Monday, January 16, 2017

Weekly Wicca 2: The Eight Sabbats & Wheel Of The Year

Hello and welcome! This week I will talk about the eight sabbats Wiccans celebrate - AKA holidays. Some of them might surprise you! We celebrate them at certain times when the earth's turning, the sun and seasons change around us. The dates in this photo are for the northern hemisphere - if you are in the southern hemisphere they are reversed (Samhain and Beltane switch, for example).We put these together in the wheel of the year.

Four of these are solar festivals; Yule (winter solstice), Ostara (spring equinox), Litha (summer solstice) and Mabon / Modron (fall equinox). That probably tells you what and why we celebrate. Humans in different religions have celebrated these for ages, and many still do. In Norway there is usually still some kind of celebration around these dates. Fun fact: We still call christmas ''jul'' here! That shows you that we used to be pagan many years ago. It comes from ''hjul'', which means ''wheel''. This probably means that the old nordic pagans believed this to be their new year. Ostara is named after the goddess of fertility (Eostre), which people might recognize as easter. Litha is the longest day of the year, and Mabon / Modron is a day where the night and day are equal, and we celebrate the fruits of the harvest.

The other four are known as celtic fire festivals, and aren't necessarily celebrated on the date shown above, but usually when certain things in nature happen, or the closest full moon. Like Imbolc, in which we celebrate the first drops of snow. Some might know this as the festival of Brighid, where one celebrates the first thaw, birth of the lambs and the coming of spring. Beltane means ''bright fire'', and celebrates basically all the green in nature. Some countries still celebrates this as ''may day''. Lugnasadh / Lammas celebrates the first harvest. Last but not least we have Samhain, which many knows as halloween. It celebrates the first frost, but also where we celebrate our ancestors (day of the dead). Samhain was considered to be the Celtic new year.
You might see a different date of these other places, but usually the festivities begin at sundown the day before.

Samhain - The Festival Of The Dead
Even though it is considered the beginning of winter, most people regard this as the day of the dead. Many believe the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thinner on this night. We don't celebrate this because we LOVE death or anything, but we regard it as a part of life and try to be positive before we go into the dark winter. The Celtics looked upon this as a new year beginning.
The crone / hag / witch is a popular image this season, with good reason. We Wiccans celebrate the old woman aspect of the Goddess, she is wise and is our midwife throughout life. She is represented by Goddesses like Hecate, Ceridwen and Rhiannon.
In our celebrations we remember the ones who have died in the past year (and later on talk to the ones who have died in previous years), but we also celebrate those born in the past year. Death is a natural part of life, and we accept that, and try to stay positive.

Yule - The Winter Solstice
Known by many names, this is an important day to many. It's the shortest day of the year.
This is the day when the Goddess gives birth to the Star child, a holiday many religions share.
We decorate our homes with greens to remind ourselves that the earth will be green again.
The dark and cold winter is a time many feel down (winter depression is a thing), and that's why people spend lots of time with friends and family around this time.
We light candles to find the sun again.

Imbolc - The Feast Of Brighid
Now the days are longer, and winter loses it's grip. The lambs are born, and lambs drinking milk is a common image associated with this festival. St. Bridget protects newborn animals, women and children. She is said to have been Mary's midwife in Christian mythology. But in Wicca, she is the midwife to nature, and this is why many plant seeds around this time, so she will bring life to them. This is an important festival for women, and sometimes part of the festivities are held separate for the genders before they join together later. This is the time we draw energy from Brighid and get inspiration for creativity and get ready again to make the world a better place.

Ostara - The Spring Equinox
Sometimes called the vernal equinox, which means youthful, is the time right before the day is longer than the night. The Goddess who inspired this festival has the hare as her symbol, which fits very well with this time of year, as the grass is still short enough for hares to be easily seen. Hares symbolize fertility, which is something later religions have taken inspiration from (Easter - bunny). We decorate eggs and hang them from a branch (one found on the ground), and wish for things to come in the summer - I think it's a great way to symbolize that!

Beltane - The Time Of The Green Man
In which we celebrate the coming of summer, and the green man, who is the consort of the Goddess. This is the time when both animals and the Goddess and God mate, and she becomes pregnant with the Star child who will be born in Yule. This is often why many get married / handfasted during this time. Many believe that this is when the veil between the mortals and faery is thin (this festival is opposite of Samhain). The Celtics used to light to sacred fires and make the cattle walk between them to protect them. ''Bel'' means ''bright'', so this might be where the festival has its name from, but it can also be certain Gods / Goddesses. Many light a small bonfire and jump over them to be blessed and make promises to the coming year, but a broomstick can also be used (probably safer anyway). Many do this during their handfasting, and that's because the broomstick united the male (handle) and the female (brush). This also symbolizes going from spring to summer.

Litha - The Summer Solstice
The longest day of the year, where we gather strength from the sun to carry us through the darker days to come. Litha MIGHT mean ''wheel'' (as well as Yule does), as 2000 years ago people used to set wheels on fire and send them down a hill towards the crops to symbolize the sun and hopefully make it warm the crops. Bonfires on this day have been very common for several centuries. There is one on this day in walking distance from where I live to celebrate St. Hans, so it's still going on today and in different religions. Most people celebrate this festival outside, and many stay up during the shortest night of the year. Drumming during sundown and sunrise is also very common.

Lugnasadh / Lammas - The Harvest Festival
Now the days are equally long. It gets its name from the sun God Lugh, or ''loaf mass''. This is when we celebrate the harvest of the corn. While this might not be relevant for most of us in this modern city-living day, we still make corn-dollies in spirit. Many believe that one of the Gods sacrifice themselves to feed us. This is the time we are thankful and give back - our thanksgiving, if you will.

Modron / Mabon - The Fall Equinox
While the days are still about the same length, Modron reminds us that it will get darker soon. We harvest the fruits, which represents the Goddess now being in the third trimester of her pregnancy. Many also believe that the God and the Crone aspect of the Goddess will soon die and go to the land of the dead. As many other religions have believed in the past, the Goddess is three (maiden, mother and crone), and the God will be reborn. That's why some believe that when we die we go to the ''summerlands'', where everyone is eternally young - it's all a cycle.
Apples are a big symbol for this festival, and many believe that the five-pointed star (that represents all the elements) is inside when you slice it open. It's eaten to remind us that we stand between reality and the otherworld, and that we now stand between light and darkness. We remember the Goddesses associated with the underworld (Freya, Persephone, Inanna, Ishtar). We prepare to grow and regenerate during the winter.

Now we have come around the wheel of the year. I hope I explained these festivals enough for you, that you have learned something new and realized the connections we all share. Next time I will talk about the five elements, how much they mean to us and how to connect with them.

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