The wheel consists of the Greater Sabbats which are Samhain, Imbolg, Beltane and Lughnasadh. The Lesser Sabbats are the Solstices and Equinoxes and are Yule, Ostara, Midsummer and Mabon.
Samhain (pronounced sa-wen) is the Wiccan New Year. It is when the harvest comes to an end and the earth begins her long winter sleep. Leaves turn color and fall from the trees, the remains of the crops are burned or plowed back into the fields to nourish the soil for spring planting. It is a time to reflect on the past year, finish any old business, pay off any debts, let any grievances and ill feelings die. The idea being not to take any of the negativity from the previous year into the coming one so you can start a new. It is also the time for the Feast of the Dead when we honor the memories of those who passed on to the Otherworld. It is also a time to remember that the end of one thing, though it may be sad, leads to a beginning of something new.
Yule Tide is the winter solstice and the longest night of the year. It's significance is that even though everything appears dead and is covered under a blanket of snow or mud depending where you live, we are to observe that new life will come forth in the spring and we look forward to the days of growing light and warmth. The ritual is based around the yule log which in my house is traditionally the stump end of last years Christmas tree. Incidentally Christmas trees really have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. It was a tradition brought to England and Ireland by the Norsemen who in their land would cut boughs of fir trees and other evergreen trees and bring them inside to decorate and brighten their homes and great community halls as a symbol of life amid the death like grip of winter. No doubt the piney fragrance would also serve to chase away the stale smells of so many people being forced to stay indoors out of the bitter cold for so many months. The fir boughs gave way to bringing in whole trees that would later be "decorated" with items that represent wishes for the coming year such as a prosperous harvest, a marriage or children. At solstice the ancient Celts were already having bon fires with the purpose of driving the cold winter away and the beckoning Sun God also known as the Oak King to rise triumphantly and defeat the long dark winter gloom which is the dominion of the Holly King. They once believed that if they did not do this He would be defeated and the sun would never rise again. So when the Norsemen invaded their land and brought their Yule Tide tradition with them the Celts simply adapted it to their own bon fire ritual and thus the Yule log was born.
Imbolg (pronounced em-bowlg) is also known as the Feast of Bridgid. Witches honor the Triple Goddess for it is at this timestill during the dead of winter that Earth has renewed her virginity yet even so she bears the seed of the coming Spring within the warmth of her womb. It is customary at the coven ritual for the High Priestess and the other women of the coven to come in dressed in crimson (for the Mother), white (for the Maiden) or black (for the Crone). The high Priestess wears a crown of candles and walks dociel (clockwise) around the circle in quiet procession as music is played. The candles representing the warmth and light of the sun. At this time of the winter is loosing it's frigid grip on the earth and warmer days are drawing near. It is a time for us to say a blessing over and prepare any seeds or bulbs that will be planted in the spring to ensure they will grow and flourish. It is also a time for witches to renew their vows to the craft and to the Goddess and God.
Ostara is also another name for Easter the Pagan Goddess of Spring. Yes that's right the Christian holiday remembering the day Jesus assended to heaven after being crucified still today bears the name of a pagan fertility goddess. Many of the Christian holidays fall on or very near to the old Pagan celebrations mainly because the Pagan people were so unwilling to relinquish their own festivals. Failing to totally wipe out the Pagan traditions the Church simply began to give different Christian meanings to the Pagan ritual days. Why Easter still retained it's name is unknown (at least to me anyway) but I can tell you what the deal is with the colored eggs and the chocolate bunnies. At this time the Goddess transforms from being the Maiden to the Mother once more giving birth to the sun and to all life. The egg is a symbol of new life about to be manifest. The tradition of painting Easter eggs began as a way of manifesting wishes. A single fertile egg was taken from a nest and painted with a representation of a wish one wanted to manifest be it for prosperity, a good harvest, new love, or such. It was then hidden or buried in the ground the idea that the life of the unhatched chick would be transferred to the wish that was painted on the shell. Since then this practice has now been abandoned and transferred to hard boiled eggs which are then eaten. The Easter bunny refers to the March Hare which is also the symbol of the spring time Goddess. For in March the grass is not yet tall enough to conceal the hare's "boxing matches" for a mate. We are witness to their mating ritual and so enhances the fertility aspect of the season. In addition the Goddess is also associated with the moon and so is the hare for while we now see the image of a man's face in the shadows of the moon our ancient ancestors saw the image of running hare.
Beltane (pronounced Bel-ta-na) is for Wiccans the beginning of summer. Winters chill is but a distant memory and the sweet fruits of summer are just becoming ripe for the picking. Life as a whole seems sweeter too. The sun is warm and bright but is not yet too punishingly hot. The grass is still green and not yet turned brown. Flowers are in bloom and color and sweet fragrances are everywhere. It is often a time when couples plan to soon wed and children anxiously await the closing the of school for the summer and high school and college graduates look forward to hopefully bright new futures. Truly it does seem the best of things happen at this time of year even today. This is what Beltane is all about. The earth is coming into her fullness and the promise of bounty is in sight. Traditionally it is a time for building a bon fire and gathering round with friends to share the first bounty of the year. Among Witches too this a time for handfasting, what witches call their weddings. A handfasting traditionally is to last for only a year and a day and then the next year the couple can renew their vows to each other or simply choose let their vows and their marriage expire. However, a couple may choose to have their marriage last as long as they wish so long as they both agree as to how long.
Midsummer is the height of the year. The Earth is in her prime, crops are high and the sun shines longest on this day. This time of year is full of folly and mirth, a time where a certain giddiness is felt, an unrest that leads us to thoughts of love and pleasure. It is where the phrase "when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love" comes from. We all can still feel the effects of the warm weather and the lazy days of summer even today. Stuck inside our office buildings or places of work we long to go outside and just lay on the warm sweet grass or on a sandy beach and loll in the sun. We are beckoned to enjoy the warm days and sweet fruits that come into ripening, to not take life for granted. What prompts us to act this way? Perhaps in our deep recessed instincts we are aware that even though the days are warm and the sun is high, on this day the days begin to get shorter. For as this is the time the Sun God or Oak King reaches His zenith it also marks the time when He must relent to the slow rise of the Holly King who is the God of winter. The Oak King begins His retreat into the enchanted realm of the Goddess Arinrod, the Goddess of the Silver Wheel. The Silver Wheel refers to the cycle of death and rebirth. There Arinrod rules over His temporary refuge of death where He must wait and learn before being born again at Winter Solstice. So on this day take some time to sit and relax, be with ones you love, invite your closets friends over for a summer barbecue and enjoy life. Winter is closer than you think.
Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-na-sa) is the feast of Lugh whose name means "shining one". He is the Irish God of the sun and of agricultural fertility, since his foster mother died from preparing the lands of Ireland for planting. His festival is in Her honor. For it is through Her sacrifice that the people had grain to eat and to sustain their lives. Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the grain harvest and grain being a staple of the diets of nearly all civilizations around the world it is indeed a very important crop. It feeds not only us but the animals we raise for food and for milk. Grain is also very important to the making of beer and ale and while we today we see those beverages as being, shall we say, "recreational" to the people of old Europe it was a means of liquid sustenance. The alcohol content was marginal and calorie content was high. For those who worked in the fields or on the docks or in the blacksmith's shop and were too poor to afford much meat they needed something hardy to see them through the long working day. Beer and bread was their standard midday meal. Today grain is still very important and most likely will continue to be so to the diets of not only humans but all living things. During this time we are urged to give thanks for the bounty of what we have so in a way it is like the Wiccan version of Thanksgiving.
Mabon comes at the autumnal equinox when once again the day and night are at equal length. This time of year is the reaping time when we pause to reflect on the passing year and express our gratitude to Mother Nature for all our wishes that she has helped us to manifest. We also begin looking toward the coming year and posabilties of what might lay before us, our dreams and wishes yet unrealized and things we never even imagined.
Mythically, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day.
The Druids call this celebration, Mea’n Fo’mhair, and honor the The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees.
Mabon is also the name of a character in Celtic mythology. He is the Son of the Goddess Modron and his name means "The Divine Son". His archetype is expressed in many cultures. For more about his his story click the Mabon link above.
So ends the Wiccan calendar or Book of Days as it is often called but only to begin again. The Silver Wheel is forever turning.