The Wheel of the Year
the pagan wheel of the year and corresponding christian festivals
In this post I will list the eight main festivals or Sabbats celebrated by Pagans. Four are major: Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and four minor: Ostara, Litha, Mabon and Yule - you may find you recognise these festivals before you read about them. Before any Pagans comment - yes I know that the Wheel does not start on January 1st, (it actually starts with Samhain) but this is easier for comparison with Christianity. The dates given are for the northern hemisphere - for the corresponding dates for the southern hemisphere add six months - This is because Pagans work with nature and the seasons and don't try to fit the seasons to celebrations.
Below each in square brackets I will give the name of the equivalent Christian festival or celebration - you will see how Christianity tried to absorb Pagan practice in the hope that it would keep people happy as they converted.
1 ) IMBOLC (PRONOUNCED em-bowl/g or em-vole-g) - February 2nd This is the first day of Spring and its alternate name is and always has been Candlemas, or the Festival of Light from the practice of lighting many candles symbolic for the lighting up of the Earth as it awakens. A bowl of melted snow if available is placed on the altar in the hope of quickening the arrival of the season
[Christian equivalent - Candlemas on February 2nd]
2) OSTARA (PRONOUNCED OH-star-ah) - March 21st or 22nd The alternate Pagan name is Lady Day and represents the fertility of the land at this time of year. One practice that has been absorbed into Christianity although it makes no sense there is the tradition of colouring or dying and decorating eggs, for the beauty of nature. People give gifts of nature to one another as a sign that the harvest from sowing to reaping will be enough with some left over.
[Easter - dates vary each year]
BELTANE (PRONOUNCED beel-teen or bell-tawn) - April 30th or May 1st This is a celebration of life, rebirth and of love. Again this celebrates the beauty of the emerging gifts of the land. One celebration you may recognise is the erection of a Maypole. Traditionally the ribbons should be white and red to represent the Goddess and the God. This is a time for new projects and new beginnings.
[St. James the Great Day / Ascension of Jesus - April 30th and May 9th respectively]
LITHA (PRONOUNCED L-ee-tha) - June 21st or 22nd This is the time when the harvest is under its most powerful point in its growth cycle. The God is considered to have reached his peak. Tradition tells us that the two great Gods - Holly and Oak - come to fight on this day. This battle is always won by the Holly King. It is the time of harvesting herbs and a bale fire is lit. Symbols of strength are venerated on the days when day and night are equally balanced.
[Saints Peter and Paul - June 29th]
LAMMAS - (PRONOUNCED Lam-mahs) - August 1st The alternate name that has been taken on is the Pagan Thanksgiving, the celebrations have been moved in the calendar in other cultures but I'm sure you will see this. On this day we celebrate and honour the Celtic Sun God, Lugh. We again give thanks for the abundance of the Earth. Food is placed on the altar as an offering and the playing of games and family gathering are traditional. As with all other harvest celebrations from sowing to reaping, Pagans celebrate that they have more than enough - there is never a doubt that the Earth would not provide for her people.
[Lammas - August 1st ]
MABON -(PRONOUNCED Mah-bon) September 21st or 22nd This celebrates the God being reabsorbed into the womb of the Goddess and is the half-way point between the Solstices (also sabbats but with different names) - the time of balance. Altars are decorated with typical harvest fruits - pumpkin, fallen leaves, autumn fruits etc. Food is also placed on the altar as an offering. [Michael and All Angels - September 29th - also Harvest festivals came from this]
SAMHAIN (PRONOUNCED Sow-een or Sow-in) - October 1st
This is the Pagan New Year and the main Sabbat from which all others flow with the natural turning of the wheel. This is the time of the year when the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest - it is the time that the God dies each year bringing on the dark days of mourning. The Goddess will spend her time mourning and waiting for his return at Yule. Samhain celebrates the continuation of life from this plain to the next, food and drink are placed outside houses for the ancestors that may visit on this night. Coins are pressed into the Earth as a thanks for the abundance to come. In order to keep any unfriendly spirits away Carved pumpkins or other such vegetable are and always were placed at the positions of the four elements whilst lighting the way for the ancestors. (recognise this?) The altar is again decorated with typical autumn symbols - leaves that have turned golden, foods that are harvested at this time of year and offerings of food are placed upon it. Pagans take the harvest very seriously and this is the third festival devoted to the harvest.
[All Hallows Eve - October 31st / All Saints Day - November 1st]
YULE (PRONOUNCED You-ll) - December 21st or 22nd
ThePagan celebration of the rebirth of the God and the warmth and fertility he gifts to the world. Candles are lit as a sign of the lighter days to come and burn all night around the altar that is dressed with Holly and Oak leaves along with berries and fruits that are in the fields. A tree that is known as either the Wish Tree or the Yule tree is brought inside in a pot (it is important that it be replanted after the festival as a sign of the continuation of life) - this is decorated with strips of paper (or other writing surface) with wishes for the individual and highly coloured berries and winter flowers in order to attract the attention of the God. The Holly King is dressed in red (the colour of the season) and wears a crown of Holly on his head. He drives a sleigh of eight deer (eight for the number of Sabbats and deer for the connection to the Great Horned God) through the night to keep the wheel turning. The wheel is honoured in the belief that at this time of year it would sleep if not praised - to do this a wheel-shaped arrangement of holly and Oak is hung on the outside of the doors - to be clearly visible to all who pass.
[Christmas - December 25th]
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I would welcome your comments on the overlap between the two faith systems.
Image Credit » picture is my own and all rights are reserved