It is I, your friendly neighborhood Wiccan, here to educate people, dispel stereotypes and answer any questions anybody has along the way about Wicca and general Paganism. Now that we’ve covered some basic stereotypes about Wicca and what they actually mean, let’s go over some of the holidays the history and their modern religious significance for Wiccans.
The Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is based off of an agricultural society, one which uses the natural turnings of the Earth to determine religious holidays. One of the main reasons I like Wicca so much is that it goes back to ancient roots such as these, although Wicca as we know it today wasn’t practiced as such until the 1950’s. There are eight Sabbats in Wicca, divided into major and minor categories. The major Sabbats are large celebrations and the minor Sabbats celebrate the equinoxes, such as the one we just had on June 21st.
Samhain (Sow-en): October 31st – November 1st
Samhain is considered “The New Year” for Wiccans. It is a time to honor the deceased and pay respects to our ancestors whom many Wiccans believe watch over them no matter how many generations have passed. It might sound morbid to revolve a festival around death, but as the cycle of life continues, death is necessary for rebirth and there cannot be life without death. It is important to honor these cycles of life.
Many people know that there is some sort of influence associated with Halloween and there are many stereotypes associated with this holiday. During the 8th century, the heads of the Catholic Church decided to use November 1st as All Saints Day, and it became a festival to honor any said that didn’t have a day of their own. The mass was said on the eve of All Hallow’s Day – All Hallow’s Eve. Eventually the word became Halloween. Nothing too scary about that, right?
Yule: December 21st
Yule is the Festival of Light. Around this time, we have the Winter Solstice and the days begin to get longer. For someone who might have lived when there were no electric or gas lights, the longer days meant that more work could be done and so there would be more prosperity. It also signaled the coming of the warmer months that are desperately needed to grow crops.
This celebration was very popular for people in the Northern Hemisphere and many Norse traditions still exist today such as decorated trees, the Yule Log, and Wassailing. Romans used to decorate bits of shrubbery with ornaments to represent various gods, and some Germanic tribes decorated trees with fruit and candles. The Yule Log represents the return of the sun as it brings warmth and brightness into homes, and Wassailing was used to celebrate the good health of friends, family, and neighbors.
Imbolc: February 1st
Imbolc is a wonderful harbinger of Spring. In Irish Gaelic it’s called “Oimelc”, which translates to “Ewe’s Milk”. During this time the ewes are nursing their new lambs, and it means that spring planting is right around the corner. This is also a day that many Wiccans worship Brighid (St. Brigid) and the Church turned it into a religious holiday for convenience. Brighid is the goddess of the hearth and home, and her two sisters are also called Brighid, and the three represent the stages of a woman’s life: Maid, Mother, and Crone.
Ostara: March 21st
If you look closely at the word Ostara, you might see that it looks similar to another word that many people know: Easter. This is the time of the year for spring planting and waiting for the warmer days to come. This is also a time of fertility and is when many animals start to mate, especially rabbits. The Easter egg, popular for egg hunts and for consuming in chocolate form is actually a fertility symbol but don’t tell that to any small children for fear of choruses such as “ewww, gross!”
Beltane: May 1st
Beltane is the fire festival! It is a time to celebrate that the spring planting is done and to look at the wonders of the Earth. As the Earth is seen as the literal womb of the Goddess, this is a time when the God (the life on the Earth) plants his seed in her. Contain your snickers, everybody. It’s a very sexual metaphor, but Wiccans don’t usually shy away from symbolism such as that. This union of the God and Goddess creates life, which means that the harvest will be coming up soon during June and July which are recognized as the strongest points of the summer.
In ancient times, cattle were driven through the smoke of the bonfires and were blessed with fertility and abundance for the coming year. People themselves would also go through this smoke in order to ensure prosperity.
Litha: June 21st – 22nd
The Midsummer solstice is the longest point of the year where the sun seems to hang in the sky. The world solstice actually comes from the Latin “solstitium” which translates to “sun stands still”. Midsummer traditionally was a time to honor the space in between the Earth and the Heavens, and monoliths such as Stonehenge were thought to be constructed during this time. Bonfires are again an important part of the celebration and Litha also touches upon the polarity of fire and water. Many modern Wiccans take this time to celebrate the light and power within.
Lammas/Lughnasadh (Loo-na-sa): August 1st
Lammas is a grain festival and a time for celebrating what the harvest has provided thus far. It is a point of much strength in the summer, and the God is seen at his strongest during this time. The word Lammas is derived from the Old English “hlaf-maesse”, which translates to “loaf mass”. Many people would take their bread to be blessed by the Church in honor of a good harvest.
Lammas is a time to express gratitude for the abundance we have in our lives and is a time of new beginnings, transformation, and rebirth. Many symbols associated with the harvest such as scythes, corn dolls, and early fall vegetables are used to decorate altars and homes.
Mabon: September 21st
We’re almost done! This is the final sabbat in the wheel of the year and is celebrated on the fall equinox. This was a time of giving thanks for the “second harvest”. It was a time to figure out how well the crops did the past season and to be grateful for the abundance that was to be had. Mabon used to coincide quite nicely with Thanksgiving, which was traditionally celebrated on October 3rd.
So there we are! You made it all the way through a year of Wiccan sabbats, how awesome is that? Now you can impress your friends with your knowledge about the Pagan influences on modern Christian holidays – or maybe that’s just me!