The Wheel of the Year celebrates the changing seasons of the year, and the continuous cycle of life itself: birth, death, and rebirth. In design, the Wheel has eight spokes designating the eight sabbats that represent the solstices, equinoxes, and in some traditions, the cross quarters. The eight-spoke wheel is thought by many to be a Celtic symbol; however, it appeared in Greek symbolism as early as 600 BC, over two hundred years prior to the Aegean/Mediterranean contact with the Celts.
There are 8 Sabbats each year: 4 major Sabbats and 4 minor Sabbats. The major Sabbats are: Imbolc/Candlemas, Beltane, Lughnasadh/Lammas, and Samhain. The minor Sabbats are: Spring Equinox/Ostara, Summer Solstice/Midsummer/Litha, Autumn Equinox/Mabon, and Winter Solstice/Yule. In the Celtic tradition, the major Sabbats are on the "Cross Quarters", Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain; also known as Fire Festivals. Traditions based upon a more agricultural setting will consider the major Sabbats to be on the two solstices and two equinoxes, Ostara, Litha, Mabon and Yule.
Modern religious holidays are based on the older Pagan holidays. Samhain has become Halloween, Yule has become Christmas and Chanukah, Imbolc has become Groundhog Day, Ostara has become Easter, Beltane has become May day, and Mabon has become Thanksgiving.
Samhain (Sow-en) - October 31st, (also known as All Hallows Eve, Halloween) is the Witches' New Year. A time when the veils between the worlds of living and dead are thin. A time to celebrate the dead via ritual and feasting; a lit candle in the window guides loved ones home. While the feast is to celebrate the New Year, a place is set at the table for the dead person and/or animal. Leftovers are left outside for wandering spirits and wild animals. Many people give a small part of their feast to the God and Goddess as an offering and leave it on their altar. Samhain is a good time for divination, as the thinning veils make communication with the spirits easier.
Yule - December 21st, is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. This is a celebration of rebirth and renewal, the sun god returning back as the days begin to lengthen. Traditionally, witches would go into the woods and pick a Yule log to tend throughout the night as it burned; today we place candles in the log. An evergreen tree is brought into the home and decorated; gifts are shared between family and friends.
Imbolc - February 1st, (also Candlemas, the Feast of Lights, Imbolc or Imbolg), pronounced ‘im mol g", which means "in the belly" and signifies the growing of life in the womb of Mother Earth. It celebrates Brigid (Brigit), the Irish Celtic goddess of fire, fertility, crops, livestock, wisdom, poetry, and household arts.
Ostara - March 21st, (also known as Ostara, Eostre, the Spring Equinox) is a festival of new life and beginnings. Witches decorate eggs to symbolize new life and fertility as well as remember the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn, whose name is spelled Oestre or Eastre, and whose symbols are the egg and the hare. Think of positive things you could begin on this Sabbat, and let negative experiences and thoughts go. Write them down on paper, rip it up and blow it into the wind to signify releasing all negativity. This is the time to open up the home, clean out the cobwebs of winter, and invite in the spring time air.
Beltane - May 1st, is one of the Celtic solar festivals, celebrated in ancient times with bonfires. Beltane rites celebrate birth, fertility and the blossoming of all life, as personified by the union of the Goddess and the Sun God, also known as King Winter and Queen May. The celebrants jump over broomsticks and dance around maypoles, both are fertility symbols. The sabbat begins at moonrise on Beltane Eve - April 30th. Supposedly it is bad luck to be out late that night because witches and fairies roam the countryside in great numbers and conduct wild revelries. Beltane bonfires are believed to bring fertility to crops, homes and livestock. People dance deosil, or clockwise, around the fires or creep between the fires for protection against illness. Cattle are driven through the fires for protection against disease. Ancient Druids lit bonfires on hills and uttered incantations. This is a popular holiday for handfastings.
Litha - June 21st, (also known as Midsummer, the Summer Solstice), is the longest day of the year and the Sun God is at his strongest. The Goddess is heavy with pregnancy just as the Earth is ready for harvesting. It also marks the waning of the year as each day becomes shorter, heralding the onset of Autumn and then Winter. Healings and love magick are especially suitable at this time. On Midsummer Night's Eve - June 20th, the veil to the fae realm thins, marking this a good time to commune with field and forest sprites, and faeries.
Lammas - August 1st, (also known as Lughnasa, Lughnasadh, Loaf-Mass), is the first harvest festival. It commemorates the sacrifice and death of the Corn God; in its cycle of death, nurturing the people, and rebirth, the corn is thought of as an aspect of the Sun God. The holiday is marked by the making of corn dollies, and by baking a figure of the God in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it.
Mabon - September 21st (also known as Modron or Madron), is very much like Thanksgiving, as we reap the fruits of our labor and lessons, both crops and experiences. Natural energies are aligned towards protection, wealth, prosperity, security, and boosting self-confidence. Any spells or rituals centered around balance and harmony are appropriate.