As I announced before, I have made the decision to devote myself to the study of the Old Religion because it feels more natural with my existing convictions. For right now, I’m studying as a solitary practitioner. I’m sure I will join a coven at some point; most likely the House of RavenStone here in Atlanta. I find I learn better if I rewrite things in my own words, so I will occasionally write about things I’m learning here in my blog.
Today I have been learning the Wheel of the Year, which is basically the Wiccan calendar. It is divided into eight sabbats that honor and celebrate the earth’s natural cycle of seasons. Within the year, there are thirteen full moon celebrations as well, which are called esabats. Once you learn the pattern of the calendar and recognize the natural flow of it (as well as the obvious holiday thievery by early Christians), you see that it makes more sense than any calendar of holidays today. This is based on celebration of the seasons, equinoxes and solstices. Eostra (also called Ostara) and Mabon are the spring and fall equinoxes. This is when day and night are equal in length. Yule and Midsummer are the winter and summer solstices. This is when day and night are at their longest and shortest in the year. Between the solstices and equinoxes are sabbats called Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain, which are to mark the seasonal changes through ritual and recognizing the presence of the gods and goddesses in all things. Then you have the thirteen full moons to celebrate rebirth and new beginnings, while the dark moon celebrations are to celebrate banishment of negative influences.
This is considered the most important sabbat because it is a time to honor and respect those who have passed on, from ancestors to friends to pets and beyond. Sometimes the spirits of the departed are invited to join in the ritual. It is also the festival of darkness to be the balance of the opposite point in the wheel, Beltane, which is the festival of light and fertility. Samhain typically begins at sundown on October 31. This is the point at which the veil between the earthly life and the afterlife is the thinnest. Most people celebrate Samhain without even realizing it in the form of Halloween.
This sabbat eventually became Christmas to the secular world. Yule is the point of the winter solstice and celebrates the hope for a fertile and peaceful season. It also celebrates the rebirth of the great horned hunter god, who is the newborn solstice sun. He is the male to the female, the balance again, just as the winter solstice is the balance to the spring solstice. It is a celebration of the ending of the dark half of the year and the return of the light half of the year. Most Yule traditions have been adapted into Christmas traditions since the rise of Christianity.
This is the time for dedication once again and pledges for the coming year. It is the rebirth, the new spark of life, the ending of the darkness and the beginning of light – the beginning of spring. Brigid is honored at this time as the triple goddess. She comes from Celtic tradition but the Catholics created St. Brigid’s Day to coincide with Imbolc. This is a traditional time for initiations and it is generally seen as a womens festival. Lambs are also symbolic during this season. Brigid is a goddess often celebrated by poets and those with creative energies. She strikes me as a jack of all trades, a goddess who can do anything, etc. I like her.
Otherwise known as Ostara, it is the spring equinox. Traditionally, it is the celebration of the Mother Goddess being reunited with her son, who spent the winter season in death. Other variations of this sabbat include the young God regaining strength in his youth after being born at Yule, and the Goddess returning to her Maiden aspect. The Goddess has three forms – the maiden, the mother, and the crone – all celebrated symbolically with the passage of the seasons. Eostre is the goddess associated with this sabbat and she is the reason why Christianity has Easter. She is connected to fertility and renewal. Eggs and rabbits are sacred to her. Sound familiar?
Again, this sabbat focuses on fertility like Eostra and it also employs the use of a bonfire. Sometimes there is a ritual of maypole dancing. There may also be an enacting of the union of the May Lord and the May Lady. It is a celebration of love, sexuality (although no sexual rituals are observed!), fire, fertility, male, female, union, and so forth. May morning is a magickal time for wild water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health. Beltane marks the return of vitality, of passion. Ancient Pagan traditions say that Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desires the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms, and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant of the God. To celebrate, a wedding feast, for the God and Goddess must be prepared.
This is the height of summer and the days are at their longest. It is the summer solstice, balancing the shortest days of the year at the winter solstice, or Yule. It can also be called Litha. Midsummer became the nativity of John the Baptist in Christian tradition. Midsummer Eve is the evening of herbs. The herbs and flowers gathered this night are considered exceptionally potent. It is at Midsummer that the Holly King, God of the Waning Year, has encountered the Oak King and succeeded in usurping the reign of the year. In Celtic Mythology the Young God withdraws into the Wheel of the Stars and it is here he waits and learn before his rebirth at Winter Solstice. It is the time when Belenus, Belenos – the Sun god, begins to die, fir-branches; Balefires; were kindled to light his downward path, he will return again at the Winter Solstice, when the Yule logs and lit fir-braches will guide His return. A few of other deities associated with Midsummer include: Lugh, Lleu, Lugos, Aine.
This is the beginning of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being Mabon and Samhain. It is a celebration of the first wheat and grain harvest. Some people incorporate the tradition of baking the figure of a god into bread and symbolically sacrificing and eating it into celebrating this sabbat. This is a celebration of a feast of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the harvest, being grain and bread. The feasts reflect this celebration. In Christianity, the first wheat harvest was used to bake a loaf of bread for the church. Lammas also represents the culmination of the marriage between the Goddess and the God that took place on Beltane. The God now becomes the product of that blessed union – the bountiful fruits and grains – and must be sacrificed. He is the personification of the crops that must be harvested for the survival of the people.
This is the fall equinox and the second harvest sabbat in the Wiccan calendar. The equinox means the day and night are equal in time. It is a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the winter months. We all take a moment to pay our respects to the impending dark. We also give thanks to the waning sunlight as we store our harvest of this year’s crops. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs and fertilizer are appropriate at this time. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her consort the God as he prepares for death and re-birth.