The Wheel of the Year is the cycle of eight seasonal holidays celebrated by most modern pagans over the course of the year. Whether they’re called sabbats, festivals, holy days or something else, they are broken down into two categories— The quarter days which are the Solstices and Equinoxes, and the four cross-quarter days which fall between them.
The seasons played a much larger role in the lives of our ancestors. Their very lives depended on knowing when to plant, when to harvest, when to expect the last frost and the first rains. Failure could end in starvation. The historic festivals upon which our modern practices are based upon grew out of astronomical observations of the Sun’s movements combined with ritual observances representative of the changing seasons.
Most people have a passing familiarity with the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. This contemporary Wheel is not representative of any one culture. It originated in the mid-20th century and was synthesized from both Celtic and Germanic traditions.
In addition, not all pagan traditions or practitioners celebrate all eight. Some may assign greater significance to one or more of the holidays over the others. Some subtract, others add additional celebrations. There’s also quite a bit of variance in the naming and dates the holidays are celebrated on— particularly the dates of the cross-quarter days.
Many of their names have become encoded into our collective conscious in large part through pop culture. Samhain pops up in a plethora of spooky stories, television shows and movies— generally in reference to biased and stereotypical depictions of paganism, but that’s a can of worms we won’t be opening here.
Other traditions have their own Wheels. Below you’ll find examples from four different paths:
|Yule||Alban Arthan||Yuleblot||Winter Solstice|
|High Spring||Alban Eilir||Ostarablot||Vernal Equinox|
|May Day||Beltane||Walpurgisnacht||Vernal Thermistice|
|Midsummer||Alban Hefin||Midsummerblot||Summer Solstice|
|Summer’s End||Lughnasadh||Freyfaxi||Summer Thermistice|
|Harvest||Alban Elfed||Hausblot||Autumnal Equinox|
I didn’t include dates above because they are dependent upon which hemisphere you live: North or South. When it’s Winter Solstice in the North, the Southern hemisphere is on the opposite spoke of the Wheel: Summer Solstice— same date, but different holiday. Also, because the dates are dependent on astronomical observations of the sun’s orbit, the exact date and time is dependent on the year and to some extent, the local time zone. Below is a table that shows the date ranges for the Northern Hemisphere for 2018-2019, placing the cross-quarter days at exactly the midpoint between the associated Solstice and Equinox.
|Winter Solstice||December 21st, 2018|
|Winter Thermistice||February 4th, 2018|
|Vernal Equinox||March 20th, 2018|
|Vernal Thermistice||May 5th, 2018|
|Summer Solstice||June 21st, 2018|
|Summer Thermistice||August 7th, 2018|
|Autumnal Equinox||September 23, 2018|
|Autumnal Thermistice||November 7th, 2018|
Most pagans do not celebrate the cross-quarter days at the exact midpoint as show on the table above, but usually on or near the 1st of the month. May Day is pretty much always celebrated on May 1st. However, I prefer to track the exact midpoints for my own edification and practice.
As mentioned previously, not every tradition places the same emphasis on their holidays. Wiccans consider the cross-quarter days to be their Greater Sabbats and the Solstices and Equinoxes to be the Lesser Sabbats. Meanwhile, some Druids put the opposite emphasis on them with cross-quarters being of lesser import. Some pagans opt to celebrate only the holidays that they have a personal connection with— Yule and Samhain tend to be quite popular, while holidays like Lammas do not get the same attention.
I should mention that there are traditions that don’t follow an eight-spoked wheel of the year. Greek and Roman re-constructionists have a vast calendar of holidays and festivals to draw from, some of which match up with the seasonal celebrations of their Celtic and Anglo-Saxon pagan counterparts, but many are associated with particular gods and goddesses rather than a time of the year.
There’s a great deal more personalization of the Wheel popping up these days, especially if you’re not involved in the organized contemporary pagan movements such as Wicca, Asatru, Troth, Ár nDraíocht Féin, Reformed Druids, etc. One of the draws of aligning myself with Atheopaganism, aside from the fact that I could let my non-theist flag fly, is that it encourages you to define your own practices, including renaming the holidays to better match your own environment.
Living in Southern California, the names and associations of the traditional holidays don’t always mesh with my local climate. I began this Journey with Yule. It took several months before I’d finished my research and refined my Wheel down to it’s current state. One that I’m not even sure is actually, finalized. I suppose time will tell. You can read more about how I came up with my own Wheel in this post: “A Journey Through the Year”.
My Wheel of the Year
|Yule||Winter Solstice, Christmas||December 20th – 23rd|
|Imbrida||Imbolc, Saint Brigid’s Day||February 3rd -4th|
|Vernalia||Spring Equinox, Ostara, Lent/Easter||March 19th – 21st|
|Belfire||Beltane, May Day||May 4th – 5th|
|Litha||Summer Solstice||June 20th – 22nd|
|Solaria||Lammas, Lunasa||August 6th – 7th|
|Harvest||Autumnal Equinox, Mabon||September 22nd – 24th|
|Heartha||Samhain, Halloween||November 6th – 7th|
I’ll be adding individual pages for each of the Sabbats as work my way through the upcoming year and figure out what each of these festivals means to me and how I wish to celebrate and honor the Earth and the changing seasons.