An Overview of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year
One of the things in Wicca I personally find most beautiful and meaningful is the Wheel of the Year. It's referred to as a "wheel" because it's constantly turning; there's really no end, and no beginning. Over the course of the year, there are special points. These points mark our Sabbats-- holy days of observation.
There are eight Wiccan Sabbats around the Wheel of the Year. Four of these are known as the "quarters"-- these are the two solstices and two equinoxes, or the 'Lesser Sabbats'. The others are known as "cross-quarters"-- the day that fall mid-way between the quarters, also known as the 'Greater Sabbats'.
The Wheel of the Year is like a tapestry that weaves life, the universe and everything into a bigger picture. There are multiple layers to the meaning within each Sabbat that work together harmoniously. Let's explore the overall Wheel.
If you want to celebrate the next sabbat on the wheel of the year, look here for ideas.
The Wiccan Wheel of the Year
The Eight Wiccan Sabbats
circa December 21
zenith of winter
beginning of spring
circa March 21
zenith of spring
beginning of summer
circa June 21
zenith of summer
beginning of autumn
circa September 21
zenith of autumn
beginning of winter
The Four Seasons
Celebrating the Seasons
The most obvious meaning to the sabbats are that they're seasonal celebrations. Notice how they differ from the secular calender-- whereas the secular calender considers the solstices and the equinoxes to be the beginning of each new season, the Wiccan Wheel of the Year considers them the high point of the season. This actually makes more sense in terms of each being an extreme:
- the Winter Solstice is the longest night/shortest day of the year, the height of winter.
- the Summer Solstice is the longest day/shortest night of the year, the height of summer
- the Spring Equinox is when day and night are equal, but daylight begins to overtake darkness
- the Autumn Equinox is when day and night are equal, but darkness begins to overtake the daylight
Celebrating the Agricultural Cycle
The next layer of meaning in the Wiccan sabbats is that they are a celebration of the agricultural cycle. Wicca is a religion that reveres nature and our connection to the land. This cycle was of such importance to our Pagan ancestors. They depended on it because they lived off the land in ways that most of us no longer thing about. We can now store meat in the fridge, buy canned veggies or have our fresh fruit transported from other parts of the world. We have heaters and air conditioners. We don't have to work the land anymore. Because of this, we forget that we are part of an inter-dependent web of life; we forget just how important the planet is to us.
A Lovely Wheel of the Year Plaque:
These kinds of decorations help remind me of the importance my faith plays in my life. They look like artwork to any visitor to my home, but those in the know understand the special meaning. I like to rotate my Wheel of the Year plaque so that the current Sabbat is always facing up. The Wheel turns, the power burns!
The Wheel of the Year reminds us to take time and think about how dependent on and connected to nature we really are. This ebbing and flowing of nature is something we can attune with by observing the Wheel, even if we don't farm or hunt. Agriculturally, The Wheel of the Year can be divided up as follows:
The fertility festivals:
The harvest festivals:
The seasons of rest:
The Cycle of Life
Celebrating the Life Cycle
Within the Wheel of the Year, in the Earth's annual journey around the Sun, we can see a reflection of our own journey. The cycle of the seasons reflect the cycles of our lives. In the span of the year in nature, we see mirrored what lies behind us, and what lies ahead.
The associations between the seasons and the parts of our lives are as follows:
- Yule = birth (or rebirth)
- Imbolc = childhood
- Ostara = puberty
- Beltane = sexual awakening/transition to adulthood
- Litha = middle age/prime of life
- Lughnasadh = aging
- Mabon = senior citizenship
- Samhain = death
Great Guide for Pagan Witches:
Timing my magical goals to the Wheel has brought about much more success. Results are more effective when the timing draws from the energy of the season.
Celebrating the Stages and Phases of Life
Along with the ages of life, there are various stages of life that we experience over and over. We go through phases repeatedly. Just like the seasons, just like our lives, everything naturally has a beginning, a middle and an end. Part of the meaning of the Wheel of the Year is celebrating these.
Associations for the different seasons include:
- Yule = hope; new beginnings; moving on
- Imbolc = awakenings; stirrings; being cleansed and purified
- Ostara = planning; starting things; 'sowing seeds'
- Beltane = personal growth; unions; relationships
- Litha = taking a break; having some fun; getting over the 'humps' of our endeavors
- Lughnasadh = hard work; efforts; learning; skill
- Mabon = being grateful; reaping what you sow; rewards for efforts
- Samhain = reflecting; getting through transitions; letting go
More than The Wheel of the Year:
A great overview of all Pagan holidays of various cultures-- not just for Wiccans.
Connecting To Our Gods
Celebrating the Bigger Picture
One final layer of our Wheel of the Year celebrations are on a level beyond nature and ourselves. They are on a spiritual level that link us to the Divine and unite us all in the human experience-- things universally experienced through the soul, that greater connection through which we're all connected. These are revealed through myths. Myths are not something we take as literally true-- they transmit the wisdom of the ages.
The myths observed around the Wheel of the Year vary from culture to culture. One most common generic, simple form of the myth is that the God-- the bringer of life-- represents the sun that nurtures the earth. He's the sacrificial king. It's his life represented by the Wheel. Each hear he dies at Samhain only to be reborn at the Winter Solstice.
The Goddess -- the keeper of life -- represnts the Earth. She has three aspects. The first is the Maiden, where she falls in love and is filled with life by the young, virile God. The second is as Mother, when she gives birth to and nurtures the life. The final aspect is the Old Wise One, the one to guide us to the afterlife and and helps us prepare for for rebirth.
The Wheel of the Year
It should be known up front that the Wheel of the Year is not an ancient cycle of holidays. Though many of the days on them are based on older festivals the Wheel came from the 20th century, from the Wiccan religion, and has been embraced by many NeoPagans and Witches in the Pagan revival.
In Wicca, it's an important part of our world view. The sabbats don't need to be huge wild parties, but they should be observed, even in some small way. On the other hand, there is no better way to get out and take part in our Pagan community than to go to a sabbat celebration.
The importance of the sabbat has always been summed up nicely for me through the words of a song from the 1973 Children's movie, Charlottes Web.
This Song Says it All
So allow me to close with the following quote from the movie:
How very special are we
for just a moment to be
part of life's eternal rhyme
How very special are we
to have on our family tree
Mother Earth and Father Time
If You Celebrate the Wheel of the Year
What's your favorite Sabbat?
- 5% Winter Solstice/Yule
- 5% Imbolc
- 5% Spring Equinox/Ostara
- 5% Beltane
- 5% Summer Solstice/Litha
- 2% Lughnasadh
- 9% Autumn Equinox/Mabon
- 21% Samhain
- 2% Other: something specific to my culture/trad
- 40% I can't choose-- they're all beautiful