Pagan Festivals (Wheel of the Year)
Article by Mani Navasothy
Pagans celebrate an 8-fold year Wheel. The 4 Solar festivals of Mid-Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Midsummer Solstice & Autumn Equinox are joined by the fire festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas & Samhain.
- Imbolc -31st january
- Spring Equinox -21st March
- Beltane – 1st May
- Summer Solstice – 21st June
- Lammas – 31st July
- Autumn Equinox – 21st September
- Samhain – 31st October
- Yule (Winter Solstice) – 21st December
Imbolc is said to be the time when the Winter Goddess who has kept her grip on the land loosens her hold, so that the ice melts and waters break and flow again. It is when the Goddess Bride (Brigid) `returns’ to the land. Her path is lit by candles, symbolising the return of light and warmth which is imminent. Bride is a Goddess of poetry, inspiration, healing, knot-magic and weaving. With her, she brings the gifts of 3 flames!
Spring equinox is a time of new beginning and initiating enterprises. A time of reaching balance between Dark & Light.. day & night. It is a time of noticeable lengthening of day-light hours and quickening. Current observation shows weather to be very changeable – fluctuating between bright sunny days and wild wet windy conditions. Flowers are already blooming, and trees are looking hairy with a burst of newly sprouting buds and leaves. Astrologically, the Sun enters the firey sign of Aries. However transposing the elemental energies onto the year-wheel, it is obviously the energy of `air’ that is flowing now (and at Summer, it’s Fire, Autumn- water, and winter- Earth). Taking all this into consideration, in this ritual, we work actively to balance the opposing forces in our lives, and a bit of personal `spring-cleaning’ internally, then explore the mystery of Spring, through the God-Goddess cycle. Mating and fertility rites are obviously being played out by all wildlife in nature at this moment.
Beltane: The veil between the world of men and fairy (or spirit) is said to thin twice a year, at Beltane and at Samhain, which are on opposite points of the year wheel. At Beltane (May eve) the land is at it’s most lush and green, and fertile. If Spring Equinox is the time of fertility and mating in the animal kingdom, then Beltane is one of courting couples making commitment to one another- and Handfastings! In the God-Goddess myths, this is when the playful God is said to commit to the Goddess – which is symbolised by the Sacred Marriage! The Maypole dance that is traditional at this time symbolises the fertile powers of the masculine, penetrating the land, and the ribbons danced and woven around it lock that power! A ring of flower at the tip of the Maypole signifies the feminine. Magical working with the Fay (Fairies) is an important feature at this time, in contrast to the magical work with the departed spirits at Samhain, the opposite point.
Midsummer: This marks the height of the Summer, and the longest day of the year. Astrologically, it is exactly the point when the Sun enters the sign of Cancer (which is the natural house of the Moon!). The new-born Sun of the midwinter (Yule) has grown to it’s fullest potential, and so pagans are mindful at Midsummer that the wheel turns. It is when the previously defeated Holy-King returns, challenges the Oak-King and wins. Thus at Midsummer, the rein of the Oak King ends and the one of Holy King begins. Midsummer games such as tug of war enact this battle between summer and winter forces. In terms of the God myths, it is a time for the God to become Sun-King, and take his place on the throne of responsibility for his people.
Lammas: All that rise shall fall again.. says the popular pagan poetry! The newborn Sun-child of Yule has grown to be a rampant and playful youth and lover at Spring, committed man and husband at Beltane and responsible Sun-King at Midsummer. And at the time of Lammas, at the height of his supreme power, the King steps down- or rather gives up his life force to the land! This is harvest time in the fields, where Corn and other such grain are harvested. John Barleycorn is `baked’ and sacrificed. In God mythology, the God willingly gives himself up and the Goddess cuts him down, so that his blood may feed the land. Though it may sound alarmingly gruesome, this is to be seen in terms of symbolism, and not actual! The spilling of his blood is in fact the falling of the grains and seeds to the ground, that they may produce next year’s crops! Just as the fallen seed sleeps safely within the soil, till winter passes and next spring, so the spirit of the Lammas-King enters the underworld.
Autumn Equinox: This is the time when the wheel turns once more, from summer to winter. A time when the dark equals the light, and the night times begin to increase. Trees begin to shed their leaves in preparation of the coming winter, wildlife collects seeds and stocks up for winter and animal migrations begin. We celebrate the second harvest of the year- the harvest of the fruits. We also mark the balance of dark and light. In Wicca we re-enact the mythology of Hades and Persephone – her abduction, entry to the underworld, Demeter’s anguish and the withdrawal from the land, eating of pomegranate seeds by Persephone and her stay in the underworld. We use a spiral path-working to enter the inner-world, and plant seeds of our future ventures, so that we may nurture them during the winter months. In this ritual, coven members take on the symbolic journey of Persephone.
Samhain (pronounced `saw-ain’) is a festival for the dead and ancestors. In wicca, death is seen as a transition from one phase of life to another (The Death Card in Tarot has similar meaning), or from one incarnation to the next. This rite invokes the God an Goddess of the underworld. The Dark Lord opens the gateway between our world and the underworld and invites all to feast (commune) with the dead. At Samhain the veil between world is thin, and so it is perfect time for the art of divination and mediumship. On a lighter side, apple bobbing from the cauldron is traditional. Samhain is seen as the New Year in Celtic traditions.
Winter Solstice (Yule) is the time when the Sun is at it’s lowest (nadir), resulting in the longest night and darkness appears to be enveloping all. Inwardly, it’s a time when hope and faith may be ebbing low and the future looks bleak. It is precisely at this point that the festive energy is needed to shift the magic within, and to celebrate the birth of the Sun Child! From here onwards, the night time starts to reduce, and daylight grows.. to a point of balance between dark and light (at Spring) and to the long days at Summer! As a symbol of hope and life, celebrants decorate the Altar and indoors with bright objects and keep greenery (ever Greens.. ie Yule tree and of course holly etc). A Yule log is also burnt in the ire, symbolising the coming of warmth and fire.