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An Overview of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year

Sage has been celebrating the Wheel of the Year for 25+ years, and being a holiday junkie, she just can't get enough of the sabbats!

Wiccan Holidays

One thing in Wicca I find most beautiful and meaningful is the Wheel of the Year. It's referred to as a "wheel" because it's continually turning; there's no end and no beginning. Over the course of the year, there are special points. These points mark our Sabbats—holy days of observation.

There are eight Wiccan Sabbats around the Wheel of the Year. Four of these are known as the "quarters"—these are the two solstices and two equinoxes, or the "Lesser Sabbats." The others are known as "cross-quarters"—the day that falls mid-way between the quarters, also known as the "Greater Sabbats."

The Wheel of the Year is like a tapestry that weaves life, the universe, and everything into a bigger picture. There are multiple layers to the meaning within each sabbat that work together harmoniously. Let's explore the overall Wheel.

If you want to celebrate the next sabbat on the Wheel of the Year, look here for ideas.

The Wiccan Wheel of the Year

an-overview-of-the-wiccan-wheel-of-the-year

The Eight Wiccan Sabbats

*Names and dates for the Sabbats can vary depending on location and tradition.

The SabbatsCommon DatesSeasonal Meaning

Winter Solstice/Yule

circa December 21

zenith of winter

Imbolc

February 1

beginning of spring

Spring Equinox/Ostara

circa March 21

zenith of spring

Beltane

May 1

beginning of summer

Summer Solstice/Litha

circa June 21

zenith of summer

Lughnasadh

August 1

beginning of autumn

Autumn Equinox/Mabon

circa September 21

zenith of autumn

Samhain

October 31

beginning of winter

The Four Seasons

Celebrating the Seasons

The most obvious meaning to the sabbats is that they're seasonal celebrations. Notice how they differ from the secular calendar. In contrast, the secular calendar considers the solstices and the equinoxes to be the beginning of each new season, the Wiccan Wheel of the Year considers them the high point of the season. This makes more sense in terms of each being an extreme:

  • The Winter Solstice is the longest night/shortest day of the year, the height of winter.
  • The Summer Solstice is the longest day/shortest night of the year, the height of summer.
  • The Spring Equinox is when day and night are equal, but daylight begins to overtake the darkness.
  • The Autumn Equinox is when day and night are equal, but darkness begins to overtake the daylight.

Celebrating the Agricultural Cycle

The next layer of meaning in the Wiccan sabbats is that they celebrate the agricultural cycle. Wicca is a religion that reveres nature and our connection to the land. This cycle was of such importance to our Pagan ancestors. They depended on it because they lived off the land in ways that most of us no longer think about. We can now store meat in the fridge, buy canned veggies, or have our fresh fruit transported from other parts of the world. We have heaters and air conditioners. We don't have to work the land anymore. Because of this, we forget that we are part of an interdependent web of life; we forget just how important the planet is to us.

A Lovely Wheel of the Year Plaque:

Dividing the Year

The Wheel of the Year reminds us to take time and think about how dependent on and connected to nature we really are. This ebbing and flowing of nature is something we can attune with by observing the Wheel, even if we don't farm or hunt. Agriculturally, The Wheel of the Year can be divided up as follows:

The fertility festivals:

  • Imbolc
  • Ostara
  • Beltane

The harvest festivals:

  • Lughnasadh
  • Mabon
  • Samhain

The seasons of rest:

  • Yule
  • Litha

The Cycle of Life

Celebrating the Life Cycle

Within the Wheel of the Year, in the Earth's annual journey around the Sun, we can see a reflection of our journey. The cycle of the seasons reflects the cycles of our lives. In the span of the year in nature, we see mirrored what lies behind us and what lies ahead.

The associations between the seasons and the parts of our lives are as follows:

  • Yule = birth (or rebirth)
  • Imbolc = childhood
  • Ostara = puberty
  • Beltane = sexual awakening/transition to adulthood
  • Litha = middle age/prime of life
  • Lughnasadh = aging
  • Mabon = senior citizenship
  • Samhain = death

Celebrating the Stages and Phases of Life

Along with the ages of life, there are various stages of life that we experience over and over. We go through phases repeatedly. Like the seasons, just like our lives, everything naturally has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Part of the meaning of the Wheel of the Year is celebrating these.

Associations for the different seasons include:

  • Yule = hope; new beginnings; moving on
  • Imbolc = awakenings; stirrings; being cleansed and purified
  • Ostara = planning; starting things; "sowing seeds"
  • Beltane = personal growth; unions; relationships
  • Litha = taking a break; having some fun; getting over the "humps" of our endeavors
  • Lughnasadh = hard work; efforts; learning; skill
  • Mabon = being grateful; reaping what you sow; rewards for efforts
  • Samhain = reflecting; getting through transitions; letting go

Connecting To Our Gods

Celebrating the Bigger Picture

One final layer of our Wheel of the Year celebrations is on a level beyond nature and ourselves. They are on a spiritual level that links us to the Divine and unite us all in the human experience-- things universally experienced through the soul, that greater connection through which we're all connected. These are revealed through myths. Myths are not something we take as literally true-- they transmit the wisdom of the ages.

The myths observed around the Wheel of the Year vary from culture to culture. One most common generic, simple form of the myth is that the God-- the bringer of life-- represents the sun that nurtures the earth. He's the sacrificial king. It's his life represented by the Wheel. Each year he dies at Samhain only to be reborn at the Winter Solstice.

The Goddess -- the keeper of life -- represents the earth. She has three aspects. The first is the Maiden, where she falls in love and is filled with life by the young, virile God. The second is as Mother when she gives birth to and nurtures life. The final aspect is the Old Wise One, the one to guide us to the afterlife and helps us prepare for rebirth.

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is not an ancient cycle of holidays. Though many of the days on them are based on older festivals, the Wheel came from the 20th century, from the Wiccan religion, and has been embraced by many NeoPagans and Witches in the Pagan revival.

In Wicca, it's an integral part of our world view. The sabbats don't need to be huge wild parties, but they should be observed, even in some small way. On the other hand, there is no better way to get out and participate in our Pagan community than to go to a sabbat celebration.

The importance of the sabbat has always been summed up nicely for me through the words of a song from the 1973 Children's movie, Charlottes Web.

This Song Says it All

So allow me to close with the following quote from the movie:

How very special are we

for just a moment to be

part of life's eternal rhyme

How very special are we

to have on our family tree

Mother Earth and Father Time

If You Celebrate the Wheel of the Year

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright

Comments

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on July 09, 2015:

Thanks MG, I'm glad it could be of help to you! Thanks for your comment.

MG Seltzer from South Portland, Maine on July 09, 2015:

This is great! I have a lot of Wiccan fends and I don't really understand their celebrations so I appreciate the chance to learn. Well-done Hub. Thumbs up, of course!

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on January 10, 2014:

Thanks so much fivesenses; glad you enjoyed.

Leena from new delhi on January 10, 2014:

Pretty interesting and informative...voted and shared.

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on January 05, 2014:

Thank you Catgypsy! Your comments are much appreciated.

catgypsy from the South on January 04, 2014:

Another wonderful and informative hub WiccanSage. I love the song.

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on January 04, 2014:

Thanks for your comments, My Cook Book.

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on January 04, 2014:

Thank you Nadine. That has been one of my favorite songs since that movie came out in the 1970s, since becoming Wiccan it's really been a theme for the seasons. I appreciate your comments, thank you for stopping by!

Dil Vil from India on January 04, 2014:

Good hub, interesting one. Thank you for sharing.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on January 04, 2014:

Thanks for this very informative hub. Love the mother Earth and father time you tube clip.

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