority of the year nurturing and tending to. It’s a time to evaluate and recognize the work and seeds we planted back in spring; did it bring forth fruit? By looking at the aspects of our life that bore fruit and those that did not, we can begin to ask ourselves the questions we should be reflecting on during the winter.