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The Wheel of the Year: A Journey of Eight Sabbats
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The Samhain Sabbat marks the end of a year of sorrows and joys, of triumphs and defeats. It is also the beginning. At Samhain the yearly cycle once again commences to traverse the Wheel of the Year as it has since time immemorial. This seems to me to be a perfect time to reflect on the Wheel of the Year and how it relates to our understanding of the cycles of Nature.
The Wheel is a conceptualization of the turning of the Seasons throughout the year. It takes the idea that all life follows a pattern of Life, Experience, Death, New Life, and puts the concept to the climatic changes taking place around us. By personifying these events, we make them more intimate. We can relate easier to the concepts being presented when the subject matter is couched in terms familiar to us.
The Wheel does this through the eight Sabbats, four Greater, and four Lesser which order events according to the changing Seasons. The four Greater Sabbats are, Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain. The four Lesser Sabbats are Yule or Winter Solstice, Ostara or Vernal (Spring) Equinox, Midsummer or Summer Solstice, and Mabon or Autumnal Equinox. They are celebrated at approximately six-week intervals throughout the year. These eight celebrations represent a symbolic journey that the Lord and Lady undertake each year. A journey from innocence to maturity, from youth to agedness, from life to death and back to life again in a never-ending cycle. What follows is my conceptualization of the journey of God and Goddess take as They circumnavigate the Wheel of the Year.
The Wheel begins and ends with Samhain. This holiday signifies a time of Death and reflection. It is a time for remembering ancestors and for honoring those who have passed in the previous year. Though somewhat somber it is not a time of sorrow. It signifies the transition of the Harvest Season to the Season of Rest. This time of rest must take place if new life is to occur. Often we sit an additional place at our table for our ancestors and friends who are no longer on the physical plane. It is at Samhain that the Sun King begins His time of ruling in the Summerland. From this point the Goddess travels alone for a short while.
The next destination on our journey is Yule or the Winter solstice. It is on this night, when the hours of daylight have reached their nadir and the hours of night are at their zenith, that the Lady gives birth to the Sun King. Although He is very small, each day He will get stronger. This is seen by the fact that each day that passes after this becomes a little longer in duration. The event transforms the Lady and She becomes younger and returns to innocence. The young Lord and Lady slumber and the world is wrapped in Their white blanket as They gather strength for the journey to come.
Continuing around the Wheel we come to the Sabbat of Candlemas. This holiday, known also as Imbolc, Oimelc, or Brigid’s Day is a celebration of the maturation of the Goddess. It is at this time that the young Lady awakens and begins Her tasks for the journey that remains. While the young Lord sleeps on and continues to gather His strength, She begins to prepare the World for what is to come. She is at this point symbolized by the Maiden, full of innocence and only beginning to understand Her role as the nurturer of life.
As the Wheel continues to revolve we come next to Ostara. Ostara takes place on the Vernal Equinox. Here the hours of daylight are exactly equal with the hours of night. After this date, however, the hour of daylight will be greater than the hours of night until the world stands in balance once again at the Autumnal Equinox, also known as Mabon. Here we celebrate the awakening of the young Lord. He is greeted by the first offerings of Spring as His warmth begins to remove the last vestiges of His long repose. Although not yet at the full of His power, He is moving towards it with each day.
Moving on we come to Beltaine. Here the Lord and Lady are each in the prime of youth. They are full of vitality and brimming with life. This can be seen in the abundance of life that is brought forth each year at this time. This is also significant as a time of fertility. Many petition the Lord and Lady for the blessings of parenthood at this time. The Lord and Lady come together and create the beginnings of their continued existence at this time.
As we move forward, the Lord and Lady continue to mature. No longer is She seen as the Maiden. She has become the Matron. Now She is now known as the Queen of the Forest and She is in the prime of Her power. The Lord too has matured. He is no longer looked on as the Prince of Spring. He has become the Sun King and He is also in the full of His power. It is this transition that we celebrate at Midsummer or the Summer Solstice. The day is the longest it will be and life energy has reached its zenith for the year.
The next celebration is Lammas also known as Lughnassadh. This is the celebration of the first harvest. The Lord and Lady are now seen as the benevolent Father and Mother. The life they have nurtured has matured and is ready to fulfill its purpose. Although still full of energy, Their energy is perceptually waning. The days though still warm are now growing shorter once again.
The second of the harvest rituals is the next stop on the Wheel. This is Mabon. At this point the hours of daylight are again equal to the hours of night in duration. But, whereas at the Vernal Equinox the Sun King was rising and coming into His power, here at the Autumnal Equinox His power is diminishing. This is seen by the decline in temperature as His power wanes. The Mother’s influence is also seen to diminish as the leaves turn to the colors of Autumn and fall from their branches. The hours of night begin now to exceed the hours of daylight, a condition that will continue until the Wheel turns again to Ostara when we will achieve balance once more. The time of rest is almost upon us and everywhere in Nature there is evidence of preparation for the long lean months of the Winter to come.
The third harvest ritual is where we started upon our journey. Samhain is upon us once again. The Sun King’s job is finished and He retires to the Summerland to rule there until the cycle renews. The energy of life being fulfilled, the Lady moves on conceptualized as the Crone. This is not meant to be derogatory, merely a title given to time of life when a woman is unable to bring forth life. She is seen as the Grandmother who dispenses wisdom to her progeny. Within her lies the seed that began at Beltaine and the cycle continues...
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