Byzant MysticalTarotSymbolsKabbalahBiographyAstrologyScriptorium

Festival Myth Cycles

YuleSamhainMabonLughnasadhLithaImbolcOstaraBeltane
The Wheel of the YearThe Wheel of the Year

The eight festivals that mark the cycle of the year are introduced collectively in the Wheel of the Year and explored individually in the Eight Festivals. While aspects of myth related to the origin and observance of each festival are covered in these sections, here we outline whole myth cycles as they relate to the full circle of yearly festivals. Remember that the festivals celebrate a continuous cycle which has no beginning or end, so our starting with the winter solstice is purely arbitrary.

Light

The cycle of the year considered as the birth, growth, decline, death and rebirth of light or of a solar deity is an abstraction of a common theme found in festival myths. The table below shows that the sequence works simultaneously on two levels. Firstly, there is the simple cycle of the birth, waxing, sacrifice, waning and death of light or a solar god. Secondly, there is the conception and gestation of the light that is reborn at Yule. Typically, the light bearer is virginal and made suitable to carry the Divine Child of Light by purification at Imbolc for conception at Ostara. This can be seen, for example, in the festival days of the Christian church, where Imbolc is the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin and Ostara is the Annunciation, the day on which Christ is conceived to be born nine months later at Christmas (Yule).

Yule Rebirth of Light
Imbolc Light becomes noticeable / Purification of bearer
Ostara Light matures / Conception
Beltane Waxing Light
Litha Light sacrificed at its apogee
Lughnasadh Waning Light
Mabon Light near death
Samhain Death of Light

The Natural Cycle

While the life, death and rebirth of light is an abstraction of the myth cycles, the basis for most of them is the natural cycle of the sun's apparent motion and the seasons that follow on from it (both in consequence and time).

Yule The shortest day, and the start of the waxing half of the year.
Imbolc The depth of winter, but days are becoming noticeably longer.
Ostara Day and night are perfectly balanced, and the light half of the year begins.
Beltane Spring in full swing.
Litha The longest day, and the start of the waning half of the year.
Lughnasadh The height of summer, but days are becoming noticeably shorter.
Mabon Day and night perfectly are balanced, and the dark half of the year begins.
Samhain Fall in freefall.

God and Goddess

The cycle of the year viewed as an expression of the interaction between a male and a female deity is a common theme in nature religions. The God is often identified with the heavens and the Goddess with the earth. The actions of the two may be expressed through the metaphor of their aspects as King and Queen of the forest.

Yule The Goddess wakes from her sleep to bear her Son - the God who died at Samhain as the Dark King is reborn as the Child of Light.
Imbolc The young God is named and armed by the Queen (the Goddess) in His aspect as Forest King.
Ostara On reaching maturity, the King rides out in majesty. In some traditions the Goddess conceives (with the God) the Child that will be born at Yule.
Beltane Union of the King and Queen (God and Goddess).
Litha Marriage of the King and Queen.
Lughnasadh The aging King begins to decline.
Mabon The God, in his aspect as Forest King, reaches his final days. The Goddess mourns him and prepares for sleep.
Samhain The God dies and descends to the Underworld, to be reborn at Yule. The Goddess returns to the land and falls into the sleep of winter.

Perhaps a more compelling version of the God and Goddess cycle involves twin aspects of the God: the God of Light or Forest King who governs the light half of the year (from Ostara to Mabon), and the God of Darkness or Horned God who governs the remaining dark half of the year.

Yule Though the God of Darkness still reigns, the God of Light is reborn as the Light Child.
Imbolc The Light Child grows stronger as the God of Darkness begins to age and decline.
Ostara The God of Light reaches maturity and defeats his alter-ego, the God of Darkness. The Goddess and the God of Light conceive the Light Child that will be born at Yule.
Beltane The God is crowned as the Forest King.
Litha Though the God of Light still reigns, the God of Darkness is reborn as the Dark Child.
Lughnasadh The Dark Child grows stronger as the God of Light begins to age and decline.
Mabon The God of Darkness reaches maturity and defeats his alter-ego, the God of Light. The Goddess and the God of Darkness conceive the Dark Child that will be born at Litha.
Samhain The God is crowned as the Dark King.

The Wild Hunt and the Tree Kings

The is a combination of two myths. Firstly, that of the Oak and Holly Kings, and secondly that of the Wild Hunt and the Horned God. The two Kings represent two aspects of the yearly cycle: the Oak King governs the time of waxing light, and the Holly King that of waning light. The Wild Hunt is supposed to roam the countryside during winter and return to the mystical realms of Faerie for the rest of the year. The Horned God leads the hunt while it is at large, and takes on his aspect of the Forest King while it is in Faerie.

Yule The Holly King is crowned and sacrificed by his light aspect, the Oak King.
Imbolc -
Ostara The Wild Hunt returns to Faerie after roaming the countryside during winter. Its leader, the Horned God, takes his place as the young forest king.
Beltane -
Litha The Oak King is crowned and sacrificed by his dark aspect, the Holly King.
Lughnasadh The God is symbolically eaten as the bread made possible by his earlier sacrifice.
Mabon -
Samhain The Wild Hunt emerges from Faerie to roam the winter countryside. The God takes on his aspect as their leader, the Horned God.

The Triple Goddess

The triple aspect of the Goddess - Maiden, Mother and Crone - is a vital part of many pagan systems, and the cycle of transformation between the three aspects is reflected in the cycle of pagan festivals. In the Celtic tradition, for example, Imbolc is the time at which the Cailleach (the Crone, the winter aspect of the Goddess) is transformed into Brigid or Bride (the Maiden, the Virgin Goddess).

Yule -
Imbolc Crone transforms into Maiden - purification
Ostara -
Beltane Maiden reaches Womanhood - fruitfulness
Litha -
Lughnasadh -
Mabon -
Samhain Aging Woman becomes Crone - decline

The Mystical Calendar
The Eight Festivals:     Yule   -   Imbolc   -   Ostara   -   Beltane   -   Litha   -   Lughnasadh   -   Mabon   -   Samhain