Please allow me to introduce to you the cycle that creates the basis for everything that I, as a witch, as well as many others, believe in.
A vast number of witches (I would be remiss if I tried to speak for all witches) follow an Earth-based religion. One that revolves around the changes of the seasons, and the cycle that the Earth goes through every year. The same sort of religion that had been widely followed in pre-Christian Europe, as well as many other places around the globe. The religious aspect of this belief cherishes the things the Earth has given us, and holds a love for the Earth that many in this day and age do not have.
Throughout the year, the Earth is celebrated during eight major holidays on the Pagan calendar. These holidays can be called by many different names, but the ones I list here are very common, and if you use them in conversation with most modern witches, they’ll probably know what you’re talking about. Because of the ever-turning, cyclical nature of the Earth’s cycle, the holidays are often represented in a circle called the Wheel of the Year.
The following is a brief description of the eight major holidays in order beginning with the witch’s New Year:
- Samhain (pronounced sow-inn): November 1st – The end of the calendar falls on October 31st, you probably know this date as Halloween. It’s origins date back to end-of-harvest celebrations in early medieval times. Many (though not all) consider November 1st the first day of the New Year in the witch’s calendar. In the mythology that follows the turning of the holiday, the Sun is represented by the god, and the Earth by the goddess. At this time of year, the god dies and the goddess rests in the weeks between this holiday and the next. The final preparations of the harvest are made for the coming dark of winter. (I have already written a post with more detail on this holiday, please feel free to check it out!)
- Yule: Falls on the date of the Winter Solstice (around the 21st of December) – On the day of the longest night and shortest day, this holiday celebrates the return of the Sun to the Earth. In the mythology, the god (Sun) is reborn of the goddess (Earth), and begins his journey to grow stronger through the coming weeks and months as the days begin once again to grow longer. The birth of the god at this time of year is an ancient story, and one that many religions (including Christianity) have chosen to follow since it began.
- Imbolc: February 2nd – This celebration revolves around the seeds that lie beneath the Earth in wait to begin their growth as warmth returns in the coming spring months. The goddess is said to have recovered from giving birth to the god (who is now a fiery youth), and has begun tending her garden once again. Candles and fires are lit on this holiday in an attempt to coax the Sun into making his full return (to bring the warmth) a bit faster.
- Ostara: Falls on the date of the Spring Equinox (around the 21st of March) – This, the first day of spring and time when day and night are equal, is when the earth begins to cover herself in a blanket of fertility, encouraging the animals and plants to begin to reproduce. The goddess takes delight in tending her growing garden, and the god begins to reach maturity. This is where the fertility symbols of eggs and rabbits came from. This is also the holiday that was later adapted as Easter in the Christian calendar.
- Beltane: May 1st – The celebration of the beginning of the warm months is at hand. Feasts from the beginnings of the Earth’s bounty are had, and the fertility that began in the previous holiday is rising toward it’s peak. The goddess and god lie with one another, and the goddess once again conceives of the god. You will see many celebrating this day with may poles (a clearly phallic symbol) and cauldrons (to represent the goddess as she begins her gestation of the god).
- Litha: Falls on the date of the Summer Solstice (around the 21st of June) – This festival, also known as Midsummer, celebrates the long days with the Sun at his most powerful moment, and fertility at its peak. The goddess and god are at their strongest as they work together to ensure the growth of the plants and animals. Bonfires are lit to celebrate the Sun, and people may leap them to encourage continued growth, fertility and good health in the coming months.
- Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-nah-sah): August 1st – The time of the first harvest comes when the plants have begun to ripen and drop their fruits. The god begins to lose his strength as the days grow shorter, and the goddess takes comfort in the fact that he is also growing once again inside of her. The warmth of summer is remembered in the food that is now harvested to grace our tables.
- Mabon: Falls on the date of the Fall Equinox (around the 21st of September) – The second of the three fall harvest holidays is celebrated at the time of equal day and night, as the harvest reaches its height. The god is weakening and moves steadily along the path into his old age, and the goddess prepares to say goodbye to him for a time before he is reborn of her once again. The food from harvest is stored in preparation for the coming months of cold.
I hope these short explanations of each of the holidays on the Wheel of the Year help you to understand the cycle of belief a witch goes through each year as the seasons turn. I have begun a deeper explanation of each holiday with my post about Samhain, and will continue to do so for the other celebrations through the coming year as each holiday rolls around once again.