Followers of the Pagan philosophy of Wicca view the year as a cycle, or wheel with no beginning or end as with all natural life cycles. There are eight festivals, or 'sabbats'1, which mark various points of the year and its progress through the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. Four of the sabbats are festivals of the sun whilst the other four are Celtic in origin.
Customs vary between individual covens2 and solitary practitioners also, but below are the basic outlines of each festival. The dates used in this entry are in line with European seasons and can be adjusted accordingly for other parts of the world where the seasons differ in order.
Imbolc (or Candlemas), 2 February
Imbolc, which is Celtic for 'ewes' milk' is a time of new beginnings. It is the start of the lambing season, when the first green shoots appear in the fields, a time of hope as the days lengthen and the nights shorten.
Most Imbolc rituals include the lighting of candles to symbolise and celebrate the returning light. Other customs include making a 'wish' to be granted by the goddess Juno Februata. On a practical level, this time is believed to be good for starting new ventures.
Spring Equinox, 21 or 22 March
As the days and nights become equal, fertility returns to the land. Customs include planting seeds and physical and emotional 'spring-cleaning'.
Beltane, 30 April or 1 May
Beltane means 'bright fire' in Gaelic. It is the festival of life and light. It heralds the first day of summer, often with bonfires to symbolise the strength of the rising sun. Customs today include fertility rites and maypole dancing.
Summer Solstice, 21 or 22 June
The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, with the sun at its strongest. Customs include harvesting healing herbs. It is a good time for spells linked to romance and love.
Lammas, 1 August
Lammas, or 'loaf mass' in Celtic was traditionally the time when the first new grain was baked into bread. It is a time of giving thanks to nature for her fruits and reaping what we have sown. Customs include reflecting on one's blessings.
Autumnal Equinox, 23 or 24 September
The light half of the year is drawing to a close and the power of the moon rises. Customs include gathering orchard fruits and late harvests and turning one's attention inward, or self-development.
Samhain, 31 October
Samhain is the feast of the dead. It is the time when the veil between this world and the next is believed to be at its thinnest. Customs include leaving food and drink for visiting ancestors and lost loved ones. It is an excellent time for divination and scrying.
Yule (or Winter Solstice), 21 or 22 December
This sabbat marks the shortest day of the year with a festival of light. The upcoming return of the sun is celebrated. Customs include feasting, the giving of gifts and the putting up of a holly wreath as a symbol of the wheel of life.