The Wheel of the Year!
I am often asked to explain or what the Wheel of the Year is.
The Wheel of the Year encompasses the different pagan Sabbats that are linked with the years changing seasons. These are holidays and celebrations that focus on what each season offers us and it is predominantly centred around food and sustenance.
Before clocks, months, weeks and days, this was the original calendar. Ancient cultures would use the seasons in order to survive!
This information would be passed down from generation to generation, so that people knew when it was time to plant new crops, harvest or store food for winter. These seasons would also be a guide for planning what to hunt and fish for, as certain animals would be more active at different times of the year.
Modern pagans and witches will still use the Wheel of the Year and celebrate each Sabbat and all it brings. It’s a way for us to give thanks and show gratitude for everything that nature and Mother Earth provides for us.
Each season is ushered in by the Earth itself through either an Equinox in Spring and Autumn or a Solstice, in Summer and Winter, and each season kicks off with one of the Cardinal zodiac signs: Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn.
Each season also brings with it two ‘sabbats’, festivities based heavily on folk traditions of pagans, which have been passed down as general pagan festivals in contemporary witchcraft.
Many of these pagan festivities were hijacked as Christian holidays during the Christianization of Europe and would be recognized by many who celebrate the Christianised versions derived from these much older pagan traditions.
Equinoxes are when daytime and nighttime are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. The sun is residing more or less directly over the equator, and appears to rise exactly due east, and set exactly due west, so that both day and night last for 12 hours.
Solstices are when the sun is either at its highest or lowest declination and appears to stand still in the sky before reversing direction. The Solstices mark the longest day or night of the year, and usher in a time of either more night or more day, depending on the Solstice.
Yule runs from the 21st - 23rd December in the northern hemisphere and the 20th - 23rd June in the southern hemisphere and is the celebration of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Yule is also the very first Sabbat in a new wheel cycle.
This Sabbat is the foundation for the Christian holiday of Christmas and it can be seen in many of your traditional Christmas decorations. For example the idea of bringing nature inside the home, such as with Christmas trees, Yule Logs (which are still called Yule Logs to this day!), wreaths and garlands.
During this Sabbat, we celebrate that the Winter Solstice marks the return of the sun to the earth. From this day forward we’ll see the days grow longer and warmer and nature slowly start to wake up and provide abundance. It is a festival of light, so lighting lots of candles, or decorating your tree and home with lights is a common practice.
Colours: Red, Green and Gold
Plants & Herbs: Pine, Fir, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg and Oak Leaves. Basically, anything that is in season during this time.
Incense for Yule: Cedar, Frankincense, Cinnamon and Pine
Crystals: Bloodstone, Emerald, Citrine and Clear Quartz
Food & Drink: Mulled Wine, Hot Cider, Seasonal Soups and Nuts
Imbolc (Pronounced Im-Bol-c) is the sign that the cold, harsh days of winter are nearly over and that spring is just ahead of us. It takes place on the 1st February in the northern hemisphere and the 1st August in the southern hemisphere.
Nature is starting to wake up and prepare to push its way to the surface once again. The days are lighter and the world is giving the earth what it needs in order to thrive, more rain and more sun.
Imbolc is known in Celtic traditions as Brigid’s day, due to its association with the Celtic goddess Brigid. It was said that by leaving Brigid offerings, that she would bless harvests with abundance and provide good healthy crops. She is a fertility goddess and so is very important during springtime.
Due to its association with spring, Imbolc is a time for cleansing and sowing new seeds. Whether this is literally or figuratively. If you are looking for a new beginning, the right time to start or grow your family or you’re just in need of a fresh start, then Imbolc is the ideal time.
Colours: Pink, White and Light Green
Plants & Herbs: Blackberry, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Snowdrops and Witch Hazel
Incense for Imbolc: Vanilla, Lily, Jasmine and Chamomile
Crystals: Amethyst, Turquoise, Citrine and Bloodstone
Food & Drink: Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds, Seeded Breads, Oats and Poppy Seed Cakes (my personal favourite is a lemon drizzle poppy seed cake!)
Ostara is the Spring Equinox, the first time since the previous equinox, where the days and nights are equal in length. Ostara takes place on the 21st March in the northern hemisphere and the 21st September in the southern hemisphere.
From this point on, we will start to see more daylight in our days, helping to lift our mood and enrich our earth. It is the main fertility festival within the Wheel of the Year and marks a time of intense abundance, balance, harmony and new life. A lot of the ways we celebrate the Christian holiday of Easter, mirrors the ways the fertility goddess Ostara was once worshipped.
Decorating eggs with colourful patterns, the symbolism of the rabbit or a hare and also baby chicks and other baby animals are all great ways to celebrate Ostara.
Colours: Predominantly Pastel Shades of Pink, Green, Yellow and also White
Plants & Herbs: Narcissus, Daffodils, Honeysuckle, Lilies and Lemon Balm
Incense for Ostara: Rose, Strawberry, Sandalwood, Jasmine, Violet and Narcissus
Crystals: Clear Quartz, Rose Quartz, Agate, Amazonite and Jasper
Food & Drink: Eggs, Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Seeds and Light Breads
Beltane takes place on the 1st May in the northern hemisphere and the 1st November in the southern hemisphere, it is also known as May Day and marks the midway point between spring and summer.
The days are heating up and the earth is extremely fertile, with baby animals and new plants now growing steadily and strongly. This is another fertility festival and one that is widely known, especially in European countries. To celebrate Beltane, you would traditionally light bonfires and dance around a May Pole, a phallic-looking pole that symbolises the earth being fertilized and bringing new life.
In pagan traditions, Beltane is when the Sun (God) arrives in full force to fertilize the earth. The Green Man is another symbol that makes an appearance during Beltane and he symbolises a new cycle of growth and rebirth.
Colours: Red, Blue, Green and Yellow
Plants & Herbs: Daffodil, Hawthorne, Dandelion, Meadowsweet, Paprika, Primrose, Oak and Rose
Incense for Beltane: Rose, Frankincense, Ylang-Ylang, Peach and Vanilla
Crystals: Emerald, Sunstone, Beryl, Malachite and Rose Quartz
Food & Drink: Wine, Sweet Breads, Elderflower, Oats and Cakes
Litha is the Summer Solstice and takes place on the 20th- 24th of June in the northern hemisphere and 20th - 24th December in the southern hemisphere. This is the start of summer and the beginning of much warmer, sunnier days. This is when the earth is at its peak, filled with life and happiness, all powered by the nurturing energy of the sun.
Litha can also be known as Midsummer, especially in Nordic and Slavic traditions. It is the longest day of the year and a chance for us all to bask in the powerful energy of the sun. It is a celebration of positivity and all the food, crystals and activities aim to reflect this.
Colours: Red, Gold, Yellow and Orange
Plants & Herbs: Daffodil, Dandelion, Sunflowers, Lavender, Rose, Sage and Rosemary
Incense for Litha: Rose, Lavender, Musk, Orange, Lemon and Sage
Crystals: Sunstone, Citrine, Calcite, Yellow Topaz and Emerald
Food & Drink: Apple Cider, Ice Cream, Squash, Carrots and Honey
A tricky one to say, Lughnasad can also be known as Lammas if you find it tricky to get your tongue around. You pronounce Lughnasad as Loo-Na-Sah.
Lughnasadh takes place on the 1st August in the northern hemisphere and the 1st February in the southern hemisphere. It is the first harvest celebration of the year, when we start to prepare for the end of summer and the coming of the colder harsher days of autumn/winter.
The sun is starting to wane and this is his last hurrah, he’s trying to go out with a bang by squeezing out what is left of his energy as a gift to the earth below. It’s at this time we can start to wind down and look back on all the hard work we’ve been doing over the last few months.
Colours: Green, Gold, Light Brown and Yellow
Plants & Herbs: Grains, Heather, Basil, Blackthorne, Clover and Ivy
Incense for Lughnasad: Sandalwood, Mint, Rose and Frankincense
Crystals: Citrine, Golden Topaz, Amber, Tiger’s Eye and Peridot
Food & Drink: Breads, Oats, Honey, Corn and Apples
Mabon is the time of the Autumn Equinox and is celebrated during the 21-24th September in the northern hemisphere and the 21-24 March in the southern hemisphere. It is the time when, once again, the days and nights are in perfect balance, before we start to notice less and less daylight in our days.
Mabon is often known as a pagan thanksgiving, as it is a time when we can look back over all the things the earth has given us and what it has provided for the long winter months ahead. This is a great time to start harvesting the last of your homegrown fruit, veg and herbs.
Colours: Brown, Gold, Yellow and Orange
Plants & Herbs: Sage, Rosemary, Chamomile and Marigold
Incense for Mabon: Sage, Pine, Cinnamon, Apple and Frankincense
Crystals: Citrine, Amber, Quartz, Sapphire and Lapis Lazuli
Food & Drink: Rye Bread, Apples, Wine, Potatoes, Nuts and Fresh Meat
Samhain is probably the most well known of the Sabbats, as it ties in with Halloween, a time when the veil between the spirit world and the world of the living is at its thinnest. Samhain is celebrated on 31st October -1st November in the northern hemisphere and the 31st of April - 1st May in the southern hemisphere.
Samhain is another word that people struggle to pronounce, but it said as Sow-En or Sow-Een with the ‘ow’ pronounced the same as the ‘ow’ in owl or cow and the ‘hain’ bit is just ‘en’.
Samhain is basically a Witch’s new year, as it is the last Sabbat on the wheel and marks the end of the current cycle. It is traditionally a time where we celebrate and pay respects to those that have passed on. It is a time where you can reflect back on the cycle just gone, practice gratitude for all you’ve achieved or everything you currently have in your life.
Colours: Orange, Black, Gold, Purple and Silver
Plants & Herbs: Calendula, Rosemary, Garlic, Nutmeg and Sage
Incense for Mabon: Sage, Frankincense, Mint, Cinnamon and Myrrh
Crystals: Clear Quartz, Obsidian, Smokey Quartz, Bloodstone and Onyx
Food & Drink: Meat, Potatoes, Parsnips, Pumpkin, Apples, Spiced Wine and Cider