Ritual Days

October 31 Samhain

Samhain is a cross quarter day, landing halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It is a festival in celebration of the beginning of winter. It is also known as Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, Hallow Een and All Hallows. Samhain is the Celtic New Year and stands between the years, neither old nor new. It is a time between time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Because of this it is the most magickal night of the year and the best time for doing divination or working with or honoring our ancestors.

Many of the well known Halloween traditions are pagan in origin, bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins (although they used to use gourds or turnips) and trick-or-treating (although it used to be adults, cross dressing, singing songs and getting liquor in exchange). Scarily carved pumpkins set on windowsills or near the house were used to bad spirits or mischievous fearies away. They were also carried by travelers for the same reason. It is also thought they were put out to guide the spirits of the dead back to visit the living.

On Halloween I bring out a memory board covered with pictures of people who are dear to me who have passed over and try to spend some time remembering them or telling people about them. If I am making a meal I leave out an extra plate for the spirits. Some people prepare a special altar and make special food just for the ancestor spirits. Another tradition I try to never miss is trick-or-treating, either with a friend's child or by going to a more adult event like a Halloween costume block party. It's almost always a wonderful evening, cold, but with the beautiful smells of autumn and the amazing energy of so many people enjoying the same events. Jack-o-lanterns and roasted pumpkin seeds are also a must.

Samhain is ruled over by the Crone and the Horned God. The colors that symbolize it are very well known, orange and black, orange for dying leaves and fires, black to bring the sun's warmth to you during the winter season.

December 20-23 (21) Yule

Also known as Winter Solstice and Midwinter, Yule shares many Christmas traditions like decorated trees, mistletoe, presents and caroling. All of these are actually pagan in origin. So is the well loved Yule log. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and is when the Goddess becomes the Mother again and gives birth to the Sun God and the days start lengthening once again. In fact many pagan dieties that have a birth death rebirth story were born on this day which is one reason it is believed that church officials decided (several centuries after Christ's birth) to celebrate his birth at this time.

The colors associated with the holiday are, of course, red and green, but also black adn white. Holly, ivy, and mistletoe, popular decorations of this seasons, all symbolize everlasting life and fertility.

Many pagans choose to stay up all night with candles and fires burning to welcome the new born sun with song. The long dark night is a wonderful time for feasting, singing and telling stories. Others use the evening for dream divination. Since the sun will start growing again this is a wonderful time to start thinking about new projects or to vow to change unhealthy behavior patterns. It is a time of renewal and change.

Yule is often a hard holiday for pagan families since many of us have non-pagan relatives who want to share thier holidays with us. I say go for it! The more parties the merrier. How we solve the issue at my house is to celebrate Yule with Immediate family (my husband and I) and any close friends who are pagan or pagan friendly. Christmas is spent with our parents, one set or the other, and then New Year's with the other set. It is a system that works for us.

I love decorating the tree and the house and wrapping presents for friends and family. Unlike the commercial aspect of Christmas presents we normally have few presents, oftne handmade, each carefully chosen for the person who is getting it. In addition I keep a good supply of small gifts on hand for any extra bodies that show up for the Yule ceremony so that no one leaves empty handed. If they don't get used they get packed up for next year or donated if suitable.

Here Santa is the Spirit of Giving. I try to donate what I can at this time of year. Giving donations to charities as a gift is a wonderful idea for people who are impossible to shop for and is very fitting for the season. If children will be getting a lot of gifts at the grandparents' houses why don't you go through thier rooms with them beforehand and find things they don't play with anymore to donate. If they aren't using them there is certainly a needy child out there who would love to have them.

I also follow the tradition of Twelfth Night. Basically I take the tree and decorations down twelve days after Yule (other people time it off of Christmas day). Supposedly it is bad luck to do it earlier or later. I personally feel that it gives a nice closure to the season to get everything wrapped up and away with just as much purpose as putting it up instead of putting it off or dumping it all right after the celebration.

February 1&2 Imbolc/Candlemas

Imbolc is the pagan Festival of Lights and marks the beginning of spring. As well as being called Imbolc or Candlemas it is also known as Oimelc and Brigit's day and some simply call it Brigit. Ceremonies for Imbolc are centered around light, fire and healing. The Goddess of this day is the young maiden and, in some ways, also the mother. In particular this festival honors the Celtic Goddess Brigit. She is known as the keeper of the holy well and sacred flame. She is also known as a goddess of healing and inspiration. Poetry is especially closely tied to her as are the cow and the snake. The God at this time of year is a growing child, just barely a youth, full of wonder and joy at the simple things like snow ball fights and spider webs.

Imbolc is a time of preparation and initation. This is a time to bless our fields and pray for fertility in the crops we will plant. It is a very good time to plan projects for the upcoming spring and summer months when our activity level picks up. We should take some time to think about our special gifts and things that inpire us.

This festival celebrates upcoming births, of thoughts, projects and people. This would be a very good time to think about planning a family or taking time to honor any pregnant women you know. Imbolc can also be seen as a pagan version of Valentine's Day with more of an emphasis on fun and fertility.

Divination, especially weather divination is particularily appropriate during Imbolc. This is also a very good time to make candles or to purchase and charge them. Brigit's Crosses or Brigit dolls made out of wheat are also common. Rituals involving spiritual cleansing, purification and healing centering on the cleansing, healing power of flame (or a combination of fire and water) are very appropriate.

March 20-23 (21) Vernal Equinox - The Vernal or Spring Equinox is one of only two days each year when the day and night are exactly the same length, the other being the Autumnal Equinox. The Spring Equinox is also known as Lady Day and by the names Eostar, Eostre or Ostara for the Germanic goddess of fertility and spring. In pagan traditions this is the middle of spring, not the beginning of it. It is a time of balance and the start of the half of the year ruled by the sun.

Spring Equinox is one of the spring fertility festivals. It is nine months before Winter Solstice and so in some beliefs it is the time when the young goddess and god unite to start the life that will be brought forth next Yule. It can also be celebrated as the time of thier handfasting. The god is met at this time of year as the trickster god, a shapeshifter, as the world around us is changing and we are prodded to lighten up from the winter doldrums

The Spring Equinox is a time to celebrate the balance and harmony of life, the seasons, and night and day. It is also a time to celebrate life overcoming death. The stories of Demeter and Persephone are very fitting. It is the start of the growing season and is a time to honor new life. Wear spring flowers and bright colors, especially green. Bless your seeds and start your gardens. Marvel in the new life growing (or starting to grow) around you.

Traditional celebrations at this time of year are very pagan in origin. Symbols include eggs, rabbits, and flowers. Coloring eggs, either boiled or emptied and setting up egg hunts are a wonderful and fitting activity. There are also many wonderful ways to color eggs naturally if you are interested. Cabbage and spinach both make good dyes. Look online or at your local library for more information.

May 1 Beltane Beltane is a celebration of life, a celebration of creativity, fertility and the Goddess. It is also known as May Day, Walpurgisnacht, and Roodmas. It is especially connected with mothers. It is a time to celebrate our senses and the pleasures that life brings us. For adults one of those pleasure is sexual pleasure. Several of the predominant symbols of Beltane revolve around fertility, Maypole celebrations and the Great Rite. Maypole celebrations involve groups dancing around a tall pole interweaving ribbons through the dance. It involves two rings of dancers, normally one male ring and one female ring. The Great Rite is the symbolic union of chalice and athame or actual union of consenting adults symbolizing the union of the God and Goddess. The Goddess of Beltane is the Love Goddess or the Fareie Queen. The God is the Green Man.

Beltane, like Samhain its opposite celebration, is one of the two main pagan celebrations and is a time when the veil between the world is thin. Instead of welcoming and visiting our ancestor spirits like we do on Samhain, Beltane is the time when the Faeries come visit us. Faeries are powerful nature spirits who can be helpful, mischeivious or even harmful. Winning thier friendship and aid can be a very special thing.

Since Beltane is dedicated to the Goddess and fertility it is a wonderful time to celebrate the mothers or mother figures in our lives. There is something very special and magickal about being able to bring life into this world. More than that to give forth energy to raise and care for children adn "mother" those around us when they need it. There are many people who do not have this quality and those who do deserve recognition. Working a blessing for mothers into your ritual would be very fitting.

Beltane celebrations often involve bonfires, dancing around the Maypole, flower crowns, leafy masks, etc. It is a time for play and merriment. Parties, music and feating are all wonderful parts of any Beltane celebration.

June 20-23 (21) Midsummer Night/Summer Equinox

Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, exactly half way through the wheel of the year from the Winter Solstice, the longest night. It is known by many names, Summer Solstice, Midsummer, St. John’s Eve and Litha. For pagan traditions it is the middle of summer, when the sun is at its full strength. The sacrificial death of the God is often celebrated at this Sabbat by many traditions. I personally feel it is the time when he is at his strongest before waning to pass over at Samhain for rebirth at Yule. Midsummer is a celebration that centers on the God, the sun, and fire. It is traditionally celebrated with outdoor activity and bonfires. Harvest time is starting and the days will start growing shorter. It is said that faeries abound at Midsummer.

If you follow a tradition that believes the Sun God dies at Summer Solstice, a wicker man is a very fitting addition to your ceremony. A wicker man should be created before the actual ceremony and a pyre built for him to make sacrifice after the ceremony simple. He can be as large or as small as you have room for, a bonfire or just your cauldron (or a bucket), but whatever size he should be made of wood, twigs, straw, leaves or other burnable materials and tied with natural twine or cotton string. Participants can give him their wishes or things they wish to let go of by either tying notes or symbols to him with string or just wishing them into him during the ritual, before he is sacrificed.

For those who do not follow the God dying at Midsummer tradition you may still make notes with wishes or things you wish to let go of to burn during the Solstice ceremony.

Another tradition I like is giving away to make room for the harvest. Summer Solstice is the time when the things we planted and started to work on in spring are ripening and getting ready to harvest. To make room for this harvest we should take some time to clear things out of our life. This can be done both mentally and spiritually, but I also like the idea of making more room physically. Clean up! If you don’t need it give it to someone who does. Trust me, people are not just hungry and cold at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Summer gifts to food closets are greatly appreciated. Make room in your life for new things.

Finally, just as Beltane is a celebration of the Triple Goddess, Summer Solstice is a celebration of the God, or more particularly, masculine energy. It is a very good time to remember the men in our lives and the masculine energy in ourselves. Take some time to spend with men who mean something to you doing something outdoors if possible. Adding a father’s blessing or men’s blessing to your ceremony is very appropriate.

August 1 Lammas/Lughnassadh

Lammas is a cross quarter day, landing halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. It is a festival in celebration of the beginning of harvest season. Lammas denotes the end of summer and beginning of fall. This day is traditionally celebrated with games, sporting events and the first signs of harvest (as decorations and food). One possibility for decoration and dress is to wear flowers, especially yellow ones to symbolize the sun. It is a festival of bread, and the grain goddesses Ceres and Demeter. It is a time to celebrate strength, fullness of life and good health. Just as some traditions hold the Sun God dies at Summer Solstice, others hold he dies on Lammas.

As all farmers know to bring in the harvest you must cut down the wheat. For something to be created something must be destroyed. For things to live, others must die. Lammas is a celebration of the circle of life. It is a day to honor freedom and fairness and to meditate on your hopes and fears, struggles and choices you need to make.

Lammas is also a day to honor the teachers in our lives and remember all they give of themselves. Without teachers we would go through life ignorant and ill mannered, absolutely useless to ourselves and others. A couple of words to honor teachers are very fitting in a ceremony for this day. You might even take the time to call or send a note to the people who have taught you some of your harder lessons.

September 20-23 (21) Autumnal Equinox

During the Autumnal Equinox the day and night are the same length, from now on till the spring equinox the nights will be longer than the days. It is also known by the names Harvest Home and Mabon. It is a celebration of the balance of the wheel of the year. Harvest Home marks a time of rest after work. Historically by this time, most crops would be in so leisure time would increase as the light decreased. Sometimes a wicker man, a symbol of plant and sun energy, is symbolically sacraficed in a fire for this holiday like during Summer Solstice. The message of Fall Equinox is similar to that of Thanksgiving.

The Mother Goddess of Summer becomes the wise Crone at this ceremony. The God is the grain spirit and the God of freedom and the wild things. The world around us provides for beautiful decorations: fall leaves, gourds, dried corn and wheat to name a few. Many people balance eggs on thier ends during equinox celebrations. I think this is a wonderful symbol of balance. besides that it really looks cool. Supposedly you can do this at any time during the year, but I personally have only managed to do it on the equinoxes.

This is a good time to celebrate the animals in our lives, be they pets or wild neighbors or ones we have only seen on television or at perserves. You could bless your pets, stuffed animals or pictures of animals as part of your ceremony. It is also a very good time to reflect on what you are thankful for, particularly events that have happened in the past year. In addition it is a very good time to meditate on balance and work to bring you life back into equilibrium. We should work hard to harvest projects and goals that we planned and worked for in summer months.

One tradition I find very moving is for each participant to take an apple and, going around the circle, each person puts thier fears, losses and sadness into the apple, either speaking them aloud or just thinking them. After the ceremony the apples are gathered and placed outside to decompose. As they decompose the fears adn sadness go with them. It is rather impressive how quickly they will degrade.

Information for this section has been gathered from many places including Mike Nichols works and Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions. If you would like more information on the Sabbats, please visit The Witches Sabbats: Mike Nichol's Home Page or the Sabbats page at PanGaia.