Modern Wiccans traditionally celebrate eight holidays based on the summer and winter solstice, the spring and vernal equinox, and the so-called "Cross-Quarter Days." The Cross-Quarter Days are roughly midway between each solstice and equinox. Some groups add a ninth holiday, usually in November, at which they venerate ancestors and heroes of the tradition. The name, by which the holiday is known, as well as the general theme of celebration, may vary widely from tradition to tradition. The following chart is presented by way of comparison:

Approximate Dates
Kith & Public Rites
Kindred Rites
13-26 December Rite of Midwinter
St. John the Evangelist
Mutternacht * Yule
Winter Solstice
Mother Night
Secret of the Unhewn Stone
1-2 February Rite of Awakening
St. Brigit
Erweckung * Imbolc
19-22 March Rite of Spring
St. Edward
Sommerzukunfts * Ostara
Vernal Equinox
Summer Findings
31 April - 2 May Rite of Exultation
May Day
St. Sophia
Walpurgisnacht * Beltane
Lady Day
19-23 Jun Rite of Midsummer
St. John the Baptist
Sonnenwende * Litha
Summer Solstice
30 July - 2 August Rite of Thanksgiving
First Harvest
St. Oswald
Erntezeit * Lughnassadh
19-24 September Rite of Autumn
Harvest Home
Winterzukunfts * Mabon
Atumnal Equinox
Winter Findings
31 October - 2 Nov Rite of Remembrance
All Hallowís
All Saints Day
Urahnennacht * Samhain
Ancestor Night
11 November Martinmas Einherjahrfest
Feast of the Fallen Warriors
Note: The above chart reflects the celebrations and practices of our Tradition and Congregation and should not be construed to be any "universal" statement reflecting all Wiccan groups. For more details concerning the various holidays, see the section our articles on Sabbats and the Wheel of the Year.

Many religions place heavy emphasis on celebrating and ritualizing important transitions and rites of passages during the lifetime of an individual. In most cases, Wicca is no exception. Wiccan traditions uniquely observe rites of passage in ways that incorporate profound symbolism embodying the ways in which an individual deepens her or his relationship and connection with the earth, with their community, and with the divinity within themselves.

Note: Not all Wiccans celebrate rites of passage, but the following are typical for most traditions within Traditional Craft Wiccan (TCW) and many other groups. They may also be known by different names in different groups.


Handfasting is the Wiccan marriage ceremony. Traditionally, a Handfasting was for a specified period of time, usually a year and a day, and was not legally binding. In most countries, a civil marriage is required for a union to be recognized by law; any religious ceremony is optional. In the United States, however, an ordained minister of any religious faith may perform a legally binding wedding, and no civil ceremony is required. There is a growing number of legally ordained Wiccan ministers worldwide, and more and more Handfastings are being performed as legal marriage ceremonies. If a Handfasting is performed in this context, then any change in marital status must be handled as a legal civil process.

Specific ceremonies vary from group to group and coven to coven, but the participants usually write or have significant input into the content. Of note in many Handfastings, participants may opt to promise themselves to each other pragmatically for "so long as Love shall last," versus the lofty standard of "til death do us part."


A Handparting ritual dissolves the Handfasting. Traditionally, at the end of the specified period, a couple decided whether or not they wanted to continue the union formed at the Handfasting. If they chose to remain in the relationship, then another Handfasting was performed, again for a specified period of time. The second Handfasting was usually for five, seven, or nine years or "for this and coming lifetimes." If they chose not to renew the relationship, then a Handparting was performed with the intent to allow the couple to separate amicably in love and harmony. If the Handfasting was legally binding, the Handparting is usually not performed until after the marriage is dissolved through civil process.


Many couples now feel free to openly bring up their children in the Wiccan religion. Wiccaning is the ritual of blessing for a newborn. The ceremonies again vary widely from group to group, but are usually developed by collaboration between the parents, High Priestess, and High Priest of the coven or group. While Wiccaning can be compared to a Christian "Baptism" there is a significant difference in philosophy. The parents introduce the child to the "Mighty Forces" and to the God and Goddess, asking for blessings and protection for the child. In some cases, parents entreat the Gods to give it talents and intellect, however the Wiccaning in no way binds the child to the Gods as in the Christian concept of Baptism.

Remember, it is a basic tenet of Wicca that its members must freely choose the Wiccan path. During the ceremony the Godparents chosen may be presented to the spiritual forces as well. As Wiccaning is a blessing and welcoming of the child into the greater family, it is appropriate for all blood relatives, extended family and close friends--who will impact the child’s life, to be welcomed in the Circle regardless of their religious beliefs.

Welcoming (Sometimes called Heralding or Hailing)

This ritual welcomes a child into the extended family of the coven or group, and usually takes place around the age of 13. Many traditions have a standard ritual for this, but it may vary from group to group. In many cases this is the event in which the celebrant officially chooses his/her path and makes a dedication or affirmation to The Craft. In most cases this signals an official beginning of training toward initiation into the group.

Initiatory Rites

For covens that practice initiatory rites, these are the keystone rituals. They vary from tradition to tradition and always occur in a closed setting. Furthermore, most TCW groups regard "initiation" in its literal sense. It is a milestone that marks the beginning of a life-long process. Initiation is not a goal or an end in itself. See Vivianne Crowley's exposition cited in the "Annotated Bibliography" section.

Crossing — Requiem

These are Wiccan funeral rites. They range from very simple to very elaborate ceremonies depending on the tradition or group and the wishes of the deceased. With a background belief in reincarnation, the Wiccan religion does not fear a hell or some vague eternal damnation for anyone passing beyond the veil. Wiccans believe those who pass over have done so because they have completed all the lessons they were meant to learn in this lifetime and are now enjoying a repose until they are reborn to new lessons in a new life—a process that will go on until they have grown so completely in karmic balance as to pass over and become one with the cosmos ("to enter the Kingdom of God").

Because we view death as a completion of one cycle and the beginning of another, it is a time for celebration rather than mourning—a Wiccan does not escape from punishment for being good, rather one rests then is reborn. While there are loved ones left behind who cannot help but feel sorrow for their loss, A Wiccan funerary rite is usually not complete without a big party to follow the service—a party with food, wine, music and friendships; people who gather to share memories of the one who has crossed over and help those who grieve move on with new loves and friendships.

As in all rites of passage, participation in the ritual is open to all loved ones regardless of religious preference.

Sabbats and Rites of Passage are festivals and celebrations that are generally open to family, friends, and often the public as well.

Moon Rites, or Esbats, are "working" religious and magical rites and are usually restricted to the coven or a very small and intimate group. They generally take place in the evening or late night hours in an outdoor, natural setting where feasible, though indoor celebrations are frequent and preferable where the use of outdoor space is not a realistic option or where weather prevents. Some groups celebrate both open and closed Moon Rites.

Moon Rites are held as close as possible to the Full Moon. Some groups celebrate Dark or New Moon rituals in addition to Full Moon rituals. Generally, work leave is not required for these celebrations, as they take place after a normal duty day, though some personnel may conceivably request an accommodation to leave a bit earlier from work in order to be on time for the rite. However, in cases where irregular shift work is required, Wiccan personnel may sometimes request leave for an Esbat taking place during their night shift. This may cause some conflict if they are in a critical duty position or section. If possible, however, they should be granted the same consideration as members of other religious groups requesting leave for celebration of religious holidays.

It is primarily at Esbats where some traditions advocate the practice of ritual nudity, which they call being "skyclad." This practice stems largely from the idea that direct connection between the energy of the human body and that of the earth is most intense when the restrictions of clothing are not present. It also comes from a line in the "Charge of the Goddess" by Doreen Valiente, one of Gerald Gardner's students, which states that "Ye shall be free from all slavery, and as a sign that you be truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites." Wiccans often emphasize that they wish to avoid and overcome the perception of nudity as shameful, instead upholding the sanctity and beauty of the human body.

Not all Wiccan groups prefer skyclad worship; some use robes of varying colors or materials, depending upon circumstances, traditions, weather, and climate.

It is important for both chaplains and Wiccan practitioners alike to participate in the understanding that it is not feasible under current regulations and emphases to have chapel space or military facilities available for skyclad practice. Reasonable alternatives should be actively sought.

This article 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).