The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans, consisting of the year's chief solar events (solstices and equinoxes) and the midpoints between them. While names for each festival vary among diverse pagan traditions, syncretic treatments often refer to the four solar events as "quarter days" and the four midpoint events as "cross-quarter days", particularly in Wicca. Differing sects of modern Paganism also vary regarding the precise timing of each celebration, based on distinctions such as lunar phase and geographic hemisphere.
Observing the cycle of the seasons has been important to many people, both ancient and modern. Contemporary Pagan festivals that rely on the Wheel are based to varying degrees on folk traditions, regardless of actual historical pagan practices. // ), based on Gerald Gardner's claim that the term was passed down from the Middle Ages, when the terminology for Jewish Shabbat was commingled with that of other heretical celebrations. Contemporary conceptions of the Wheel of the Year calendar were largely influenced by mid-20th century British Paganism.Among Wiccans, each festival is also referred to as a sabbat (
Historical and archaeological evidence suggests ancient pagan and polytheist peoples varied in their cultural observations; Anglo-Saxons celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, while Celts celebrated the seasonal divisions with various fire festivals.In the 10th century Cormac Mac Cárthaigh wrote about "four great fires...lighted up on the four great festivals of the Druids...in February, May, August, and November."
The contemporary Neopagan festival cycle, prior to being known as the Wheel of the Year, was influenced by works such as The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (1890) and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret Murray. Frazer claimed that Beltane (the beginning of summer) and Samhain (the beginning of winter) were the most important of the four Gaelic festivals mentioned by Cormac. Murray used records from early modern witch trials, as well as the folklore surrounding European witchcraft, in an attempt to identify the festivals celebrated by a supposedly widespread underground pagan religion that had survived into the early modern period. Murray reports a 1661 trial record from Forfar, Scotland, where the accused witch (Issobell Smyth) is connected with meetings held "every quarter at Candlemas, Rud−day, Lambemas, and Hallomas."In The White Goddess (1948) Robert Graves claimed that, despite Christianization, the importance of agricultural and social cycles had preserved the "continuity of the ancient British festal system" consisting of eight holidays: "English social life was based on agriculture, grazing, and hunting" implicit in "the popular celebration of the festivals now known as Candlemas, Lady Day, May Day, Midsummer Day, Lammas, Michaelmas, All-Hallowe'en, and Christmas; it was also secretly preserved as religious doctrine in the covens of the anti-Christian witch-cult."
By the late 1950s the Bricket Wood coven led by Gerald Gardner and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids led by Ross Nichols had both adopted eight-fold ritual calendars, in order to hold more frequent celebrations. Popular legend holds that Gardner and Nichols developed the calendar during a naturist retreat, where Gardner argued for a celebration of the solstices and equinoxes while Nichols argued for a celebration of the four Celtic fire festivals, and combined the two ideas into a single festival cycle. Though this coordination eventually had the benefit of more closely aligning celebrations between the two early Neopagan groups,Gardner's first published writings omit any mention of the solstices and equinoxes, focusing exclusively on the fire festivals. Gardner initially referred to these as "May eve, August eve, November eve (Hallowe'en), and February eve." Gardner further identified these modern witch festivals with the Gaelic fire festivals Beltene, Lugnasadh, Samhuin, and Brigid. By the mid-1960s, the phrase Wheel of the Year had been coined to describe the yearly cycle of witches' holidays.
Aidan Kelly gave names to the summer solstice (Litha) and equinox holidays (Ostara and Mabon) of Wicca in 1974, and these were popularized by Timothy Zell through his magazine Green Egg.Popularization of these names happened gradually; in her 1978 book Witchcraft For Tomorrow influential Wiccan Doreen Valiente did not use Kelly's names, instead simply identifying the solstices and equinoxes ("Lesser Sabbats") by their seasons. Valiente identified the four "Greater Sabbats", or fire festivals, by the names Candlemas, May Eve, Lammas, and Hallowe'en, though she also identified their Irish counterparts as Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassadh, and Samhain.
Due to early Wicca's influence on Modern Paganism and the syncretic adoption of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic motifs, the most commonly used English festival names for the Wheel of the Year tend to be the Celtic ones introduced by Gardner and the mostly Germanic-derived names introduced by Kelly, even when the celebrations are not based on those cultures. The American Ásatrú movement has adopted, over time, a calendar in which the Heathen major holidays figure alongside many Days of Remembrance which celebrate heroes of the Edda and the Sagas, figures of Germanic history, and the Viking Leif Ericson, who explored and settled Vinland (North America). These festivals are not, however, as evenly distributed throughout the year as in Wicca and other Heathen denominations.
In many traditions of modern Pagan cosmology, all things are considered to be cyclical, with time as a perpetual cycle of growth and retreat tied to the Sun's annual death and rebirth. This cycle is also viewed as a micro- and macrocosm of other life cycles in an immeasurable series of cycles composing the Universe. The days that fall on the landmarks of the yearly cycle traditionally mark the beginnings and middles of the four seasons. They are regarded with significance and host to major communal festivals. These eight festivals are the most common times for community celebrations.
While the "major" festivals are usually the quarter and cross-quarter days, other festivals are also celebrated throughout the year, especially among the non-Wiccan traditions such as those of polytheistic reconstructionism and other ethnic traditions.
In Wiccan and Wicca-influenced traditions, the festivals, being tied to solar movements, have generally been steeped in solar mythology and symbolism, centered on the life cycles of the sun. Similarly, the Wiccan esbats are traditionally tied to the lunar cycles. Together, they represent the most common celebrations in Wiccan-influenced forms of Neopaganism, especially in contemporary Witchcraft groups.
Midwinter, known commonly as Yule or within modern Druid traditions as Alban Arthan,has been recognised as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle since the late Stone Age. The ancient megalithic sites of Newgrange and Stonehenge, carefully aligned with the solstice sunrise and sunset, exemplify this. The reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky symbolizes the rebirth of the solar god and presages the return of fertile seasons. From Germanic to Roman tradition, this is the most important time of celebration.
Practices vary, but sacrifice offerings, feasting, and gift giving are common elements of Midwinter festivities. Bringing sprigs and wreaths of evergreenery (such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, yew, and pine) into the home and tree decorating are also common during this time.
In Roman traditions additional festivities take place during the six days leading up to Midwinter.
The cross-quarter day following Midwinter falls on the first of February and traditionally marks the first stirrings of spring. It aligns with the contemporary observance of Groundhog Day. It is time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year's new life. In Rome, it was historically a shepherd's holiday,while the Celts associated it with the onset of ewes' lactation, prior to birthing the spring lambs.
For Celtic pagans, the festival is dedicated to the goddess Brigid, daughter of The Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Among Reclaiming tradition Witches, this is the traditional time for pledges and rededications for the coming yearand for initiation among Dianic Wiccans.
Derived from a reconstruction produced by linguist Jacob Grimm of an Old High German form of the Old English goddess name Ēostre , Ostara marks the vernal equinox in some modern Pagan traditions.
Known as Alban Eilir, meaning Light of the Earth, to modern Druid traditions, this holiday is the second of three spring celebrations (the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane), during which light and darkness are again in balance, with light on the rise. It is a time of new beginnings and of life emerging further from the grips of winter.
Traditionally the first day of summer in Ireland, in Rome the earliest celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgisnacht celebrations of the Germanic countries.
Since the Christianisation of Europe, a more secular version of the festival has continued in Europe and America, commonly referred to as May Day. In this form, it is well known for maypole dancing and the crowning of the Queen of the May.
Celebrated by many pagan traditions, among modern Druids this festival recognizes the power of life in its fullness, the greening of the world, youthfulness and flourishing.
Midsummer is one of the four solar holidays and is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest. Among the Wiccan sabbats, Midsummer is preceded by Beltane, and followed by Lammas or Lughnasadh.
Some Wiccan traditions call the festival Litha, a name occurring in Bede's The Reckoning of Time (De Temporum Ratione, 8th century), which preserves a list of the (then-obsolete) Anglo-Saxon names for the twelve months. Ærra Liða (first or precedingLiða) roughly corresponds to June in the Gregorian calendar, and Æfterra Liða (followingLiða) to July. Bede writes that "Litha means gentle or navigable, because in both these months the calm breezes are gentle and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea".
Modern Druids celebrate this festival as Alban Hefin, "Light of Summer." The sun in its greatest strength is greeted and celebrated on this holiday. While it is the time of greatest strength of the solar current, it also marks a turning point, for the sun also begins its time of decline as the wheel of the year turns. Arguably the most important festival of the Druid traditions, due to the great focus on the sun and its light as a symbol of divine inspiration. Druid groups frequently celebrate this event at Stonehenge.
Lammas or Lughnasadh ( // ) is the first of the three Wiccan harvest festivals, the other two being the autumnal equinox (or Mabon) and Samhain. Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolise the sanctity and importance of the harvest. Celebrations vary, as not all Pagans are Wiccans. The Irish name Lughnasadh is used in some traditions to designate this holiday. Wiccan celebrations of this holiday are neither generally based on Celtic culture nor centered on the Celtic deity Lugh. This name seems to have been a late adoption among Wiccans. In early versions of Wiccan literature the festival is referred to as August Eve.
The name Lammas (contraction of loaf mass) implies it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolises the first fruits of the harvest. Christian festivals may incorporate elements from the Pagan Ritual.
The holiday of the autumnal equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed (in Neo-Druid traditions), is a modern Pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron , a character from Welsh mythology.Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three Pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas / Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.
Samhain ( // ) is considered by Wiccans to be one of the four Greater Sabbats. Samhain is considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets, and other loved ones who have died. Aligned with the contemporary observance of Halloween and Day of the Dead. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as a festival of light and fertility.
Many Pagans believe that at Samhain the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest point of the whole year, making it easier to communicate with those who have left this world.
In addition to the eight major holidays common to most modern Pagans, there are a number of minor holidays during the year to commemorate various events.
Some of the holidays listed in the "Runic Era Calender" of the Ásatrú Alliance:
Celebration commonly takes place outdoors in the form of a communal gathering.
The precise dates on which festivals are celebrated are often flexible. Dates may be on the days of the quarter and cross-quarter days proper, the nearest full moon, the nearest new moon, or the nearest weekend for secular convenience. The festivals were originally celebrated by peoples in the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, the traditional times for seasonal celebrations do not agree with the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere or near the equator. Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere often advance these dates by six months to coincide with their own seasons.
Offerings of food, drink, various objects, etc. have been central in ritual propitiation and veneration for millennia. Modern Pagan practice strongly avoids sacrificing animals in favour of grains, herbs, milk, wines, incense, baked goods, minerals, etc. The exception being with ritual feasts including meat, where the inedible parts of the animal are often burned as offerings while the community eats the rest.
Sacrifices are typically offered to gods and ancestors by burning them. Burying and leaving offerings in the open are also common in certain circumstances. The purpose of offering is to benefit the venerated, show gratitude, and give something back, strengthening the bonds between humans and divine and between members of a community.
It is a misconception in some quarters of the Neopagan community, influenced by the writings of Robert Graves,that historical Celts had an overarching narrative for the entire cycle of the year. While the various Celtic calendars include some cyclical patterns, and a belief in the balance of light and dark, these beliefs vary between the different Celtic cultures. Modern preservationists and revivalists usually observe the four 'fire festivals' of the Gaelic Calendar, and some also observe local festivals that are held on dates of significance in the different Celtic nations.
Slavic mythology tells of a persisting conflict involving Perun, god of thunder and lightning, and Veles, the black god and horned god of the underworld. Enmity between the two is initiated by Veles' annual ascent up the world tree in the form of a huge serpent and his ultimate theft of Perun's divine cattle from the heavenly domain. Perun retaliates to this challenge of the divine order by pursuing Veles, attacking with his lightning bolts from the sky. Veles taunts Perun and flees, transforming himself into various animals and hiding behind trees, houses, even people. (Lightning bolts striking down trees or homes were explained as results of this.) In the end Perun overcomes and defeats Veles, returning him to his place in the realm of the dead. Thus the order of the world is maintained.
The idea that storms and thunder are actually divine battle is pivotal to the changing of the seasons. Dry periods are identified as chaotic results of Veles' thievery. This duality and conflict represents an opposition of the natural principles of earth, water, substance, and chaos (Veles) and of heaven, fire, spirit, order (Perun), not a clash of good and evil. The cosmic battle between the two also echoes the ancient Indo-European narrative of a fight between the sky-borne storm god and chthonic dragon.
On the great night (New Year), two children of Perun are born, Jarilo, god of fertility and vegetation and son of the Moon, and Morana, goddess of nature and death and daughter of the Sun. On the same night, the infant Jarilo is snatched and taken to the underworld, where Veles raises him as his own. At the time of the spring equinox, Jarilo returns across the sea from the world of the dead, bringing with him fertility and spring from the evergreen underworld into the realm of the living. He meets his sister Morana and courts her. With the beginning of summer, the two are married bringing fertility and abundance to Earth, ensuring a bountiful harvest. The union of Perun's kin and Veles' stepson brings peace between two great gods, staving off storms which could damage the harvest. After the harvest, however, Jarilo is unfaithful to his wife and she vengefully slays him, returning him to the underworld and renewing enmity between Perun and Veles. Without her husband, god of fertility and vegetation, Morana – and all of nature with her – withers and freezes in the ensuing winter. She grows into the old and dangerous goddess of darkness and frost, eventually dying by the year's end only to be reborn again with her brother in the new year.
In Wicca, the narrative of the Wheel of the Year traditionally centres on the sacred marriage of the God and the Goddess and the god/goddess duality. In this cycle, the God is perpetually born from the Goddess at Yule, grows in power at the vernal equinox (as does the Goddess, now in her maiden aspect), courts and impregnates the Goddess at Beltane, reaches his peak at the summer solstice, wanes in power at Lammas, passes into the underworld at Samhain (taking with him the fertility of the Goddess/Earth, who is now in her crone aspect) until he is once again born from Her mother/crone aspect at Yule. The Goddess, in turn, ages and rejuvenates endlessly with the seasons, being courted by and giving birth to the Horned God.
Many Wiccan, Neo-Druid, and eclectic Neopagans incorporate a narrative of the Holly King and Oak King as rulers of the waning year and the waxing year respectively. These two figures battle endlessly with the turning of the seasons. At the summer solstice, the Holly King defeats the Oak King and commences his reign. 94 After the Autumn equinox the Oak King slowly begins to regain his power as the sun begins to wane. Come the winter solstice the Oak King in turn vanquishes the Holly King. :137After the spring equinox the sun begins to wax again and the Holly King slowly regains his strength until he once again defeats the Oak King at the summer solstice. The two are ultimately seen as essential parts of a whole, light and dark aspects of the male God, and would not exist without each other.:
The Holly King is often portrayed as a woodsy figure, similar to the modern Santa Claus, dressed in red with sprigs of holly in his hair and the Oak King as a fertility god.
Beltane or Beltain is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Irish the name for the festival day is Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh—and is similar to the Welsh Calan Mai.
The Horned god is one of the two primary deities found in Wicca and some related forms of Neopaganism. The term Horned god itself predates Wicca, and is an early 20th-century syncretic term for a horned or antlered anthropomorphic god partly based on historical horned deities.
Imbolc or Imbolg, also called (Saint) Brigid's Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. It is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. For Christians, especially in Ireland, it is the feast day of Saint Brigid.
Lammas Day, also known as Loaf Mass Day, is a Christian holiday celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere on 1 August. It is a festival to mark the annual wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. The name originates from the word "loaf" in reference to bread and "Mass" in reference to the primary Christian liturgy celebrating Holy Communion.
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasadh. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Similar festivals are held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands, for example the Brittonic Calan Gaeaf, Kalan Gwav, and Kalan Goañv.
Wicca, also termed Pagan Witchcraft, is a modern Pagan religion. Scholars of religion categorise it as both a new religious movement and as part of the occultist stream of Western esotericism. It was developed in England during the first half of the 20th century and was introduced to the public in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant. Wicca draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan and 20th-century hermetic motifs for its theological structure and ritual practices.
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, and in Manx: Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. However, in recent centuries some of the celebrations shifted to the Sundays nearest this date. Lughnasadh is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane. It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas.
Alexandrian Wicca or Alexandrian Witchcraft is a tradition of the Neopagan religion of Wicca, founded by Alex Sanders who, with his wife Maxine Sanders, established the tradition in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. Alexandrian Wicca is similar in many ways to Gardnerian Wicca, and receives regular mention in books on Wicca as one of the religion's most widely recognized traditions.
M. Macha NightMare is an American Neopagan witch. She was born in Milford, Connecticut and was one of the founders of the Reclaiming Collective in the 1970s.
Green Egg is a Neopagan magazine published by the Church of All Worlds intermittently since 1968. The Encyclopedia of American Religions described it as a significant periodical.
Wiccan views of divinity are generally theistic, and revolve around a Goddess and a Horned God, thereby being generally dualistic. In traditional Wicca, as expressed in the writings of Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, the emphasis is on the theme of divine gender polarity, and the God and Goddess are regarded as equal and opposite divine cosmic forces. In some newer forms of Wicca, such as feminist or Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is given primacy or even exclusivity. In some forms of traditional witchcraft that share a similar duotheistic theology, the Horned God is given precedence over the Goddess.
Neopaganism in the United States is represented by widely different movements and organizations. The largest Neopagan religious movement is Wicca, followed by Neodruidism. Both of these religions or spiritual paths were introduced during the 1950s and 1960s from Great Britain. Germanic Neopaganism and Kemetism appeared in the US in the early 1970s. Hellenic Neopaganism appeared in the 1990s.
In the modern Pagan new religious movement of Heathenry, various publications identify a number of holidays, to some extent based on medieval references to sacrifices observed in historical Norse paganism or reconstructions of an early Germanic calendar, but frequently also inspired by the "Wheel of the Year" popular in Wicca, and sometimes also based on ad hoc innovation, e.g. the various "Days of Remembrance" introduced by The Troth.
Contemporary Paganism, including Wicca in various forms, Reclaiming (Neopaganism), and witchcraft, is a growing minority religious group in Australia. As in forms on Neopaganism elsewhere, some pagans work as solitary practitioners and others form groups such as covens. Covens may or not be hierarchical, depending on the tradition. Gardnerian and Alexandrian covens tend to be hierarchical, with coven led by a Priest and High Priestess. Reclaiming covens and working groups practise non-hierarchical modes of group dynamics, with group members co-creating rituals and events, although there may be 'facilitators' and other roles allotted at a given gathering.
The Holly King and Oak King are personifications of the winter and summer in various folklore and mythological traditions. The two kings engage in endless "battle" reflecting the seasonal cycles of the year: not only solar light and dark, but also crop renewal and growth. During warm days of Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength; the Holly King regains power at the Autumn equinox, then his strength peaks during Midwinter, at which point the Oak King is reborn, regaining power at the Spring equinox, and perpetuating the succession.
Rhiannon Ryall is the pseudonym of an English-born Australian Wiccan who achieved notoriety for her controversial claims regarding the existence of a group of Wiccans living in England's West Country during the 1940s. These claims were first publicised in 1993 when the English company Capall Bann published Ryall's West Country Wicca: A Journal of the Old Religion, in which she made the claims that when growing up along the borders between the English counties of Devon and Somerset, she was initiated into a local Wiccan tradition that many of the people in the surrounding villages were members of. Claiming that they were "pre-Gardnerian", she asserted that her family had not been Wiccan, and as such she was not a hereditary witch, but that aged sixteen, she, like many other boys and girls who were the same age, were taken to the female "Elders of the village" who taught them about the Craft.
Minnesota's Twin Cities region is home to a large community of Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens, and a number of Pagan organizations. Some neopagans in the USA refer to the area as Paganistan, a term coined by linguist, poet, and humorist Steven Posch in 1989, which he then used in the title of his spoken word album Radio Paganistan : Folktales of the Urban Witches.
Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco is an anthropological study of the Reclaiming Wiccan community of San Francisco. It was written by the Scandinavian theologian Jone Salomonsen of the California State University, Northridge and first published in 2002 by the Routledge.
Neopaganism in South Africa is primarily represented by the traditions of Wicca, contemporary Witchcraft, Germanic neopaganism and Neo-Druidism. The movement is related to comparable trends in the United States and Western Europe and is mostly practiced by White South African of urban background; it is to be distinguished from folk healing and mythology in local Bantu culture.
Pierre Claveloux Davis, also known as Pete Pathfinder (1937-2014), was a religious figure in modern Paganism. He founded the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) in 1985, in Index, Washington, and served as its archpriest. He was also involved with several publications and related organizations. Davis advocated for Wicca and Paganism as an expert witness, and was part of a group of people who successfully petitioned for the pentacle to be available as a symbol used on U.S. veteran's headstones.
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