Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st, and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course as Halloween.
In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in—barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples—for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal.
One of the lesser Sabbats. This is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. The Goddess gives birth to the God as the reborn sun, and in many traditions it is celebrated just before dawn to welcome his arrival. Candles and bonfires are frequently lit to welcome his arrival. The returning light completes the cycle of life, death and rebirth. In many Wiccan traditions, Yule symbolizes the end of the reign of the waning year’s Holly-King, who is now replaced by the Oak-King of the waxing year.
This Sabbat represents the rebirth of light. Here, on the longest night of the year, the Goddess gives birth to the Sun God and hope for new light is reborn. Yule is a time of awakening to new goals and leaving old regrets behind.
Yule coincides closely with the Christian Christmas celebration. Christmas was once a movable feast celebrated many different times during the year. The choice of December 25 was made by the Pope Julius I in the fourth century AD because this coincided with the pagan rituals of Winter Solstice, or Return of the Sun.
The Christian tradition of a Christmas tree has its origins in the Pagan Yule celebration. Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could tell when a spirit was
Imbolc, also known as Oimelc, is the Celtic word for the festival of The White Goddess Brigid, or The Light Bringer.
Another term for this holiday that you may have heard is “Brigid’s Day”. On her festival day, am Fheille Bride, on the first of February, she gives to us the promise of Spring, the promise of new life returning to the Earth. Hence, she is often known as ‘Brighid of the Green Mantle’. This goddess of hearth and flame, so beloved of the Gaels, is known by many different names, for her Mysteries are many.
Today Imbolc is usually a time for predicting the weather patterns for the coming seasons. Of course, we watch for the groundhog’s shadow. One nice custom that is widely practiced today is to place a lighted candle in each window on the eve of Imbolc, allowing them to burn until the sun rises. Another custom is to weave a Brigid’s Cross from straw. The cross then hangs until the next Imbolc as a portent of fertility of the mind, and spirit. Lastly a custom deriving from Oimelc, (which literally translates as “ewe’s milk”), because now too is the time lambing season begins, is the drinking of “lambswool”. Lambswool is a hot drink made with crab-apples and spices.
Litha is usually celebrated on June 21st, but varies somewhat from the 20th to the 23rd, dependent upon the Earth?s rotation around the Sun. According to the old folklore calendar, Summer begins on Beltane (May 1st) and ends on Lughnassadh (August 1st), with the Summer Solstice midway between the two, when the Sun?s power begins to wane and the days grow shorter. The most common other names for this holiday are the Summer Solstice or Midsummer, and it celebrates the arrival of Summer, when the hours of daylight are longest. The Sun is now at the highest point before beginning its slide into darkness.
The Litha Sabbat is a time to celebrate both work and leisure, it is a time for children and childlike play. It is a time to celebrate the ending of the waxing year and the beginning of the waning year, in preparation for the harvest to come. Midsummer is a time to absorb the Sun?s warming rays and it is another fertility Sabbat, not only for humans, but also for crops and animals. Wiccans consider the Goddess to be heavy with pregnancy from the mating at Beltane?honor is given to Her. The Sun God is celebrated as the Sun is at its peak in the sky and we celebrate His approaching fatherhood?honor is also given to Him. The faeries abound at this time and it is customary to leave offerings?such as food or herbs?for them in the evening.
Lughnasadh / Lammas
The Lughnasadh Sabbat is a time to celebrate the first of three harvest celebrations (Mabon and Samhain being the other two) in the Craft. It marks the middle of Summer and represents the start of the harvest cycle and relies on the early crops of ripening grain, and also any fruits and vegetables that are ready to be harvested. It is therefore greatly associated with bread as gain is one of the first crops to be harvested. Wiccans give thanks and honor to all Gods and Goddesses of the Harvest, as well as those who represent Death and Resurrection.
Lughnasadh was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and themselves in bright colors and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange, ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers. The atmosphere must have been quite similar to our modern-day Renaissance Festivals.
Mabon is very much like Thanksgiving. Most of the crops have been reaped and abundance is more noticeable than ever! Mabon is the time when we reap the fruits of our labor and lessons, both crops and experiences. It is a time of joy, to celebrate that which is passing (for why should we mourn the beauty of the year or dwindling sunlight?), looking joyously at the experience the year has shared with us. And it is a time to gaze into the bright future. We are reminded once again of the cyclic universe; endings are merely new beginnings.
Since it is the time of dying sun, effort is also made to celebrate the dead with joyous remembrance. It is considered taboo to pass a burial site and not honor the dead. Natural energies are aligned towards protection, wealth, prosperity, security, and boosting self-confidence. Any spells or rituals centered around balance and harmony are appropriate.
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