We as Modern American
recognize eight high holy days or Sabbats that together with the thirteen full moon observances or Esbats create
the Pagan Wheel of the Year. It is through the observance of the changing of the Wheel of the Year, that we as witches
can gain insight into our own personal growth and change as well as honor the seasons and come to recognize the
ebbs and flows of cosmic energy in the world around us.
The eight solar Sabbats represent the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and each honors a stage in the eternal life
cycle of the God and Goddess. We as witches see the year as a whole which forever turns in seasons and cycles,
without beginning and without ending. Because the cycle of the year continues without beginning and ending we call
it a wheel. The God is born, then dies and then is reborn of his own seed again. The Goddess goes from being a
young girl to a mother, then ages into a crone and changes back again in a never ending cycle or change and renewal.
Each of the eight holidays has its own unique energy and symbolism. Below you will see each of the eight holidays.
Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic new year. It marks the third and final harvest, and is a time to commune with
and honor the dead. Similiar holidays include El Dia De Los Muertoes, Halloween, Feast of the Hungry Spirits and many others.
The Ancient Celts believed that the entire world died on Samhain night and was reborn on the next morning with the rising sun.
It was also a belief of theirs that all magick and spiritual power was also renewed in this night.
Samhain is also the night when the old God sacrifices his own self so that the rebirth of the world would be assured.
It is at this time that the God ventures into the underworld and takes on the guise as the Lord of Death.
He is no longer a God of vegetation and growth but the horned hunter of the night that rides on night winds and
grants the wisdom of death. It is during this time that the Great Goddess who enters into her crone stage mourns
the loss of the God deeply for the next six weeks, until she gives birth to him again on Yule as the newly born Sun. The image of the Halloween witch stirring a huge cauldron comes from the Celtic belief that all dead souls return to the great cauldron of the Goddess to be reborn.
Samhain has always been seen as a season of transformation. All who are born must die and all who die shall be
reborn. Only the Goddess in her infinite wisdom as the crone can teach the wisdom necessary for us to undergo each
of our deaths and then to experience rebirth. Only she knows the true way.
It has always been a long standing tradition and belief of Samhain, that the spirits of the dead are able to return
to the living once more. For one night, the veil that separates the worlds is at its thinnest and the world of
shadow (the other world, underworld etc) will actually bleed into our own. During this Sabbat we can welcome back
the spirits of those who have passed on and meet with them again. It is also because of this thinning of the veil
that other spirits and entities may come into our world. So not only was this a most sacred night it was also a
most dangerous one. These entities and spirits if allowed to wander free from the other world could cause harmful
tricks and bad luck, in addition to the ever present threat of being spirited away into the other world.
Our ancestors wore masks to fool these spirits into thinking that they too were spirits.
Faces were carved into vegetables in an effort to scare away negative spirits and candles and lanterns were
lit in windows and along the path to cemeteries to escort the spirits back to the grave.
Samhain is also a powerful time for divinations. It is because of the fact that the spirits of the dead are
allowed to return they can give advice and prophecy. In fact many old Victorian Halloween parties featured fortune
tellers and tarot readers. Also Samhain is a prime time to channel spirits and conduct séances.
Since Samhain is the third and final harvest and marks the end of the harvest season, all crops must be gathered
from the fields by sundown on October 30th. Anything left in the fields after this time becomes property of the
Phookas (hobgoblins) and to take from the hobgoblin would risk the worst of luck. These Phookas are well known
for their mean and malicious tricks and attacks on people and the only way to get these creatures to leave you alone
was to offer them bribes of candy and sweets, thus from the tradition of Paying the Phookas arose the old Halloween
tradition of Trick or Treat.
Samhain was never considered evil to the ancients; it was a time of year where one honored those who had gone before
and the lives they led. It was a time to prepare for hard, dark times ahead. Many would not make it through the
winter and Samhain was a time to celebrate life and the knowledge that death was not all there is.
Samhain is the celebration of life over death.
With the death of the God, the wheel of the Year turns to Yule and the rebirth of the Sun God.
In Paganism death has never been seen as an end but as a transition. We, like our God, will be born anew as the
Wheel of the Year turns on and on.
To celebrate the season you can:
Create your own mask and costume
Dress up and Trick or Treat
Decorate an Ancestor Altar with pictures of deceased loved ones
Get out old family movies and pictures and tell stories about deceased loved ones
Create a “dumb super” in which a place is set for deceased loved ones
Carve Jack-O-Lanterns and charm them for protection
Light candles in your windows to welcome home family spirits
Visit the graves of your deceased family members and clean and decorate the graves
Hold a Séance and communicate with deceased loved ones
Decorate for the Holiday
Prepare indoor activities for the long winter months ahead
Suggested decorations are:
Colors: Black and Orange
Leaves, Pumpkins, Guards, Jack-o-Lanterns, Black and Orange candles
Pictures of deceased loved ones
Skeletons and Masks
Any Halloween decoration serves its purpose at Samhain
Also known as Winter Solstice
When the Wheel of the Year turns to Yule, the God who dies at Samhain, is reborn again.
The God is born to the Goddess who is in her crone stage at this time. It is foretold by our ancestors that Yule
is also the time that the Sun is reborn once more. After this night, which is the longest night in the year, the
sun will gather strength as the days get longer and warmer from this point on.
The God and the sun have always been seen as one and the same and thus the birth of one announces the birth
of the other. Yule was also a time where the ancients lit fires and candles in an attempt at sympathetic magick
to coax the sun back into the world. The holiday lights that we hang on our houses, trees, shrubs and in our
windows are a modern version of this ancient pagan tradition.
Another interesting feature of the Yule season is the Celtic tradition of the battle of the Oak and Holly Kings.
In the legends each Winter and Summer Solstice these two twins fight to the death for lordship of the year.
In reality these two “twins” are merely two sides of the same king. The Holly King represents the destruction,
darkness and decay of time, while the Oak king represents the growth, change and expansion that time brings.
Each Solstice these two kings battle for dominance. At this time, the time of the dark half of the year the Holly
King wins and the Oak King goes to the Underworld to rest until Summer Solstice where he wins and the Holly King
goes to the Underworld. A variation of this tradition is the battle of the bull and stag gods. In this variation
the stag represents the Oak King and the bull the Holly.
Since Yule has always been seen as a celebration that invokes deep magick to bring back the sun, fire has always
played an important part in the rituals. Another famous tradition of the season is the Yule log. The Druids have
long since been credited with the creation of this tradition. The Yule log is phallic and represents the rebirth
of the God within the sacred fires of the Mother Goddess. The log is decorated with ever greens, holly and berries
to represent the union of the great Mother and the God once more. Each member of the family or coven take turns
making wishes on the log. There are two traditions that are honored when it comes to the Yule log. The first is probably the oldest.
After everyone makes their wishes upon the log the log is then burned in the fire place to bring happiness to the
family home. The other is probably more recent. Three holes are drilled into the Yule log and
three candles are placed in the holes and lit to represent the Triple Goddess.
Pine trees were decorated with images of what a person wanted to bring into their life in the coming year.
Fruits and other foods were hung for the wish of having enough to eat. Coins and other precious things were hung
to bring in wealth into one's life. Ribbons and bows were hung for grace, compassion and unity. Candles were
lit on the tree to coax the sun back and to symbolize the warmth of coming summer. A star or solar shape was often
placed on the top of the tree to bring focus to the sympathetic magick.
The placing of evergreens, holly and mistletoe was important because each of these plants had triple meanings.
For one each of these plants were hung because they stayed green long, long into winter. So these plants became
symbolic of health and long life, something not often assured during the long winter months. These plants also
represented protection. They protected the home from negative spirits, illness and ill natures of people who
were forced to be cooped up inside for the long winter months. Finally they represented the blessings of the God
and Goddess and where constant reminders that they were always with us.
The wreath that most of us hang on our doors is just one more representation of the unity all of us share and
represents also the turning of seasons and the Wheel of the Year.
To Celebrate the season you can:
Charm holiday cards for protection and blessings and hand them out as talismans
Decorate a Yule tree and instead of cutting down a tree have one planted in a pot and then when the season is over plant the tree outside.
Decorate with lights and candles to bring back the sun
Leave out milk and cookies for Father Winter
Bake cookies and sing carols
Make sacred candles
Colors: Red and Green
Strings of dried rosebuds and cinnamon sticks
Garlands of popcorn and cranberries
Bags of fragrant spices with oranges and cloves
Apples, Oranges and Lemons
Yule tree, wreath, candles, lights
Suns and other solar symbols
Holly, holly berries and Mistletoe
Any Christmas decoration serves its purpose at Yule
Also known as Candlemas or Imbolc
The importance of this rite does not come from a agricultural focus or that of the
changing of a season. For all purposes the Festival of the Waxing Light is a holiday of pure magickal and spiritual focus. In ancient times the winter months were long and hard, food was scarce and in a matter of hours a healthy and strong man could be
brought down and killed by an illness. The dark winter months are depressing at best and at the time of this Sabbat, spring is still sometime away. Our ancestors used this Sabbat as a means to honor the Goddess and the growing God. To give thanks for all they did have and to seek continued protection and blessings.
This Sabbat is also known as Imbolc and Candalmas or the
festival of lights. This is due to the practice of lighting a candle in every room of the house and in every window in an attempt to bring back the sun. A modern spin on this is to turn on every light in the house on this day to call the sun
It is said that if it snows on the day of the Sabbat, there will be a longer winter. Also in addition to this there is the belief that pure snow blankets all negative energies and refreshes magick. To counter the effect of snow on this Sabbat, go outside and think of the warmth of spring and draw solar symbols and suns in the snow to counter the cold.
The Festival of Waxing Light is the time to celebrate the first stirrings of spring even though they are not yet visible. Beneath the earth the ritual of rebirth is beginning again.
To celebrate the season you can:
Turn on all the lights in the house to bring the sun back
Light candles in every room of the house and in every window
Make a Candle/Solar Wheel
Color: Pure White/Gold
Try lighting as many white candles on the altar as safely as possible
White altar cloth
Also known as Ostara
The Spring Equinox is the long awaited first day of spring, as if over night the world bursts into bright colors. The time of harsh cold and snow has come to an end. And the animals seem to be in as much of a rush to be out as we humans are and everything is fresh and new. This is the joy of the Spring Equinox. Winter has claimed those things that were at an end
and now renewal is all around. This is primarily a fertility ritual. It is at this time that the goddess sheds her crone’s face and becomes youthful and refreshed. The Sun Lord reborn at Yule, has grown into a powerful youth and now seeks the companionship of the Goddess as his love and consort. The focus of this Sabbat is fertility magick in the preparation for the gifts of summer.
The image of the colored egg has been around long before the practice of Easter. The egg has always been a symbol of fertility, life and growth. The ancients seen the egg as the ultimate form of magick. Eggs were carried as fertility amulets and were decorated to honor the Gods and it was even believed that the mere eating of an egg made one more fertile. Just as prevalent as the symbol of the egg during this time of year is that of the rabbit or hare.
The rabbit like the egg has always been seen as a strong fertility symbol, for obvious reasons. However the importance of the rabbit comes from the story of Eoster. The lowly rabbit wanted so badly to honor his beloved Goddess that he laid the sacred eggs in her honor, gaily decorated them and humbly presented them to her. She was so pleased that she wanted all of humankind to share in her joy. So to honor her wishes the rabbit went all over the world delivering the beautifully decorated gifts of life. Over the centuries the rabbit became a bunny who also delivered candy as well as the eggs.
To celebrate the season you can:
Decorate eggs and have a Spring Equinox egg hunt
Pick flowers and decorate your home to bring in the color of the season
Plant seeds and make wishes
Colors: Green, yellow and other pastel colors
Flowers, Painted eggs, Chocolate bunnies and candy eggs
Rabbits and symbols of the sun
Any Easter Decoration serves its purpose at Ostara
Beltane falls opposite Samhain in the Wheel of the Year. This
is the second of the two most important times of the year as far as our ancestors were
concerned.In the most ancient of times the year was separated into two halves. The first
half was the dark half of the year, represented by the Horned
Hunter and was celebrated from Samhain to beltane. Now in Beltane we see the other half, the light half of the year represented by
the Great Goddess of abundance. Beltane symbolized the beginning of the time of the year
were food became more abundant and the world was a brighter and warmer place.
Not only was Beltane a time in which the wheel spun to a lighter time, Beltane was and
still is an important time because it is when the Lord and Lady become lovers and all
things begin to grow from their union. At this time the child Sun God or Lord has grown
into a young adult. He now takes on the guise of Lord of the Green, the Green Man and
other guises as master of vegetation. He is a virile God of fertility. At the same time
the Goddess has reached young womanhood and is a potent Goddess of fertility. The two are
wild lovers and through their great rite, the whole world bursts into life. (This is the
time of the year that we honor both God and Goddess of fertility and Beltane is the time of
the year that we celebrate their union and often refer to the Sabbat as their wedding day.)
Beltane is a fertility rite. Beltane is the time to enjoy the
outdoors, laugh, sing and dance and to have fun. It is also a time to marvel at the
beauty of the green world. Beltane was also the time to bless the fields and herds to
ensure their bounty. Ashes from the balefire were scattered over blessed fields.
Favorite Beltane gods such as Pan and Persephone were invoked and their blessings upon
couples, herds and fields were sought.
An ancient Beltane custom that has never died out, even during the strict Puritan times is
that of the maypole. The whole ritual was and still is a fertility rite. Often called
the Dance of Life, the whole ritual involved the men of the village dancing one way while
the women of the village danced another, each weaving in and out of each other.
The maypole was a large tree that may have once been a decorated Yule tree and now had its
branches removed. The upright pole now functioned as a large phallic symbol representing
the full fertile powers of the God. It was inserted into a hole dug into the earth which
represented the womb of the Goddess. The floral wreath or ring that crowned the top and
the ribbons attached to represented the sexual organs of the Goddess and represented her
full fertile powers. The ribbons that where hung from the crowning wreath where often
white that represented the semen of the god and red that represented the menstrual blood
of the goddess. The men would take a hold of the white ribbons and the women the red and
as they danced and wove in and out of each other wove the ribbons together and created a
pattern on the pole. The entire dance was symbolic of the sexual act.
Beltane was also a fire ritual and Balefires played a very important part of the rituals.
In fact at Beltane all of the fires in the home where extinguished and then relit from the
balefire. In fact the fire played an important role in protection and health to the
ancients. Two large balefires were lit beside each other with a passage between them.
Anything of importance from the precious heads of cattle to new born babies were walked
between the fires to protected them and to cleanse any negativity off of them. It was believed
that those who wished for fertility could leap the fire and receive the blessing from the
flame. Even women jumped the fire.
To celebrate the season you can:
Plant seeds and plan a herb or follower garden
Do a special ritual to honor and protect the animals that make your life happy
Work in gardens to clear away the brush and thicket from the winter
Take nature walks and commune with nature
Perform your own ritualistic marriage of the goddess and god
Colors: Green and Yellow
Blooming flowers, Green and Yellow candles,
Statues and images of animals, Statues and images of Pan, Persephone, Maya,
Statues of lovers
Also known as Litha and Midsummer
At Midsummer the Goddess is heavy with pregnancy, just as the earth is heavy with the coming harvest's bounty. The ancients
knew that crops could be blighted and animals could miscarry, so Midsummer rituals focused on having a successful crop and harvest. Animal blessings were
very popular at Midsummer, even more than at Beltane. This practice has evolved into the Wiccan practice of blessing our pets at this time.
Ashes from the
balefire were scattered over the fields to ensure they would be healthy and fertile. Pieces of the unburnt Balefire were kept as powerful talismans of
light and were thought to hold the power of the Sun God. Also these unburnt pieces of wood where seen as a means of bringing the light and abundance of
each year into the next by using them to light the Balefire next year.
Faery folk are most active at Midsummer when they are at the height of their power.
Leaving food for the little folk at Midsummer is still a very common practice. Favorite foods of the wee folk are milk, butter, honey, wine and bread.
Many herbs and plants are fully mature at Midsummer and this is thought to be the best day to harvest magickal plants.
This is thought to be the day that the Ancient Druids gathered most of their sacred plants, including the all important mistletoe.
Midsummer is the longest day of the year and is the time when the sun is at its greatest power. After this day the sun is now waning and we begin to move
toward the ending of the year, the harvests and the death of the Sun God.
To celebrate this season you could:
Hold a ritual and invite your pets to join you, bless your animals and give thanks for their companionship
Build a bird house
Make prayer or wish flags and string them in the air
Bless your home and place new protections around your property
Tend a small garden or clean up the sides of roads and Parks
Colors: Red and Gold
Fresh cut flowers and Herbs, red and gold candles
Fresh fruits such as strawberries, peaches and apples
Suns and Moons
Also known as Lammas
This holiday is the first of the three harvest seasons. It honors the Sun God in all his glory as well as honoring the great
Harvest Mother. At this point summer is nearing it’s end, the fields are burdened with the first of three harvest ready to be picked.
The days begin to get noticeably shorter and the light is giving way to the darkness. This is a time of great sacrifice, as the Harvest Mother offers to us
all she has wrought, the Green man gives us the bounty of his kingdom and the Lord prepares to offer his life blood so that we should continue and the Wheel
This is a grain festival and is often times called the Harvest of first Fruits. Since corn, wheat and barley are ready to be picked in August.
The Native Americans celebrated a festival in August called the Festival of Green Corn, that was held in honor of the great Corn Mother.
The feast of First Harvest is the time when the first fruits of the season are eaten, especially any grains. Yellow foods such as corn, corn bread and
anything made of corn meal are especially good on this day as they honor the fading sun. Chicken especially roosters are important symbols of the season, this is because many of the ancient solar gods
were represented by the rooster. It was also common practice to leave a single sheaf of wheat or corn stalk in the field to represent the Goddess.
Also some of the wheat and corn husks were used to create the corn dolly or saved back to make one at The Festival of Waxing Light.
After this holiday, the sun is noticeably lower in the sky each evening. In some northern regions there is already a nip of Fall in the air as we move
toward the second harvest.
To Celebrate this Season you can:
Have a end of summer Picnic, Bar-B-Que or Party, featuring as many foods made from wheat’s, grains and corns as possible
Have a Weenie roast or roast marsh mellows at a bonfire
Host or go to a summer dance
Create a corn dolly
Volunteer at a homeless shelter/animal shelter
Colors: Yellow, gold and brown
Yellow, gold, brown candles,
Red and Yellow flowers
Corn, wheat, fruits, vegetables and breads
The corn dolly
Sickles and other farming paraphernalia
Also known as Fall Equinox
This focus of this holiday is the gift of bounty. Now the focus of our ancestors lives went from the tending of
fields to their clearing and preparing for winter.
Also this day marked the changing from relying on agriculture to the need to hunt.
The old Celtic Festival of Harvest Home, a time of rest from harvesting and a celebration of thanks,
was probably once celebrated at this time as well. It is because of this that The Great Harvest is often referred
to as the "Witches' Thanksgiving" and is one of the oldest harvest celebrations in Europe.
The orignal Harvest Home Festival included cider pressing, grain threshing, dancing, feasting and the crowning of a harvest King and Queen.
This is also a great time for modern covens to meet for a special feast of thanksgiving and
a special day to offer thanks to the Goddess and God for the many blessings we have.
The God will sacrifice himself at the next Sabbat to ensure that the Wheel will continue. Sacrifice has always
been an important and big deal to the ancients. In fact the ancient kings who were said to be earthly embodiments
of the God, would periodically sacrifice themselves and spill their own blood upon the ground to ensure that the
land remained fertile and their kingdoms remained strong.
At the Harvest Home festival it was customary for the harvest king to have the best of everything but it was also
customary for his throat to be slit and his blood spilled upon the fields at the end of the festival, though as
time wore on this practice changed.
Men were no longer sacrificed. Instead an offering of wine was poured upon the fields to symbolize the spilling of the king's blood.
This was also a time to honor the ancestors and to visit their graves, especially those of Female ancestors. The Great Harvest is a time when night and day are equal and all things are in balance. The forces of good and evil are thought to have equal power on this night. After this night the darkness grows in strength and we are plunged into the dark half of the year.
The old God prepares for his ritual death at Samhain and the Goddess prepares for cronehood. Gathering more and more wisdom, which comes with age, though deep inside her is the seed of the God who will be born again at Yule.
To celebrate this season you can:
Host a feast in honor of the season
Host a dance or attend one
Set aside a portion of the feast as a sacrifice to the old ones
Pour Wine upon the ground as a ritual blood sacrifice to the goddess
Fill Bird and Animal feeders for the wild animals
Colors: All Fall Colors
Orange, Brown, gold or red candles
Nuts, apples, grapes, acorns, fall leaves, Blackberry wine and corn
All Fall and Harvest decorations serve their purpose at the Great Harvest