Samhain (pronounced SOW-in) is one of the Greater Wiccan Sabbats and is generally celebrated on October 31st.
The symbolism of this Sabbat is that of The Third (and final) Harvest, it marks the end of Summer, the beginning of Winter. It is a time marked by death when the Dead are honored - a time to celebrate and "study" the Dark Mysteries. "Samhain" means "End of Summer" and its historical origin is The Feast of the Dead in Celtic lands. For it is believed that on this night, the veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest point, making this an excellent time to communicate with the Other Side. Samhain is considered by many Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches (especially those of Celtic heritage) to be the date of the Witches' New Year, representing one full turn of the Wheel of the Year. This is the time of year for getting rid of weaknesses. A common Ritual practice calls for each Wiccan to write down his/her weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment and toss it into the Cauldron fire
Yule (EWE-elle) is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her to bear forth from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider.The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift... it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze be a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.
A different type of Yule log, and perhaps one more suitable for modern practitioners would be the type that is used as a base to hold three candles. Find a smaller branch of oak or pine, and flatten one side so it sets upright. Drill three holes in the top side to hold red, green, and white (season), green, gold, and black (the Sun God), or white, red, and black (the Great Goddess). Continue to decorate with greenery, red and gold bows, rosebuds, cloves, and dust with flour.
Imbolc ("IM-bulk" or "EM-bowlk"), also called Candlemas is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word "oimelc" which means "ewes milk". Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid's snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth. The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo'gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo'gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid's Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.
Spring Equinox (Ostara) As Spring reaches its midpoint, night and day stand in perfect balance, with light on the increase. The young Sun God now celebrates a hierogamy (sacred marriage) with the young Maiden Goddess, who conceives. In nine months, she will again become the Great Mother. This is a time of great fertility, new growth, and newborn animals.
The next full moon (a time of increased births) is called the Ostara and is sacred to Eostre, the Saxon Lunar Goddess of fertility (from whence we get the word estrogen, whose two symbols were the egg and the rabbit.
The Christian religion adopted these symbols for Easter which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The theme of the conception of the Goddess was adapted as the Feast of the Annunciation, occurring on the alternative fixed calendar date of March 25th - "Old Lady Day", the earlier date of the equinox. Lady Day may also refer to other goddesses (such as Venus and Aphrodite), many of whom have festivals celebrated at this time.
Beltane has long been celebrated with feasts and rituals. Beltane means fire of Bel; Belinos being one name for the Sun God, whose coronation feast we now celebrate. As summer begins, weather becomes warmer, and the plant world blossoms, an exuberant mood prevails. In old Celtic traditions it was a time of unabashed sexuality and promiscuity where marriages of a year and a day could be undertaken but it is rarely observed in that manner in modern times.
In the old Celtic times, young people would spend the entire night in the woods "A-Maying," and then dance around the phallic Maypole the next morning. Older married couples were allowed to remove their wedding rings (and the restrictions they imply) for this one night. May morning is a magickal time for wild water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health.
Ancient Pagan traditions say that Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desires the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms, and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant of the God. To celebrate, a wedding feast, for the God and Goddess must be prepared. Let Them guide you! Breads and cereals are popular. Try oatmeal cakes or cookies sweetened with a dab of honey. Dairy foods are again appropriate...just make a lovely wedding feast and you are sure to enjoy yourself! An early morning walk through a local park or forest could be fun for everyone. Gather up some plants or flowers to display in your home. Mom and daughter could braid their hair, and weave in a few tender blossoms.
Though Summer Solstice is officially the first day of summer, Wiccan tradition calls it Midsummer likely because by the experience of those who lived in most parts of Europe where holiday festivals celebrated the day, it was definitely "mid-summer." "Solstice," as was said here at Winter Solstice, comes from the Latin words sol for the Sun and sistere, which means, "to cause to stand still." Since Yule the days have been gradually lengthening. Now Sun seems to "stand still" for about three days, and from this point until next Winter Solstice (the shortest day and longest night), the days will gradually shorten. This description fits the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, it happens the other way around. When it is Yule in the north, "down under" it is Midsummer. At southern hemisphere Midsummer, we in the north are celebrating Yule.
Myths of the season depict the culmination of light that is also the onset of increasing darkness. A favorite one from the Norse countries is the challenge to the Oak King (God of the waxing year) by the Holly King (God of the waning year). The two battle and of course, the Holly King wins, for it is he will reign until Yule, when he gives way to the rebirth of the Child of Light, the baby Oak King. The two are alternatively called Bright Lord and Dark Lord in similar enactments of the myth of transition from waxing to waning, light to dark. Though often "played" as two separate god images, the two are but aspects of one, and may alternatively be depicted as a transition from naïve youth to the mature Father God, who recognizes his responsibility to his Goddess and his people, even as he celebrates the culmination of his light and power. He is the youth at Beltane, hormones charged in anticipation. Now he faces a new phase of life. The Goddess, who in her Maiden aspect met the youthful God in sacred marriage at Beltane, has now become Mother, pregnant, just as the Earth is pregnant with the growth that will become the harvest. The Mother reigns as Queen of Summer, and it is through her that her Consort comes to mature realization of his full role, and its ultimate sacrifice. She is the Earth; he is the energy and heat that has gone into the Earth so that together they create new life. His energy will be born within the grains and fruits of the harvest that in the next two turns of the wheel must be reaped and die to feed the people. The God will become a willing sacrifice, falling with the harvest and becoming the seed of his own rebirth as the wheel turns.
Lughnasadh (Loo-nah-sah) or Lammas is the first of the three harvest festivals (Lammas, Autumn Equinox & Samhain). The foods are ripening - fruits, berries, wheat and grain - and it's time to celebrate.
Lughnasadh means the funeral games of Lugh, referring to Lugh, the Irish sun god; however, the funeral is not his own, but the funeral games he hosts in honor of his foster-mother Tailte. For that reason, the traditional Tailtean craft fairs and Tailtean marriages are celebrated at this time.
As autumn begins, the Sun God enters his old age, but is not yet dead. The God symbolically loses some of his strength as the Sun rises farther in the South each day and the nights grow longer.
Autumnal Equinox (Mabon) When day and night are equal. We pay our respects to the impending dark and give thanks to the waning sunlight. The harvest is peaking and we store our crops for the year. The Goddess passes from Mother to Crone and her consort, the God, prepares for death and re-birth.
At this festival it is appropriate to wear all of your finery and dine and celebrate in a lavish setting. It is the drawing to and of family as we prepare for the winding down of the year at Samhain. It is a time to finish old business as we ready for a period of rest, relaxation, and reflection.