Holidays & Sabbats
Despite competition from twentieth century "life in the fast lane", the
awesome spectacle repeated in the pattern of the changing seasons still touches our lives.
In the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous
power of this pattern had supreme recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel
these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and
bountiful herds and hunting.
One result of this process is our image of the "Wheel of the
Year" with its eight spokes -- the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and
the four minor solar festivals of the solstices and equinoxes. In common with many ancient
people, many Witches consider the day as beginning at sundown and ending at sundown the
following day. So, for example, Samhain starts at dusk on the 31st, ending the evening of
October 31 -- November Eve -- Samhain
The night lengthens and we work with the positive aspects of
darkness in the increasing star- and moonlight. Many Craft traditions, following the
ancient Celts, consider this the eve of the New Year (as day begins with sundown, so the
year begins with the first day of Winter). It is one night when the barriers between the
worlds of life and death are uncertain, allowing the ancestors to walk among the living,
welcomed and feasted by their kin, bestowing the Otherworld's blessings. We may focus
within ourselves to look "through the glass darkly", developing our divination
and psychic skills. Click here to know more about Samhain.
December 21 -- Winter Solstice -- Yule
The sun is at its nadir, the year's longest night. We internalize
and synthesize the outward-directed activities of the previous summer months. Some covens
hold a Festival of Light to commemorate the Goddess as Mother giving birth to the Sun God.
Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of Light over the Lord of Darkness as the turning
point from which the days will lengthen. The name "Yule" derives from the Norse
word for "wheel", and many of our customs (like those of the Christian holiday)
derive from Norse and Celtic Pagan practices (the Yule log, the tree, the custom of
Wassailing, et al). Click here to know more about Yule.
January 31 -- February Eve -- Imbolc (Oimelc) or Brigid
As the days' lengthening becomes perceptible, many candles are
lit to hasten the warming of the earth and emphasize the reviving of life.
"Imbolc" is from Old Irish, and may mean "in the belly", and Oimelc,
"ewe's milk", as this is the lambing time. It is the holiday of the Celtic Fire
Goddess Brigid, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, poetry/inspiration, and healing.
Brigid's fire is a symbolic transformation offering healing, visions, and tempering.
Februum is a Latin word meaning purification -- naming the month of cleansing. The thaw
releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) -- all that was hindered is let
flow at this season. Click here to know more about Brigid.
March 21 -- Vernal Equinox -- Ostara
Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the
environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel "reborn"
after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre
(Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday.
It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth.
Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter's daughter
Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in
whose footprints flowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the
heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or
absence of life. Click here to know more about Ostara.
April 30 -- May Eve -- Beltaine
As the weather heats up and the plant world burgeons, an
exuberant mood prevails. Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name
"May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth"). May
1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers. The name
"Beltaine" means "Bel's Fires"; in Celtic lands, cattle were driven
between bonfires to bless them, and people leaped the fires for luck. The association in
Germany of May Eve with Witches' gatherings is a memory of pre-Christian tradition.
"Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) is collected as a basis for
healing drinks and potions for the year to come. Click here to know
more about Beltaine.
June 21 -- Summer Solstice -- Litha or Midsummer
On this day, the noon of the year and the longest day, light and
life are abundant. We focus outward, experiencing the joys of plenty, tasting the first
fruits of the season. In some traditions the sacred marriage of the Goddess and God is
celebrated (in others, this is attributed to the springtime holidays). Rhea, the Mountain
Mother of Crete, has breathed out all creation. It is also the festival of the Chinese
Goddess of Light, Li. Click here to know more about Litha.
July 31 -- August Eve -- Lughnasadh or Lammas
This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic
fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh,
Lugus to the Gauls). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his
mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games). The second aspect is Lammas, the
Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in riutal
loaves. These aspects are not too dissimilar, as the shamanic death and transformation of
Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong "John
Barleycorn". This time is also sacred to the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt,
Artemis. Click here to know more about Lammas.
September 21 -- Autumnal Equinox -- Mabon or Harvest Home
This day sees light and dark in balance again, before the descent to the
dark times. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough
sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur
today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these.
In this way the Wheel turns, bringing us back to Samhain where we began
our cycle. Many of the festival days coincide with holidays of the Jewish and Christian
calendars. This is no accident; these points in the year were important community
celebrations, and were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian
God or a saint. The names may have changed, but the old Pagan practices still show
through. Click here to know more about Mabon.
The Sabbats of Wicca
Because witches honor nature, they have eight festivals, or Sabbats,
that mark the year as it turns through its seasons. The following is basic information
about these Sabbats, and includes both standard Wiccan information as well as my personal
Sabbat lore and experiences, in other words, what I perceive the Sabbats to be.
happens near Halloween and is when the
Wiccan year begins. My altar cloth is black, because we are in the time of year that is
dark. On my altar is the harvest, our "dead Lord" whose life is in the crops and
"sacrificed" when the crops are killed to become our food. This is the time of
death, of honoring and communing with spirits that have passed to the other side. Now the
veil between the worlds is thin. It is a good time to invite our beloved dead to visit
with us. This is not a gruesome exchange, but reverent, earthy, natural, further it is
joyous and festive. Victor Anderson says "If a ghost of a loved one shows up, ask him
to join the party."
In recent years, there have been a number of pamphlets and books put out be various
Christian organizations dealing with the origins of modern day Halloween customs. Being a
Witch myself, and a student of the ancient Celts from whom we get this holiday, I have
found these pamphlets woefully inaccurate and poorly researched. A typical example of this
information is contained in the following quote from the pamphlet entitled "What's
Wrong with Halloween?" by Russell K. Tardo. "The Druids believed that on October
31st, the last day of the year by the ancient Celtic calendar, the lord of death gathered
together the souls of the dead who had been made to enter bodies of animals, and decided
what forms they should take the following year. Cats were held sacred because it was
believed that they were once human beings ... We see that this holiday has its origin,
basis and root in the occultic Druid celebration of the dead. Only they called it
'Samhain', who was the lord of the dead (a big demon)".1 When these books and
pamphlets cite sources at all, they usually list the Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia
Americana, and the World Book Encyclopedia. The Britannica and the Americana make no
mention of cats, but do, indeed list Samhain as the Lord of Death, contrary to Celtic
scholars, and list no references. The World Book mentions the cats, and calls Samhain the
Lord of Death, and lists as its sources several children's books (hardly what one could
consider scholarly texts, and, of course, themselves citing no references).
In an effort to correct some of this erroneous information, I have researched the
religious life of the ancient Celtic peoples and the survivals of that religious life in
modern times. Listed below are some of the most commonly asked questions concerning the
origins and customs of Halloween. Following the questions is a lengthy bibliography where
the curious reader can go to learn more about this holiday than space in this small
1. Where does Halloween come from? Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent
of the ancient Celtic festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced
"sow-in", with "sow" rhyming
2. What does "Samhain" mean? The Irish-English Dictionary published by the
Irish Texts Society defines the word as follows: "Samhain, All Hallowtide, the feast
of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, signaling the close of harvest and the
initiation of the winter season, lasting till May, during which troops were quartered.
Fairies were imagined as particularly active at this season. From it, the half-year is
reckoned. Also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess).2 The Scottish Gaelic Dictionary
defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls. Sam + Fuin = end of summer."3
Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or
literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion
states as follows: "The Eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the
barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken... Not a festival honoring
any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces
that roamed the earth during that period."4 The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap
Nudd for the British and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of
death" as such.
3. Why was the end of summer of significance to the Celts? The Celts were a pastoral
people as opposed to an agricultural people. The end of summer was significant to them
because it meant the time of year when the structure of their lives changed radically. The
cattle were brought down from the summer pastures in the hills and the people were
gathered into the houses for the long winter nights of story- telling and handicrafts .
4. What does it have to do with a festival of the dead? The Celts believed that when
people died, they went to a land of eternal youth and happiness called Tir nan Og. They
did not have the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church later brought into
the land. The dead were sometimes believed to be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived
in the numerous mounds, or sidhe, (pronounced "shee" or "sh-thee")
that dotted the Irish and Scottish countryside. Samhain was the new year to the Celts. In
the Celtic belief system, turning points, such as the time between one day and the next,
the meeting of sea and shore, or the turning of one year into the next were seen as
magickal times. The turning of the year was the most potent of these times. This was the
time when the "veil between the worlds" was at its thinnest, and the living
could communicate with their beloved dead in Tir nan Og.
5. What about the aspects of "evil' that we associate with the night today? The
Celts did not have demons and devils in their belief system. The fairies, however, were
often considered hostile and dangerous to humans because they were seen as being resentful
of man taking over their land. On this night, they would sometimes trick humans into
becoming lost in the fairy mounds, where they would be trapped forever. After the coming
of the Christians to the Celtic lands, certain of the folk saw the fairies as those angels
who had sided neither with God or with Lucifer in their dispute, and thus were condemned
to walk the earth until judgment day.5 In addition to the fairies, many humans were abroad
on this night, causing mischief. Since this night belonged neither to one year or the
other, Celtic folk believed that chaos reigned, and the people would engage in
"horseplay and practical jokes".6 This also served as a final outlet for high
spirits before the gloom of winter set in.
6. What about "trick or treat"? During the course of these hijinks, many of
the people would imitate the fairies and go from house to house begging for treats.
Failure to supply the treats would usually result in practical jokes being visited on the
owner of the house. Since the fairies were abroad on this night, an offering of food or
milk was frequently left for them on the steps of the house, so the homeowner could gain
the blessing of the "good folk" for the coming year. Many of the households
would also leave out a "dumb supper" for the spirits of the departed.9 The folks
who were abroad in the night imitating the fairies would sometimes carry turnips carved to
represent faces. This is the origin of our modern Jack-o-lantern.
7. Was there any special significance of cats to the Celts? According to Katherine
Briggs in Nine Lives: Cats in Folklore,, the Celts associated cats with the Cailleach
Bheur, or Blue Hag of Winter. "She was a nature goddess, who herded the deer as her
cattle. The touch of her staff drove the leaves off the trees and brought snow and harsh
weather."7 Dr. Anne Ross addresses the use of divine animals in her book Pagan Celtic
Britain and has this to day about cats."Cats do not play a large role in Celtic
mythology ... the evidence for the cat as an important cult animal in Celtic mythology is
slight"8 She cites as supporting evidence, the lack of archaeological artifacts and
literary references in surviving works of mythology.
8. Was this also a religious festival? Yes. Celtic religion was very closely tied to
the Earth. Their great legends are concerned with momentous happenings which took place
around the time of Samhain. Many of the great battles and legends of kings and heroes
center on this night. Many of the legends concern the promotion of fertility of the earth
and the insurance of the continuance of the lives of the people through the dark winter
9. How was the religious festival observed? Unfortunately, we know very little about
that. W.G. Wood-Martin, in his book, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, states,
"There is comparatively little trace of the religion of the Druids now discoverable,
save in the folklore of the peasantry, and the references relative to it that occur in
ancient and authentic Irish manuscripts are, as far as present appearances go, meager and
insufficient to support anything like a sound theory for full development of the ancient
religion."10 The Druids were the priests of the Celtic peoples. They passed on their
teachings by oral tradition instead of committing them to writing, so when they perished,
most of their religious teachings were lost. We do know that this festival was
characterized as one of the four great "Fire Festivals" of the Celts. Legends
tell us that on this night, all the hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished, and then
re-lit from the central fire of the Druids at Tlachtga, 12 miles from the royal hill of
Tara. This fire was kindled from "need fire" which had been generated by the
friction of rubbing two sticks together, as opposed to more conventional methods (such as
the flint-and-steel method) common in those days.11 The extinguishing of the fires
symbolized the "dark half" of the year, and the re-kindling from the Druidic
fires was symbolic of the returning life hoped for, and brought about through the
ministrations of the priesthood.
10. What about sacrifices? Animals were certainly killed at this time of year. This was
the time to "cull" from the herds those animals which were not desired for
breeding purposes for the next year. Most certainly, some of these would have been done in
a ritual manner for the use of the priesthood.
11. Were humans sacrificed? Scholars are sharply divided on this account, with about
half believing that it took place and half doubting its veracity. Caesar and Tacitus
certainly tell tales of the human sacrifices of the Celts, but Nora Chadwick points out in
her book The Celts that "it is not without interest that the Romans themselves had
abolished human sacrifice not long before Caesar's time, and references to the practice
among various barbarian peoples have certain overtones of self-righteousness. There is
little direct archaeological evidence relevant to Celtic sacrifice."12 Indeed, there
is little reference to this practice in Celtic literature. The only surviving story echoes
the tale of the Minotaur in Greek legend: the Fomorians, a race of evil giants said to
inhabit portions of Ireland before the coming of the Tuatha de Danaan (or "people of
the Goddess Danu"), demanded the sacrifice of 2/3 of the corn, milk, and first born
children of the Fir Bolg, or human inhabitants of Ireland. The de Danaan ended this
practice in the second battle of Moy Tura, which incidentally, took place on Samhain. It
should be noted, however, that this story appears in only one (relatively modern)
manuscript from Irish literature, and that manuscript, the "Dinnsenchus", is
known to be a collection of fables. According to P.W. Joyce in Vol. 2 of his Social
History of Ancient Ireland, "Scattered everywhere through our ancient literature,
both secular and ecclesiastical, we find abundant descriptions and details of the rites
and superstitions of the pagan Irish; and in no place - with this single exception - do we
find a word or hint pointing to human sacrifice to pagan gods or idols."13
12. What other practices were associated with this season? Folk tradition tells us of
many divination practices associated with Samhain. Among the most common were divinations
dealing with marriage, weather, and the coming fortunes for the year. These were performed
via such methods as ducking for apples and apple peeling. Ducking for apples was a
marriage divination. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the
coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your life would be. The longer
the unbroken apple peel, the longer your life was destined to be.14 In Scotland, people
would place stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the night. Anyone whose
stone had been disturbed during the night was said to be destined to die during the coming
13. How did these ancient Celtic practices come to America? When the potato crop in
Ireland failed, many of the Irish people, modern descendants of the Celts, immigrated to
America, bringing with them their folk practices, which were remnants of the Celtic
14. We in America view this as a harvest festival. Did the Celts also view it as such?
Yes. The Celts had 3 harvests. Aug 1, or Lammas, was the first harvest, when the first
fruits were offered to the Gods in thanks. The Fall equinox was the true harvest. This was
when the bulk of the crops would be brought in. Samhain was the final harvest of the year.
Anything left on the vines or in the fields after this date was considered blasted by the
fairies ("pu'ka") and unfit for human consumption.
15. Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious observance? Yes. many followers
of various pagan religions, such as Druidism and Wicca, observe this day as a religious
festival. They view it as a memorial day for their dead friends and family, much as the
world does the national Memorial Day holiday in May. It is still a night to practice
various forms of divination concerning future events. It is also considered a time to wrap
up old projects, take stock of one's life, and initiate new projects for the coming year.
As the winter season is approaching, it is a good time to do studying on research
projects, and also a good time to begin hand work such as sewing, leather working,
woodworking, etc., for Yule gifts later in the year. And while "satanists" are
using this holiday as their own, this is certainly not the only example of a holiday (or
even religious symbols) being "borrowed" from an older religion by a newer one.
16. Does this involve human or animal sacrifice? Absolutely NOT! Hollywood to the
contrary, blood sacrifice is not practiced by modern followers of Wicca or Druidism. There
may be some people who THINK they are practicing Wicca by performing blood sacrificing,
but this is NOT condoned by reputable practitioners of today's neo-Pagan religions.
or winter solstice happens
near December 21, which is the longest darkest night of the year. The dark of Winter is
safe like my bedcovers at night. Dark whispers of a Mother's love caress me. In the
darkness of the Mother's womb, the void I am safe, sustained, at peace. and can move
inward, into my own dark self, looking, learning, purifying. I can cleanse myself of all
that blocks me from being born new with the rising new solstice sun when the sun king is
born, with promises for the Spring ahead.
Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how
enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the 'Christmas' season. Even though we prefer to use
the word 'Yule', and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless
follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling,
presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a 'Nativity
set', though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother
Nature,Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone
who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.
In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than
Christian, with it's associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman
Mithraism. That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans
refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be
more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston! The holiday was
already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. And many
of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra,
Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was
uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated
the Christian Savior.
Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the
Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and
shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God -- by whatever name
you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother
and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of
the winter, 'the dark night of our souls', there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred
Fire,the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians. Perhaps even
more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than
once to reject it. There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus
on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320
C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the
Mithraic celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.
There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically
accurate. Shepherds just don't 'tend their flocks by night' in the high pastures in the
dead of winter! But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this
point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus's birth. This is because the
lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to
'watch their flocks by night' -- to make sure the lambing goes well. Knowing this, the
Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a 'movable date'
fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.
Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was
supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a
civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that
contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In
563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the
Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred,
festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader,
who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a SINGLE
day, but rather a period of TWELVE days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of
Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this
approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.
Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than
Christianity itself, which means that 'Christmas' wasn't celebrated in Ireland until the
late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany
until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these
countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had
heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing
on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year's log. Riddles were posed and
answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along
with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while
carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were
subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many
of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream
of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if
they do) their origins.
For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon 'Yula', meaning 'wheel' of the year) is
usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it
usually occurs on or around December 21st. It is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the
modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one.
This year (1997) it occurs on December 21st 12:08 PM PST. Pagan customs are still
enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It
was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept
burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash. Later, the Yule log was
replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on it.
In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and
Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced
back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a
tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the
proper way to dispatch any sacred object.
Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants
of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially
venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the
moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically -- not medicinally! It's highly
toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient
times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of
every type of good food. And drink! The most popular of which was the 'wassail cup'
deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term 'waes hael' (be whole or hale).
Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy
Night arrives, that bees hum the '100th psalm' on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas
will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that
a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at
midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each
Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad
luck is sure to follow, that 'if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see',
that 'hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May', that one can use
the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the
coming year, and so on.
Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs,
it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In doing so, we can
share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different
interpretation. And thus we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when
the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion
again. To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, 'Goddess bless us, every one!'
or Candlemas, on February 2,
is the festival of the Goddess Brigid, patron of poetry, healing, and metalsmithing.
Brigid's poetry inspires me to shake off winter's sleep now, stretch and start to get
ready for Spring. I am still drowsy.
In most areas in North America, February 2nd is usually a day
during the most dismal part of the year weather wise. It is usually rainy or snowy and
most often quite cold. This makes a perfect time for the Wiccan Festival of Lights!
February 2nd marks the day of Imbolc, or in some traditions, Oimelc. The name of
"Candlemas" comes to us by way of the Christians. This is the day that marks the
beginning of the Spring season of growth. We can see the new budding flowers and the signs
that Spring is on her way. Imbolc literally means "in the belly." In the womb of
the Goddess Mother there are the beginnings of new life, waiting to explode into our view!
The seeds that were planted in Her at the solstice are now growing and the new wheel
grows. This is also the lambing season and so we get the word, Oimelc, which means
"milk of ewes."
The Irish often call this day, "Brigits Day," in honor of the Goddess
Brigit. She is considered a goddess of fire, so in Kildare, Ireland, a group of 19 women
kept a flame burning in her honor. It was during this time that Brigit would bestow a
special blessing on any woman about to be married, as another form of the name Brigit is
"Bride." The Great Goddess of Ireland could never be called a demon by the
Church, so instead, the Roman Catholics canonized her. She became "Saint Brigit,
patron SAINT of smithcraft, poetry, and healing." The Church told the uneducated
Irish peasant on the street that Brigit was really an early Christian missionary sent to
the Emerald Isle, and that she performed miracles so the people there believed that she
was a goddess. We dont know why, but many of the Irish bought this. Another piece of
lore commonly believed by the Irish was that Brigit was the mother of Christ. They gave no
consideration to the fact that the boy never spent any of his childhood in Ireland.
This Holiday was often marked by the use of sacred fires, symbolizing the fire of birth
and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of inspiration. Bonfires were lit and the
chandlers celebrated their holiday. The Church was quick to make use of this symbolism as
well, using "Candlemas" as the day to bless the candles that would be used in
the church for the coming year. The following day, St. Blaises Day, was for using
the blessed candles to bless the throats of the parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu
and the like.
Imbolc is a great day for making candles! One custom is to put one in each window of
your home and let them burn down until morning. For safety sake, you may not want to do
this if you have pets or children. In all cases, make sure the candles are well secured
form tipping. It is a very cheery picture to see a house on a dark dreary night to be lit
up with candles. This is a good time for using candles in magick and in divination. It is
an excellent time for cleansing and purification. It is the time to clean the house and
bring in the bright new energy that comes with the birth of all things new that is brought
happens about March 21, and I
pass from one time into the other, yet am between one time and another. I completely shed
winter's sleep. As a time of passing, transition, it is powerful - a time of balance -
equal day and equal night - so a time of magic. I am poised between being bound, and the
movement of Spring. Bound like sleeping beauty who is released by love's kiss into the
violent passion of Spring. Bound as in the cosmic egg, which exploded when the cosmos was
hatched. Explosive moment of creation - moving dynamically chaotically.
Child of eternity,
Ever pure, ever free,
Ever laughing, ever loving,
Come dance with us!
Ostara marks the return of Spring. In 1998, Ostara falls on March 20, at 2:54 PM PST.
Ostara is also the beginning of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. This high holiday is named
for the traditional Wiccan Goddess of Spring, the Goddess Ostara. Ostara is a Goddess of
the East and of the dawn. We picture here the Goddess in her Maiden form.
The symbols of this celebration usually have much to do with bright colors. Consider
clothing accented with brightly colored accessories and jewelry. Decorate your environment
with bright flowers and fresh greenery.
There are many fertility themes associated with Ostara. The origin of "Easter
Eggs" is found here. Eggs and rabbits are very common symbols of fertility. This is
also where we get the "Easter Bunny." The main theme here is renewal. Spring is
the renewal and rebirth of Nature herself.
At this time we think of renewing ourselves. We renew our thoughts, our dreams, and our
aspirations. We think of renewing our relationships. This is an excellent time of year to
begin anything new or to completely revitalize something. This is also an excellent month
for prosperity rituals or rituals that have anything to do with growth.
or May-Day, is a celebration
of love. And we're talking Pagan now! Love -- moon rhymes with June, so the universe gets
created. LAHV! The Ancient people, from the Priests and Priestesses to the farmers
understood the power of love: loving company between two people is an echo of the act that
created all things. No, let me rephrase that: it IS the act of creation.
The celebration of May 1st, or Beltane is one of the most
important festivals the year. The word Beltane literally means, "shining fire."
This is one of the most exciting festivals of the Wheel of the year. It is also one of the
only holidays that is usually celebrated in the light of day. The collecting of spring
flowers is one of the popular customs of this day. For thousands of years, people would go
into the fields to collect the pretty flowers and exchange them.
Towns people would often proceed through the village streets putting flowers on all the
houses and buildings. People inside the homes would offer them wonderful food and goodies
to eat as sort of a spring version of "trick or treat." Another benchmark
tradition of this holiday is the Maypole. In tradition, a fir was used. The young, unwed
men would go to the forest and return with the tree that would be fashioned into the pole.
The pole was brought to the center of the village to be guarded through the night until
the first day of May. On that day, the people would come and dance around the maypole
clockwise to bring fertility and good luck. Later, brightly colored ribbons were woven
around the pole by the dancers as they wove around eachother. This symbolizes the balance
of masculine and feminine energies and the duality of life. The ribbons would then be
removed and kept in a safe place to be burned in the Beltane fires of next year. This
action represents the old dying to give birth to the new.
Fertility is a central theme of Beltane. The people lived in close connection with the
Earth. To have food to eat, the crops and the beasts of the fields would have to be
In the time of the ancients, this was a life and death matter. For this reason, we have
a number of holidays and rituals that are connected with fertility. The maypole is
connected to this theme by way of the view point of it being a phallic symbol.
Another fertility representation is the custom of jumping the cauldron. Couples wishing
to conceive children will jump the cauldron together. Fertility of all areas of life are
invoked during this holiday as well as sexual fertility. This is the day for Wiccans to
laugh and banter about having the most joyous of times!
or Summer Solstice,
happens about June 21. All things move in spirals, and I watch the year move in a spiral,
right now spiraling up to the sun's climax. I celebrate summer and the heat of the Gods.
Litha, or Mid-Summer is the holiday that is seen as the peak of
the power of the God of Light. This representation of the God is often known as the Oak
King. Mid-Summer is the beginning of the Summer Solstice. It is the longest day of the
year. At this time, the God of Light is at his highest strength and at the peak, he crests
and gives way to his twin, the God of Darkness (not evil or satanic), often known as the
Holly King. Rituals depicting these two kings in a battle are often depicted. Many see
them as two rival personalities within the same Deity.
The Oak King is born at Yule, the Winter Solstice. He gains strength with the nights
growing shorter and the days longer. At the moment of his greatest power, Litha
(Mid-Summer), he confronts himself in the mirror and sees the other side of his
personality, the Holly King. The Holly King is born at Mid-Summer. He gains strength until
Yule, the night of his greatest power, the longest night. At that point, he then looks in
the mirror and sees the other side of himself, the Oak King.
There are many versions of this lore. One viewpoint has a Christian tone. This view
sees Jesus Christ as the Holly King, while John the Baptist is seen as the Oak King. One
reason for this identification is the fact that the birth of Christ is celebrated on
December 25th, and the birth of John the Baptist is celebrated at the Summer Solstice.
Consider decorating your environment with fir boughs, birch, fennel, and lily. Sun
flowers are an obvious here as well. This is a good time of year to work with increasing
strength and focus, clarity and fertility. This is also the time when many believe that
the Faeries come out to play and that they speak in the human tongue. For many, this is
the Faerie high holiday.
Wicca is often seen as having a basis of the spiral of life, representing the never
ending circle of death and rebirth. The duality of our religion encourages us to be aware
of that which balances. Many of our high holidays remind us that dichotomies do not really
exist. Where there is death, there is life. Where there is Light, there is Dark.
or Lammas, is August 1.
Now the Corn King dies as his body is harvested from the fields so that I may be fed, so
that I may live, so that I may go into the winter months of darkness rich with his blood
and love in my veins. The Dark King, Shepherd of souls, becomes stronger now. With WInter
I will go inward, to the inner depths of my own soul. And HE will embrace me with His love
in the coming trials and celebrations of the Wintertime. Some of my crops are harvested
and I give thanks. Some of my crops are not yet ready and I must insure their harvest.
The festival of Lugnasadh, or Lammas marks the end of summer and
the beginning of fall. This is the first of three harvest festivals. The day now grows
visibly shorter and the temperatures begin to hint at the winter to come.
We get the name, "Lammas" from the medieval Christians. Lammas means,
"loaf-mass," giving us the tradition of baking loves of bread from the first
grain harvest. These were often laid on the church altar as an offering. This represented
the use of the first fruits of harvest.
"Lugnasadh" is the name of the holiday that comes to us from Gaelic,
referring to the feast celebrating the games of the Irish sun god, Lugh. Reading the lore,
we find that Lugh actually is commemorating the death of Taillte, his foster mother. The
Lugnasadh celibrations are often called the Tailltean Games in Ireland.
A very common custom during this time is the handfasting that lasts a year and a day.
Couples use this time to decide if they can live together for life or to part ways. If
they decided to handfast for life, a ceremony would insue making that official.
Handfastings of both types can occur during any time of year, though during this time is a
well known practice.
Lugnasadh is the common time of year for medieval guilds to put on Renaissance
Festivals. Merchants attending these will display their wares in traditional Renaissance
appearance. Today, there are large groups of people that work the fairs as actors and
actresses. They dress in medieval costumes and even learn to talk the common speech of the
Renaissance period. Ren fare is a place where one can go to this day to see traditional,
full contact jousting. Traditional music and dance is there. Shows and parades go through
the day. Re-enactment of famous field battles is also common.
Traditional food and drink is available. These festivals are great fun, but beware of
overspending, as the opportunity is great and tempting indeed!
Once upon a Lammas Night
When corn rigs are bonny,
Beneath the Moon's unclouded light, I held awhile to Annie...
The time went by with careless heed
Between the late and early,
With small persuasion she agreed
To see me through the barley...
Corn rigs and barley rigs,
Corn rigs are bonny!
I'll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie!
or Fall Equinox, happens near
or on September 21.Today, the length of night time is equal to the length of daytime. At
the Equinox, I become aware that this time is not the balance, or rather the order, one
usually sees in nature. Nature is not really balanced. But ordered. A cyprus by the ocean
grows windblown by ocean storm and wind, bowing towards the earth. That cyprus is the
usual balance or order of nature - stable, poised, in harmony. ALL of nature leans like
the ocean-blown cyprus towards the dark earth. But Fall Equinox is a balance of light and
dark, night and day and therefore is truly an outlandish moment in time: equality, a equal
balancing, an actual moment of balance. I draw on my roots in the darkness, yet revel in
the kiss of summer breeze and sun. I face the darkness of the fall and winter ahead and so
face mysteries. The Goddess has surprises for me in the wintry months ahead that will
surpass my best hopes.
The Wolf and the
In the time before the tribes of Man walked upon the Earth, the Wolf and the Stag were
of the same blood. They shared the world with all of the other animals in peace and
It came that a dangerous time fell upon the land. The spirits of the South had become
harsh and had baked the earth until it was hard and dry. They kept the spirits of West
from bringing water to the parched land. Food became scarce and the water that remained
was like acid on the tongue. When the rains did come, they fell upon the barren ground in
angry sheets that gouged great fissures in the face of the world.
Stag worried greatly for his sister Wolf. She had become thin and weak and Stag knew
that the snows of Winter were not long from coming to bring the world to icy sleep.
Fearing that Wolf could not survive, Stag called out to the Goddess for aid.
"Great Mother" cried Stag, "Please save my sister! There is no food and
she is weak and sick. She must eat soon or she will perish."
"All that you require you need only to seek." the voice of the Goddess sang
in Stag's heart. "But remember, that whatever you seek, if you find it not within,
you will never find it without."
The words of the Goddess confused Stag and he cried out again," Mother, the Earth
is barren and the Winter comes soon. I fear it may already be too late, for had I food to
give her I know not if she has the strength to eat."
"If you find food for her," the Goddess spoke in rustling leaves, "then
I shall grant her the strength she shall need to eat." And then she was gone. Stag
was gladdened at the hope of saving his sister and hurried off to find nourishment for
Long and hard Stag searched, turning the ground with his hooves, moving rocks and logs
with his horns, but he found nothing to bring back for his sister. He continued his quest
until he was too weak to search any longer.
With great sadness in his heart he returned to Wolf and wept, "Forgive me my
sister, but I have searched the land over and could find no food for you to eat."
"Then this is how it must be." said Wolf. "I thank you for your efforts,
my brother. I shall think of you often and will await you arrival in the Summerland. I
love you, Stag." With that, Wolf laid down to wait for death to take her. Stag laid
with her and wept tears of desperation and helplessness.
Wolf had lain motionless for a long time when the Dark Goddess appeared to Stag again
and said, "I must take Wolf now to the Summerland." and reached out icy fingers
toward Wolfıs still form.
Stag could bear his sorrow no more and cried out at the Goddess. "No!" he
bellowed, "Do not take the life of my sister! She is kind and wise and loving of all
things. If only one of us can survive then let it be her. I offer over my life to you if
it will let her live."
"Brave Stag," whispered the Goddess, "Your love for Wolf is true and
strong. I will grant your request, her life is spared."
Wolf's body twitched and shuddered violently and with a great yelp, Wolf leapt to her
feet. What Stag saw next struck terror in his heart. For the creature that stood before
him was no longer held the loving eyes of his sister. No, these eyes said but one thing,
Wolf started to move toward Stag with cautious calculation and unwavering stare.
Confused and frightened, Stag could think of but one thing to do, and that was run. Into
the woods Stag dashed, with no thought but run. Wolf moved with lightning speed on spindly
legs and wizened frame that belied the strength of the Goddess the flowed within, her eyes
fixed on her goal.
Stag ran as hard as he could but quickly tired for he too had had nothing to eat for
many days. Suddenly, Wolf was upon him in a blur of fang and claw and blood. Stag kicked
at Wolf and forcing her off of him and held her at bay using his antlers as a shield.
"What has happened to my sister?" he thought. "Why is she doing
this?" He continued to fight Wolf off but his strength ebbed quickly and he knew he
could no longer keep her away. Just as Wolf was preparing for her next attack Stag heard
the Goddess singing again, "if you find it not within, you will never find it
without." and in that moment he understood it all. He was to be the food that his
sister needed to survive. The Goddess had honored his request to spare the life of Wolf
and to take his in her stead. In her wisdom, the Goddess had known that Wolf would never
willingly take the life of her brother. So she had made the hunger blind her until all she
could see was food.
All of the fear and confusion was washed away from Stag and he raised himself up to his
full stature and proudly waited for Wolf to come. And Wolf did come.
As he fell, Stag saw the Goddess looking on and she was smiling at him. "Thank you
for the life of my sister." he thought as death came to him in a warm embrace of
Wolf ate until she could eat no more and then, exhausted, she lay down and slept. She
slept for a long time and dreamt of running through the forest with her brother.
Wolf awoke expecting to see her brother by her side as he had always been. Instead, she
found Stagıs lifeless body and the memory of what had occurred nearly tore her heart to
"What have I done?!" she sobbed. Her pain and sorrow welled up in her and
burst forth from her throat as a sound the likes of which had never before been heard in
the world. All the animals stopped and listened to the mournful sound and heard the name
"Stag" as it was carried throughout the land on Wolf's baleful song.
The Goddess, hearing this cry, came to Wolf and soothed, "Weep not for your
brother, my child, for he shall live on."
"But I have killed him!" wept Wolf.
"No," purred the Goddess, "So strong was Stag's love for you that he
gave his life unto you that you might live. I shall bring him forth again and again as my
lover and consort and the Stag shall ever more be a symbol of the love and sacrifice of
"And so I shall forever honor his gift to me." said Wolf. "Leave me as I
am, thin and gaunt, for it shall remind me of his love and sacrifice. And when the night
is full I shall sing his name to the heavens, as will my children and my grandchildren so
that the name of Stag will live on until Wolf and Stag are no more.
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