The Wheel of the Year | Annual Cycle Of Seasonal Festivals

Wheel_of_the_Year.svg

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals in contemporary Paganism. It consists primarily of eight festivals based around the solstices and equinoxes, known as the quarter days, and the midpoints between, known as the cross quarter days.

Within Paganism, many festivals are celebrated. They can vary considerably in name and date amongst specific traditions, however the eight festivals of the Wheel comprise the most adhered and important annual celebrations. They are a unifying feature of modern Paganism. The Wheel has been important to many people, both ancient and modern, and its festivals are based to varying degrees on folk tradition.[1]

In Wicca, the festivals are also referred to as sabbats /ˈsæbət/, the term being explained as passed down from the Middle Ages.

The festivals

The eight-armed sun cross represents the Pagan Wheel of the Year.

In Pagan cosmology, all things are considered to be cyclical — including the year. It is understood as a perpetual cycle of growth and retreat tied to the Sun‘s annual death and rebirth. This cycle is also viewed as a micro- and macrocosm of other life cycles in an immeasurable series of cycles composing the Universe. The days that fall on the landmarks of the yearly cycle traditionally mark the beginnings and middles of the four seasons. They are regarded with significance and host to major communal festivals. These eight festivals are the most common times for community celebrations.[1][2][3]

While the major festivals are determined by quarter and cross-quarter days, many minor festivals are also celebrated throughout the year amongst various traditions. Additionally, festivals (major or minor) may not enjoy the same level of significance from one tradition to another.

The festivals, being tied to solar movements, have always been steeped in solar mythology and symbolism, centred around the life cycles of the sun. Similarly, the esbats are traditionally tied to the lunar cycles. Together, they represent the most common and important celebrations in modern Paganism, especially in Witchcraft.[2][3]

Midwinter

Main article: Midwinter

The most universally celebrated festival is that of Midwinter. It has been recognized as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle since the late Stone Age. The ancient megalithic sites of Newgrange and Stonehenge, carefully aligned with the solstice sunrise and sunset, exemplify this.[4] The reversal of the Sun‘s ebbing presence in the sky symbolizes the rebirth of the solar god and presages the return of fertile seasons. From Germanic to Roman tradition, this is the most important time of celebration.[5][6][7]

Practices vary, but sacrifices, feasting, and gift giving are common elements of Midwinter festivities. Bringing sprigs and wreaths of evergreenery (such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, yew, and pine) into the home and tree decorating are also common during this time.[5][6][8][9]

This liminal festival marks the last month of the old year and the first month of the new year and is followed by eleven days of extended celebration in Germanic tradition.[6] In Roman tradition additional festivities take place during the six days leading up to Midwinter.[7] The celebration of Christmas during approximately the same time is the result of early Christianity‘s adaptations of popular pre-Christian festivals concerning the winter solstice.[10]

Imbolc

See also: Imbolc and Dísablót

As the first cross-quarter day following Midwinter, this traditionally marks winter‘s end and spring‘s start. It is time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year’s new life. It was historically a shepherd’s holiday[11] and among Celts associated with the onset of ewes’ lactation, prior to birthing the spring lambs.[12][13]

The festival is strongly associated with Brigid, daughter of The Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.[13]

Among Reclaiming tradition Witches, this is the traditional time for pledges and rededications for the coming year[14] and for initiation among Dianic Wiccans.[15]

Vernal equinox

Main article: Vernal equinox

The vernal equinox, often called Ostara, inaugurates the new year on the Zodiacal calendar. From this point the day overcomes the night. It is widely recognized by many mythologies as the time of rebirth or return for vegetation gods (e.g. Attis) and is celebrated as a time of great fertility.[13][16]

Egg decorating is a very common tradition in vernal celebration throughout Europe.[13][16]

The holiday is strongly associated with fertility goddess Ostara (the eastern star). She is notably associated with the fecund symbols of the hare and egg. Her teutonic name may be etymological ancestor of the words east and Easter.[13][16][17][18][19][20]

Beltane

Traditionally the first day of summer, the earliest celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also strongly associated with the Gaelic Beltane (bright fire).[21]

Since the Christianization of Europe, a more secular version of the festival has continued in Europe and America. In this form, it is well known for maypole dancing and the crowning of the Queen of the May.

Midsummer

See also: Midsummer and Summer solstice

Midsummer is one of the four solar holidays, and is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest. Among the Wiccan sabbats, Midsummer is preceded by Beltane, and followed by Lammas or Lughnasadh.

Some traditions call the festival Litha, a name occurring in Bede‘s Reckoning of Time (De Temporum Ratione, 7th century), which preserves a list of the (then-obsolete) Anglo-Saxon names for the twelve months. Ærra Liða (first or preceding Liða) roughly corresponds to June in the Gregorian calendar, and Æfterra Liða (following Liða) to July. Bede writes that “Litha means gentle or navigable, because in both these months the calm breezes are gentle and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea”.[22]

Lammas/Lughnasadh

See also: Lammas and Lughnasadh

Lammas or Lughnasadh (/ˈlnæsə/ LOO-nas-ə) is the first of the three Pagan autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the autumnal equinox (or Mabon) and Samhain. Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolize the sanctity and importance of the harvest. Celebrations vary, as not all Pagans are Wiccans. The Celtic name Lughnasadh[23][24] is used in some traditions to designated this holiday. Wiccan celebrations of this holiday are not generally based on Celtic culture nor centered on the Celtic deity Lugh, however. This name seems to have been a late adoption among Wiccans. In early versions of Wiccan literature the festival is referred to as August Eve.[25]

The name Lammas (contraction of loaf mass) implies it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest. Pagan rituals may incorporate elements from either festival.[23][26]

Autumnal equinox

Main article: Autumnal equinox

The holiday of the autumnal equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed (in Neo-Druidic traditions), is a Pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology.[27] Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three Pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas / Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.

Samhain

Neopagans honoring the dead as part of a Samhain ritual

Main article: Samhain

Samhain (/ˈsɑːwɪn/ SOW-in) is considered by Wiccans to be one of the four Greater Sabbats. Samhain is considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as a festival of light and fertility.[23]

Wiccans believe that at Samhain the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest point of the whole year, making it easier to communicate with those who have left this world.[3]

Minor festivals

In addition to the eight major holidays common to most modern Pagans, there are a number of minor holidays during the year to commemorate various events.

Germanic

The common holidays of Heathenism (black: main names; gray: alternative names; purple: minor common holidays).

The minor holidays common in contemporary Germanic Paganism:

  • Vali’s Blot, celebration dedicated to the god Váli and to love — 14 February[28]
  • Feast of the Einherjar, celebration to honor kin who died in battle — 11 November[28]
  • Ancestors’ Blot, celebration of one’s own ancestry or the common ancestors of a Germanic ethnicity — 11 November[29]
  • Yggdrasil Day, celebration of the world tree Yggdrasil, of the reality world it represents, of trees and nature — 22 April[28]
  • Winterfinding, celebration which marks the beginning of winter, held on a date between Haustblot and Winternights (mid-October)[28][30]
  • Summerfinding, celebration which marks the beginning of summer, held on a date between Ostara and Walpurgisnight (mid-April)[28][30]

Dates of celebration

The precise dates on which festivals are celebrated are often flexible. Dates may be on the days of the quarter and cross-quarter days proper, the nearest full moon, the nearest new moon, or the nearest weekend for secular convenience.

The festivals were originally celebrated by peoples in the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, the traditional times for seasonal celebrations do not agree with the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. Pagans in the South often advance these dates six months to coincide with their own seasons.[3][31][32][33]

Practice

Celebration commonly takes place outdoors in the form of a communal gathering.

Sacrifice

Romuvan ceremony (6).PNG

Offerings of food, drink, various objects, the lives of animals, etc. have been central in ritual propitiation and veneration for millennia. The most notorious of these, ritual slaughter and sacrificing of animals has historically been common in any major settings that allowed for it, as blood sacrifices were known to be the most potent of all offerings. However, its use has always been tenuous and modern Pagan practice strongly avoids sacrificing animals in favour of grains, herbs, milk, wines, incense, baked goods, minerals, etc. The exception being with ritual feasts including meat, where the inedible parts of the animal are often burned as offerings while the community eats the rest.[34][35]

Sacrifices are typically offered to gods and ancestors by burning them. Burying and leaving offerings in the open are also common in certain circumstances. The purpose of offering is to benefit the venerated, show gratitude, and give something back, strengthening the bonds between humans and divine and between members of a community.[34][36][37]

Origins

The contemporary Wheel of the Year is somewhat of a modern innovation. While many historical pagan traditions celebrated various equinoxes, solstices, and even cross-quarter days for their seasonal and agricultural significances, none were known to have held all eight above all other annual, sacred times. The modern understanding of the Wheel is a result of the cross-cultural awareness that began developing by the time of Modern Europe.

Mid-20th century British Paganism had a strong influence on early adoption of an eightfold Wheel. By the late 1950s, the Wiccan Bricket Wood Coven and Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids had both adopted eightfold ritual calendars, for balance and more frequent celebrations. This also had the benefit of more closely aligning celebration between the two influential Pagan orders.[24][38]

Due to early Wicca’s influence on Paganism and their syncretic adoption of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic motifs, the most commonly used English festival names for the Wheel of the Year tend to be Celtic and Germanic.

The American Ásatrú movement has adopted, over time, a calendar in which the Heathen major holidays figure alongside many Days of Remembrance which celebrate heroes of the Edda and the Sagas, figures of Germanic history, and the Viking Leif Ericson, who explored and settled Vinland (North America). These festivals are not, however, as evenly distributed throughout the year as in Wicca and other Heathen denominations.

Narratives

Celtic

It is a misconception in some quarters of the Neopagan community, influenced by the writings of Robert Graves,[39] that historical Celts had an overarching narrative for the cycle of the year. They did not; and modern revivalists often observe only the four Gaelic fire festivals of the Celtic calendars.[40][41]

Slavic

Kołomir – the Slavic example of Wheel of the Year indicating seasons of the year. Four-point and eight-point swastika shaped wheels were more common.

Slavic mythology tells of a persisting conflict involving Perun, god of thunder and lightning, and Veles, the black god and horned god of the underworld. Enmity between the two is initiated by Veles’ annual ascent up the world tree in the form of a huge serpent and his ultimate theft of Perun’s divine cattle from the heavenly domain. Perun retaliates to this challenge of the divine order by pursuing Veles, attacking with his lightning bolts from the sky. Veles taunts Perun and flees, transforming himself into various animals and hiding behind trees, houses, even people. (Lightning bolts striking down trees or homes were explained as results of this.) In the end Perun overcomes and defeats Veles, returning him to his place in the realm of the dead. Thus the order of the world is maintained.[42][43][44]

The idea that storms and thunder are actually divine battle is pivotal to the changing of the seasons. Dry periods are identified as chaotic results of Veles’ thievery. This duality and conflict represents an opposition of the natural principles of earth, water, substance, and chaos (Veles) and of heaven, fire, spirit, order (Perun), not a clash of good and evil. The cosmic battle between the two also echoes the ancient Indo-European narative of a fight between the sky-borne storm god and chthonic dragon.

On the great night (New Year), two children of Perun are born, Jarilo, god of fertility and vegetation and son of the Moon, and Morana, goddess of nature and death and daughter of the Sun. On the same night, the infant Jarilo is snatched and taken to the underworld, where Veles raises him as his own. At the time of the spring equinox, Jarilo returns across the sea from the world of the dead bringing with him fertility and spring from the evergreen underworld into the realm of the living. He meets his sister Morana and courts her. With the beginning of summer, the two are married bringing fertility and abundance to Earth, ensuring a bountiful harvest. The union of Perun’s kin and Veles’ stepson brings peace between two great gods, staving off storms which could damage the harvest. After the harvest, however, Jarilo is unfaithful to his wife and she vengefully slays him, returning him to the underworld and renewing enmity between Perun and Veles. Without her husband, god of fertility and vegetation, Morana — and all of nature with her — withers and freezes in the ensuing winter. She grows into the old and dangerous goddess of darkness and frost, eventually dying by the year’s end only to be reborn again with her brother in the new year.

Modern Wicca and Neo-druidism

Painted Wheel of the Year from the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle.

Further information: Wiccan views of divinity

In Wicca, the narrative of the Wheel of the Year traditionally centres on the sacred marriage of the God and the Goddess and the god/goddess duality. In this cycle, the God is perpetually born from the Goddess at Yule, grows in power at the vernal equinox (as does the Goddess, now in her maiden aspect), courts and impregnates the Goddess at Beltane, reaches his peak at the summer solstice, wanes in power at Lammas, passes into the underworld at Samhain (taking with him the fertility of the Goddess/Earth, who is now in her crone aspect) until he is once again born from Her mother/crone aspect at Yule. The Goddess, in turn, ages and rejuvenates endlessly with the seasons, being courted by and giving birth to the Horned God.[3][45][46]

Many Wiccan, Neo-Druid and eclectic Neopagans incorporate a narrative of the Oak King and the Holly King as rulers of the waxing year and the waning year respectively. These two figures battle endlessly with the turning of the seasons. At the summer solstice, the Oak King is at the height of his strength. Having just defeated the Oak King, the Holly King enjoys the commencement of his reign. As the year progresses, the Holly King slowly regains his power and with the autumnal equinox, the tables finally begin turning in the Holly King’s favor. Come the winter solstice, he is vanquished by the Oak King. Over the next months, the sun waxes in power again and the Oak King slowly regains his strength. At the vernal equinox he begins to triumph until he is once again defeated by the Holly King at the summer solstice. The two are ultimately seen as essential parts of a whole, light and dark aspects of the male God, and would not exist without each other.[3][47][48][49]

The Holly King is often portrayed as a woodsy figure, similar to the modern Santa Claus, dressed in red with sprigs of holly in his hair and the Oak King as a fertility god.[50][51]

See also

WORD REFERENCE

A

Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown or unknowable.[1][2] Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who is undecided about the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.[2] In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist. Within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a deity exists but do not claim it as personal knowledge).

Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist, coined the word agnostic in 1869.[3] However, earlier thinkers and written works have promoted agnostic points of view. They include Protagoras, a 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher,[4] and the Nasadiya Sukta creation myth in the Rig Veda, an ancient Sanskrit text.[5] Since Huxley coined the term, many other thinkers have written extensively about agnosticism.

Types of agnosticism

Agnosticism can be subdivided into several categories, some of which may be disputed. Variations include:

Agnostic atheism
Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not have belief in the existence of any deity, and agnostic because they do not claim to know that a deity does not exist.[16]
Agnostic theism
The view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but still believe in such an existence.[16]
Apathetic or pragmatic agnosticism
The view that there is no proof of either the existence or nonexistence of any deity, but since any deity that may exist appears unconcerned for the universe or the welfare of its inhabitants, the question is largely academic.[17]
Ignosticism
The view that a coherent definition of a deity must be put forward before the question of the existence of a deity can be meaningfully discussed. If the chosen definition is not coherent, the ignostic holds the noncognitivist view that the existence of a deity is meaningless or empirically untestable.[18]

A.J. Ayer, Theodore Drange, and other philosophers see both atheism and agnosticism as incompatible with ignosticism on the grounds that atheism and agnosticism accept “a deity exists” as a meaningful proposition which can be argued for or against.

Strong agnosticism (also called “hard,” “closed,” “strict,” or “permanent agnosticism”)
The view that the question of the existence or nonexistence of a deity or deities, and the nature of ultimate reality is unknowable by reason of our natural inability to verify any experience with anything but another subjective experience. A strong agnostic would say, “I cannot know whether a deity exists or not, and neither can you.”
Weak agnosticism (also called “soft,” “open,” “empirical,” or “temporal agnosticism”)
The view that the existence or nonexistence of any deities is currently unknown but is not necessarily unknowable; therefore, one will withhold judgment until/if any evidence is available. A weak agnostic would say, “I don’t know whether any deities exist or not, but maybe one day, when there is evidence, we can find something out.”
Spiritual Agnostic
Agnostics who follow a devoted practice to traditionally spiritual practices in the absence of the knowledge of God while being irreligious

AGLA – is a notariqon (kabbalistic acronym) of the biblical phrase “Ateh Gibor Le-olam Adonai,“The Lord is mighty forever.” AGLA was condered a name of Godby magicians of the middle ages and appeared in magical formulas for everything from protection to flying. By Renaissance times, the formula was a common inscription for amulets and talismans. AGLA is used in its short form in a number of apotropaic circle-making forumulas.The Golden Dawn used it as the “God Name” of the North quarter in the “lesser banishing ritual,” representing Earth, and in the GRP to represent the passive elements of water and Earth. Agla also appears in Masonic lore, and some Masonic scholars have suggested that AGLA was a substitution for the “Word which was lost,” a primordial name of God or magical incantion which may represent the tetragrammaton.

Axiom of Maria is a precept in alchemy: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” It is attributed to 3rd century alchemist Maria Prophetissa, also called the Jewess, sister of Moses, or the Copt.[1] Marie-Louise von Franz gives an alternative version thus: “Out of the One comes Two, out of Two comes Three, and from the Third comes the One as the Fourth.”[2]

B

C

Crosier A crosier (crozier, pastoral staff, paterissa, pósokh) is the stylized staff of office (pastoral staff) carried by high-ranking Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran and Pentecostal prelates. The other typical insignia of most of these prelates, but not all, are the mitre, pectoral cross, and the episcopal ring.

Diptych – A diptych; from the Greek δίπτυχον,[1] di “two” + ptychē “fold”) is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction.


Demon – A demon (or daemon, from Ancient Greek, δαίμων daímōn), is a supernatural being from various religions, occultisms, literatures, and folklores that is described as something that is not human and, in ordinary (almost universal) usage, malevolent. The original neutral Greek word “daimon” does not carry the negative connotation initially understood by implementation of the Koine (Hellenistic and New Testament Greek) δαιμόνιον (daimonion),[1] and later ascribed to any cognate words sharing the root, originally intended to denote a spirit or spiritual being.

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

Kemetism
Kemetism (also Kemeticism; both from km.t, the native name of Ancient Egypt) is a term for Egyptian neopaganism, i.e. neopagan revivals of Ancient Egyptian religion which developed in the United States from the 1970s onwards. There are several main groups, each of which take a different approach to their beliefs, ranging from eclectic to polytheistic reconstructionist.

Pan-Africanist or black nationalist: The Ausar Auset of Ra Un Nefer Amen is a syncretic approach targeted at the African diaspora. The Ancient Egiptian Order (a.k.a. “Nuwaubian Nation of Moors” and other names) was a black supremacist cult led by Malachi York.
Kemetic Wicca (also Tameran Wicca, from t3 mry “land of two riverbanks”, another native term for “Egypt”) is an eclectic approach combining Ancient Egyptian elements with Wicca.
Kemetic Revivalism and Reconstruction, a reconstructionist, which include academic approaches informed by Egyptology, notably Kemetic Orthodoxy of Tamara L. Siuda and Kerry Wisner’s Akhet Hwt Hwr
Neo-Atenism is a neopagan revival not of Egyptian polytheism, but of the monotheistic faith introduced under Akhenaten in the Amarna period (r. 1353–1336 BC)

L

M

Maat or ma’at (thought to have been pronounced *[muʔ.ʕat]),[1] also spelled māt or mayet, was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Her (ideological) counterpart was Isfet.

The earliest surviving records indicating Maat is the norm for nature and society, in this world and the next, were recorded during the Old Kingdom, the earliest substantial surviving examples being found in the Pyramid Texts of Unas (ca. 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE).[2]

N

O

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T

Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.[1] In a more specific sense, theism is a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God’s relationship to the universe.[2] [3][4] Theism, in this specific sense, conceives of God as personal, present and active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe. As such theism describes the classical conception of God that is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and some forms of Hinduism. The use of the word theism to indicate this classical form of monotheism began during the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century in order to distinguish it from the then-emerging deism which contended that God, though transcendent and supreme, did not intervene in the natural world and could be known rationally but not via revelation.[5]

The term theism derives from the Greek theos meaning “god”. The term theism was first used by Ralph Cudworth (1617–88).[6] Atheism is rejection of theism in the broadest sense of theism; i.e. the rejection of belief that there is even one deity.[7] Rejection of the narrower sense of theism can take forms such as deism, pantheism, and polytheism. The claim that the existence of any deity is unknown or unknowable is agnosticism.[8][9] The positive assertion of knowledge, either of the existence of gods or the absence of gods, can also be attributed to some theists and some atheists. Put simply theism and atheism deal with belief, and agnosticism deals with (absence of) rational claims to asserting knowledge.[9]

U

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Z

Zoroastrianism /ˌzɒrˈæstriənɪzəm/ (or Mazdaism) is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra, in Avestan) and was formerly among the world’s largest religions.[1] It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.