The Four Seasons are known as Solar Festivals, in that they mark a seasonal change caused by the Sun. The cross quarter days are marked by Fire Festivals and are usually celebrated as significant agricultural festivals. Together the Solar Festivals and the Fire Festivals make up the Wheel Of The Year. The Wheel Of The Year, is often broken into eight festivals, whether they are the eight Asatru Blots, Seasonal Festivals or Celtic Sabbats, and the observance of Solar energies at the solstices and equinoxes and the Fire energies on the cross quarter days, is a common theme throughout the world.
The Festivals of the Wheel Of The Year also represent the active and dormant states of nature, man and agriculture. Each of the festival days was ruled by a governing deity, whether a God or Goddess, with each region having its own associated deity. From planting to reaping to winter to summer… the seasons were of great importance to our ancestors, for their very existence depended upon good harvests, mild winters, enough rainfall.
A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).
The day of the solstice is either the “longest day of the year” (in summer) or the “shortest day of the year” (in winter) for any place on Earth, because the length of time between sunrise and sunset on that day is the yearly maximum or minimum for that place.
An equinox occurs twice a year (around 20 March and 22 September), when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator.
The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day have approximately equal length.
Imbloc (Candlemass, Imblog, Imbole) – February 2nd
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Besom, Spring Flowers
Colours: White, Orange, Red
This holiday is also known as Candlemas, or Brigid’s (pronounced BREED) Day. One of the 4 Celtic “Fire Festivals. Commemorates the changing of the Goddess from the Crone to the Maiden. Celebrates the first signs of Spring. Also called “Imbolc” (the old Celtic name).
This is the seasonal change where the first signs of spring and the return of the sun are noted, i.e. the first sprouting of leaves, the sprouting of the Crocus flowers etc. In other words, it is the festival commemorating the successful passing of winter and the beginning of the agricultural year. This Festival also marks the transition point of the threefold Goddess energies from those of Crone to Maiden.
It is the day that we celebrate the passing of Winter and make way for Spring. It is the day we honour the rebirth of the Sun and we may visualize the baby sun nursing from the Goddess’s breast. It is also a day of celebrating the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Brigid is the Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Smithcraft, and Midwifery. If you can make it with your hands, Brigid rules it. She is a triple Goddess, so we honour her in all her aspects. This is a time for communing with her, and tending the lighting of her sacred flame. At this time of year, Wiccans will light multiple candles, white for Brigid, for the god usually yellow or red, to remind us of the passing of winter and the entrance into spring, the time of the Sun. This is a good time for initiations, be they into covens or self-initiations.
Imbolc (February 2) marks the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the God. The lengthening periods of light awaken Her. The God is a young, lusty boy, but His power is felt in the longer days. The warmth fertilizes the Earth (the Goddess), and causes seeds to germinate and sprout. And so the earliest beginnings of Spring occur.
This is a Sabbat of purification after the shut-in life of Winter, through the renewing power of the Sun. It is also a festival of light and of fertility, once marked in Europe with huge blazes, torches and fire in every form. Fire here represents our own illumination and inspiration as much as light and warmth. Imbolc is also known as Feast of Torches, Oimelc, Lupercalia, Feast of Pan, Snowdrop Festival, Feast of the Waxing Light, Brighid’s Day, and probably by many other names. Some female Witches follow the old Scandinavian custom of wearing crowns of lit candles, but many more carry tapers during their invocations.
It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments. Or, light candles in each room in honour of the Sun’s rebirth. Alternately, light a kerosene lamp with a red chimney and place this in a prominent part of the home or in a window.
If snow lies on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, recalling the warmth of summer. With your projective hand, trace an image of the Sun on the snow.
Foods appropriate to eat on this day include those from the dairy, since Imbolc marks the festival of calving. Sour cream dishes are fine. Spicy and full-bodied foods in honour of the Sun are equally attuned. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate. Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins – all foods symbolic of the Sun – are also traditional.
Ritual for Imbolc/Candlemas
Supplies: Symbol of the season, such as a white flower, snow in a crystal container, also needed, an orange candle anointed with cinnamon, frankincense or rosemary oil (unlit), red candle to represent the elements, and your ritual supplies.
Arrange the altar, light the candles and censer, and cast the Circle.
Invoke the Goddess and God.
Say such words as the following:
“This is the time of the feast of torches,
When every lamp blazes and shines
To welcome the rebirth of the God.
I/we celebrate the Goddess,
I/we celebrate the God;
All the Earth celebrates
Beneath its mantle of sleep.”
Light the orange taper from the red candle on the altar. Slowly walk the circle clockwise, bearing the candle before you. Say these or similar words:
“All the land is wrapped in winter.
The air is chilled and
Frost envelopes the Earth.
But Lord of the Sun,
Horned One of animals and wild places,
Unseen you have been reborn
Of the gracious Mother Goddess,
Lady of all fertility.
Hail Great God!
Hail and welcome!”
Stop before the altar, holding aloft the candle. Gaze at its flame. Visualize your life blossoming with creativity, with renewed energy and strength.
If you need to look into the future or past, now is an ideal time.
Works of magic, if necessary, may follow.
Celebrate the Simple Feast.
Thank the Goddess and God.
Release the Circle.
Ostara: Spring Equinox (Ostara) – March 21st/22nd
Incense: Jasmine, Rose
Decorations: Yellow Disk or Wheel, Coloured Egg’s, Hare Decorations, Spring Flowers
This marks the Spring Equinox. This is the Pagan “Easter” – or rather, this is the day that Christians borrowed to be their Easter. It is traditionally the day of equilibrium, neither harsh winter or the merciless summer, and is a time of childish wonder. Painted eggs, baskets of flowers and the like are generally used to decorate the house. It is common to use this time to free yourself from things which hinder progress. As a day of equilibrium, it is a good time to perform self banishings and also perform workings to gain things we have lost, or to gain qualities we wish to have.
The second of the 3 spring festivals, this Sabbat occurs in mid march when day and night are of equal length. This festival is also of fertility where seeds are blessed for planting soon after. Traditional colours for this holiday are light green, lemon yellow and pale pink.
taken from Scott Cunningham’s book THE COMPLETE BOOK OF INCENSE, OILS & BREWS
Burn during Wiccan rituals on Ostara (the Spring Equinox, which falls on Tuesday, March 20th this year), or to welcome spring and to refresh your life.
The materials needed are the following:
*2 parts Frankincense
*1 part Benzoin
*1 part Dragon’s Blood
*half part Nutmeg
*half part Violet Flowers (or a few drops – like 3 – of Violet Oil)
*half part Orange Peel
*half part Rose Petals
*fire-safe incense burner, censer or pot.
For best results, grind the materials in a mortar and pestle. Take a small amount and place on a burning charcoal block in a fire-safe censer or burner.
Ritual for Ostara/Spring Equinox
Flowers should be laid on the altar, placed around the circle and strewn on the ground. The cauldron can be filled with spring water and flowers, and buds and blossoms may be worn as well. A small potted plant should be placed on the altar.
Arrange the altar, light the candles and incense, and cast the circle.
Invoke the Goddess and God in whatever words please you.
Stand before the altar and gaze upon the plant as you say:
“O Great Goddess, you have freed yourself from the icy prison of winter. Now is the greening, when the fragrance of flowers drifts on the breeze. This is the beginning. Life renews itself by Your magick, Earth Goddess. The God stretches and rises, eager in His youth, and bursting with the promise of summer.”
Touch the plant. Connect with its energies and, through it, all nature. Travel inside its leaves and stems through your visualization – from the center of your consciousness out through your arm and fingers and into the plant itself. Explore its inner nature; sense the miraculous processes of life at work within it.
After a time, still touching the plant, say:
“I walk the earth in friendship, not in dominance. Mother Goddess and Father God, instil within me through this plant a warmth for all living things. Teach me to revere the Earth and all its treasures. May I never forget.”
Meditate upon the changing of the seasons. Feel the rousing of energies around you in the Earth.
Works of magick, if necessary, may follow.
Celebrate the Simple Feast.
The circle is released.
Rejuvenation Spell by Walter L. Mora
This spell will help to renew your spiritual self as the Earth does every Spring. You will need the following materials:
*a small black candle and a small white candle
*medium sized yellow or green candle – if you can find one shaped like an egg, even better!
*a spring wreath to fit around the candle, either hand-made or bought at a craft store
*your favourite essential oil – a scent that reminds you of Spring
*a black pen and a gold-ink pen (you can find them at your local discount or crafts store like Micheal’s)
*an ashpot, cauldron, fire-proof container
First, break the parchment paper in half. Use the black pen to write on one sheet and title the page “BE GONE.” With the black pen, write all the habits, feelings, situations, etc. that you want to get rid off. Use the back if you need more space. Place this negative list under the candleholder or votive of the black candle.
Second, take a nice bath or shower and cleanse yourself of any negative vibrations. Visualize the water washing over your body and taking away the black cloudy grime that surrounds you to reveal a brilliant white glow. After the bath or shower, anoint yourself with the essential oil and dress yourself in white comfy garments or skyclad if you prefer.
Third, return to your work space and now take the other sheet of parchment paper and with the gold pen title it “REBIRTH.” With the gold pen, write all of those things you want to better in yourself, change for the positive, goals you desire to accomplish, etc. Make positive, active statements and void comments like I should, would, wish, hope or anything with negative connotations. This is your positive list so fill it with vibrant positive energy. When your list is complete, place the list under the candleholder or votive of the white candle.
Fourth, light the black and white candle and the incense. Take the incense holder and walk around your space three times clockwise. Situate the incense holder. Take the negative list from under the black candle and use its flame to set it afire and throw it in the ashpot, etc. As you do this say:
What once was will never be.
I’m making room for the new me.
Be gone, Be gone!
So mote it be!
Fifth, after the negative list is burnt to a crisp, take the positive list from under the white candle. Now here is where you need to be quick and steady. (If you feel you can’t do this that is fine and work your way around it.) Set the positive list aflame with the white candle and immediately use the burning list to light your egg (or yellow, green, etc.) candle and throw the burning paper in to the ashpost, etc.
Sixth, after this invigorating event, look at your egg candle and say the following words:
Let me feel, let me see,
Now reborn in positivity.
As I hatch into Spring,
Let all good things now come in.
In perfect love and perfect trust,
With harm to none,
So mote it be!
Lastly, gaze at your candle for a moment and meditate if you wish. When your ready, take the ashpot outside and throw the ashes to the wind, making sure it doesn’t come back into your house!. After that, make sure to snuff out the candles when appropriate. Go get something to eat and begin to enjoy your renewed self!
Beltane: (Bealtaine, May Eve, Valpurgis) – April 30th/May 1st
Incense: Lilac, Frankincense
Decorations: Maypole, Flowers, Ribbons
The Fire Festival of Beltane
This festival is also known as Beltane, the Celtic May Day. It officially begins at moonrise on May Day Eve, and marks the beginning of the third quarter or second half of the ancient Celtic year. It is celebrated as an early pastoral festival accompanying the first turning of the herds out to wild pasture. The rituals were held to promote fertility. The cattle were driven between the Belfires to protect them from ills. Contact with the fire was interpreted as symbolic contact with the sun. In early Celtic times, the druids kindled the Beltane fires with specific incantations. Later the Christian church took over the Beltane observances, a service was held in the church, followed by a procession to the fields or hills, where the priest kindled the fire. The rowan branch is hung over the house fire on May Day to preserve the fire itself from bewitchment (the house fire being symbolic of the luck of the house).
This is a holiday of Union–both between the Goddess and the God and between man and woman. Handfastings (Pagan marriages) are traditional at this time. It is a time of fertility and harvest, the time for reaping the wealth from the seeds that we have sown. Celebrations include braiding of one’s hair (to honour the union of man and woman and Goddess and God), circling the Maypole for fertility and jumping the Beltane fire for luck. Beltane is one of the Major Sabbats of the Wiccan religion. We celebrate sexuality (something we see as holy and intrinsic to us as holy beings), we celebrate life and the unity which fosters it. The myths of Beltane state that the young God has blossomed into manhood, and the Goddess takes him on as her lover. Together, they learn the secrets of the sexual and the sensual, and through their union, all life begins.
Beltane is the season of maturing life and deep found love. This is the time of vows, handfastings and commitment. The Lord and his Lady, having reached maturity, come together in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust to celebrate the joy of their union. This is a time to celebrate the coming together of the masculine and feminine creative energies. Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desired the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms and unite.
The flowers and greenery symbolise the Goddess and the Maypole represents the God. Beltane marks the return of vitality and passion of summer. Another common focal point of the Beltane rituals is the cauldron, which represents the Goddess. The Welsh goddess Creiddylad is connected with Beltane, often called the May Queen, she was a Goddess of summer flowers and love.
May Day has long been marked with feasts and rituals. May poles, supremely phallic symbols, were the focal point of old English village rituals. Many people arose at dawn to gather flowers and green branches from the fields and gardens, using them to decorate the village Maypoles.
The May Queen (and often King) is chosen from among the young people, and they go singing from door to door throughout the town carrying flowers or the May tree, soliciting donations for merrymaking in return for the “blessing of May”. This is symbolic of bestowing and sharing of the new creative power that is stirring in the world. As the kids go from door to door, the May Bride often sings to the effect that those who give will get of nature’s bounty through the year.
In parts of France, some jilted youth will lie in a field on May Day and pretend to sleep. If any village girl is willing to marry him, she goes and wakes him with a kiss; the pair then goes to the village inn together and lead the dance which announces their engagement. The boy is called “the betrothed of May.”
Litha: Summer Solstice – 21st/22nd June
Litha (Midsummer, Gathering Day, Summer Solstice, Alban Heffyn, Feill-Sheathain)
Incense: Sage, mint, basil, Saint John’s Wort, sunflower, Lavender
Decorations: Dried herbs, potpourri, seashells, summer flowers, and fruits.
Colours: blue, green, and yellow
The Fire Festival of Litha
Midsummer or the Summer Solstice is the most powerful day of the year for the Sun God. Because this Sabbat glorifies the Sun God and the Sun, fire plays a very prominent role in this festival. The element of Fire is the most easily seen and immediately felt element of transformation. It can burn, consume, cook, shed light or purify and balefires still figure prominently at modern Midsummer rites.
Most cultures of the Northern Hemisphere mark Midsummer in some ritualised manner and from time immemorial people have acknowledged the rising of the sun on this day. At Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as seen from the centre of the stone circle.
In ancient times, the Summer Solstice was a fire-festival of great importance when the burning of balefires ritually strengthened the sun. It was often marked with torchlight processions, by flaming tar barrels or by wheels bound with straw, which were set alight and rolled down steep hillsides. The Norse especially loved lengthy processions and would gather together their animals, families and lighted torches and parade through the countryside to the celebration site.
The use of fires, as well as providing magical aid to the sun, were also used to drive out evil and to bring fertility and prosperity to men, crops and herds. Blazing gorse or furze was carried around cattle to prevent disease and misfortune; while people would dance around the balefires or leap through the flames as a purifying or strengthening rite. The Celts would light balefires all over their lands from sunset the night before Midsummer until sunset the next day. Around these flames the festivities would take place.
In Cornwall up to the mid 18th century the number and appearance of fires seen from any given point was used as a form of divination and used to read the future.
Astronomically, it is the longest day of the year, representing the God at full power. Although the hottest days of the summer still lie ahead, from this point onward we enter the waning year, and each day the Sun will recede from the skies a little earlier, until Yule, when the days begin to become longer again.
Agriculturally, the crops are in full growth. They are reaching the pinnacles of maturity and coming closer to the harvest time. Most wild herbs are fully mature by Midsummer and this is the traditional time for gathering magickal and medicinal plants to dry and store for winter use. In Wales, Midsummer is called Gathering Day in honour of this practice.
Since this sabbat revolves around the sun, a candle should be lit for the entire day, especially if it is cloudy or raining. The fire represents the sun and is a constant daily reminder of the power of the God. Rituals should be performed at noon, when the sun is highest in the sky. The best rituals to perform on Midsummer are those dealing with masculine issues, masculine energies, or issues dealing with solar influence.
Many pagans choose to make protective amulets, in the week before the Sabbat, which are later empowered over the Midsummer balefire. Some witches choose to bury their protective amulets each Midsummer’s eve and construct new ones. Rue, rowan and basil, tied together in a white or gold cloth, is a good protective trio that can be carried in your pocket year round.
Midsummer is the time to formalize any relationship and couples that have been together a year and a day since the previous Beltane can make their marriage final. This Sabbat is also an excellent time to re-new wedding vows.
Sage, mint, basil, Saint John’s Wort, sunflower, mistletoe (specifically the berries which represent semen), oak, rowan, and fir.
Suggested activities for Litha:
*Rededication to the Lord and Lady
*Divination related to romance and love
*Light a white candle in front of a mirror and say your own Lithia prayer over it, then allow the candle to burn out.
*Float paper boats with blessings on a river/stream to bring luck and love to whatever may find it, or to the land.
*Singing and dancing around a bonfire
*Outdoor picnic feasts
*Create crowns out of flowers
Lammas: August 2, July 31st/Aug 1st Frey Fest/Lughnasa/Lugnasad/Lammas
This is an Irish Gaelic name for the feast which commemorates the funeral games of Lugh, Celtic god of light, and son of the Sun. In the mythological story of the Wheel of the Year, the Sun God transfers his power into the grain, and is sacrificed when the grain is harvested. So we have a dying, self-sacrificing and resurrecting god of the harvest, who dies for his people so that they may live. Sound familiar?
The power of the sun goes into the grain as it ripens. It is then harvested and made into the first new bread of the season. This is the Saxon hlaef-masse or loaf-mass, now lammas. Seed grain is also saved for planting for next year’s crop, so the sun god may be seen to rise again in Spring with the new green shoots, as the sun also rises in the sky. There are many traditions and customs all over the country that are still carried on at harvest-time today.
Lammas is a festival celebrating the first fruits of harvest, the fruits of our labors, and seeing the desires that we had at the start of the year unfold so rituals will be centered around this. Lammas is an early Christian festival, “lammas” means loaf mass and represented the first loaves baked from that years crop. These were taken to church and laid on the altar.
It’s a time for bread-making and corn-dollies. Goddesses celebrated around this time include Demeter and Ceres. Trees associated with lammas are Hazel and Gorse and herbs are Sage and Meadowsweet. Colors associated with lammas are golds, yellows and orange for the God and red for the Goddess as mother.
Lammas is traditionally first harvest. Look around you and you will see various trees namely Rowan yielding bright red berries and brambles showing ripening fruits along with apple and pear trees. In this day and age when food is mass produced and imported so we get fruits and veg and corn no matter what time of year it is, it is easy to loose touch with the natural cycle of things.
Creating and or decorating ritual items such as a Stang. Walk through the woods to spend some time meditating in beautiful surroundings. Making bread, make a wicker man and put all of your bad habits that you want to be rid of inside him and throw him in the bonfire. Making corn dollies.
Mabon: Autumn Equinox – September 21st-23rd
Gwyl canol Hydref or Mabon: (Also known as Harvest Home, Harvest Tide, Fall Equinox, Autumn Equinox etc.), September 21-24.
Technically, an equinox is an astronomical point and, due to the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis slightly, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on its apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal duration. Up until Mabon, the hours of daylight have been greater than the hours from dusk to dawn. But from now on, the reverse holds true.
Mabon marks the middle of harvest, it is a time of equal day and equal night, and for the moment nature is in balance. It is a time to reap what you have sown, of giving thanks for the harvest and the bounty the Earth provides. For finishing up old projects and plans and planting the seeds for new enterprises or a change in lifestyle. Mabon is a time of celebration and balance.
This is the time to look back not just on the past year, but also your life, and to plan for the future. In the rhythm of the year, Mabon is a time of rest and celebration, after the hard work of gathering the crops. Warm autumn days are followed by chill nights, as the Old Sun God returns to the embrace of the Goddess.
The passing of Mabon is inevitable and The Sun God should be mourned. We too, must remember that all things must come to an end. So the Sun God journeys into the lands of winter and into the Goddess’ loving arms, but endings are a good time to celebrate our successes, thank our selves and those who helped us, and take part in the balance of life!
Set-up altar and cast the Sacred Circle.
Decorate the altar with acorns, oak sprigs, pine and cypress cones, ears of corn, wheat stalks and other fruits and nuts. Also place there a small rustic basket filled with dried leaves of various colours and kinds.
Stand before the altar, holding aloft the basket of leaves, and slowly scatter them so that they cascade to the ground within the circle. Say such words as these:
The days grow cold.
The Goddess pulls her mantle of Earth around Her
As You, O Great Sun God, sail toward the West
To the land of eternal enchantment,
Wrapped in the coolness of night.
The hours of day and night are balanced.
Chill winds blow in from the North wailing laments.
In this seeming extinction of nature’s power, O Blessed
Goddess, I know that life continues.
For spring is impossible without the second harvest,
As surely as life is impossible without death.
Blessings upon you, O Fallen God, as you journey into
The lands f winter and into the Goddess’ loving arms.
Place the basket down and say:
O Gracious Goddess of all fertility, I have sown and
Reaped the fruits of my actions, good and bane.
Grant me the courage to plant seeds of joy and love in
The coming year, banishing misery and hate. Teach me the secrets
Of wise existence upon the planet.
O luminous one of the night!
~Close the circle the way you usually do.
Samhain: Halloween, Winter Nights, All Hallows Eve – October 31st
Samhain (*Note: Samhain is pronounced sowen, soween, saw-win, saw-vane or sahven, not sam-hayne)
Halloween, Winter Nights, All Hallows Eve – October 31st
Other names for Samhain include Samhuin, Samain, Saman, Oidhche Shamhna, Hallowe’en, Halloween, Hallows, Hallowtide, Shadow Fest, Allantide, Third Harvest, Harvest Home, Geimredh, Day of the Dead (Feile na Marbh), Feast of the Dead, Spirit Night, Candle Night, November Eve, Nutcrack Night, Ancestor Night and Apple Fest.
Christian names for it include All Hallows Eve (although some churches fix that as November 7), Hallows Eve, Santos, Devil Night and Mischief Night. It is also called Martinmas, but that is properly the name for the actual cross quarter day which occurs when the sun reaches its power point in Scorpio. Some church calendars fix November 11 as Martinmas.
Samhain (Summer’s End) is one of our four Greater Sabbats, the highest holy day of witches. It is a cross quarter day, situated between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Samhain is a major festival with several aspects. It is new year’s eve for witches, as well as our third and final harvest festival. Samhain inaugurates Winter, is the final chance to dry herbs for winter storage, and a night when fairies supposedly afoot working mischief. It is also the Day of the Dead for us as it was for the Celts, Egyptians and ancient Mexicans, the night when we remember our loved ones and honour our ancestors. We also celebrate reincarnation and note the absence the Sun (the god), who will be reborn at Winter Solstice as the Child of Promise. Astrologically, Samhain marks the rising of the Pleiades.
Late October was the nut harvest for Celts, and the time for salting winter’s supply of meat. Scholars disagree on this, but many fix this date as the Celtic New Year. November 1 is the actual date of Samhain but like other Celtic derived festivals it is celebrated on its eve. November 1 is New Year’s Day for witches, as it was for the Babylonians.
One of the four greater Sabbats, of the Wiccan/pagan year. For the Celts, Samhain was the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, its arrival signalled the close of harvest and the start of the winter season. Fairies were imagined as particularly active at this season. Also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess). The Scottish Gaelic Dictionary defines it as “Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls. Sam + Fuin = end of summer.” Eliade’s Encyclopaedia of Religion states as follows: “The Eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken… Not a festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during that period.”
Samhain is the Wiccan New Year. This is the time of year when the veil between the world of the dead and the world of the living is said to be it’s thinnest. Spirits and souls of loved ones are said to have more power and ability to visit us. This is the time of year for remembering and honouring our dead, and many people will leave a plate of food and a glass of wine out for wandering sprits. (This is often called the Feast of Hecate) Samhain is also a time for personal reflection, and for recognizing our faults and flaws and creating a method for rectifying them.
In the Celtic Tradition, the year begins at Samhain, this is the most powerful night of the year to perform divination. Divination is done in many forms but all seek to establish a look ahead, whether the answer appears good or bad. Samhain is also considered to start the reign of the God or the dark time of the Year when the Sun goes lower each day and begins to weaken.
Decorate your altar with photographs of dead loved ones, pumpkin lanterns, oak leaves, apples, nuts and sage. Incenses associated with this festival include nutmeg, mint and sage, and the colours black and orange.
Samhain is celebrated as the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico (Day of the Dead–usually held on November 1) and All Saints Day (also on November 1) by the Catholic church.
Ritual for Samhain by Scott Cunningham
Place upon the altar apples, pomegranates, pumpkins, spuashes and other late autumn fruits. Autumn flowers such as marigolds and chrysanthemums are fine too. Write on a piece of paper an aspect of your life which you wish to be free of: anger, a baneful habit, misplaced feelings, disease. The cauldron or some similar tool must be present before the altar as well, on a trivet or some other heat-proof surface (if the legs aren’t long enough). A small, flat dish marked with an eight-spoked wheel symbol should also be there. (On a flat plate or dish, paint a large circle. Put a dot in the centre of this circle and paint eight spokes radiating out from the dot to the larger circle. – A symbol of the Sabbats, a symbol of timelessness.)
Prior to the ritual, sit quietly and think of friends and loved ones who have passed away. Do not despair. Know that they have gone on to greater things. Keep firmly in mind that the physical isn’t the absolute reality, and that souls never die.
Arrange the altar, light the candles and censer, and cast your circle.
Recite The Blessing Chant:
May the powers of The One,
the source of all creation;
all-pervasive, omnipotent, eternal;
may the Goddess,
the Lady of the Moon;
and the God,
Horned Hunter of the Sun;
rulers of the elemental realms;
may the powers of the stars above and the Earth below,
bless this place, and this time, and I who am with You.
Invoke the Goddess and God. (in your own way)
Lift one of the pomegranates and, with your freshly-washed white-handled knife, pierce the skin of the fruit. Remove several seeds and place them on the wheel-marked dish.
Raise your wand, face the altar and say:
On this night of Samhain I mark your passing,
O Sun King, through the sunset into the Land of the Young.
I mark also the passing of all who have gone before,
and all who will go after. O Gracious Goddess,
Eternal Mother, You who gives birth to the fallen,
teach me to know that in the time of the greatest
darkness there is the greatest light.
Taste the pomegranate seeds; burst them with your teeth and savour their sharp, bittersweet flavour. Look down at the eight-spoked symbol on the plate; the wheel of the year, the cycle of the seasons, the end and beginning of all creation.
Light a fire within the cauldron (a candle is fine). Sit before it, holding the piece of paper, gazing at its flames. Say:
Wise One of the Waning Moon,
Goddess of the starry night,
I create this fire within Your cauldron
to transform that which is plaguing me.
May the energies be reversed:
From darkness, light!
From bane, good!
From death, birth!
Light the paper in the cauldron’s flames and drop it inside. As it burns, know that your ill diminishes, lessens and finally leaves you as it is consumed within the universal fires.
If you wish, you may attempt scrying or some other form of divination, for this is a perfect time to look into the past or future. Try to recall past lives too, if you will. But leave the dead in peace. Honour them with your memories but do not call them to you. (Many Wiccans do attempt to communicate with their deceased ancestors and friends at this time… if you must do this… make sure you know how to handle the energies and only do this if you are VERY experienced.) Release any pain and sense of loss you may feel into the cauldron’s flames.
Works of magick, if necessary, may follow.
Celebrate the Simple Feast.
The circle is released.
Samhain is one of the most potent nights of the year for magick.
As a cross-quarter day it is a supernatural time, a time outside of time, the night that is not a night, a powerful time of flux and change. This is a good night for: candle magick – astral projection – past life work – dark moon mysteries – mirror spells (reflection) – casting protection – inner work – propitiation – clearing obstacles – uncrossing – inspiration – workings of transition or culmination – manifesting transformation – creative visualization.
Bonfires to protect the family, coven or land through the winter darkness – bale fire, to erase mistakes and negativity – torches to honor the dead – extinguish all fires then kindle new fire for a fresh start with the new year – burn incense to get the site – set the torc tenned ablaze, a pyramid of timber called the Fire Boar; save the ashes to use as a base for next Samhain’s torc tenned – put a candle in the window to help the spirit of a loved one find its way home – light a candle on the ancestral altar – lanterns, jack o’lanterns or candles outdoors to guide the way for spirits and fairies who are abroad this night – light a fire in the cauldron for protection or transformation.
Samhain is a power night for divination: read the tarot cards; use the Wheel of the Year spread to forecast the year ahead – cast runes or the I Ching – scry in crystal balls, dark mirrors, bowls of black ink or pools of water – swing a pendulum, asking yes or no questions – eat an apple in front of a mirror at midnight, by candlelight, to scry your future mate.
This is a good night for deep reflection and inner work. Meditation themes include: changes, transition, endings and beginnings, passage, return, mortality and reincarnation, chaos leading to reorder.
(by invitation, not summons) This is the night when the veil is thinnest, the gates between the worlds are open. Souls of the dead are said to visit their homes at midnight. Possible workings include: a dumb supper for the beloved dead – ouija – séances – trance possession – automatic writing – bury apples as food for hungry spirits – leave spirit plates of food outside your home – set a place for a missed love one at the banquet or dinner table.
New Year workings:
Release the old: bad habits and toxic relationships, illness, failure and poverty; everything you do not want to carry into the new year – sweep negativity and out of your home – end quarrels – settle debts, make amends or restitution if needed – spells for prosperity and security for your family.
This is a great night for visiting the faery realm but you must return by dawn or remain forever enchanted, unable to return.
Like Beltane opposite it on the wheel of the year, Samhain is a night when the Goddess descends into women. This is an excellent night for sex magick of all kinds, and the Great Rite.
SYMBOL: Black cat, jack o ‘lantern, bat, ghost, scarecrow, waning moon.
GODDESSES: Crone, all crone goddesses, Cerridwen, Hecate, Hel, Oya, the Morrigan, Lilith, Kali, Ishtar, Arianrhod, Rhiannon, Tlazoteotl, Nephthys, Persephone, Beansidhe (Banshee), Inanna, Baba Yaga, Isis, Pomona and Cailleach Beara (Brigid’s crone aspect), who is reborn this night.
GODS: Osiris, the Horned God, Herne the Hunter, Cernunnos, Anubis, Odin, Bran, death gods, dying and rising gods.
INCENSE: Copal, sandalwood, mastic resin, benzoin, sweetgrass, wormwood: to get the sight, to see the spirits of the returning dead.
CANDLES: New candles for the new year: black, orange, autumn colors, or black candles for the Lord and the old year, white candles for the Lady and the new year.
TOOLS: Besom, to sweep out the old year and any negativity it had.
Cauldron, for transformation.
Divination tools: Tarot cards, scrying bowl, rune stones, pendulum, mirror, etc.
PLANT: Pumpkin, apple, grain, pomegranate, mugwort, wormwood, Dittany of Crete, acorn, oak leaf, gourds, root vegetables, rosemary (for remembrance).
STONE: Obsidian, carnelian, onyx, smoky quartz, jet, bloodstone.
ANIMAL: Bat, black cat, owl.
ALTAR DECORATIONS: Autumn leaves, fall flowers, pomegranates, apples, pumpkins, ears of corn, sprays of grain, corn dollies, gourds, nuts, seeds, acorns, chestnuts and images of ancestors are all appropriate. Use whatever is in season where you live, whatever feels right and looks good to you.
FOOD: Gingerbread, freshly roasted nuts, nut breads, anything made with apples or pumpkin, meat (especially bacon), doughnuts, popcorn, cakes with lucky tokens in them, and red foods because the ancients held them sacred to the dead. DRINK: Mead, apple cider, mulled cider, mulled wine.
CELEBRATE: Masks, costumes – trick-or-treating – feasting and partying to defy the coming darkness (bob for apples, roast nuts, pop popcorn) – harvest feasts – rituals to honour the dead – Witches’ Ball.
Yule: Winter Solstice – Dec 21st/22nd
The origin of the word Yule, has several suggested origins from the Old English word, geõla, the Old Norse word jõl, a pagan festival celebrated at the winter solstice, or the Anglo-Saxon word for the festival of the Winter Solstice, ‘Iul’ meaning ‘wheel’. In old almanacs Yule was represented by the symbol of a wheel, conveying the idea of the year turning like a wheel, The Great Wheel of the Zodiac, The Wheel of Life. The spokes of the wheel, were the old festivals of the year, the solstices and equinoxes.
The winter solstice, the rebirth of the Sun, is an important turning point, as it marks the shortest day, when the hours of daylight are at their least. It also the start of the increase in the hours of daylight, until the Summer Solstice, when darkness becomes ascendant once more.
Cycle of the Year
Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother and gives birth to the new Sun King. In a poetic sense it is on this the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
Fire festivals, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, held on the Winter’s Solstice can be found throughout the ancient world. The Roman festival of Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts where exchanged and normal business was suspended. The Persian Mithraists held December 25th as sacred to the birth of their Sun God, Mithras, and celebrated it as a victory of light over darkness. In Sweden, December 13th was sacred to the Goddess Lucina, Shining One, and was a celebration of the return of the light. On Yule itself, around the 21st, bonfires were lit to honour Odin and Thor.
The festival was already closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur with a cycle of birth, death and resurrection that is also very close to that of Jesus. It can hardly be a coincidence that the Christians, also used this time of year for the birth of Christ, mystically linking him with the Sun.
That Yule is another fire festival, should come as no surprise, however unlike the more public outdoor festival of the summer solstice, Yule lends itself to a more private and domestic celebration. Yet like its midsummer counterpart, is strongly associated with fertility and the continuation of life. Here the Goddess is in her dark aspect, as ‘She Who Cuts The Thread’ or ‘Our Lady in Darkness’, calling back the Sun God. Yet, at the same time, she is in the process of giving birth to Son-Lover who will re-fertilise her and the earth, bringing back light and warmth to the world.
” And the Yule-log cracked in the chimney,
And the Abbot bowed is head,
And the flamelets flapped and flickered,
But the Abbot was stark and dead.”
H.W. Longfellow ‘King Witlaf’s Drinking Horn (1848)
Played an important role in the celebrations of the winter solstice and later Christmas, a large oak log was ceremoniously brought into the house and kindled at dusk, using a brand from the previous years Yule Log. It was deemed essential that the log, once lit, should burn until it was deliberately extinguished. The length of time, varied from region to region, from 12 hours to several days and it was considered ill-omened if the fire burnt itself out. It was never allowed to burn away completely, as some would be needed for the following year.
In England, it was considered unlucky for the Yule log to be bought, and had to be acquired using other means, as long as no money changed hands. Often it was given as a gift by landowners, and sometimes decorated with evergreens. In Cornwall a figure of a man was sometimes chalked on the surface of the log, mock or block. In Provence, where it was called the tréfoire, carols were sung invoking blessings upon the women that they might bear children and upon the crops, herds and flocks that they might also increase.
The ashes from the Yule log were often used to make protective, healing or fertilising charms, or scattered over the fields. In Brittany, the ashes were thrown into wells to purify the water, and in Italy as charms against hailstones.
In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, a variation of the Yule log was observed, here a figure of and old woman, the Cailleach Nollaich, was carved from a withered tree stump. At dusk, the figure was brought into the house and laid upon the burning peat of the house fire. The family would gather round the hearth and watch the figure consumed into ashes, the rest of the evening was spent in games and merriment. The figure, represented, not fertility and life but of the evils of winter and death, the figure had to be totally consumed if misfortune and death were to be averted in the coming year.
Mistletoe, from the Old English misteltãn, is a parasitic plant that grows on various trees, particularly the apple tree, it is held in great veneration when found on Oak trees. The winter solstice, called ‘Alban Arthan’ by the Druids, was according to Bardic Tradition, the time when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. The mistletoe is cut using a golden sickle on the sixth day of the moon. It is often associated with thunder, and regarded as a protection against fire and lighting. In Scandinavian mythology, Balder the Beautiful was killed from an arrow made of mistletoe and wielded by the blind god Hoder. Shakespeare, in Titus Andronicus II calls it ‘the baleful mistletoe’.
It is interesting to note that mistletoe was excluded from church decorations, probably due to its connection with the Druids and pagan and magickal associations. This ancient ban on mistletoe is still widely observed.
This was an ornamental candle of great size, once widely used at Yule throughout Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. It was often coloured red, green or blue and decorated with sprigs of holly or some other evergreen. The candle was lit either on Christmas Eve, its light shedding on the festival supper and left to burn throughout the night or early Christmas morning, to burn throughout the day. It was rekindled on each successive night of the twelve day festival, and finally extinguished on the Twelfth Night.
While the candle burnt, it was believed to shed a blessing on the household, it was considered a sign of ill omen or misfortune for the candle to go out or blown out. It was also considered unlucky to move it, or blow out the flame, when the time came to extinguish it, it was done by pressing the wick with a pair of tongs. In some households only the head of the family could perform this task, it being considered unlucky for anyone else to touch it whilst alight.
Up until the middle of the last century, chandlers used to present regular customers, with Yule Candles of various sizes, as a gift.
Wassail, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon wes hál, meaning ‘be whole’, or ‘be of good health’, or Old Norse ves heill, and was a salutation use at Yule, when the wassail bowl was passed around with toasts and singing. Wassail carols would be sung as people would travel from house to house in the village bringing good wishes in return for a small gratuity. The Apple Tree Wassail, sung in hopes of a good crop of cider the following year, other such as the Gower Wassail carol still survive today.
Recipe for Yule Wassail
3 red apples
3 oz brown sugar
2 pints brown ale, apple cider, or hard cider
1/2 pint dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger strips or lemon peel
Core and heat apples with brown sugar and some of the ale or cider in an oven for 30 minutes. Put in large pan and add rest of spices and lemon peel, simmer on stove top of 5 minutes. Add most of the alcohol at the last minute so it heats up but does not evaporate. Burgundy and brandy can be substituted to the ale and sherry. White sugar and halved oranges may also be added to taste. Makes enough for eight. Wassail!
Ritual for Yule
SUPPLIES: Yule log (oak or pine) with white, red and black candles on it (set it in the fireplace), chalice of wine, small piece of paper and pencil for each person.
The altar is adorned with evergreens such as pine, rosemary, bay, juniper and cedar, and the same can be laid to mark the Circle.
After casting the circle the Priestess should say:
“Since the beginning of time, we have gathered in this season to
celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
On the Winter Solstice, the darkest of nights,
The Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again
gives birth to the Sun and the new yearly cycle,
Bringing new light and hope to all on Earth.
On the longest night of winter,
and the dark night of our souls,
there springs the new spark of hope,
the Sacred Fire,
the Light of the World.
We gather tonight to await the new light.
On this night, the Maiden, who is also Mother
and Crone, prepares to welcome the Sun.
Let’s now prepare to welcome the new light within.”
~Invocation to the Goddess and God:
(Priest) “I light this fire in your honour Mother Goddess
You have created life from death, warmth from cold
The Sun lives once again, the time of light is waxing.
We invite you, Great Mother, to our circle
Bring us new light, the light of your glorious Son.”
(Priestess light the white candle on the Yule log and say):
“I come to you as Maiden
Young and free, fresh as springtime
Yet within me a yearning stirs to create and share
and so I become…
(Light the red candle) The Mother
I bring forth the fruit of my creativity
Yet an ancient prophet once told me, as I stood with my son,
A sword shall pierce through thy own heart also
And I knew that I must become…
(Light the black candle) The Crone
The ancient wise one, Lady of Darkness
We three – in – one who brought forth that special child
as long ago, also anointed him for burial-
A bright light that grew and was sacrificed to be reborn
as a new light.”
(Priest) “Ancient God of the forest, we welcome you
Return from the shadows, O Lord of Light.
The wheel has turned. We call you back to warm us.
Great God of the Sun
I welcome your return
May you shine brightly upon the Earth.”
~Consecration of the Yule Log
(Priestess) “Yule is the end of the old solar year and the beginning
of the new one. Traditionally, the end of the year is a time
to look back and reflect. It is a time to look ahead
to the future, to make plans and set goals.”
On your piece of paper, write something you hope to accomplish during the coming year. When you are finished, attach the slip of paper to the Yule Log.
Priest picks up the chalice and says:
“We toast the new year (sprinkles wine on the log) and in token
of its promise, we consecrate this sacred wood as a focus for the
energies through which we accomplish our tasks and manifest our
desires during the coming cycle.”
~All drink from the chalice.
(Priestess) “You who have died are now reborn. Lend us your light through
the winter months as we await the spring. Let us now light the Yule Log.
Once having burned with the Yule fire, these candles will contain the luck
of the log throughout the coming year.”
(remember to save a small piece of the log for next Yule or save the ashes or the candles.)
~Priest and Priestess light the Yule log together.
(Priestess – extinguishing the God taper)
“Thank you Bright Lord
for the light you have brought to us this night
May we carry it within us throughout the coming year.”
(Priest – extinguishing the Goddess taper)
“Thank you most gracious Lady
for your freshness of spirit, your nurturing care
your infinite wisdom
Live within us throughout the coming year.
So mote it be.”
~Close the circle the way you usually do.