Wheel of the Year
Also known as: Oestre, Easter, the Spring Equinox, Vernal (Spring) Equinox, Alban Eiler (Caledonii), Méan Earraigh
- March 20 – 23 Northern Hemisphere
- September 20 – 23 Southern Hemisphere
This is the official return of the young Goddess after her Winter hibernation. As with the other Equinox and the Solstices, the date of this festival may move slightly from year to year, but many will choose to celebrate it on 21 March.
The Spring Equinox is the point of equilibrium – when light and darkness are in balance but the light is growing stronger. The balance is suspended just before spring bursts forth from winter. Night and day are of equal length at the equinox, the forces of male and female are also in balance. Ostara is a festival of balance and fertility.
In keeping with the balance of the Equinox, Oestara is a time when we seek balance within ourselves. It is a time for throwing out the old and taking on the new. We rid ourselves of those things which are no longer necessary – old habits, thoughts and feelings – and take on new ideas and thoughts. This does not mean that you use this festival as a time for berating yourself about your ‘bad’ points, but rather that you should seek to find a balance through which you can accept yourself for what you are.
It is also a celebration of birth and new life. A day when death has no power over the living.
Spring has arrived, and with it comes hope and warmth. Deep within the cold earth, seeds are beginning to sprout. In the damp fields, the livestock are preparing to give birth. In the forest, under a canopy of newly sprouted leaves, the animals of the wild ready their dens for the arrival of their young. Spring is here.
It is no coincidence that the name for this sabbat sounds similar to the word ‘Easter’. Eostre, or Ostara, is an Anglo-Saxon Dawn Goddess whose symbols are the egg and the hare. She, in turn, is the European version of the Goddess Ishtar or Astarte, whose worship dates back thousands of years and is certainly pre-Christian. Eostre also lives on in our medical language in the words ‘oestrous’ (the sexual impulse in female animals) and ‘oestrogen’ (a female hormone).
Today, Oestara is celebrated as a spring festival. Although the Goddess put on the robes of Maiden at Imbolg, here she is seen as truly embodying the spirit of spring. By this time we can see all around us the awakened land, the leaves on the trees, the flowers and the first shoots of corn.
There is some debate as to whether Oestara or Imbolg was the traditional time of spring cleaning, but certainly the casting out of the old would seem to be in sympathy with the spirit of this festival and the increased daylight at this time encourages a good clean out around the home.
The Easter Bunny also is of Pagan origin, as are baskets of flowers. Brightly colored eggs represent the child within.
Traditionally, Ostara is a time for collecting wildflowers, walking in nature’s beauty and cultivating herb gardens. Half fill a bowl with water and place a selection of flowers into it for display in a prominent position in your home.
This is the time to free yourself from anything in the past that is holding you back.
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underworld and cover
blossom by blossom the spring begins.
~Algernon Charles Swinburne
Méan Earraigh marks the spring equinox, when night and day are of equal length and spring officially begins. Birds begin their nesting and egg-laying, and eggs–symbolic of rebirth, fertility, and immortality–are tossed into fresh furrows or eaten by ploughmen. They are also carried by those engaged in spring planting.
A charming custom is painting eggs with symbols and pictures of what one wishes to manifest in the coming year. The eggs can then be buried in the Earth Mother, who hears the cries and dreams of her children. In some communities, eggs are hidden in the stores of seed grain and left there all season to bless the sowing and encourage the seeds to sprout. Dressed as mummers, “pace-eggers” go from house to house and demand eggs and coins in return for a short performance. Men and women exchange clothing for the show.
The eggs given to the pace-eggers have been wrapped in leaves, roots, flowers, and bark before boiling, to impart color. Later the eggs are used in games, such as attempting to strike an opponent’s legs. The eggs might be hidden or rolled down hillsides, after which they are eaten. Blood, ashes from sacred fires, fistfuls of salt, or handfuls of soil from a high mountaintop are scattered on the newly sown fields.
Offerings of food and milk are left for the faeries and other spirits who live in and around rocks and are responsible for the fertility of the land. A few fruits from the previous year’s harvest are left for the nature spirits. Sacred hilltops are visited, and picnics of figs, fig cakes, cider and ale are enjoyed. The figs are symbolic of fertility, the leaf being the male element and the fruit the female.
You can also celebrate the arrival of spring with flowers. Bring them into your own home and give them to others. You do not have to spend a lot of money – one or two blooms given for no other reason than ‘spring is here’ can often bring a smile to even the most gloomy face.
A traditional Vernal Equinox pastime is to go to a field and randomly collect wildflowers (thank the flowers for their sacrifice before picking them). Or, buy some from a florist, taking one or two of those that appeal to you. Then bring them home and divine their Magickal meanings by the use of books, your own intuition, a pendulum, this post on the Magickal Meanings of Flowers, or by other means. The flowers you’ve chosen reveal your inner thoughts and emotions.
In the druidic tradition, Aengus Og is the male deity of the occasion. Son of In Dagda and Boand, he was conceived and born while Elcmar, Boand’s husband, was under enchantment. When three days old, Aengus was removed to be fostered by Midir, god of the Otherworld mound at Bri Leith, with his three hostile cranes. These birds guarded the mound and prevented the approach of travelers, and were said to cause even warriors to turn and flee.
Make an Altar to Ostara.
Ostara, the ancient German Virgin Goddess of Spring, loves bright colors. The light pastels of spring are perfect offerings for Ostara. To represent earth on your altar, choose bright or pastel colored stones like Rose Quartz, Amethyst, or any of the Calcites (blue, red, yellow, or green). If you have some Citrine, be sure to include it. Citrine has long been an aid for mental clarity.
By including an offering of colored eggs on your altar, you will be taking part in an ancient tradition (still performed!) by the Germanic people. Ostara has been honored this time of year with painted eggs for centuries.
To symbolize fertility, in addition to the eggs, you can include seeds or rice on your altar. I like to use rice as a symbol for fertility on my altars.
Incense and feathers are perfect symbols for air on your altar. It is important for Ostara’s altar that you include a symbol for air because Ostara herself is the living symbol for Air. (This must be the way Ostara and Easter became associated with birds, i.e. chickens) Be sure to burn incense at your altar when you are dedicating it to bring in the energy and vibrational qualities of Ostara.
The perfect time to dedicate your altar is at dawn. Choose a day, then plan to dedicate your altar to Ostara at dawn’s first light by lighting incense and repeating an invocation to her as well as a prayer of thanksgiving for all that Ostara symbolizes in your life:
- A clear mind.
- New beginnings.
- Personal renewal.
- Fertility, either for the purpose of bearing a child or for creativity such as arts and crafts, writing, or decorating.
You can include anything you like on your altar to Ostara. You will know by how you feel if an item is appropriate or not. I believe it is important to include symbols for the four elements on my altars. The four elements are Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. The four Calcites on my altar (red/fire, green/earth, yellow/air, and blue/water) represent Mother Earth and the four elements. I have added feathers and other items that symbolize Ostara to my altar as offerings to her.
Last, but not least, it might be nice to include a figure of a rabbit. The rabbit is Ostara’s power animal. I am sure this is because of their propensity for fertility.
Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve occurs on October 31, and originated with the ancient Celts, who, beginning at sundown on October 31 and extending into November 1, celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in, which rhymes with cow-in), which marked the end of harvest time and the beginning of the new year. The ancient Celts believed that at this time, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest, thereby making it a good time to communicate with the deceased and to divine the future.
In later years, the Irish used hollowed-out, candlelit turnips, carved with a demon’s face to frighten away the spirits. When Irish immigrants in the 1840s found few turnips in the United States, they used the more plentiful pumpkins instead.
Halloween activities include:
- Trick-or-treating (going door to door in costume and asking for treats)
- Attending Halloween costume parties
- Decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns
- Lighting bonfires
- Apple bobbing
- Divination games
- Playing pranks
- Visiting haunted attractions
- Telling scary stories and watching horror films.
In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular, although elsewhere it is a more commercial and secular celebration. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve, a tradition reflected in the eating of certain foods on this vigil day, including apples, potato pancakes and soul cakes.
The celebrations on the eve of All Souls Day, called Halloween, (October 31), stem from the Celtic New Year celebration called Samhain. When the Sun goes down on this eve, there is a time between the old year and the creation of the new. Specifically, this occurs at sunrise.
In this twilight of the years, the veil between this world and the world of the spirit is thin. It is a time when ghosts and spirits can interact with the living, and a time when divination is most effective. This is a sacred time when all warriors were to keep their swords sheathed.
Samhain literally means “end of the summer.” This day marked the last harvest of the summer, and so it is a harvest celebration. But, because there were only three months in the ancient Celtic calendar, and no autumn, it is also the beginning of the winter death that will lead to next year’s regeneration.
Ancient Celts believed that at Samhain, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was extremely thin, allowing the dead to cross over into the world of the living. Sometimes they appeared as apparitions and sometimes in the form of animals, most particularly black cats. The living lit bonfires and dressed in costumes to confuse the spirits and keep them from re-entering the world. On this night, the lord of death reigns, and the Celts protect themselves from this threat with bonfires and animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice is closely associated with divination.
In most ancient cultures, the remains of the sacrificed animal were examined to discover the will of the gods and to predict the future. The Druid priests would take advantage of this auspicious time to look into the events of the upcoming year—at least up until Beltane, which marked the year’s midpoint.
Although predicting the future is not necessarily the best use of the tarot, this is a good time to try reading the future. You can do this by laying out three cards for each of the six months from Samhain to Beltane (you should have eighteen total cards). Read each set of three cards as a story that will pertain to that month.
During the period of Samhain, the time when the world of the living is closest to the world of the dead, it is often a good idea to make offerings to the spirits to keep them from doing harm. Traditionally on Halloween night, gifts of milk and barley are left out beneath the stars to acquire the blessings of ghosts and prevent them from harming your household.
Other traditions involve leaving a plate of food outside the home of the souls of the dead. A candle placed in the window guides them to the lands of eternal summer, and burying apples in the hard-packed earth “feeds” the passed ones on their journey.
For food, beets, turnips, apples, corn, nuts, gingerbread, cider, mulled wines and pumpkin dishes are appropriate, as are meat dishes.
It’s also told that the Fairy Folk became very active during Samhain, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. People use to dress in white (like ghosts), wear disguises made of straw, or dress as the opposite gender in order to fool the spirits and traveling after dark was was not advised. The holiday’s bonfires and glowing turnips (yes, turnips) helped the dead on their journey while protecting the living.
Magick is in the air, and it’s important to just let things happen. Keep good fun thoughts in your mind, with hope for the future. These positive thoughts will turn into Magick energy and be released… that is the power of Samhain!
Here are 5 ways to celebrate Samhain:
1. Honor the dead
Honoring the dead is one of the best ways to create Magick on Samhain. How do you honor the dead? By remembering them. Think of all the people that have passed on in your life, and don’t let their memories fade. Spend some time looking through old photographs. Think deeply about what they were like in life, what did they do… what did they feel? Tell them you miss them. Tell them you love them. Talk about them to friends and family.
2. Have a “dumb” supper
Pick a person (alive or passed away) that has qualities you admire… maybe someone you love and care about that isn’t with you. Have dinner as usual, but leave an empty plate for them and “pretend” they are there.
You can either talk to them…ask them how they are doing. Or you can have dinner in complete silence, and think about them deeply. Treat your “guest” with a delicious meal, some good wine, and a tasty dessert. The person you are honoring will feel the energy, and you’ll boost your emotional and Magick sources.
3. Carve a pumpkin
Pumpkin carving is a pagan pastime. It actually has it’s roots in the belief that carving faces into turnips would keep evil away. Pumpkins work just as well and are easier to carve. Yes, it’s fun, and it will also keep any bad luck and negative energy away.
4. Feast… feast… feast!
This is one of the best ways to celebrate Samhain because the positive emotions that build up will directly influence the effects of your divinations and rituals. If you have like-minded friends or family, get together and make a feast! There are many special recipes that work wonders for enhancing your Magick…
5. Do your Divinations
This is the BEST time of the year for seeing what is to come…and don’t let it pass by without doing at least one divination ritual. You could do Tarot, Runes, Scrying, Pendulum divination, Tea Reading, and any other divination techniques that resonate with you. It’s best to do your divinations AFTER the feast because that’s when the energy is at it’s peak.
Note: Information collected from Robert Place, Rose Ariadne, and various other sources.
Another Note: You can find more posts of interest by exploring the following links…
Celebrated on February 2nd, Imbolc or Imbolg, (pronounced “IM-bulk” or “EM-bowlk”), also called Oimealg, (“IM-mol’g), by the Druids, is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word “oimelc” which means “ewes milk”. Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders.
It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid’s snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.
The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen.
Brighid’s Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.
Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up.
In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the “water of life” is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.
As with all the Sabbats it is a time to celebrate the changes in the land around us. It is important to be outside to see, feel, smell, and appreciate the way that nature is changing, to pay our respects to the Gods and to seek their guidance for the coming season.
You can either take a walk to a favorite place, where you will be able to appreciate the changes around you, or as this is a time of new beginnings, it can be interesting to take a new route. Whichever your choice, take with you a small amount of spring water, or collected rain water. As you go, take care to notice the signs of new life and growth and wherever you see new shoots, buds, or leaves sprinkle a few drops on the plant and give thanks to the Goddess.
If you should come across a well or a spring, take the time to make an offering to the waters within. If you have finished the water you brought then your offering should be something which will not contaminate the water in any way. Where a tree grows close to this water you can also tie a single hair to one of its branches and ask for a Blessing for yourself or someone close to you.
If you should be lucky enough to pass grazing land look out for the first lambs of the year. If you see your first lamb of the year on this day you can make a wish.
As this is a time of new life and growth, it is appropriate to plant bulbs or flowers or to sow seeds. However, you will need to use your judgement and some local knowledge to decide whether to actually do so at Imbolc or whether to wait a week (or several) until the last frosts have passed. Of course seeds can often be started indoors and planted out a month or so later.
A word of caution here – if you are unlucky and your seedlings or plants fail, try not to read anything ‘significant’ into this. Unless and until you are an experienced and seasoned gardener, or unless you naturally have ‘green fingers’ you are quite likely to have a less than impressive success rate the first few times.
If you don’t have access to a garden, you can always choose an indoor plant to nurture. Many of the herbs that Witches use in their Magic, as well as their kitchen, will grow quite happily on a window sill. Rosemary and lavender are perhaps the two most useful, as well as having a pleasant scent all year round.
Celebrating Imbolc can be as easy as saying a prayer or as complicated as doing an elaborate ritual. The thing to remember is that it be meaningful and done with intent. Remember also that the Imbolc season runs through the actual day of Imbolc until the Spring Equinox; if you miss the exact day, you haven’t missed out on celebrating. The following is a list of activities to do alone, with a partner, or with your child to honor nature and deity as we travel ever closer to spring. Continue reading
In Celtic times the day was considered to begin at dusk the preceding night, so all major celebrations would commence the night before the day of the festival, much as New Year festivities start on New Year’s Eve.
Also called Imbolg, Oimelc and Candlemas, this is the festival of Bride or Bridget. It celebrates the Goddess’s transformation from Crone to Maiden and heralds the coming Spring and the change from dark to light. One of the ways to celebrate this is with a Circle of lights.
The dates given for this sabbat vary. On some calendars it is given as Feb 1st and on others Feb 2nd. I think the confusion might possibly stem from this practice of commencing the celebration the night before.
Everyone gathers in a Circle, lit only by a single black candle; the wick should be trimmed to give the smallest of flames. Each person has an unlit white candle. When everyone is ready someone says:
“This is the festival of Imbolg and the first signs of returning life tell us that Spring is on its way.
Let us light the path for the new season and say farewell to the old.
They light their white candle from the black one, state something they wish for in the coming season, and extinguish the black candle. Going around the group Deosil (clockwise), each person states their own hopes and lights their candle from that of the person next to them. When all the candles are lit, everyone says together:
“We welcome the Goddess as Maiden,
We welcome the signs of new life.
We welcome the coming Spring.”
The candles can be placed somewhere safe to burn whilst everyone enjoys a feast or, if this is not a family celebration, they may be extinguished and taken home to bring Spring into everyone’s homes.
From: The Real Witches’ Year
Yule occurs on the Winter Solstice. This is the time of year when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky (Northern Hemisphere) and the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn. This usually happens between December 20th and December 23rd. Also known as: Alban Arthuan, the Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year.
The word Solstice means “standing-still-sun” because the sun seems to stand still for this one day before the daylight begins to grow again. The sun will only rise higher and higher in the sky from this point onward. It is from this point that the days begin slowly to become longer and longer. The sun is at its most southeastern point over the Tropic of Capricorn in the northern hemisphere and has no apparent northward or southward motion. Since it appears that the sun’s light is growing as each day passes after this one, this holiday is celebrated as the birth of the sun.
The word Yule comes from the Old Norse “iul,” meaning wheel ,and refers to the ‘wheel of the year’, (or the idea of the year, seen as a wheel turning as the seasons change).
To our ancestors, the Sun was often identified with God, and the earth and moon with the Goddess. Since it was at this time that the daylight began to grow, our ancestors believed that this was the day the Goddess gave birth to the ‘sun-Son’. In the time of the ancient tribes this was a time of celebration, for it meant the turning point of winter and the eventual return of spring. Yule is the time when we honor the Goddess for giving birth to the sun once more. It is the time when the Oak King is victorious over the Holly King.
The Holly King represents death and darkness that has ruled since Samhain, and the Oak King represents rebirth and life. The waning (diminishing) sun is overtaken by the waxing (increasing) sun, thus the days become longer after the victory of the Oak King.
Yule is a time when we do Rituals and celebrate the increasing daylight, to renew, and to see the world through the eyes of a child. Spells done at Yule tend to raise our spirits, and bring harmony, peace, and joy. During Yule we see the wisdom of past experience begin to glimmer. The experiences we yielded over the harvest season of the times gone past begin to be reborn as wisdom, new light, to guide us further down the Paths we have chosen.
Because His birth heralds the days growing longer, the God represents hope in the coming cold of Winter and the promise that spring lies ahead. Since we are still in the coldest part of the year, with much cold and darkness still ahead of us, we should emulate the newly born baby. The baby Son draws close to his mother (the Goddess) at this time… we too must draw inward and be thankful for the family we have to help us through the hardships. This is also a time to delve into the depth of your mind and really look at yourself and see what you have learned in the past year.
Yule Traditions and Symbols
It is customary for Witches to decorate the Yule tree, and adorn the house with holly, ivy and pine. It is time when Father Winter, a white bearded chap dress in red, fur trimmed robes, arrives bearing gifts and exchange gifts.
This is the eve when the Yule log from the previous year is burned in the fire. Symbolic of the newborn sun, each year’s Yule log is of oak, charged in a Magic Circle and kept in sacred space the following Yule. This not only celebrates the oak and places it in a place of distinguished honor, but also ensures there will be fuel for the remainder of Winter.