...One of the things you'll notice about witches if you hang around them
long enough is that they like circles. The Moon, the Sun, the Earth,
a seed, a pregnant belly; so many of the things that give or enhance
life are circles. Circles have no upper and lower parts; all points
on a circle are equal. They also have no beginning or end, so they are
We think of the year as a wheel or circle. In every year there is a cycle from light to dark and back to light: of growth, reproduction, dying off, and rebirth again. Any day of the year can be the first day of the rest of your life. And when you come around to the same point a year later, you can see how the intervening cycle of days has changed you, and how you have changed from what you were.
Many witches see Samhain, the festival popularly known as Halloween, as the start of a new year. Some see Yule, the Winter Solstice as the start of the year because this is when the Sun starts to return after diminishing through the Fall and Winter. I have chosen to start this exploration of the Sabbats, or Holy Days of the witches, at Imbolic, the time when buds and flowers first appear; I can't pretend this is more or less correct than any other day on the circle, but for me it feels like a time of beginnings...
A celebration of the waning of winter and the first signs of Spring. At this time you can see the buds swelling on the trees and almost smell the blossoms they will soon become. The ice thins and streams start to run. One becomes aware that the afternoons are lasting a little longer. In some places there are snowdrops and crocuses already. This is often celebrated as the first of three Sabbats of the growing light.
It can be a time for getting in touch with the wonder and excitement of childhood. At this time, many dig out the seed catalogues and start dreaming of the garden they hope to grow this year...whether that is the garden in their backyard or balcony, an internal garden...the place inside that offers refuge and inspiration, or a creative project that has nothing at all to do with plants.
This is the day popularly celebrated as the beginning of Spring. Of course, depending on where one lives, Ostara may find you still shovelling snow, or the cherry blossoms may have come and gone already. It is generally a time of the first delicate and cheerful flowers...daffodils, forsythia, fruit-tree blossoms. It is a time when many animals are having their young...hence the symbolism of bunnies and chicks popular at this time...indeed those bunnies were often used as a fitting symbol of fertility at this time of first planting.
On this day light and dark are of equal length. It is a time of balance, so many pagans turn their thoughts to the things within them selves that they wish to balance: male and female, logic and intuition, will and surrender, acceptance and motivation to change. It is a time to celebrate growing things and to ask for blessings for the projects we launch after a winter of planning.
This is the last of the Spring fertility festivals, and Spring is well established. Flowers are in all stages of blooming, being pollinated, and involuting to form fruit. The year is in its adolescence, and this is a time for love and union.
Looking around at Nature's exuberant abundance, most pagans turn their thoughts to love magic at this time...pulling love in, expanding their capacity to love, and learning to love themselves. It is a time of union, and rites may involve physical union or work for greater harmony among the parts of a whole.
This is the longest day of the year... the time when the sun reaches its peak in the sky. It is no coincidence, I'm sure, that we celebrate Father's Day at this time. It is a time of dry grasses and wonderful long evenings when everyone sits in the cooling air outdoors. Fruits are forming all around us, promising a rich harvest . This year's young animals are growing strong and expanding their boundaries. It is a time for travel and visits.
This is the time when many witches start collecting their herbs for the year. We celebrate the power of the Sun and our own power. We celebrate seeing the projects we launched in the Spring gather momentum and grow without our constant vigilance. We push our limits and expand them.
This is the first of the three harvest festivals. Some of the early grains are available, as are many berries and some vegetables. The days are still warm and long, and we'd like to be lazy, but it is the time to start canning and preserving. The tops of the maples may be showing a tinge of red.
This is a time to express our gratitude for the harvest that is starting...to acknowledge the riches the year is bringing us and pray for continued abundance. We start to see the rewards of the projects we began in the Spring, and work to maximise them. The days are starting to get shorter, and we look ahead to the winter.
Reflecting the first half of the year, this is the middle harvest festival and the time when light and dark are again in balance. The leaves are turning and some are falling, crunching underfoot. The rest of the grains are coming in, as are the apples. In the cooler days, baking and preserving continue with a little more enthusiasm. It's cool enough to pull one's knitting out of the closet to make warm garments for the winter ahead.
As we watch the smoke of autumn bonfires rise, this is a time to again express gratitude for the harvest, often mixed with prayers for the Winter that we must now acknowledge is on its way. It is a time to gather seeds and put them away for the next Spring. We also gather the roots of those herbs whose potency is underground. It is again a time of balance, but one where we are looking ahead to a time of darkness, rest, and gestation.
The last of the harvest festivals, it is the time of nuts, squashes, and pumpkins (of course). It is the time to cull herds for the winter and cure the meat. It is the witch's New Year. Because it is held to be the time when the veil between this world and the spirit world is thinnest, it is a time when many cultures honour their dead. On this night witches, and many who don't consider themselves witches, put out food for their ancestors, and try to contact loved ones who have gone before. The masks and costumes children don at this time may hark back to times when people would honour their ancestors (or perhaps even the animals slaughtered at this time) by wearing their masks.
This is a time for looking back at one's roots and seeing how one has grown. It is a time for seeking guidance, either by contacting one's ancestors and spirit teachers or through divination. We are entering a cold time when we may be restricted indoors, and many people do some psychic and physical cleaning to make this experience more palatable. It is a time to drink deeply of the wisdom of the nurturing darkness.
On this longest night of the year, darkness reaches its depths, and the year turns to begin its journey back into light. Halfway through the winter season, it is a time to splurge a little and eat richly, celebrating the sweet return of the Sun. In many cultures it is celebrated as a rebirth of hope, the birth of a Son or the Sun. It is a time when families pull closer together to keep each other warm through the second half of winter. The world outside is cold, dark, and damp, and everyone makes an effort to make the indoors cheery with candles or sparkling electric lights and decorations that celebrate their own interpretation of this time. Many bring an aromatic tree into the home, and hang bright fruits on it to emulate the rich harvest they pray for the next year.
It is a time to look without fear into the dark and reap its wisdom before it is dissipated by the coming light; and it is a time to celebrate this returning light with love and renewed hope. It is a time to share the gifts of the previous year and to open the way for more in the year to come by sharing love, light, and nourishment with those less fortunate.