From ancient times when pagans were hunter-gatherers and through a long period of agrarian development, mankind observed the cycles of the Sun throughout the year, the Lunar phases during the month and observed the effects of these cycles on all living things. Back then man was very much in tune with nature--his very survival dependant on such observances. He reaped, sowed, hunted and husbanded by these cycles. His attunement and respect for these cycles not only resulted in his survival but led to a very immanent connection with the Divine that modern man is only beginning to recover in this new millennium. There are eight Sabbats, or sacred festival celebrations, in the spiritual calendar, known as "The Wheel of the Year." These consist of the Solstices and Equinoxes (the Minor Sabbats) and the midpoints between, which are also known as the Cross Quarters and as the Celtic Fire Festivals (the Major Sabbats). The Sabbats occur approximately forty days apart and are a system of promises and polarities. Each minor Sabbat is the promise of the Greater Sabbat and there are essentially four polarities, two promises, three seasons of birth and three seasons of death (or rebirth into the otherworld). The Wheel reflects the Wicca view of time and machinations of the universe and one could begin the annual journey on the Wheel at any point.

  1. Imbolc: The Divine spark from the otherworld impregnates this world

  2. Ostara (vernal equinox): pregnancy of the Goddess confirmed, promise of birth of the God into this world

  3. Beltane: actual birth of the God into this world

  4. Litha (summer solstice): God commits himself to the Land (promises the Goddess, his wife to sacrifice himself so her children may be reborn)

  5. Lughnassadh: God sacrificed, physical death in this world-the divine spark enters the otherworld

  6. Mabon (autumnal equinox): "ghost of the dead God" seeks to take the Goddess to the other world, has to be shown the way

  7. Samhain: God has finally made it to the otherworld

  8. Yule (winter solstice): promise and commitment by the Goddess that the God of the other world will impregnate her so a new God of this world will be born to rule the harvest and rebirth of man and beasts

This cycle contains three birth stages; Imbolc-Osatra-Beltane and three death stages; Lughnasadh-Mabon-Samhain. There are Four promises or commitments (the minor Sabbats). The two "main" commitments, true renewals of the Divine covenants are Litha (by the God) and Yule (by the Goddess). Whereas the God dies at Lughnasadh, His "spirit" still roams this world at Mabon, and it is only from Samhain on that He is truly "gone" and absent from this world. This total absence lasts until Imbolc. This period between Samhain and Imbolc is the "dark" period when the Lord of Misrule leads a "caretaker" government in some traditions. Each Sabbat is a "transition" on the Solar Wheel, and each "transition" can be seen as a "death-and-rebirth". At Yule, the northern hemisphere starts "climbing" again and at Litha it begins once again the descent. So Yule can be seen as the "birth" of the "waxing" sun and beginning of the "rule" of the Oak or summer King and Litha as the "birth" of the "waning" sun and beginning of the "rule" of the Holly or winter King.

Because of secular calendar reconfigurations in recent centuries, dates of the Cross Quarter festivals may vary by several days. Some groups prefer to celebrate on what has become the traditional date across most Wiccan traditions; others try to celebrate at the actual midpoint between each Solstice and Equinox as was done in ancient times.

Samhain

This is the Sabbat of Death and rest. The final harvest has been made. The land and creatures prepare for the sleep of winter. The God, Lord of the Wild Hunt returned from Death at Mabon to claim The Goddess as Queen of the otherworld, now escorts The Goddess with him to the under world to rule in the land of summer. For a time the veil between this world and the other world is thin and we can visit our forefathers and learn from them. The Dark Lord, the initiator has completed the heroic quest and rules in the land of rest-magic command — to be Silent. There, the Dark Lord then enters the Magician phase of man. Here he teaches the Goddess the Mysteries. At the end of this phase he becomes the Old Dragon, the ultimate magician destined for the collective consciousness-magic command-To Teach; also called: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, All Saints & All Souls Days, and Days of the Dead

  • dates: October 31, early November
  • colors: black, orange, and indigo
  • special tools: votive candles, magic mirror, cauldron, pumpkins, and divination special tools
  • theme: death & transformation; Wiccan New Year
  • ritual focus: honoring ancestors, releasing old, foreseeing future, understanding death and rebirth
  • customs: jack o' lanterns, spirit plate, ancestor altar, divination, and costumes

Yule (Winter Solstice)

It is at Yule that we renew our covenant with the Goddess (covenant between the Goddess and the Wiccans as Her "hidden children" and between the Goddess and Nature in a broader sense). The Goddess commits Herself to getting impregnated by the God of the otherworld (at Imbolc) so as to bring forth new life into this world (at Beltane). In nature, we see the Yuletide how life has withdrawn deep underground. Cosmic background: Winter (Saturn in Capricorn; element — Earth)

  • also called: Yule, Jul, Saturnalia, Christmas, solar/secular New Year
  • dates: around December 21
  • colors: red, green, and white
  • special tools: mistletoe, evergreen wreath, lights, gifts, holly, Yule log, and Yule tree
  • theme: regeneration & renewal
  • ritual focus: personal renewal, world peace, honoring family & friends
  • customs: wreaths, evergreens, lights, gift-giving, singing, feasting, and resolutions

Imbolc (Cadlemas)

Imbolc, meaning "in the belly," is the Sabbat of the quickening Earth. The seed lies in the ground, fertile and ready to spring forth. The Goddess has fulfilled her promise to become pregnant with the God. The Old Dragon, the Old God (or philosopher as in the myth of Diana and Lucifer) has released the goddess from the underworld to go bring rebirth and fertility to the world. The Old God achieves Divinity and moves into the collective consciousness-Magic command-To Teach — while the new Sun Child, child of promise is growing inside the Goddess, destined to be the lover of the Goddess and father of the Sun. The Child/Lover phase of Man-Magical command — To Know. Cosmic background: Uranus in Aquarius; element — Air

  • also called: Imbolc, Oimelc, Brigid's Day; merged with Lupercalia/Valentines Day
  • dates: February 2, early February
  • colors: white, and red
  • special tools: candles, seeds, Brigid wheel, and milk
  • theme: conception, initiation, and inspiration
  • ritual focus: creative inspiration, purification, initiation, candle work, house & temple blessings
  • customs: lighting candles, seeking omens of Spring, cleaning house, welcoming Brigid

Ostara (Spring Equinox)

As Yule was the promise of the impregnation of Imbolc, Ostara is the promise of the new explosion of life at Beltane. At Ostara the Easter-eggs of folklore stress the fertility aspect. Though in western Europe at this time of the year, spring is more a concept than a reality, we feel that the time when everything will be in bloom once more cannot be far off, the air is full of promises. In the case of a human pregnancy this would be the point where the mother can feel the baby kicking in her womb. Cosmic Background: Spring (Mars in Aries; element — Fire)

  • also called: Ostara, or Oestre, Easter, St. Patrick's Day
  • dates: around March 21
  • colors: green, and yellow
  • special tools: eggs, basket, and green clothes
  • theme: birthing, sprouting, or greening
  • ritual focus: breakthrough, new growth, new projects, or seed blessings
  • customs: wearing green, egg games, new clothes, and egg baskets

Beltane

This is the Sabbat of rebirth. The God is physically born into this world, grows up quickly and becomes the lover of The Young Goddess — the Green Man of fertility. The season of Love and fertility for humans and earthly things, the seed is sprouting forth from the earth and life is returning to the land. The fertility of the God And Goddess is that of new ideas and undertakings and waxing of the machinations of the universe. The shape-shifter Goddess, who was the partner of the Old God in the otherworld , will be the young maiden lover of the new God, her son who rescues her. In doing so the young God vanquishes the Old God who proceeds into the collective unconscious driving change and giving energy to the universe. The Young God rules over the animals and the forest making plants and animals fertile, and He Sheppards the newborn creatures. This is not an appropriate time for handfastings of mortals, as theirs would be overshadowed by the power of the love of the Gods as The Oak King is in his prime. He enters The "Warrior" phase of man-Magical command — To Will. Cosmic background: Venus in Taurus; element — Earth

  • also called: May Eve, May Day, Walpurgis Night
  • dates: around May 1
  • colors: rainbow spectrum, blue, green, pastels, or all colors
  • special tools: Maypole & ribbons, flower crowns, fires, bowers, and fields
  • theme: youthful play, exuberance, and pleasure
  • ritual focus: love, romance, fertility, garden and crop blessings, or creativity endeavors
  • customs: dancing Maypole, jumping fire, mating, flower baskets, and flower crowns

Litha (Summer Solstice)

Litha, just like its opposite, Yule, is a time of renewal of the Divine covenant. This time is especially the celebration of the commitment between the two lovers, the Goddess of the Land and the Young God. The Lovemaking of Beltane takes a more serious tone as the God has to commit himself to the Goddess. He has to marry her and through Her he is also wed to the Land and Her children. He has to assume responsibility for the fertility of the land, which will inevitably lead to His sacrifice of Lughnasadh. Litha is the most appropriate time for handfastings. Cosmic background: Summer (Luna in Cancer; element — Water)

  • also called: Midsummer, Litha, St. John's Day
  • dates: around June 21
  • colors: yellow, gold, or rainbow colors
  • special tools: bonfires, Sun wheel, and Earth circles of stone
  • theme: partnership
  • ritual focus: community, career, relationships, Nature Spirit communion, and planetary wellness
  • customs: bonfires, processions, all night vigils, singing, feasting, or celebrating with others

Lughnassadh (Lammas)

Lughnasadh is the Sabbat of Sacrifice and a celebration of the first harvest-wheat and grains. The God has become the responsible Husband of the Goddess and sacrifices himself as he had promised at Litha so that life of Her children, the land and its creatures may continue. This is a conception just as its polar counterpart of Imbolc, both ensuing form a commitment on the preceding "minor" Sabbat. This is a conception in the other world-the physical death of the God has created a fetus to be born in the otherworld at Samhain. There is "blood on the corn" and after the harvest the world will take on a barren appearance as the heat of the God bakes the land in the last days of summer. The God has passed the zenith of his strength and rule and begins to make way for the next cycle. The "flesh" of the dead God will be plowed under to impregnate the land for the next cycle-the sperm plowed under in the womb of the Great Mother. The Holly King begins his rule over the waning time. He enters The Husband/King Phase of man-Magical command-To Dare. Cosmic background: Sol in Leo; element — Fire

  • dates: August 2, early August
  • colors: orange, yellow, brown, and green
  • special tools: sacred loaf of bread, harvested herbs, and bonfires
  • theme: fruitfulness, or reaping prosperity
  • ritual focus: prosperity, generosity, or continued success
  • customs: offering of first fruits/grains, games, and country fairs

Mabon (Autumnal Equinox)

At Mabon, though the "body" of the God died at Lughnasadh his "spirit" still roams the earth. In some traditions he is seeking to take the Crone Goddess into the otherworld with him. We have to send this "spirit" on its way, so that he can be born at Samhain in the otherworld. We have to banish him to guarantee that he arrives in time in the otherworld. Mabon, the "minor" Sabbat again holds the promise of the coming "major" Sabbat just as it holds the memory of the previous. It is at Samhain that the God, whose memory still lingers on in the late summer days of Mabon will definitely be lost to this world. Note the sacrificial God (common to nearly all known religions) dies in three phases as in many myths (African, Celtic myths and the threefold death in "The way of Merlin"). That is the physical death (Lughnasadh), the wandering spirit (Mabon) and finally lost to this world at Samhain. Cosmic background: Autumn (Venus in Libra; element — Light)

  • also called: Michaelmas
  • dates: around September 21
  • colors: orange, red, brown, purple, and blue
  • special tools: cornucopia, corn, or harvested crops
  • theme: appreciation & harvest
  • ritual focus: thanksgiving, harvest, or introspection
  • customs: offerings to land, preparing for cold weather, and bringing in harvest

This series of articles was adapted from Spiritual Philosophy and Practice of Wicca in the US Military, by Dr. David L. Oringderff (Taniquetil) and Lt.Col. Ronald M. Schaefer, USAF (Astralaya), with contributions to this section by Selena Fox. This booklet is available free of charge in a zipped pdf format downloadable from the link above.