The wheel of the year is a very pagan concept however it can have meaning to anyone who lives in a season changing environment. If you take a calendar, pull the months out of it, and arrange them in a circle you will see the basic wheel. There are twelve months in modern calendar and four seasons; spring, summer, fall, and winter. The wheel has eight holidays that are celebrated during the year. There is one holiday for each of the equinoxes, each of the solstices, and a holiday in the space between each of the others. Some differentiate these two by having one set be high holidays and the others being lesser holidays to some. Depending on what you feel is right it could be either set for you. The holidays are also split into three groups; the time of the maiden, the mother and the crone. Theses phases run just as a woman?s life does. Late winter to late spring is the time of the maiden, late spring to fall is the time of the mother, and fall to late winter is the time of the crone. The wheel also has a male side connected to the sun. A male is in full bloom when the sun is at it?s strongest in the sky. He is a young man from the winter solstice to the summer solstice and an older man pasted his prime from the summer to the winter. As he ages he will go into the spirit world and be born again of the crone at the winter solstice.
Now you might be wonder where the beginning and end of the wheel is. The truth is that is does not have either, for it is a circle that continues to go around each year. Some believe a new year starts with Samhain (October) others feel it is at Yule (December). I personally believe the year ends with Samhain and we pass into a dead time. The year is then started again at Yule. This is a representation of our life as we grow as humans. During the Dead Time we pass into the spirit world of our life for a little while to reflect on what we have accomplished in life and especially the past year. Here meditation on what we have planted in spring and reaped in the fall is pondered. This is the time to figure out what has worked well in life and is worthy of repeating. It is also necessary to look at what did not work well and should be left to die. When the Dead Time is over you will return to the world of the living to prepare yourself for the following year. It is a good idea to keep a journal of your thoughts at this time to help you start again in the new year. You can even make a new years resolution.
Yule, on or about December 21st
Yule is the winter solstice and the first day of winter. The sun is at its weakest point and we have the longest night of the year. It is also the time that the sun god is reborn. This time of year is already filled with pagan ideas; the evergreen trees and wreaths, the holy, the birth of a god, the Yule log, and the celebration of life. A wreath is a representation of the wheel of the year. An evergreen tree is to remember the earth is still alive. The Yule log is what keeps you warm and lights the longest night of the year. It is lit for both the god and the goddess for she is the one birthing the new baby god. This is a time of year to celebrate both the male and female aspects of the powers at be. It is also a good time to jump the broom for luck in the new year.
Imbolc, or about February 2nd
Imbolc is the holiday where the crone is transformed back into the maiden. Winter is half over and spring is just around the corner. We celebrate the coming of spring and predict how the rest of the winter will go. It is a time to start firming up your ideas about what it is you will be planting in as some as it is time in the spring. This holiday has other names as well; Candle Mass, the festive of lights and Ground Hogs Day are some of the more well known. To celebrate there are rituals that involve the lighting of fires and candles. This is a representation of the sun growing stronger and the days becoming longer. This is also the time when some animals start to give birth to the new young they will have for the rest of the year.
Ostara, on or about March 21st
Ostara is at the spring or vernal equinox which is a day with 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. It is also the first day of spring. This holiday is closely associated with Easter. Not only is it about the resurrection of the earth but it also is part of the calculation for when the Christian Easter will be. Easter will be on the 1st Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. This holiday is a celebration of life coming back after a long winter. Eggs, young animals, and spring flowers are used to decorate and hold reproductive meaning. This is also the time were the maiden form of the goddess begins to help the earth become fertile again and kindles her courtship with the young god.
Beltane, on or about May 1st
Beltane is the second holiday to celebrate spring and the rebirth of the earth. It is also referred to as May Day. You may have already heard of the May Pole Dance. A pole is placed in the earth and ribbons are hung from the top. Half of the dancers move clockwise and the other half move counter clockwise. As you move past the dancers moving in the opposite direction you weave in and out creating a woven pattern on the pole. This is the traditional why to celebrate Beltane along with other actions that symbolize the reproduction of plants and animals. When celebrating this holiday keep in mind that this is the time for planning of late spring crops and when the god and the goddess mate so that the earth will thrive and have an abundance of food for us to harvest later in the year.
Litha, on or about June 21st
Litha or Mid Summers is the celebrated on the summer solstice. This is the time the maiden aspect of the goddess becomes the mother and the god is in his strongest power before he dwindles again. The seasons change from spring to summer on this holiday and it is a fire festival in his honor. Many traditional celebrations include cauldron jumping and bon fires. This is also a great time for a broom race. This is where the myth of witches flying on brooms comes from. In the fields over top the growing crops pagan would run across them while riding their brooms and jumping as high as they can. This is to encourage the crops to grow taller.
Lammas, on of about August 2nd
Lammas or Lughnasadh is the first of the three harvest celebrations. The first crops are coming in and it is time to give thanks for the bounty that the god and goddess has provided us. Grains such as wheat, corn, and barley are the main crops to be harvested at this time. To celebrate pagans have large feasts and of course bake lots of bread. One of the main traditions is to make a John Barley Corn. This is a man made out of bread. He is the honored guest at most celebrations and every one who attends gets to consume a piece of him for good luck.
Mabon, on or about September 21st
Mabon is celebrated at the autumn equinox. Summer become fall and the leaves are changing. It is the second of the harvest celebrations. The mother aspect of the goddess returns to her crone form for the colder months to come. This is a time of feasting again in honor on the gods for what they have bestowed upon us. More of the crops are being harvested such as apples and potatoes. Here we give thanks again for what we will be storing for the coming winter. It is also a time to help the earth go back to sleep a sleeping state. Some traditions celebrate by turning under compost materials into the soil after the fields have been picked.
Samhain, on or about October 31st
Samhain is the last of the harvest celebrations. Most of the crops have been harvested and the earth is full of dying plants and animals. Death is the main focus of this holiday. It is a time when the veils between this world and the spirit world are at their thinnest. This makes divination and contact with the spirit world very easy. Honoring your ancestors and all who have gone before you is the biggest part of this holiday. Many celebrations include a dumb feast. It is a feast in honor of those who have moved on in years past. No one speaks during a dumb feast because it helps the spirits to adjust to life on the other side. If you decide to have one be sure to go all out, set the table for all who you expect on coming and dress up for you ancestors. Some pagans feel this is the start of a new year so it is also a good time to jump the broom as a way to ring in the new year.