At key points in the year, like Christmas and Halloween, we all yearn for something deeper. The Wheel of the Year, known traditionally as the Pagan Calendar, is a great place for you to start.
If you’ve sensed that you could connect to the Earth and the universe more often, you’re not alone.
The Wheel of the Year explained
Many nature worship religions, such as Wicca or others classed under the ‘Pagan’ umbrella observe the Earth centred cycle. This cycle is known as the Wheel of the Year, and contains key Pagan holidays.
Interestingly, these holidays are recognizable to many who do not class themselves as Pagan. For example, the Winter Solstice occurs just before Christmas, and the spring Equinox is associated with themes similar to Easter.
The wheel of the year comprises eight festivals spaced roughly six to seven weeks apart throughout the year.
The Wheel of the Year and the natural world
The key events in the wheel of the year calendar are tied to the movement of the earth around the sun.
As the sun gives life and has driven human advancement for millennia, civilisations have long worshiped and celebrated key points in the year, particularly when it was tied to harvesting of scarce food.
When furthest away in the Northern Hemisphere, the Earth has longer nights and colder temperatures.
As this point passes (the Winter Solstice), many cultures have celebrated the forthcoming increase in light. They knew the Earth was passing on its journey to be closer to the sun.
Other quarterly points, such as the Spring Equinox, represents the time when there is as much light as darkness in the day. This perfect ballet of balance between the darkness and light is a tension between hunger, illness, and death on the one hand, and abundance, life, and fertility, on the other.
The Wheel of the Year and your soul, mind, and body
Observing these key points in the year, when the Earth, Sun , and Moon dance together can be powerful your soul.
Know as ‘Earth-centered spirituality’, ‘pagan holidays’, or ‘Neo-pagan fesitvals’, these times speak to a deep and real part of our being. If the movement of the moon can change the tides of the sea, then surely the sun to the earth can alter us too?
We are 70% water after all! It’s generally only us humans who have forgotten that we need to live in tune with the Earth and seasons, rather than fighting it.
So if you ever wanted the Wheel of the Year explained, or would like some more festivals in the year to look forward to, then read on.
The eight Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year
It is believed that initially societies carved the year into two halves. Summer and Winter Solstices were the main polarities, with their contrasting weather and agricultural and food habits.
The four main parts of the Wheel of the Year therefore are the two Solstices, and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. They are considered Solar Holidays.
Winter Solstice – December 21st
This period has been known as ‘Yule’ or ‘Midwinter’, and marks the point in the Northern Hemisphere when the darkness that has been emerging since Autumn now dominates the day.
We see the shortest day, when we receive the least amount of light, due to the Earth being furthest away from the Sun on its annual journey, and tilted way from its light.
Nights are long, and the days can be gloomy and cold.
Pagans have long celebrated the Winter Solstice point as a return of the light and a rebirth of the Sun, as days from this point become longer. More light and warmth gently comes back into our lives.
Spring Equinox (Ostara) – March 21st
The point in the year when there are equal amounts of day and night in day. The Spring Equinox celebrates that equilibrium, and the upcoming growth of light.
Usually trees are budding and the snowdrops and daffodils have already provided a glimpse of life and abundance to come. This is a time to celebrate new beginnings.
According to Eleanor Parker in her enchanting book ‘Winters in the World’, the word for Spring in Old English was ‘lencten’ which means ‘lengthen’, and refers to the increasing time of light in the day.
We see how many cultures and their observance of the seasons overlap in the Spring, with the Christian festival of Easter. The word is drawn from the word ‘Ostara’ and ‘Eostre’, believed to be a Germanic Goddess.
Summer Solstice (Litha) – June 21st
Also known as ‘Midsummer’ or ‘Litha’, the Sun at this point shines the most and drenches the Earth in its warming light. This is the longest day of the year, and marks the halfway point in the year.
The amount of light per day varies according to location, but some of the Nordic countries enjoy 24 hours of light at this point. Blackout blinds a must if you have young ones!
Growth, abundance, strength, and passions are the main themes of this holiday. Recovered texts from Old England suggest that people believed herbs and plants to be at their most potent, particularly for healing, at this point in the year.
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) – September 21st
Light and dark are again in equal balance. Known as Mabon, this period of Autumn signals the beginning of the end of the summer season, as we are treated to the cacophony of golden leaves dropping to the ground.
Harvesting of crops was the main activity at this time of year, as communities sought to bring in enough food to keep them sustained and alive during the winter months.
Cross quarter points
These four points each fall in between the Quarter Points, and are known as Imbolg, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain. They are considered agricultural holidays as they mark key points in the growing and harvesting of crops for food.
Imbolc – February 1st – 2nd
One of our favourites here at Cultivated Zen, this falls between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. For us, it’s the first time that we begin to feel the sparkle of the Sun and nature emerging from its long hibernation.
Some people in the United States celebrate Groundhog Day at this time of year.
We look forward to crisp clear days, blue skies, and even the odd outdoor cooking session.
Beltane – April 30th – May 1st
Known as May day, this time marks the beginning of the Pagan summer, and falls between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. It’s a festival of fire, fertility, and abundance.
A time for celebrating life and growth, and is often marked by maypole dances and bonfires. The pole itself represents a penis, and two sets of streamers attached to the pole are bound together by the dance of men and women. This convergence represents life and death coming togehter.
Lughnasadh or Lammas – August 1st
This festival marks the beginning of the harvest season. It’s a time for giving thanks for abundance and for recognizing the hard work that goes into producing food.
It marks the first grains for bread being harvested, and is celebrated with joy, feasts, and games.
Samhain – October 31st – November 1st
Often considered the Pagan New Year, Samhain (Halloween) marks the end of the harvest season and the onset of winter.
It is a time for honoring ancestors and the deceased, as well as celebrating the cycle of death and rebirth. It is the dark point in the calendar, and so we feel that this is an important time to face up to trauma, loss, and the reality of death.
Zen word on the Wheel of the Year
You don’t have to join a formal society, or declare yourself a Pagan to be more in tune with seasonal rituals.
Just stopping your automatic way of being, and noticing how the earth is changing around you can bring pauses of inner peace.
As we collect more moments of serenity and deep connection to cosmic forces, maybe we’ll find what we’ve been looking for. Enjoy the festivals and stay zen, folks.