The Wheel of the Year is a Pagan metaphor and calendar of festivals that mark the ebb and flow of seasonal changes throughout the year. Those who traditionally celebrate the Wheel do so with overtones of Celtic influences and, therefore, it corresponds closely with changes in the Northern Hemisphere. The Wheel includes the eight seasonal Sabbats and thirteen Esbats in which we celebrate the Full Moon.
The eight Sabbats consist of two groups. Greater Sabbats: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lammas, are “cross-quarter days” and represent the peak energy of a season. These occur at the exact mid-point between the Lesser Sabbats. Lesser Sabbats are the solstices and equinoxes, known as the “quarter days”, and include Yule, Ostara, Litha, and Mabon.
While the majority of information out there will list cross-quarter days as fixed dates (Samhain on October 31, Beltane on May 1, etc) there are traditions that celebrate when the Sun reaches certain degrees within its astrological circuit. This is when the energy is considered at its ‘peak’ for magical and spiritual intentions. Consult an astrological almanac based on your time zone to determine the right dates.
Astrological Dates of Sabbat Celebrations
Solstices and Equinoxes are easy to place as they occur on the calendar date. Even your non-pagan friends will know when these are. For the cross-quarters, this often creates a difference of a few days or more between the secular date of celebration and the astrological date. As with most things pagan, unless you are a member of a tradition that mandates when your celebration occurs, you are free to select the date that has the most powerful symbolism to you. If you want to celebrate Halloween as Samhain, feel free.
According to astrological timing, the Sabbat dates are as follows:
- Ostara (Vernal Equinox) – Sun at 0° Aries
- Beltane – Sun at 15° Taurus
- Litha (Summer Solstice) – Sun at 0° Cancer
- Lammas – Sun at 15° Leo
- Mabon (Autumn Equinox) – Sun at 0° Libra
- Samhain – Sun at 15° Scorpio
- Yule (Winter Solstice) – Sun at 0° Capricorn
- Imbolc – Sun at 15° Aquarius
I use the AstroSeek ephemeris search engine to determine the position of the Sun for each year.
Why do we celebrate?
So why do we celebrate? Simply put, it is a way to deepen your connection with yourself and Mother Earth. One of the wheel’s main lessons is that everything moves through the cycle of seasons — if you feel you are in a time of darkness (such as during the long nights of Winter), you know that this will pass and that the sun will eventually be bright and full again. In modern times, we have become removed from the intimate link between the life forces of nature and the Sun and Moon. Reconnecting to this cycle, therefore, provides you with the promise of change and growth.
Paganism/Wicca/Witchcraft, et al., is getting it’s moment in the sun right now and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Differing sects of modern Paganism can vary considerably in their festival celebrations. Take any reference to “ancient traditions” or “this is how our ancestors did it” with a grain of salt. Observing the cycle of the seasons has been important to many people through the centuries and most modern Pagan festivals are based to varying degrees on folk traditions. There is, however, no evidence that any ancient culture celebrated all eight festivals.
The Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year
Here is a brief overview of the eight Sabbat celebrations of the Wheel of the Year. Please remember, the influences of the equinoxes and solstices, and the cross-quarter festivals, are seasonal, so it’s important to understand what’s being celebrated and apply this to your local region rather than force a celebration that is out of harmony with your location. (I have chosen to omit the correspondence to the spiritual or mythological overtones of each festival, as every witch travels the path of their own gods/goddesses) Because I reside in the Northern Hemisphere, all dates are reflective of our seasonal changes here. Check out The Aussie Witch for information on the Southern Hemisphere.
Astrological Date: Sun at 0º Aries
Ostara begins in the astrological sign of Aries, the first of the Zodiacal wheel and the date of the Vernal Equinox (approximately March 21st). As the first of the Fire elements, Aries represents the initial action of the fires of creation. In the Northern Hemisphere, Ostara is the Spring fertility celebration that falls in line with the modernly practiced Easter. The fiery energy of Aries fills us up with new ideas and the possibilities of things to come.
Seasonal Focus: Balance and Planning
The Vernal Equinox is a time of equal day and equal night where the message of balance is key. Now is the time to craft new ideas and plans in our life, just as farmers are planning new gardens and sprouting seeds. As the days officially become longer than the nights, we feel the expansion of energy moving into Summer.
Astrological Date: Sun at 15º Taurus
Beltane is the last of the Spring festivals occurring at the midway point of the sign of Taurus (approximately May 5th). Taurus the Bull is the first of the Earth signs and its energy is one of being grounded in earthly pleasures. Taurus is a sign of security and as in the case of Beltane celebrations, the union of male and female energy is a security of the promise of renewed and sustainable life.
Seasonal Focus: Sowing
Beltane marks the point where the Spring energy is fully realized in nature. Traditional celebrations around May Day involve many fertility symbols, like the maypole or the Beltane fires. The energy of this time isn’t only about physical fertility, but rather how we might sow seeds for many other kinds of things: creative projects, more positive relationships, finding ways of expressing ourselves, and more. This is the time when the flowers come back, nectar flows, and green has returned to our lands.
Astrological Date: Sun at 0º Cancer
Summer Solstice (approximately June 21st) marks the transition from communicative Gemini into the deep emotions of Cancer. The first of the Water signs, home-loving Cancer begins to look inward toward our emotional landscape as the days grow shorter. The Waning of the Solar Year begins and every day that follows will have a longer and longer night.
Seasonal Focus: Energizing and Growth
The peak of the Sun marks a vital time of energizing and growth. With all of the heat and abundance of June at hand, we feel the world of creation and life at its peak. Spending time in nature now will reveal to us the height of summer – vine-ripened fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, and the lush greenery of trees.
Astrological Date: Sun at 15º Leo
Lammas is the first of the three Fall harvest festivals and is a time of transition (approximately August 1st). August begins with the last hurrah of the Sun’s energies in fiery Leo, as the abundance of growth receives the energy of daylight to complete its cycle of fruition. This is when we first start to harvest the fruits of our labors. A time of exuberance, passion, and romance is it any wonder we all look forward to our “summer vacations”?
Seasonal Focus: Celebration
July and August are traditionally the months when people take vacations and truly celebrate the positive things in our life. These are the lazy days of summer before school begins again. It is time to visit the beach, camp in the mountains and view the stars under a desert sky. During Lammas we break bread with our loved ones, enjoying the life and wealth that the grain harvest brings.
Astrological Date: Sun at 0º Libra
During the Fall Equinox, we enter a true time of balance as the sun moves into the sign of Libra (approximately September 21st). An intellectual Air element, Libra is refined with the grace of the balance between head and heart. Now we transition into the shorter days and longer nights of the fall season, where we are called to bring our light indoors and tend to hearth and home.
Seasonal Focus: Balancing and Harvest
The second of the harvest festivals, we give thanks to the fruits and vegetables of the earth. The land is bursting at the seams in late August and September with many of the traditional foods that will sustain us through the upcoming winter. Our fall table is filled with the bounty of the season and we celebrate with a “Thanksgiving Feast”. The Fall equinox also marks the turning of the Wheel from the light half to the dark half of the year—a time for us to reflect and regain balance in our lives.
Astrological Date: Sun at 15º Scorpio
Ah, the Witches New Year! This is my favorite time of the year, perhaps because more of my family resides on the Other Side than do here. The call to Ancestral wisdom is tied into the watery element of Scorpio. Scorpios magic gives us the power of transformation and invites the exploration of the depths of our soul. The veil between worlds is thinnest at this time (approximately November 7th). Now our ability to access magic and connect with those who have passed is at its peak.
Seasonal Focus: Composting
Samain is our third and final Fall harvest, sometimes referred to as the Blood Harvest. Traditionally farmers would use up their fresh stores and preserve any remaining perishable fruits and vegetables. Any livestock they did not plan to feed through winter would be slaughtered. So, too, do we symbolically rid ourselves of things that are no longer needed or no longer serve us. Composting, in a physical sense, is what happens when the trees drop their leaves each season—these leaves turn into the soil over time and that soil nurtures a whole web of life. For farmers, this is the time to clear out the old plants, trim things back, and mulch what remains in preparation for winter. Failure to clear out the old prevents the new from coming forth.
Astrological Date: Sun at 0º Capricorn
Winter Solstice (approximately December 21st) marks the transition from enthusiastic and fiery Sagittarius into the family-minded nature of Capricorn. The last of the Earth signs, Capricorn keeps it’s eye on the prize, setting goals and taking the slow and steady climb to success. Sounds like traditional New Year’s resolution setting, right? Now the Waxing of the Solar Year begins and every day that follows will have a longer and longer day.
Seasonal Focus: Resting
It is here, in the depths of Winter, that we can once again look to nature for guidance. Trees are bare and digging their roots deeper into the earth. Perennial plants live off stored nutrients as they pause their growth for winter. The bees seal up their hives and animals hibernate, waiting for Spring. Without this resting period, Nature would quickly wear itself out. So, too, must we rest our souls in the warmth and security of our home. It is during the darkness of the sun’s cycle we call forth the light that has been awaiting rebirth and is ready to manifest.
Astrological Date: Sun at 15º Aquarius
Imbolc (approximately February 3rd) is a “high winter” fire festival that honors the quickening of the fire in our spirits that was birthed at Yule. Corresponding with the midpoint of the fixed sign Aquarius we are in a place of transition in February. As the last of the air signs, dreams and visions are the essences of Aquarius. Imbolc is when we can take everything we dream, pour our heart and soul into it, and begin to shape our reality. The Aquarian vision will nourish and support the seeds of your dreams as they await the deeper level of warmth found in the compassionate waters of Pisces.
Seasonal Focus: Rejuvenating
Imbolc is the first of the Fire Festivals (falling as it does after the New Year) and it ignites a spark of rejuvenation within us. The earth is beginning to stir from its winter slumber here in the Northern Hemisphere. The spark of life is renewed as the first buds of spring push through the snow and the first lambs are born. Take this time to practice rejuvenating self-care (think bubble baths, warm tea, or creative journaling) and regain inspiration.
A Brief Note of the Start of the Seasons
Just as the festival dates we celebrate can be slightly different depending on your interpretation (astronomical or secular), there is also conflicting information about when the exact start of the seasons is. Unlike modern calendars that define the start of a season on a Solstice or Equinox, the Celts perceived Solstices and Equinoxes as events occurring mid-season, with the seasons actually beginning and ending on the Cross Quarters.
For a modern interpretation, I bet on the definition provided by the Old Farmers Almanac. Briefly, they explain each season has both an astronomical start and a meteorological start. The astronomical start date is based on the position of the Sun in relation to the Earth, while the meteorological start date is based on the 12-month calendar and the annual temperature cycle. So 2023 calendar looked like this:
|Seasons of 2023
|Monday, March 20, 5:24 P.M. EDT
|Wednesday, March 1
|Wednesday, June 21, 10:58 A.M. EDT
|Thursday, June 1
|Saturday, September 23, 2:50 A.M. EDT
|Friday, September 1
|Thursday, December 21, 10:27 P.M. EST
|Friday, December 1
Information gathered from:
The Druid’s Garden: Cycles of the Sun and Moon in Our Lives
Heron Michelle: A Case for Astrological Timing of The Sabbats