Samhain (October 31st),
pronounced sow-en and called Halloween today, is the ending of the Celtic
year. The Celtic new year actually begins at sunset on October 31. This
ritual is known as Ancestor Night or Feast of the Dead. Because the veil
between the worlds is thinnest on this night, it was and is considered an
excellent time for divinations. Feasts are made in remembrance of dead
ancestors and as an affirmation of continuing life. A time for settling
problems, throwing out old ideas and influences. This is either celebrated
October 31, or the first Full Moon in Scorpio.
Also known as: Halloween, Ancestor Night, Feast of the Dead, All Hallows
Eve, Hallowmass, Samana, Samhuinn, Samonios, The Feast of Sam-fuim,
Geimhreadh, Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas or Old Hallowmas
Date: Generally October 31, but some traditions hold it on November 7, or
on the first Full Moon in Scorpio
Symbols: Cauldron, Jack-o'-Lantern, Mask, Cauldron, Balefire, Besom
Deities: Crone Goddesses, Dying/Aging Gods, Sacrificial Gods, Death and
Colors: Orange and Black.
Herbs: heather, mullein, patchouli, and sage my be burned; acorns, apples,
pumpkins, oak leaves, straw, broom, dittany, ferns, and flax may be
Samhain (SOW-in or SAV-ayn) marked the beginning of the old Celtic new
year, and many Celtic Pagans still observe Samhain as the renewal of the
Wheel of the Year.
This was the night that the old God died, returning to the Land of the
Dead to await rebirth at Yule, and a time when the Crone Goddess would go
into mourning for her lost son/consort, leaving her people in temporary
As in days long past, Celtic Pagans believe that the veil between the
world of the living and that of the dead is at its thinnest on this night,
and that the spirits of our departed loved ones walk the earth, visit
family and friends, and join in the ritual celebrations. This makes
Samhain a prime night for any type of spirit contact rituals.
The feeding of the dead is a widespread practice, even in modern Celtic
lands. In Brittany and Ireland food is always left out for these spirit
travelers, and candles are placed in windows to guide them along their
way, and these were the origins of the modern Halloween customs of the
jack-o'-lantern and trick-or-treat.
The following are a few suggestions for
activities that can be incorporated into the Sabbat ritual or done during
the course of the day (and night).
Drink apple cider warmed and spiced with
cinnamon to honor the dead.
Do divinations for the next year.
Make a spirit candle. This
is a white candle anointed with patchouli oil. Say:.
With this candle and by its light,
I welcome you spirits this Samhain night.
Place it inside the jack-o'-lantern. This may be included in the Ritual,
or done separately.
Winter Solstice or Yule (December 21st),
This is the time of death and rebirth of the Sun God. The days are
shortest, the Sun at its lowest point. The Full Moon after Yule is
considered the most powerful of the whole year. This ritual is a light
festival, with as many candles as possible on or near the altar in welcome
of the Sun Child.
Also known as: Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan, Feill Fionnain, Yuletide,
Midwinter, Sun Return, and Fionn's Day
Wreath, Yule Log, Holly, Spinning Wheel
Deities: Newborn Gods;
Triple Goddess; Virgin Goddesses
mistletoe, ivy, cedar, bay, juniper, rosemary, frankincense, myrrh,
sandalwood, and pine. Offerings can be apples, oranges, nutmegs, lemons,
pinecones, oak leaves, and/or whole cinnamon sticks.
Ancient Meaning: Yule
is a time of the greatest darkness and is the shortest day of the year.
Earlier peoples noticed such phenomena and supplicated the forces of
nature to lengthen the days and shorten the nights. Wiccans sometimes
celebrate Yule just before dawn, then watch the Sun rise as a fitting
finale to their efforts.
How Ancient Pagans
Celebrated: After the Norse brought Yule into prominence it nearly
replaced Samhain as the date of the New Year, and many modern Celtic
covens still honor Yule this way. The Nordic-influenced Celts celebrated
Yule with many of the trappings we associate with modern Christmas
observances; decorated evergreen trees, wreaths, holly, mistletoe,
feasting, and dancing.
They also believed that on this night the Holly King, as the God of the
waning year, would battle the Oak King, the God of the waxing year, and
lose. Often Yule coven rituals have members reenact this fight."
Modern Meaning: Yule
is the remnant of early rituals celebrated to hurry the end of winter and
the bounty of spring, when food was once again readily available. To
cotemporary Wiccans it is a reminder that the ultimate product of death is
How Modern Pagans Celebrate: Since the God is also the Sun, this marks the
point of the year when the Sun is reborn as well, Thus, the Wicca light
fires or candles to welcome the Sun's returning light. The Goddess,
slumbering through the winter of Her labor, rests after Her delivery.
Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon 'Yula', meaning 'wheel' of the year) is usually
celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days,
though it usually occurs on or around December 21st. It is a Lesser Sabbat
or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four
quarter-days of the year, but a very important one. Pagan customs are
still enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of
the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should
light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for
good luck. It should be made of ash. Later, the Yule log was replaced by
the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on
Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were
important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting
life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it
with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be
an aphrodisiac. (Magically -- not medicinally! It's highly toxic!) But
aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in
ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly
creaked under the strain of every type of good food. And drink! The most
popular of which was the 'wassail cup' deriving its name from the
Anglo-Saxon term 'waes hael' (be whole or hale).
that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs,
it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In
doing so, we can share many common customs with our Christian friends,
albeit with a slightly different interpretation. And thus we all share in
the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when the Mother Goddess once
again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion again.
Imbolc (February 2nd),
the first Full Moon in Aquarius, is a time of cleansing and newborn lambs.
The name, Imbolc, comes from the word 'oimelc' or sheep's milk. It is a
festival of the Maiden in preparation for growing and renewal.
Also known as: Candlemas, Imbolg, Bride's Day, Oimelc, and Brid's Day
Brides, Grain Dolly, Burrowing Animals, Ewes
Deities: Virgin or
Child Goddesses, Gods as Young Men or Boys
Herbs: Basil, Bay,
Benzoin, and celandine may be burned; Angelica, myrrh, yellow and white
flowers may be used as altar decorations.
Imbolc is THE Sabbat
which honors the Goddess as the waiting bride of the returning sun God.
Before the Nordic influence, it was also the Sabbat in which the Celts saw
the sun as being born anew. In Ireland it was, and still is, a special day
to honor the Goddess Brid in her guise of bride. The modern Irish know
this as St. Briget's Day, St. Briget being a vaguely disguise and
Christianized version of the Pagan Goddess.
Celts would often
dress grain dollies, representations made from dried sheaves from the
previous harvest, as brides, and set them in a place of honor within their
homes. They were usually placed in cradles called Bride's Beds, and nuts,
symbols of male fertility, were tossed in with them.
This is also a Sabbat
where candles are lit in profusion, often within a wreath, another symbol
of the Wheel of the Year. These are symbolic of the heat and light of the
At Imbolc the deities are
still youthful and not yet joined as one through sacred marriage. They are
innocent and fun-loving, and are waiting just as anxiously for spring as
Activities: Here are a few
suggestions for Imbolc activities, some of which can be incorporated into
the Sabbat celebration or simply as something to make the day more
special, especially for children.
Burn the Yule greens
to send winter on its way.
Make the Bride's Bed
using the Corn or Wheat Doll made the previous Lughnasadh. Dress the doll
in white or blue with a necklace that represents the seasons. Lay it in a
long basket adorned with ribbons; light white candles on either side of
the basket, and say:
"Welcome the bride both maiden and mother;
rest and prepare for the time of the seed;
cleansed and refreshed from labors behind her;
with the promise of spring she lays before me."
Next morning, remove the dress and scatter the wheat outdoors (or if you
use corn, hang it up in a tree for the squirrels and birds). this can be
seen in terms of the Lady's recovery from the birthing bed and readiness
to begin the turning of the seasons anew.
The Imbolc Corn Doll represents the mother nurturing her son, who will
grow and become her husband. This is the earth and the sun, which is still
weak but gaining in strength.
On Imbolc Eve,
leave buttered bread in a bowl indoors for the faeries who travel with the
Lady of Greenwood. Next day, dispose of it as the "essence" will have been
Place three ears of
corn on the door as a symbol of the Triple Goddess and leave until Ostara.
Light a white candle
and burn sandalwood incense.
Cleanse the area where
you do card readings or scrying with a censor burning rosemary or vervain,
"By the power of this smoke I wash away the negative
influences that this place be cleansed for the Lady and her babe."
Cleanse the altar and
equipment, do a self-purification rite with the elemental tools
representing earth (salt) for body, air (incense) for thoughts; fire
(candle flame) for will; and water (water) for emotions.
Make dream pillows for
everyone in the family.
Create a Solar Cross
from palm fronds, make enough to place one in each room of the house.
Place a red pillar-style candle center to the front door; with palm
crosses in hand, light the candle and open the door and say:
"We welcome in the Goddess and seek the turning
of the wheel away from winter and into spring."
Close door; take up the candle and go to each room of the house and say:
"Great Lady enter with the sun and watch over this room!"
Leave a Solar Cross in the room and proceed thusly throughout the house.
This is great for the kids as you can divide up the tasks for each to do -
one can hold the palms, another can open doors, another can carry the
candle, and so forth. The last room should be the kitchen and here you
of the earth and sun,
safe and keep us warm,
our home you extend your blessings."
Spring Equinox or Ostara (March 21st),
is when light and darkness are in balance but the light is growing
stronger. Ostara was not originally a part of the Celtic year, and all of
its associations were given to Beltaine until recent times. Because it was
named for the Teutonic Goddess of Spring and New Life, Eostre, it is
assumed that it was brought to prominence in the Celtic world by the
Symbols: Egg, Rabbit, Equilateral Cross, Butterfly
Herbs: celandine, cinquefoil, jasmine, rue, tansy, and violets may be
burned; acorn, crocus, daffodil, dogwood, honeysuckle, iris, lily, and
strawberry may be decorations.
Modern Celtic Pagan
practice has adopted Ostara whole-heartedly, and different Celtic
traditions have different ways of observing this Sabbat. Primarily it is a
night of balance in which night and day are equal, with the forces of
light gaining power over the darkness. One tradition honors the God in his
guise as a warrior on this date, while another views it as a time of the
courtship between the God and Goddess, a relationship to be consummated at
Another Ostara custom of uncertain origin which has gained popularity in
Celtic circles is that of awakening Mother Earth. The youngest person
present is often asked to take a stick or wand and walk to the far
northern point of the circle, the coldest compass point in the northern
hemisphere, the place where the sun never travels, and tap on the ground
three times. The youngest then entreats Mother Earth to "wake up". In
keeping with the Celtic beliefs about the sacredness of three times three,
this gesture is repeated twice more. After this is done you may wish to
evoke or invoke the Earth Mother and make her the center of your Ostara
festivities, celebrating her presence as the embodiment of Spring.
Here are a few
suggestions for activities that may be part of the Sabbat celebration or
something to do during the day:
Make Hot Cross Buns to honor the union of the Earth and Sun for spring.
Slash the 'X' with your boline and bless the bread.
Have a traditional breakfast of buns, ham, and eggs. Save the eggshells
and after breakfast, throw the crushed eggshells into the garden and say:
For fairy for flowers, for herbs in the bowers,
The shells pass fertility with springtime showers.
Wear green clothing.
Bless seeds planted in the garden.
Color hard-boiled eggs and add the symbols for the Fertility God, the
Goddess, the Sun God, unity, fire, water, agriculture, prosperity and
growth, strength and wisdom, spring, love and affection, and protection.
Consecrate the eggs by saying:
In the name of
the Goddess of spring (name),
And the ever-returning God of the sun, (name),
By the powers of the four elements - earth, air, fire, and water,
I do consecrate these eggs of Ostara.
Point your athame at the eggs, make the sign of the pentagram, and see the
energy flow through the blade into the eggs, and say:
New life watching as new life shall enter the soil.
Let those who see this life find it and consume it,
for all life feeds on life.
The eggs may be hidden and the Ostara Egg Hunt commences.
On Ostara Eve, light a purple or violet candle and burn patchouli incense.
Carry them both through the house, saying:
Farewell to wintry spirits and friends;
On morrow we greet the spirits of spring;
Our blessings to thee as your way you wend;
And merry we'll meet next winter again.
the candle and say:
Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!
Beltane (May 1),
or the first Full Moon in Taurus. Other names for it are May Day or Lady
Day. It is primarily a fertility festival with nature enchantments and
offerings to wildlings and Elementals. The powers of elves and faeries are
growing and will reach their height at Summer Solstice. A time of great
magic, it is good for all divinations and for establishing a woodland or
garden shrine. The house guardians should be honored at this time.
Also known as: May
Day, Bealtaine, Beltane, Bhealtainn, Bealtinne, Festival of Tana
Symbols: May Pole,
Egg, Baskets, Flowers, Butterchurn
Deities: Flower Goddesses,
Divine Couples, Deities of the Hunt
Colors: Red and White
Herbs: almond, ash, cinquefoil, frankincense, marigold, meadowsweet, and
woodruff may be burned; angelica, bluebells, daisy, hawthorn, ivy, lilac,
primrose, and rose may be decorations.
The first of May has been
celebrated in song and verse for longer than human history has recorded
the date. It is a time to celebrate new life in all its forms, and the
time when the Goddess and the God are united in sacred marriage, their
relationship consummated, an act which symbolically fertilizes the animals
and crops for the coming year.
The most common ritual act which celebrates this union is known as the
Great Rite. It is the symbolic union of the male and female principles of
creation, the union of the two halves of the All-Power which unite to
bring all things into being. The Great Rite is usually performed by
ritually placing a male ritual tool, usually the athame, into a female
ritual tool representing the cosmic womb. A chalice or small cauldron is
usually chosen for this purpose. Couples working together will often
invoke the deities into themselves and perform the Great Rite de facto,
which is also acceptable.
The dancing of the May Pole is another May Day Celtic custom practiced
both within and outside of Paganism. The weaving of the red and white
ribbons around the pole, like the Great Rite, symbolized the union of
Goddess and God.
Here are some Beltaine
activities that could be included at the Sabbat or during the day:
Make a wish as you jump over a bonfire, (or campfire, May Day is a good
time to go camping).
Make Beltaine bread. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, and combine:
4 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 cups sugar
1 tube almond paste
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon 5 eggs
When dough is worked to medium soft, shape into flattened balls and place
on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Cool, ice with a white Solar Cross. You could try this as a single loaf.
Summer Solstice or Litha
(June 21), is
when the hours of daylight are longest. The Sun is at the highest before
beginning its slide into darkness. Traditionally, herbs gathered on this
day are said to be extremely powerful. On this night elves and fairies
abound in great numbers.
Also known as: Alban
Heruin (Druid), Alban Hefin (Caledonii), Summer Solstice, Midsummer,
Midsummer Night, Midsummer Night's Eve, Gathering Day, and Feil-Sheathain
(Pecti-Wita ~ July 5)
Date: Summer Solstice, usually around June 21
Symbols: Solar Disk, Mistletoe, Feathers, Blades
Colors: Green, Gold, Yellow
Herbs: chamomile, cinquefoil, elder flower, fennel, lavender, mugwort,
thyme, and vervain may be burned; hemp, larkspur, pine, rose, St John's
Wort, and wisteria may be decorations.
Midsummer is the time
when the sun reaches the peak of its power, the earth is green and holds
the promise of a bountiful harvest. The Mother Goddess is viewed as
heavily pregnant, and the God is at the apex of his manhood and is honored
in his guise as the supreme sun.
But don't overlook the Celtic Sun Goddesses in your celebration. The Celts
are one of several cultures known to also have female deities to represent
the power of the sun. The Celtic languages are some of the very few in
which the names for the "sun" are feminine nouns, which attests to the
one-time prominence of these Goddesses. A number of the myths surrounding
these ladies of light have been preserved. Among the most well-known are
Sul (Anglo-Celtic), Dia Griene (Scottish), the Princess of the Sun
(Breton), and Grian and Brid (Irish).
Just as the Holly and Oak Kings battles for supremacy at Yule, this
ever-repeating fight is reenacted at Midsummer, this time with the Holly
King, as king of the waning year, victorious.
The following are some
suggestions for Litha activities, some of which you may want to
incorporate into the Sabbat, while others would be more suitable during
Tie a sprig of rowan, a sprig of rue, and three flowers of St. John's Wort
with red thread and hang over the door.
Make amulets (simple charms) of protection out of herbs such as rue and
rowan. If you make new amulets each year you can dispose of the old in the
Create a pouch for psychic dreams (mugwort and bay leaves in a cloth of
lavender, blue, or yellow and sewn with red thread) and place under your
Make a Solar Wheel as a terrific family project - everyone can make one
for their bedroom. Wind palm or grape vine into a circle, twisting as you
go. Cut two short lengths of stem to be just a bit larger than the
diameter of the circle and place one across the back horizontally and the
other vertically crossing in back on the horizontal one and coming forward
to the front of the circle to secure both, then adorn with symbols of the
elementals (stone, feathers, ashes in a pouch, or a small candle, and a
shell) and festoon with green and yellow ribbons. Hang in a tree outside
or indoors at a reminder of the
Make a Witch's Ladder (another fun family project) using three colored
yarns (red, black, and white for the Triple Goddess) braided together to
be three feet long. Add nine feathers all the same color for a specific
charm (such as green for money) or various colors for a more diverse
charm, tie ends and hang up. Colors are red for vitality, blue for peace
and protection, yellow for alertness and cheer, green for prosperity,
brown for stability, black for wisdom, black and white for balance,
patterned for clairvoyance, and iridescent for insight.
You can burn the old Yule wreath in the Litha fire.
Make a rue protection pouch out of white cotton. Add two or three sprigs
of rue, bits of whole grain wheat bread, a pinch of salt, and two star
anise seeds and hang indoors (can do one for each bedroom).
Tie vervain, rosemary, and hyssop with white thread and dip the tips into
a bowl of spring water (you can buy bottled spring water in grocery
stores) and sprinkle the water about the house to chase out negativity, or
sprinkle your tools to cleanse and purify.
like St. John's Wort, vervain, and yarrow.
Soak thyme in olive oil, then lightly anoint your eyelids to see faery
folk at night.
Tie a bunch of fennel with red ribbons and hang over the door for long
life and protection of the home.
Look for the faery folk under an elder tree, but don't eat their food or
you'll have to remain with them for seven years! (Which could be a lot of
fun, but will seriously wreck any plans you may have made!)
Lughnasadh (August 1
, or the first Full
Moon in Leo. This is a preharvest festival, the turning point in Mother
Earth's year. The last herbs are gathered. It is a celebration in honor of
the god Lugh's wedding to Mother Earth.
Also known as: Lammas,
August Eve, The Festival of Bread, Elembiuos, Lunasa, Cornucopia
Date: August 1 or 2, or the first Full Moon of Leo
Symbols: All Grains, Breads, Threshing Tools, Berries (especially
Deities: Harvest and Grain Deities, New Mother Goddesses
Colors: Gray, Yellow, Gold, Green
Herbs: cornstalks, heather, frankincense, and wheat may be burned; acacia
flowers, corn ears, hollyhock, myrtle, oak leaves, and wheat may be
is named for the Irish sun God, Lugh, and is usually looked upon as the
first of the three Pagan harvest festivals.
Lughnasadh is primarily a grain harvest, one in which corn, wheat, barley
and grain products such as bread are prominently featured. Fruits and
vegetables which ripen in late summer are also a part of the traditional
feast. The Goddess, in her guise as the Queen of Abundance, is honored as
the new mother who has given birth to the bounty, and the God is honored
as the Father of Prosperity.
The threshing of precious grain was once seen as a sacred act, and
threshing houses had small wooden panels under the door so that no loose
grain could escape. This is the original meaning of our modern word
The following are a
few suggestions for activities that may be incorporated into the Sabbat
ritual or engaged in during the day.
String Indian corn on black thread for a necklace.
Create and bury a Witch's Bottle. This is a glass jar with sharp pointy
things inside to keep away harm. You can use needles, pins, thorns,
thistles, nails, and bits of broken glass; it's a good way to dispose of
broken crockery, old sewing equipment, and the pins that come in new
clothes. Bury it near the entry to the house (like next to the driveway or
the front door), or inside a large planter.
Make a Corn Dolly to save for next Imbolc. Double over a bundle of wheat
and tie it near the top to form a head. Take a bit of the fiber from
either side of the main portion and twist into arms that you tie together
in front of the dolly. Add a small bouquet of flowers to the "hands," and
then you can decorate the dolly with a dress and bonnet (the dress and
bonnet may be made out of corn husks if you wish, or and cotton material
is fine too).
Collect blackberries and make a fresh pie marked with the Solar Cross.
Sprout wheat germ in a terra cotta saucer (these can be found in nurseries
for use under terra cotta flower pots). The sprouts can be added to
homemade bread or used as an offering. Children enjoy planting the seeds
and watching them grow, too.
God the grain,
Lord of rebirth.
Return in spring,
Renew the Earth.
Autumn Equinox or Mabon
was a time of rest after labor, completion of the harvest. Again the hours
of day and night are in balance, with the darkness increasing. All
preparations for the dark of the year and the year's ending were made,
thus bringing us back to Samhain.
Also known as: Fall or Autumn Equinox, Wine Harvest, Feast of Avalon,
Alban Elved (Druid), Alban Elfed (Caledonii), Winter Finding (Teutonic)
Date: Fall Equinox, usually about September 21-23
Symbols: Apples, Wine, Vines, Garlands, Gourd, Cornucopia, Burial Cairns
Deities: Wine Gods, Harvest Deities, Aging Deities
Colors: Brown, Orange, Russet, Maroon, Fall Colors
Herbs: benzoin, marigold, myrrh, sage, and thistles may be burned; acorns,
asters, ferns, honeysuckle, milkweed, mums, oak leaves, pine, and roses
may be used as decorations.
Mabon (MAY-bone or
MAH-bawn) is named for the Welsh God and it is seen as the second of the
three harvests, and particularly as a celebration of the vine harvests and
of wine. It is also associated with apples as symbols os life renewed.
Celebrating new-made wine, harvesting apples and vine products, and
visiting burial cairns to place an apple upon them, were all ways in which
the Celts honored this Sabbat. (Avalon, one of the many Celtic names for
the Land of the Dead, literally means the "land of apples".) These acts
symbolized both thankfulness for the life-giving harvest, and the wish of
the living to be reunited with their dead.
Here are a few suggestions
for Mabon activities that can be incorporated into the Sabbat or done
during the day.
Hang dried ears of corn on the front door, doorposts, or outside light
fixture (hang the corn so it does not come into contact with the heat of
the light bulb).
Collect milkweed pods to decorate at Yuletide and attract the faeries.
Call upon the elementals and honor them for their help with (N-earth) home
and finances, (E-air) school and knowledge, (S-fire) careers and
accomplishments, (W-water) emotional balance and fruitful relationships.