Wicca: The Wheel of the Year

by JoHarrington

Eight Sabbats and 13 moons make up the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. They each carry a spiritual and practical significance.

For Wiccans, the annual calendar is divided into eight parts. The festivals mark their transition like spokes in a wagon-wheel.

The Wheel of the Year is how many of us refer to that festive cycle. It's a good analogy, as there is no beginning or end. The wheel turns and takes us with it, rolling on and on.

This article leads you through the eight Sabbats of witches; and gives an overview as to how they all fit together, ritually and in nature.

Introducing a Witches' Year

The cycle of nature can be seen in our everyday lives. It governs the environment in which we live, both inwardly and out.

Crops ChangeIt is impossible to state where the Wiccan Wheel of the Year begins or ends. It is a cycle of life, wherein the decay of the dead nurtures the birth of the new.

This is how it works in nature too. The compost of old leaves and plants provides nutrients to the seedlings. These grow and die in their turn. The endless tale goes on.

Wicca is a nature based religion, therefore it's hardly surprising that the yearly cycle of festivities should closely match the annual patterns of agriculture. While Wiccans enact rites around the fertile God of the Waxing Year, crops are being planted in reality. While farmers rush to bring in the Harvest Home, Wiccans are recreating this symbolically in their Mabon ritual.

Without ever having met a witch, a farmer would be able to guess the significance of the eight Sabbats. Never having been on a farm, a Wiccan could work out what's happening out there in the fields. The Wheel of the Year is as agricultural, as it is solar.

But it's spiritual too. There are legends and lore tagged onto these stations, which guide the initiate through a journey of self-discovery. We are natural beings and the progress takes us right back to basics; living our lives without the hype and expectation of a consumer, civilized society. We take it back with us, returning to our roots, even as we set out into our future.

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year

The Solar Wheel of the Year

The passage of the sun can be followed through the year by using the Wiccan cycle.

A calendar year might be divided into months (moon-ths), but it is tied more closely with the sun. If it wasn't, then we wouldn't have to bother with Leap Years to tidy things back up again. The Wiccan year tracks the rising and falling of the light, highlighted by its Sabbats.

Yule (Winter Solstice): True Yule comes on the longest night, so the date changes each year. It would be the same if the Earth was perfectly round, but it's an oval, so the Winter Solstice can happen any time between December 20th and 23rd.

In the depth of winter, we're taking our first step towards summer. This is the darkest that our world could possibly be this year. From now on, the days will get imperceptibly longer. The night will recede until the opposite end of the scale is reached in June.

From our Earthly perspective, it is the annual birth of the sun, or, as Pagan lore represents it, the birth of the son. A new God is amongst us.

The Sun Rises











Imbolc (Imbolg; Candlemas): The sun might have been set on its route back up there, but no-one shivering down here could quite believe it in the depths of winter. By February 2nd, it's all becoming more conceivable.There's still a chill in the air, but the hints of spring to come are all around us. The world is definitely lighter, as our days become longer.

This Sabbat is often called the Quickening, in the same sense as a pregnancy that's become noticeable. This is the stirring of the light.

Ostara (Spring Equinox): Our days and nights are of equal length at the Spring Equinox. This occurs sometime between March 19th and 22nd each year.

The sun is winning out over night, with much more to come. All is in balance and the spring is well and truly here. We can even feel the heat starting to build now!

Beltane (Beltaine; May Day): May 1st is Beltane and it is generally a beautiful day. The sun is climbing towards its zenith. Our days are still getting longer and longer, with the heat that follows, when the sun is dominant over the night.

Midsummer (Summer Solstice): We have reached a point at the opposite end of the scale to Yule. The longest day barely leaves any room for night. The sun is blazing, we're hot and winter is as far from our minds as it is possible to be.

It is on one of the days between June 19th and 23rd, when the light hits its peak. Yet this is the seed of its destruction. From here until December, the sun is slowly dying, as far as we're concerned down on the Earth. The Son has blazed his highest trail.

Lammas (Lughnasadh): August 1st is the polar opposite of Imbolc. The first stirrings of the dark are sensed in the slightly longer nights. The God is becoming an old man now.

Mabon (Autumn Equinox): The day and night are again equal in length, somewhere between 21st and 24th September. But this time the days are getting colder and nights are getting longer.

This is a balance which is tipping in favor of the dark.

The Sun












Samhain (Halloween; Hallowe'en): Six months after Beltane, the sun has fallen so far from its dominance that it's heading towards its lowest ebb. By October 31st, the dark nights have encroached on most of our daylight.

Autumn is giving way to winter. It is much colder and all we have to look forward to is more darkness and more coldness. The sun (or the Son) is almost dead, as we hurtle again towards Yule. There night has utter supremacy, as if the light has fallen entirely.

But in the depths of winter, a new sun is born and the Wheel of the Year turns again. Yule is both death and life recurring, neither the beginning nor the end of the sun.

Books about the Wiccan Wheel of the year

The Holly King and the Oak King

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown...

The solar Wheel of the Year can also be split into two parts represented by the eternal cycle between the Holly King and the Oak King.

They are each other's father and each other's son. The only constant is the Goddess.

At Yule, the Goddess gives birth to the Oak King. As a force of nature, he is the God of the Waxing Year. Under his rule the buds are fertilized in the hedgerows, plants force their way from the thawing soil, crops grow in the fields.

By Ostara, the Oak King is a young man, virile and hearty, rushing over the countryside encouraging growth in all its forms.

Then, at Beltane, he comes face to face with the Goddess herself. No more flirting, this is for real. They take to the greenwood and that great burst of passion is his greatest act of fertility.

It is also his time of sacrifice. In nature, decay nurtures potential life. The Oak King is slain at Midsummer. His leaves will start to stiffen on the trees, then fall to the forest floor. Their destruction feeds the ground from which the holly will bloom.

The Goddess was pregnant. At the height of summer, she gives birth to the Holly King, who immediately slays his father. The Holly King is the God of the Waning Year. It will be his berries and green leaves, which provide the only color in the freezing depths of winter.

His story follows an identical path to that of the Oak King. He raises the autumn crops and destroys the work of his father to feed them. At Lughnasadh, he will meet the Goddess again and leave her pregnant with the Oak King. At Midwinter, his son will be born to slay him.

This legend, describing the waxing and waning halves of the solar year, is most commonly remembered in the carol, The Holly and the Ivy. The ivy is a euphemism, as it grows most commonly on oak trees. The associations have been Christianized over the centuries, with added lyrics to link the story with Mary and Jesus, rather than the original Goddess and her Oak and Holly consort-sons.

Wheel of the Year Coasters and Clock

I'm in awe of all of these. There are some very talented artists out there!

The Goddess in the Wheel of the Year

As the Three-in-One, the Lady has a lot of ground to cover in each given year.

It doesn't matter how many Gods are running around trying to fertilize things, if there's no potential life to be fertilized. This is where the Goddess comes in and she is a very busy Lady throughout the year.

EarthFor the overview, it might be better to think of her as Gaia or Mother Earth. The union between the sun and the Earth equals life and all its bounty. As for the yearly life cycle of the Son (Sun God) in our world, the Goddess has to wear many faces.

In the dead of winter, she slips from mourning into Mother. She is the divine being birthing the Son, in order that he can heat the planet and provide the conditions for crops to grow. As he awakens the Earth, then she is back in another aspect. Now she is Maiden.

All of those seeds, hibernating beneath the soil, are unfrozen by the Sun God's touch. He is flirting with her. The seedlings push through the surface; blossoms appear on the trees; as their courtship goes on, nature bursts with energy, color and sustenance.

Then, at the height of summer, the divine couple join together. The Sun God is at the zenith of his power; the Maiden has matured into the Mother again. Yet there is another aspect lurking beneath. This is the Dark Mother, who will grow old with him, then mourn his passing, as winter takes them into its grip again.

She is left in mourning, because the Goddess never dies. She moves from Maiden into Mother into Crone, but without the God to fertilize the Earth, she sleeps.

Until Yule comes along and her reposing pregnancy labors into the birth of the Sun God all over again.

This same cycle repeats in microcosm for the Oak and Holly Kings, taking just six months apiece instead of a year. However, for them, the Goddess can also appear as the prize in a twice yearly struggle for supremacy. Whoever wins her affection is called the King Stag, hence the reference to the 'running of the deer' in the Holly and the Ivy carol.

Living Our Lives Through the Wheel of the Year

Allowing ourselves to follow the ebb and flow of the natural year can bring peace of mind.

Wiccans will have their rites to enact at each of the eight Sabbats, but everyone can use them to mark their own progress on a spiritual journey. This is the path that nature takes and we are all part of nature, no matter how many jobs we've held or credit cards we own.

SeedsA simple way to participate, without joining a coven or getting deeper into the Mysteries, is to attempt to align your own lives with each station.

For example, Imbolc is an ideal time to plant your personal seeds - start a new project, sign up for a class or embark on a plan to do something new.

By spring equinox, you'll have some momentum and energy to see it through.The whole natural world will be conspiring to help you, as daylight brings more hours and blooming flowers create an environment of optimism and color.

In this busy, stressful world, we often forget to slow down and unwind. The Wheel of the Year reminds us to do it, as autumn sinks into winter. It should be our chance to huddle around a hearth, relaxing and reflecting upon the year that's been. That will provide us with much fodder and renewed vigor, in order to start something new at Imbolc and, moreover, to know what we want to do.

It's a natural program to follow through the year, giving us all of the aspects that we need for a fulfilling life - time to rest, time to rush, time to reflect, time to do. As it is with the Gods, then it should be with us. As above, so below.

What will you do with your year?

Wheel of the Year in Wicca Articles

Yearly calendars are useful anyway for recording all of your important appointments and birthdays. Those created for Wiccans also include the Sabbats and the phases of the moon!
There are thirteen Esbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It's the night of the full moon. There are twelve Esbats in any Western calendar. They're all moon-ths or months.
Samhain is a time of Otherworldly incursions. It's between the end of the light and the beginning of the darkness; and it's been popularized as Halloween.
Beltane is a time of fertility, renewal and fire. It's between the end of darkness and the beginning of light. The veil is very thin.
Updated: 06/06/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/16/2012

Thank you very much, Greenspirit. <3

greenspirit on 02/16/2012

I've really enjoyed your pages Jo...you write clearly and succinctly.

JoHarrington on 12/21/2011

Thank you very much. <3

Guest on 12/21/2011

A very interesting article ;).

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