Wheel of the year meaning the eightfold sabbats of the turning wheel
of life and what was the significance of these festivals to our ancestors?
The Eight Sabbats or Festivals
The Wheel of the year is a term for the annual
cycle of the Earth’s seasons consisting of eight festivals.
Hinduism, Buddhism the Wheel of Life is a symbolic representation
of Samsara, the continuous cycle of birth, life, and death.
The Indian Mahayana Buddhism scriptural language of Sanskrit,
the Wheel of Life is called Bhavachakra.
Wheel Of The Year Dates
Samhuin: November 1st N.H.and May 1st S.H.
Alban Arthan: Winter Solstice
Imbolc: February 1st/2nd N.H. and August 1st/2nd S.H.
Alban Eilir: Spring Equinox
Beltaine: May 1st N.H. and 1st November S.H.
Alban Heruin: Summer Solstice
Lughnasadh: 1st August N.H. 1st February S.H.
Alban Elfed: Autumn Equinox.
The Celtic year was divided into two halves. Samhain was the beginning of the dark half, with its counterpart, Beltane beginning the light half. Between these two portals fell Imbolc and Lughnasadh or Lammas, quartering the Celtic year. These quarters were again divided by the solstices and equinoxes, which were known as the four Albans.
At Samhuinn, livestock for whom there was insufficient fodder were slaughtered and stored and the community honoured the dead. At Imbolc, the lambs were born. At Beltane, it was the time of mating and of the passing of the livestock through the two Beltane fires for purification. Lughnasadh/Lammas was the time which marked the link between the agricultural and the livestock cycle. It is the Druid festival of the Harvest.
Between these festivals are the equinoxes, times of balance
Alban Arthuan ‘The Light of Arthur’ The Winter solstice. Also referred to as Yule, Mabon, Saturnalia or Christmas. King Arthur was believed to have been born on this day in Tintagel in Cornwall. Alban Arthan was a festival of peace which celebrated the waxing of the solar light.
Alban Eiler: ‘The Light of the Earth.’ The Spring Equinox – the first official day of Spring – a time of transition and for planting crops. The balance of night and day provides a powerful time for magic to the ancient Druids.
Alban Hefin – The Druid festival of the Summer Solstice, loosely translated as ‘The Light of the Shore’. The longest day of the year. It is also referred to as Litha or Midsummers Day. It was traditionally celebrated out of doors with picnics and games and large bonfires.
Alban Elfed: ‘Light of the Water.’ The Autumn, Equinox when the sun began to wane once more as the dark half of the year drew near.
Wheel Of The Year History
Why do we celebrate these Eightfold sabbats of the turning wheel of life and what was the significance of these festivals to our ancestors? There is evidence that every ancient civilization acknowledged the season’s pivotal points as mother earth spun her way through space and time on her annual sojourn around the sun.
There seems to be a current re-emergence of observing the old ways and worshipping nature – and long be it overdue – but to simply follow blindly to be a part of a fashion or trend does not give this ancient craft the justice or respect that it so rightfully deserves. And, by the way, this old magic will not give back to those who treat it as such.
Times have changed dramatically since days of old. Yet, around the globe, millions of people, young and old are flooding the streets and mobilizing online to reject the corruption and injustice that has developed since the magic was pushed underground. This movement is bringing tremendous possibilities for change and speaks of a more beautiful and balanced world. One that is in harmony with the Earth once more and in contact with her natural rhythms as our ancestors were.
Mostly, we have nothing to do with the food that appears on the supermarket shelves, nor any knowledge of what is in a season for that matter. Our meat is slaughtered and bred without reverence, pumped full of toxins and hormones. Our crops engineered to grow bigger and faster than that of the opposition, to keep up with our frantic pace of life.
Our medicines are synthetic and have all but replaced the natural herbs and remedies that are readily available. We have been pumping pollutants into the air and waterways, filling our cupboards with chemicals and poisons for generations now and it’s time to take some accountability by changing how we live and how we treat the earth and each other by doing what we can to reverse the process.
The seasons spin by almost without our notice except for the inconvenience that it might impose on our chase of the mighty dollar. Yet, within this magical wheel is a profoundly deep knowledge of a different kind of a chase. More like a hunt.
The eight sabbats were originally a time when the community came together to celebrate and give thanks to the gods and goddesses they ascribed to the various seasons and harvests of the land. At these festivals, they performed a ritual and gave offerings to the various deities whom they considered were responsible for keeping things in balance – or not.
Let me take you back a few centuries to how it was always meant to be.
Nestled in the foothills of snow-capped mountains, covered with ancient forest, beside a river flowing with crystal clear water is a community gathered around a central fire in a large adobe round-house with a thatched roof. The Druids have arrived from their retreats within the forests where they have been training in the ways of magic. The ancient science of the universe.
A harpist plays melodiously as he poetically recites a story that was passed down by their ancestors. This particular story is about a battle of two trees – the Holly and the Oak. It is the battle between summer and winter. Darkness and Light. A story of birth, death, and regeneration.
The Bard tells how the Holly King rules the waning year, from Alban Hefin to Alban Arthan, when the mighty Oak, stripped bare of its leaves lies dormant for the winter months and the brilliant reds and greens of the English Holly dominate the snow-covered forests. The Holly King represents darkness, decay, and destruction – a necessary part of growth – as well as inner knowledge and the mysteries. The Oak King rules the waxing year and represents light, growth, and expansion.
The story tells of the god of the wild hunt – the god of fertility, growth, death, and rebirth. The main heroes of our story are the Horned God who is the Holly King and the Oak King. These twin gods are seen as a complete entity. Aspects of each other.
A young mother sits feeding her newborn child and the bard sings to her of the healing Goddess Brighid and of Imbolc and of the delight we all share at the miracle of birth.
A group of young men prance around the edge of the great hall, jostling for the attention of the maidens. The Bard sings to them of Beltane and of the tribes’ mores and mythos for this period of their lives. Of the vitality of Spring and dancing around maypoles and bonfires.
The older couples understand that the natural union of polarities that occurs in nature at this time gives them the opportunity to integrate their inner male and female. He sings to them of Lughnasadh. Of polishing their skills and re-evaluating what lies ahead for them in the coming year, so that they can invoke their aspirations for the future.
Wheel Of The Year Meaning
As he moves through the crowd he finally stops near the elders of the community and sings to them of Samhiunne, of the Summerland and of other planes of realities. Of connecting with their friends and guides on other planes so that as they grow old they gain an understanding that death is really a birth to another level – a natural stage of life which we must all embrace.
Like the harvest, a thing that grows will die and what dies will grow again. As the sun is reborn at the Winter Solstice, we too are reborn. As the darkness is reborn on the Summer Solstice day, we too start to die on that day. It cycles that we live from year to year.
After meeting with the Elders to discuss the happenings of the past six weeks and informing them of what is to be, they conduct a ritual in which the entire community participates. Then a feast is served and the merriments begin.
This story has been told in its varying forms around the globe since time began. It is filled with myths and archetypal meaning to impress upon the minds of those who are gathered, that there is an order to life that must be followed or the balance will be lost.
To maintain this balance, the laws of this community were made and kept in accordance with the laws of nature, not the man-made laws of today which punish and disgrace. (Interesting word that). Their authority was that of higher knowledge, they were guided by their intuition and what felt right in their hearts.
They understood that they were not separate from each other or the plants and animals with whom they communicated freely and respected as part of the whole. Each member of this community knew their particular talent – be in midwife, shaman, hunter, weaver, poet, seer, blacksmith or craftsman.
Today is a different time, and the battle of light and dark is now one of good and evil and we can no longer afford to be complacent. For all, we know we may well be in yet another cycle, as the macro wheel spins, but the alarm bell has gone off and it’s time to wake up!
The wheel of the year and the myriad of ancient teachings that are flooding the world today can help us to reconnect with our true nature and open our minds and lives to a wondrous world of magic and delight. But we have to do The Work! If we stay together and work together we win.
Working With The Wheel
By celebrating these festivals in the 21st century we are aligning ourselves with the natural rhythms of the seasons and of nature itself. Going with the flow helps us to harness these energies and reconnect with our personal natural rhythms, and ultimately with those of the universe.
Our purpose may be slightly different these days with all the agricultural and technological ‘advancements’ since the time of our ancestors but by taking advantage of their accumulated wisdom we have access to the weave of the matrix.
It’s probably true that some of the old customs were based on superstition, but the proof remains that our forebears had a profound knowledge of the sciences we pride ourselves on discovering today. Universal truths such as quantum physics, astrology, astronomy, psychology, animal husbandry, and agriculture.
As our story clearly shows the concept of duality and the need for balance were well understood. That light and dark are really just two sides of the same coin and need each other in order to exist. Today we are once again beginning to understand that our capabilities are unlimited and that balance and choice are our tickets to freedom.
If you look at the old myths it’s obvious that they knew this long ago and that they had a profoundly deep understanding of the science of the universe. We really don’t have to re-invent the wheel – It is all there waiting for us to step back in and contribute our part to keep the magic alive.
Most magic is worked by associating a series of correspondences that build layers of similar energy. Our Wheel takes a year and a day to complete – the same as an initiation into the craft. The eight festivals of the wheel are marked around our ritual circle in the four directions of north, south, east and west and the cross quarters in between.
If you live in the southern hemisphere north and south are reversed as North is closest to the equator in this region, as the South is closest to the equator in the northern hemisphere. The energy of the circle follows the direction of the sun, otherwise known as doisel. If you watch the water running down the plug-hole of your sink in the southern hemisphere you will see that it flows in an anti-clockwise direction and in the opposite direction in the northern hemisphere.
So in the southern hemisphere, we work our circle following this natural flow (East, North, West then South – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.) Our northern brothers and sisters work it in the opposite direction. (East, South, West then North – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter).
The layers of the circle are many folds. These quarters also represent dawn, midday, evening and night, childhood, youth, decline and death, and so on. The circle is more like a spiral than a circle – as each year (or ceremony) another layer is added to the work we have already done and we go deeper into our connection with the correspondences and archetypes as well as going deeper within ourselves.
Celebrate The Wheel Of The Year
A circle is cast to provide a sacred and purified space in which to work. Once it is cast and the guardians invoked a cone of power is created which acts as a sheltered place for spiritual and inner workings – a place of heightened awareness where we can easily enact communion with the divine. The circle also gives us the opportunity to play with time in a non-linear fashion – as time is really only a tool we have created to measure one experience against another after all…..
We also create magical tools and empower them with the energy of these elements with which we work. – The pentacle – a five-pointed star (representing all five elements including spirit) sits in the south and the element earth. The Wand – usually made from wood – sits in the Eastern quarter and is associated with Air.
An Athame or ritual knife is associated with the element of fire and the Northern compass point. The Chalice represents Water and the west. The centre of the circle is a place of integration, representing the Goddess and the Self, the source of all that is. A resting place of union within the heart of our being.
The circumference with its eight compass directions is linked with and represents our daily, yearly and life journeys with their associated spiritual and psychological implications. The festivals alternate between masculine and feminine – giving and receiving, dormant and active, dark and light, inner and outer.
Running parallel to our twin king story is, of course, the story of his feminine counterpart in her many guises. The goddess represents the changing seasons during the agricultural year and she moves through these seasons from Virgin to Flower Maiden to harvest queen and finally the Queen of the underworld.
Another version of the Oak and Holly King is the Horned Hunter (Cernunnus) and the Green man. The horned god is the god of fertility, virility, animals and the underworld. Sometimes knows as Herne the Hunter. His light side is the Greenman – Jack O’.
The Christians turned this antlered god into the devil – which in itself is an act of pure evil, the ramifications of which we are still experiencing. He is born at the winter solstice, marries the goddess at Beltane and dies at the summer solstice. – Jyoti Eagles ©