The wheel of the year refers to a year’s worth of seasons and festivals as well as the ongoing
cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Nature, particularly trees and flowering plants, may show the
changes that occur for a year. The wheel is made up of eight sabbats, or holy days, comprising two solstices, two equinoxes, and four “cross-quarter” days. During Wicca’s early years, the equinoxes and solstices, also known as solar festivals or “lesser” sabbats, were customarily celebrated on the nearest full moon day.
The Wheel of the Year represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We follow the Sun God and His relationship with the Goddess through the eight Sabbats. Each Sabbat signifies the coming together of the Sun God and the Goddess. The Wheel of the Year celebrations is traditionally held around a campfire, with loads of food and happiness.
The God and the Goddess
The Wheel of the Year depicts God’s life from (re)birth to death. It also describes the Goddess’s
life and all of Her manifestations. The Sabbat dates are inextricably linked to the Solar position,
which in turn symbolizes every stage of God’s existence.
The Yule Sabbat, for instance, occurs on the Winter Solstice and celebrates the rebirth of the Sun God. While the Ostara Sabbat occurs on the Spring Equinox and reflects both the God and the Goddess’s rejuvenated energies. Following the Wheel of the Year and seeing the changes around us allows us to have a complete grasp of nature and the magic that surrounds us.
The Wiccan year of the wheel was inspired by Margaret Murray, Gerald Gardner, and Aidan Kelly’s work. Murray constructed a calendar in the early 20th century based on traditional pagan festival customs. During the 1950s, Gerald Gardner improved this calendar. Solstices, equinoxes, and aspects of Celtic fire festivals were all included in Gardner’s calendar. Aidan Kelly is credited with coining the name “wheel of the year” for the calendar.
The Eight Sabbats
Samhain: Death and Resumption
Each Sabbat is connected to the natural cycles of the earth and seasons, with Samhain being one of the most important. Samhain, or New Year’s Day, represents the start of the year’s cycle. It means “summer’s end,” which represents the end of the light season and the beginning of the dark season. At Samhain, one expressed appreciation for what had been given the previous year and reflected on what had been lost, particularly ancestors and loved ones who had crossed over to the other side.
Samhain was seen as a time when the line between the living and the dead was the thinnest. This was referred to as an ‘in-between,’. A time when the departed may more easily transfer into the realm of the living. It was believed that one’s relatives and loved ones who had died may appear around this time.
It was customary to prepare a favorite meal and set out delicacies for the spirits of the dead. Halloween bonfires may also be traced back to Samhain. Similarly, the bonfires represented the triumph of light and order over darkness. In celebration of this similar principle, bonfires are still lit throughout the world.
Yule: Rebirth of the Sun God
It is observed on the shortest day of the year, around December 21st, following which the days
gradually lengthen. For many pagans, Yule is an important element of the life cycle of the ‘Child
of Promise,’ who is conceived in Ostara and born at the winter solstice as the ‘Sun Child,’ defeating the powers of darkness and ushering in nature’s victorious return.
Modern Yule events feature light and fire to overcome the long darkness by illuminating candles and lanterns. At Yule, a tree was adorned outside in celebration of the sun god’s birth, and presents were exchanged. The bonfire, which contained the Yule Log, accompanied the adorned tree. The fire represented the revival of light in the land as well as fresh beginnings.
People gathering around the log would sing songs and throw a piece of holly into the flames, signifying the year’s trials. To symbolize continuity, a chunk of the Yule Log was retained to start the next year’s fire.
Imbolc: Growth of the Sun God
Imbolc marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and is
associated with rebirth and cleansing. The festival’s relationship with pregnancy also connects it
to fertility, hope, and the promise of the future, all of which were symbolized in the figure of the
Celtic goddess Brigid.
Brigid was associated with medicine, poetry, childbirth, and sacred springs. Imbolc traditions included constructing Brigid dolls out of corn stalks or sun wheels to signify childbirth, persistence, success, and the life essence of fire. At Imbolc, people looked forward to an early spring, which Brigid represented as a fertility goddess. Imbolc, which has profound Celtic roots, was historically celebrated to welcome a prosperous agricultural season and was devoted to Brigid, the goddess of healing, and poetry.
Ostara: Life that Returns to Earth
Although modern-day pagans regard Ostara as an old holy day, nothing is known about how it was observed before the writings of Jacob Grimm. The association of Ostara with the rabbit and the egg, on the other hand, is very probably old, and there is evidence of a relationship between such symbols and ancient spring festivals in general. With Imbolc commemorating the first signs of spring, Ostara is about enjoying spring in full bloom: flowers blooming tall, trees flowering, and crops being planted. eggs, which are frequently decorated, represent fresh life.
The fresh vitality of spring — the mating season for many animals – is central to much of the
symbolism and ritual here. The God and Goddess marry, and the Child of Promise is born. The
equality of the day reflects God’s twofold nature — his primal sexual impulse vs his conscious
reasoning. Some modern pagans observe the event by casting a man and a woman as the God and Goddess, respectively, and acting out the romance.
Beltane is the traditional Celtic May Eve celebration that takes place at the opposite end of the
year as Samhain. Beltane is a celebration that celebrates the arrival of summer, light, and fertility. Beltane heralds the start of summer, a season when flora and fauna flourish and is marked by the use of May flowers like primrose and gorse to adorn homes and animals. These celebrations featured large bonfires and fires for protection.
Farmers in certain areas would pass their cattle through smoke from a fire to keep them safe from evil The sun God’s mature dedication to the Goddess, his shift from animal passion to love and commitment, is symbolized by the land’s fertility. The spinning of ribbons around the maypole represents fertility and the circle of life. Beltane and Samhain are the times of the year when the barrier between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing the living and the dead to come together and communicate.
Litha, also known as midsummer’s eve, marks the longest day and shortest night of the solar year. Abundance is everywhere as the crops are harvested, the days are pleasant, and the sun’s strength is at its peak. Litha represents the Goddess in her mothering aspect, abundantly offering food and comfort. During Litha, herbs and plants are said to be at their most potent. Litha is usually celebrated outside to take advantage of the lovely summer weather.
Some Covens may stay awake all night to see the dawn rise. One typical ceremony depicts the conflict between the Oak King and the Holly King to represent the fact that there is no light without darkness. Litha is a magically powerful time to focus on love, healing, friendship, and beauty.
Although all Sabbath festivities may include a feast, the feast of Lammas is especially significant since it commemorates the start of the harvest. Bread is frequently used to represent the value of grains, with gifts offered to the God and Goddess to guarantee a successful harvest and to express gratitude for the abundance. Coven rituals might commemorate the sun God’s losing strength and the pregnant Goddess’s increasing power.
Mabon is the second of the wheel’s three harvest celebrations. It is one of the four ‘lesser sabbats’ and is located on the opposite side of the wheel from the Ostara. It roughly corresponds to traditional European harvest festivities that express gratitude and historically commemorate a good cereal harvest and the replenishment of winter food stocks.
Mabon is the second harvest celebration of the year, representing the greatest plenty available to us from the gardens and fields. Mabon, like Ostara, marks the period when day and night are equal in length. To commemorate Mabon, a cornucopia stocked with fruits and vegetables might be used in a ritual to symbolize thanks for the abundance. Covens’ rituals may center on finding balance and offering appreciation for life’s gifts.
Being in touch with nature for the practice of witchcraft might be challenging in today’s world. However, with the Wheel of the Year, we can easily see the movement of the Sun God and have a greater understanding of the energies with which we may operate. Following and honoring it puts us in intimate contact with nature. It’s a wonderful method to connect with the Goddess and God.