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The Wheel of the Year

YuleSamhainMabonLughnasadhLithaImbolcOstaraBeltane
The Wheel of the YearThe Wheel of the Year

For followers of nature-based spiritual paths like Druidry and Wicca, the dynamics of the changing seasons and the interplay between darkness and light are fundamental. This enduring cycle is an expression of deeper truths, and by making a conscious choice to be active participants in the natural ebb and flow of the year, pagans can find harmony on all levels, from the natural to the personal to the divine.

From antiquity, people have celebrated the ever-turning wheel of the year in eight festivals that mark important points in the cycle: the two solstices, the two equinoxes and four cross-quarter days dividing the time between them. These festivals are common across many pagan traditions, including the Druidic, Wiccan, Celtic and Norse (Asatru) paths.

The Solar Festivals

The four festivals comprised by the solstices and equinoxes are defined by the apparent motion of the sun, and are therefore solar in nature. The solstice festivals celebrate the longest and shortest days of the year, and the equinoxes the two days when day and night are of equal length. As pivotal points of change, these four days are the most important in the cycle of light and dark during the year, and in dividing the year into quarters, they are sometimes referred to as quarter days. These festivals are tied to natural events, so they do not fall on exactly the same day every year, and their solar nature means that they are considered the more masculine of the festivals.

The Fire Festivals

The cross-quarter festivals are sometimes referred to as "fire festivals" and are celebrated on four days placed approximately mid-way between each successive pair of solar festivals. They are more in step with the changing of the seasons and the cycle of plant growth, and are considered more feminine and lunar in nature than the others. As they are not tied specifically to measurable events, these festivals fall on the same days each year. In earlier times, the fire festivals were linked to lunar phenomena, with each festival being celebrated on the first full moon preceding the dates given below.

Festival Names and Dates

The following table gives the names and dates of the festivals for the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, festivals that are opposite each other on the wheel of the year can be swapped, so Litha is celebrated around 21st December and Lughnasadh on 1st February, for example. Different traditions have varying names for the festivals, from slight changes in spelling (such as Samhuin instead of Samhain), to entirely distinct appellations. As an example, a druidic version of the festival names is also given.

Festival Name Druidic Name Solar Event Date
Yule Alban Arthuan Winter Solstice Around 21st December
Imbolc Imbolc - 1st February
Ostara Alban Eiler Vernal Equinox Around 21st March
Beltane Beltane - 1st May
Litha Alban Heruin Summer Solstice Around 21st June
Lughnasadh Lughnasadh - 1st August
Mabon Alban Elued Autumnal Equinox Around 21st September
Samhain Samhuin - 1st November

The festivals celebrate a continuous cycle which has no beginning or end, so starting with the winter solstice is purely arbitrary, and many pagans consider the link between the old and new years to occur at Samhain.

With the festivals celebrating the natural rather than the constructed, it is no surprise that each festival is usually considered as starting at sundown on the previous day and ending at sundown on the day in question, rather than our more modern midnight to midnight. In particular, much of the celebration of Samhain does occur at the most appropriate time - Halloween.

Each of the festivals are considered individually in The Eight Festivals, and collectively as part of myth cycles in Festival Myth Cycles.

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