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The Pagan calendar is often referred to as the "Wheel of the Year", emphasizing the cyclical nature of the world around us. A beautiful deference to the life cycle; Life, Death and Rebirth. As the wheel turns each Sabbat or holy day reflects in its celebration, some of the most essential aspects of life.
These sabbats help you tune in to the cycles of nature as they exist within you as well as without. The idea of the eight-fold Wheel of the Year was created by Ross Nicholls in the 1950's. The festivals themselves, however, are very old, and mark important times in the agricultural cycle of the year. All of the eight sabbats were celebrated in the ancient world, but not all necessarily by the same people or in the same place. It should be remembered that the energies at different times of the year are different depending on where you are. Each holiday has a wealth of history and tradition surrounding it, but this page should explain the basics of each Sabbat and how we celebrate.
The Pagan Holidays are based on four Greater Sabbats and four Lesser Sabbats, alternating about six weeks apart. The Greater Sabbats are based on Pre-Christian Fire Festivals that were held in Europe on fixed days of the year. The four Lesser Sabbats are celebrated on the Equinoxes and Solstices.
The word solstice comes from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) litterally "Sun Standing," because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction. An astronomical event that occurs twice each year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is most inclined toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun's apparent position in the sky to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme.
In Paganism the term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some cultures they are considered to start or separate the seasons while in others they fall in the middle.
The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), litterally "Equal Night" because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long. The term equinox can also be used in a wider sense, as the date that such a passage happens. An Equinox like a Solstice, occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor toward the Sun, causing the Sun to be located vertically above a point on the equator.
The Fire Festivals or Cross Quarter holidays are a little more complicated in explanation, more seasonal and less solar, as the Solstice and Equinox celebrations are based on the position of the sun, the Fire Festivals are based on the cycles of life. There are four traditional Celtic festivals, known as the Fire Festivals. They were celebrated annually and are known as the festival of Samhain (ends & beginnings), that of Imbolc (a quickening), that of Beltane (fertility) and the festival of Lughnasadh (harvest & victory). They were based on seasonal changes and not calendar dates. Therefore they need to be honoured at the appropriate time in the cycle of seasons.
One of the important themes to be noted about these celebrations is that each one occurs at a midpoint between two turning points. So, the festival of Beltane, lies at the midpoint between the Spring Equinox of late March and the Summer Solstice in late June. This same pattern is followed with each of the four fire festivals and thus the face of celebration is always looking back to what has been and looking forward to what is to come. This honouring of the midpoint between two opposites is an integral part of Celtic thinking. And, just as the Celtic day began at sunset, so the Celtic year began with the onset of winter.
Samhain - October 31st, Marks the Third Harvest of meat slaughtering all animals that would not be able to survive the harsh winter ahead and the Celtic New Year and is recognized as the start of the New Year by almost all Pagans, and has renown as the day when the veil between the worlds is thinest.
Yule - December 21st, Marks the Shortest Day and Longest Night of the year. When works of magick or meditations to bring light back to the world take place.
Imbolc - February 1st or 2nd, Marks the day when the day has become noticably longer and the snow has started to thaw. It is a time of celebration to welcome light back into the world, a time of rebirth.
Ostara - March 21st, Marks the return of life to the land, in the blossoming of crocus and tulips we welcome the renewed fertility of the land.
Beltane - May 1st, Marks the day when the Lord has reunited with his lady, and joins with her to beget the new sun.
Summer Solstice - June 21st, Marks the longest day and shortest night of the year, a time celebrated for the returning harvest is almost ready to be collected.
Lughnasadh - August 1st, Marks the First Harvest of grain, and the releif that there would be enough stores to provide the people with nurishment through the winter.
Mabon - September 21st, Marks the Second Harvest of Fruit and Vegetables. And the releif that there would be enough stores to provide the people with health sustaining nurishment through the winter.