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Witchcraft

Understanding the Wheel of the Year

With Samhain upon us here in the Southern Hemisphere and Beltane in the Northern Hemisphere I thought now would be a great time to discuss the wheel of the year, its importance in history and the added touch of magic it can add to the lives of us modern day spiritual beings.

The wheel of the year is most often associated with witchcraft or Celtic and pagan traditions though it is honoured by many cultures throughout history. I will be referencing the traditional Wiccan wheel of the year for this article but do not feel like you cannot change or honour the celebrations according to your own faith or beliefs, that is the beauty in magic and nature, it can be honoured in any way you see fit.

The wheel of the year is exactly that – honouring the seasons and the turn of the year. We know that we have four seasons in a year being spring, summer, autumn and winter and though these are the key seasons that are honoured, the wheel of the year has a more intricate system of working with the land and marking the changing points within the seasons. Perhaps the most commonly known days are the spring and autumn equinox as even the weather channel will announce these days as being the time when the length of day and night are equal. You most likely have also heard the winter solstice and summer solstice. I am going to break down each point on the wheel of the year – there are 8 major celebrations which are often called Sabbats, and explain what each one means, give a few suggestions on honouring and celebrating them and the times they occur in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

I will start with Samhain as it is almost here and is widely accepted as the New Year in Celtic, pagan and Wicca traditions.

Please keep in mind that though the basis of the celebrations is explained, these are by no means set in stone and you will find that different places and different cultures may have a slightly different interpretation of the holiday. I always encourage you to do your own research to find what resonates for you – this is a breakdown based on my own beliefs and ways of celebrating the wheel of the year, with additional information from sources I have used over the years.

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Samhain (October 31st in Northern Hemisphere, April 30th Southern Hemisphere)

Samhain is also known as All Hallows Eve of Halloween in modern day society. Though we all celebrate Halloween around the globe on October 31st, this is actually only correct in the northern hemisphere. Samhain is the traditional New Year and is the first day of winter. In modern society, this holiday is seen as “spooky” because it is when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest – so the ancestors, or those who have passed on are able to walk in our worlds and we in theirs. It is also a time when mystical or magical creatures from other planes of existence can step through and a great time to look both in the past and the future due to this thin veil. This can traditionally be seen as when the God enters the underworld and when the Goddess is in her crone aspect when looking at Wiccan and pagan traditions. A great way to honour this day is by celebrating your ancestors – perhaps by providing them an offering or simply by reminiscing on their memory. Using dark colours such as ruby red, blacks and oranges with clothing or on your altar is great – pumpkins are in season at this time so you can make a jack o lantern and light some candles in honour of the past and those who have come before us. Using scrying mirrors or bowls to look into the future and working with darker grounding crystals such as obsidian, jet and tourmaline and fiery crystals like carnelian or bloodstone are wonderful. This is a time to honour the beginnings and endings in all things.

Winter Solstice (December 20th – 22nd in Northern Hemisphere, June 20th – 22nd Southern Hemisphere)

The winter solstice is also known as Yule and this is traditionally where the idea of Christmas came from – hence the term yuletide. The winter solstice is the longest night of the year and the tradition of welcoming back the light – as after this night the days start to grow longer again, is where the yule log comes from. This holiday symbolises the birth of the light or the “dark god” and was a time of merriment and celebration. The dark god was represented in celebration as the first person to step foot in the house baring gifts – and you can see here where the tradition of Santa Claus comes from. The yule log is a tradition that came from Scandinavia and was traditionally burnt in honour of Thor to encourage him to help dispel the dark nights with his fire and courage. The yule log was never completely burned and always lit with a piece of the log from the previous year, often decorated with ivy, holly and other evergreens and ribbons. This is a wonderful tradition you can incorporate into your own celebrations for the winter solstice, wearing the colours of red, green and gold are great to honour the light and making mulled wine is another great way to celebrate. Citrus fruits and spices should be used in your cooking.

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Imbolc (February 2nd in Northern Hemisphere, August 1st in Southern Hemisphere)

Imbolc is also known as Candlemas and this is traditionally the beginning of spring or a time for new beginnings. Often associated with the goddess Brigid who among other things is also a goddess of muse and fire. This is a time to celebrate the light that has returned and the end of winter. Milk offerings to the goddess and the god are often given or this can be offered to the faeries if you prefer. This is a time to purify the home, cleansing and opening the doors and windows to allow the old energy to leave and new energy in. Banishing magic is powerful here as is meditation. Lighting white candles in honour of the goddess. Using crystals such as rose quartz or clear quartz and other light and healing energies is beneficial. Artistic pursuits or writing in all forms is a great way to tap into this energy.

Spring Equinox (March 20th – 22nd in Northern Hemisphere, September 20th – 22nd in Southern Hemisphere)

The spring equinox is also known as Ostara – a Germanic goddess of fertility, and is where the name Easter is derived from. This day is one of balance – when the day and night is equal length and is mostly celebrated as the return of life, the fertility of the land. The symbols of Ostara are eggs, rabbits and spring flowers and you can already begin to see where the tradition of the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs comes from! The custom of giving eggs at this time actually goes back as far as the early Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Gauls. The egg is a symbol of life and the practice of colouring eggs dates back to ancient civilizations.  This is a wonderful way to celebrate the spring equinox, you can also use this time to plant seeds with intention in magical ways, replace anything that you need in your spiritual or magical tool box. Decorating the home with spring flowers and bulbs, using crystals such as moonstone and the colour green are great for this day.

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Beltane (May 1st in the northern Hemisphere, October 31st in the Southern Hemisphere)

Beltane is also known as May Day in the northern hemisphere and perhaps one of the most widely known ways to celebrate Beltane is the Maypole, a pole or long branch that is decorated with ribbons that people dance around to slowly wind the ribbons to the pole. This holiday is one of fertility and love magic more often than not and is a time of great celebration. In Celtic tradition, the night before Beltane all the fires are doused and then the fires were re-lit, often from one communal fire with the nine sacred woods and this was symbolic of banishing evil forces. This was done before the sun rose and as the people watched the sun rise, many would jump over the fire as a way to cleanse and bring good luck and walk around the fire 3 times. This is something you can do yourself by lighting a bonfire or even a candle as a symbol of this, you can hang ribbons in a tree as a way to offer prayers and wishes, bless the garden or a plant with the magic of this time – it is even more powerful if it is one that you planted at the time of Imbolc. Love magic and strengthening your bonds are great to do now. Working with citrine, sunstones, amber and topaz are great, as are strawberries and cinnamon in foods.

Summer Solstice (June 20th – 22nd Northern Hemisphere, December 20th – 22nd Southern Hemisphere)

Also known as Midsummer or Litha, this marks the longest day of the year and when the earth is most fertile. This holiday is often associated with the faeries – we all know the Shakespeare play a Midsummer Night’s Dream! This is the perfect time to honour the fae with offerings and fun and revelry. Lots of food and wine is always a grand way to celebrate this time. The summer solstice is also the time when the two gods – the oak king and the holly king battle it out (the oak king is best described as the “lighter god” who rules from Midwinter or yule until Midsummer) and the holly king wins and takes the throne with the goddess. This symbolises the winter and the summer as personas. This is a great time to honour the concept of descent into the underworld – think Persephone going into the underworld with Hades, Isis going to save Osiris or Baldur descending to the lower levels of Asgard. The theme here is strong, of the going deep within and this is the perfect time to start doing this yourself – of course with lots of merriment and celebration. Magic and rituals focusing on partnerships and union is great – think of hand fasting and marriage that often happened at this time (though this was often because of children that were conceived at the time of Beltane).Working with roses, honeysuckle and other sweet smelling flowers is great, ritual baths are wonderful now if it is too hot to celebrate outside or even go to the ocean and use that as your bath.

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Lammas (August 1st in the Northern Hemisphere, February 2nd in the Southern Hemisphere)

Also known as Lughnasadh, this is traditionally the first harvest season. Lammas means the feast of bread and Lughnasadh is the feast of Lugh (a Celtic god of light). This time is traditionally when the grains are harvested and the preparations for the winter begin. Many choose to bake cakes or bread specifically for this holiday, though as the Goddess is also the harvest mother, corn mother or grain mother in this time, you can also use corn and other things such as sunflower seeds. This is a time of honouring the harvest and giving thanks for the abundance of the summer and a time to start preparing and storing for the winter. Hand fasting or marriage was also done at this time, though it was also accepted that the marriage could be a temporary one year if both parties agreed. The first sheaf of grain would be baked into the bread or added to beer in celebration. You can bake goods such as cakes or bread or have a picnic outside in honour of the harvest with fresh local produce. Leaving offerings of honey or oatcakes to the fae is traditionally done at this time. Working with crystals such as tiger’s eye and topaz is great now.

Autumn equinox (September 20th – 22nd in Northern Hemisphere, March 20th – 22nd Southern Hemisphere)

Also known as Mabon, this is the great harvest season and when the most work is done! This is also a time of equal day and night so balance and harmony is honoured here too. The corn dolly (a form of straw work weaved together) was made out of the last sheaf of grain to be harvested and ceremoniously bought into the home as a symbol and a way to protect the last seed until the next season. This is also a time to harvest the fruits and in particular the apple is honoured here as it is symbolic of renewal, healing and regeneration. You can use this time to make your own corn dolly, go to a farm and harvest your own fruits, go for a walk and give thanks to what you have in life. A gratitude journal is great to start now. Harvest your herbs for drying or preserve the summer bounty such as sauce making or jam making is another great way to honour this season.

I hope you have enjoyed this break down of the Wheel of the Year and I truly hope it has inspired you to work in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth. Experiment with your own ideas or rituals and if you cannot spare the time, simply acknowledging the day for what it brings is more than enough.

Lots of Love & Light xx

Elizabeth

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