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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pagan Basics: The Wiccan Wheel of the Year

The term "Wheel of the Year" refers to the cycle of Wiccan Sabbats, or holidays. Time, to Wiccans, and most Pagans, is cyclical, just as their view of life is. The Sabbats are the eight solar festivals of the year. They occur aproxamately every 6 weeks throughout the year and celebrate the stages of, and movement of, the sun throughout the year.

The Wheel is NOT historical, although some may falsely make this claim. The names and some of the purposes of the Wiccan Sabbats come from a variety of Pagan Holidays from a variety of Pre-Christian cultures. The Major Sabbats are mostly "Celtic-based" or linked. While the Minor Sabbats have a closer relationship with the Germanic Based cultures/religions (such as the Saxons, Norse and Anglo peoples.)  Because of this there is some variation on their traditions and some duplications of significances between adjoining major and minor Sabbats. However, most Modern Day Wiccans DO have a rather neatly defined life cycle of the God and Goddess through the year.

The Wheel is composed of two equinoxes and two solstices, that make up the four "Minor" Sabbats. And the four "Cross-Quarter" days which make up the four Major Sabbats. These cross-quarter days are usually listed in books with specific dates, while the solstices and equinoxes are astronomically determined. However, some almanacs and date books will usually also list these Cross-Quarter days on their Astronomically determined dates as well. It's most likely that the specific dates have come in more modern days as these dates were traditionally related with different aspects of life - such as the first births of the cattle or the end of the harvest - and would have been related more to weather and health than to trying to meet some pre-written deadline. Some traditions and/or individuals celebrate these days by the "calendar" dates, others by the astronomical dates and others move their celebrations to fit with their own needs and beliefs (which is, after all, more than likely what the Ancient Cultures did.)

If you are unfamiliar with Wicca, you will without doubt notice a heavy similarity between Wiccan and Christian (especially European Christian) holidays. This is because both religions have been heavily influenced by the same pagan history and peoples.

Wiccan Sabbats - like Jewish Holidays - begin at dusk the day before (by our modern calendar) because in the Celtic world, days began at dusk - night came first! So when you see "November 1st" the Sabbat actually begins at dusk on October 31st.
**As a note, their year also began with the beginning of Winter or the "Dark Half" of the year.

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Samhain (sow'en) - Major Sabbat
15 degrees of Scorpio, or November 1st
Wiccan Mythology:  The Death of the God. Pregnant Goddess takes the form of the Crone and mourns the loss of her lover.
Samhain is the Celtic/Wiccan New Year as well as the Feast of the Dead. It's a time to honor the past. Show honor to and remember our ancestors, as well as any other loved ones we have lost  - especially those who have passed in the past year. It's also a time to reflect upon the last years events and decisions, think about how we have grown and make plans for the new, upcoming year. Samhain is the perfect time for divination! As well as a wonderful opportunity for us to work on banishing those personal qualities and other life aspects which we don't want to have by the end of the next year!

Mid-Winter Solstice - Minor Sabbat
Often referred to as Yule
Usually occurs between December 21 and 23
Wiccan Mythology:  The Birth of the God. Goddess
Celebrated as the "birth of light" or "birth of the sun" from the darkness. It is a celebration of life as well as the returning light. From this day on the days will get longer little by little until the warmth and abundance of Spring and Summer once again return. Celebrations include an exchange of gifts and sunrise rituals/breakfasts. Evergreens, holly, ivy and mistletoe are symbols of the God, and are green symbols that life survives even through the cold of winter.

Imbolc (im'bolc) or (im'blog) - Major Sabbat
15 degrees of Aquarius, or February 1st
Wiccan Mythology:  Goddess recovers from childbirth, becomes Maiden. God grows in to a child.
Imbolc, means Ewes Milk, and marks the beginning of Spring. The God continues to mature, as the days grow longer. Celebrations for Imbolc usually center around light and the return of the sun. The Crone Goddess of the Winter returns to her maiden form and has fully recovered from childbirth. Her focus changes to preparing the Earth for it's growth cycle once more. Celebrations surround purification, cleansing and ridding ourselves of the old, dull and the cold of Winter once more. It's a time to anticipate the year ahead and ready ourselves and our homes for the business of Spring and Summer.

Eostara (O star' a) - Minor Sabbat
Vernal Equinox - Usually occurs around March 22
Wiccan Mythology:  God is in Child form. Goddess is in Maiden form.
Eostara is all about fertility, conception and regeneration. The Earth recovers from the long, cold winter and begins to bloom. It is a celebration of the light's triumph over the dark as the days are now longer than the nights. Eostara is also a time of balance, as the light and the dark are equal on this day.  Reflect on creating balance in your life.

Beltane - Major Sabbat
15 degrees of Taurus, or May 1st
Wiccan Mythology:  Marriage/Handfasting and Sexual Union of the Goddess and God.
The beginning of Summer, Beltane is the second most important Sabbat on the Wheel, following after Samhain. Another fertility celebration, but more than that, it's a celebration of life! Named after the Celtic fire god Bel, the lighting of fires was, and is, a common aspect in celebrations. As a "fire celebration" Beltane is also a time for purification and cleansing ones self, ones home and ones flocks (assuming you have flocks!)
On Beltame the Light God is now a "Father/Warrior" and it's time he regains his ruler ship from the Dark God. The Goddess becomes pregnant and takes the form of the Mother.
It's very common for Wiccan weddings or handfastings to take place on or around Beltane.

Mid-Summer Solstice - Minor Sabbat
Often referred to as Litha.
Usuall occurs between June 21-23
Wiccan Mythology:  The Climax of the God's Life.
Celebration of the God's life. Litha is another fire festival. The God transforms from the Warrior to the Sage. The Goddess' belly begins to grow with life. It's a time for rejoicing and celebration. But it's also a time for reflection and introspection. It's a time to adjust our life, restart stalled plans and correct negative habits or aspects in our life.

Lammas - Major Sabbat
Sometimes called Lughnasadh (loo' na sah)
15 degrees of Leo, or August 1st
Wiccan Mythology:  The God is Aging. The Pregnant Goddess takes on the face of the Crone.
The traditional First day of Autumn, this was the time of the first harvest. This is a celebration of achievement - the fields have been planted and cared for and are not producing well. It's a time of plenty. But also a time of preparation - the cold long months of Winter loom ever closer, as well as the impending death of the God. It's a time for thanks giving for all that we have, all that we have had, all that we will have and all that we have because of the sacrifices of others.

Mabon - Minor Sabbat
Autumnal Equinox - Usually occurs around September 22
Wiccan Mythology:  God declines. Goddess' belly becomes round with plenty.
The second harvest, and another day for great thanksgiving. It's also another time of great balance as the day and night are once again equal. From today on, the nights will be longer than the days and the darkness gains power over the light. This is a day of great planning and readying for the winter.

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