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 the 1st.

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 pamphlet permits.

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

with "cow".

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 season.

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 year.

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 festival observances.

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 reference may

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, "Brigit’s 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 don’t 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. Blaise’s 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 by Spring.


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,
Smiling Maiden,
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 fertile.

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!

*Robert Burns


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 Stag

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 friendship.

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 Wolf.

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, hunger!

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 blackness.

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 pieces.

"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 the God."

"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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