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The Pagan Wheel of the Year

From Reclaiming Quarterly

Probably created in the 1800s by folklorists, the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year honors the ancient seasonal rituals of many cultures, weaving them into a cycle of eight evenly-spaced sabbats.

Here we call the seasonal quarters by their universal names, "Solstice" and "Equinox," to honor them as special days of the Earth Herself, and not any one culture.

This page and many Reclaiming groups call the cross-quarterly sabbats by Neo-Celtic names. We begin with Samhain, the "New Year of the Witches."

This information is oriented to the Northern Hemisphere. Some of these sabbats are celebrated differently by Australian Reclaiming groups.

For public rituals in the Reclaiming tradition in many areas, visit Find Us Worldwide.

Samhain

The holiday popularly known as Halloween is the time of year known to Witches as Samhain, when the veil is thin between the worlds of the living and the dead. We gather to remember and honor our ancestors, our Beloved Dead, and all those who have crossed over. As we mourn for those we love who have died this year, we also mourn the losses and pain suffered by the Earth, our Mother. Yet even as we grieve we also remember and honor the sacred cycle of life, death, rebirth and regeneration, celebrating the births of our children born this year, and our own vital connections to the Earth and each other, in which we ground our hope.

Samhain 1979 was the first Reclaiming ritual - the book release party for Starhawk's book, The Spiral Dance. The ritual is still celebrated each October - click here for more info

Winter Solstice

This is the night of Solstice, the longest night of the year. We watch for the coming of dawn, when the Great Mother again gives birth to the Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center which is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the night. We turn the Wheel to bring the light. We call the Sun from the womb of night.

Brigid/Candlemas/Imbolc

This is the feast of the waxing light. What was born at the Solstice begins to manifest, and we who were midwives to the infant year now see the days grow visibly longer. This is the time of individuation: within the measures of the spiral, we each bring our own light, and become uniquely ourselves. It is the time of initiation, of beginning, when seeds that will later sprout and grow begin to stir from their deep sleep. We meet to share the light of inspiration, which will grow with the growing year.

Spring Equinox

This is the time of Spring's return; the joyful time, the seed time, when life bursts forth from the earth and the chains of Winter are broken. Light and dark are equal: it is a time of balance, when all the elements within us must be brought into a new harmony. Kore, the Dark Maiden, returns from the Land of the Dead, cloaked in the fresh rain, with the sweet scent of desire on her breath. As She dances, despair turns to hope, want to abundance, and we sing:

She changes everything She touches,
And everything She touches, changes

In many locales, children are a special part of this ritual, and a hunt for colored eggs follows.

Beltane/May Day

This is the time when sweet desire weds wild delight. The green of the Earth meets the red and black of workers' rights in the greening fields and rejoice together under the warm sun. The shaft of life is twined in a spiral web, and all of nature is renewed. We meet in the time of flowering, to dance the dance of life.

Summer Solstice

This is the time of the rose: blossom and thorn, fragrance and blood. Now on the longest day of the year, light triumphs, and yet begins to decline into dark. We set sail across the dark seas of time, searching for the isle of light that is rebirth. We turn the Wheel and share in the Sun's fate, for we have planted the seeds of our own changes, and to grow we must accept even the passing of the Sun.

Lammas

We stand now between hope and fear, in the time of waiting. In the fields, the grain is ripe but not yet harvested. We have worked hard to bring many things to fruition, but the rewards are not yet certain. Now the Mother becomes the Reaper, the Implacable One who feeds on life that new life may grow. Light diminishes, the days shorten, summer passes. We gather to turn the Wheel, knowing that to harvest we must sacrifice, and warmth and light must pass into Winter.

Fall Equinox

This is the time of harvest, of thanksgiving and joy, of leave-taking and sorrow. Now day and night are equal, in perfect balance, and we give thought to balance and flow within our own lives. The Sun King has become the Lord of Shadows, sailing West: we follow Him into the dark. Life declines; the season of barrenness is on us, yet we give thanks for that which we have reaped and gathered. We meet to turn the Wheel and weave the cord of life that will sustain us through the dark.

A Note on Terminology

Local communities use different names for some of the sabbats. Reclaiming Quarterly uses the universal terms "Equinox" and "Solstice" to honor these seasonal sabbats as holidays of the Earth, not of any one culture. Many groups call the cross-quarters by Celtic names, a practice followed here.

This page is oriented to the Northern Hemisphere. Some of these sabbats are celebrated differently by Australian Reclaiming groups.

Ritual descriptions adapted by Reclaiming Quarterly from The Spiral Dance, 1989 by Starhawk

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