The Wheel of the Year

22/23 September
1 November

21/22 December
1 August

2 February

20/21 June

1 May
20/21 March

The first fire festival, or cross-quarter day, in the natural year is Imbolc on February 2. It falls midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara), and marks the end of winter and beginning of spring. Imbolc celebrates the waxing light. Symbolically, it is the time of renewal, cleansing and rebirth. The day is named Brigantia, after the virgin goddess Bridhe (Bride or Bridget). Her's are the threefold attributes of healing, firecraft and poetry. In old Saxon and Norse traditions the triple goddess is transformed on Imbolc. Veiled in black, she casts aside her rod of wintry barrenness and is transformed into the radiant virgin bride.

Imbolc was traditionally associated with the early lactation of ewes, signalling the imminent birth of the spring lambs. The word Imbolc (pronounced im' olk) derives from Old Irish i mbolc - which means 'in the belly'. In Celtic tradition the Cailleach (old woman) goes out to gather her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intends to make winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is good and sunny, so she can collect plenty of wood. The tradition continues with Groundhog Day: if the hedgehog or groundhog sees his shadow we're in for six more weeks of winter.

Ostara or Alban Eilir, the vernal equinox, occurs in the northern hemosphere on 20 or 21 March. It marks the changeover point between the dark and light halves of the year. In modern times it is considered the first day of spring. Traditionally Ostara is the midpoint of spring - which stretches between Imbolc and Beltaine (1 May). The festival celebrates the rejoining of the mother goddess with her lover-consort-son. The earth goddess Bride - married at Imbolc - conceives the sky god's child, which is due to be born at midwinter. Alternately, the young god (The Sun), born at midwinter, continues to mature and grow and the days and nights become equal. The word Ostara comes from the Old High German word for Easter.

The second cross-quarter day of the natural year is Beltaine or May Day. The festival commences at sunset on 30 April - Walpurgis Night - and celebrates growth and fecundity. The goddess is with child and the land is fertile and ripe. Alternately, forty days from Ostara, the god born at midwinter has passed through trials and has proved strong. Any danger from Winter's frost is now past.

Alban Hefin or 'Litha' celebrates the summer solstice. Midsummer's Day occurs on 21 or 20 June in the northern hemosphere. The Anglo-Saxon word, Litha, means 'gentle' or 'navigable' and June was a favorable month to sail because seas were calm.

The third cross-quarter day in the natural year comes on 1 August. Lammas (loaf-mass day) or 'Lughnasadh' marks the beginning of the harvest season and is the first of three harvest festivals. It celebrates the first harvests of grain (for bread) and the ripening of early fruit (berries).

In Celtic tradition Lughnasadh (loo nus uh), the 'festival of Lugh', commemorated the god's foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for farming. Among the Irish Lughnasadh was a favored time for handfastings - trial marriages that lasted for a year and a day. During that period the contract might be ended or, at the end of the year, formalized into permanent marrage. The Anglo-Saxon name for this fest is Hlafmesse (loaf mass).

Mabon, the autumnal equinox, occurs 23 or 22 September. It marks a transition between the light and dark halves of the year. Mabon celebrates the second or continuing harvest.

The fourth, and last, cross-quarter day of the natural year is Samhain, but the evening of October 31 marks the end of the year in the old Celtic calendar, and the morning of November 1 the beginning of the new. Samhain is thus a time between the years, between the present and past, when the veil between the land of the living and the land of the-dead-that-live is thin. Costumes and masks were worn in Celtic tradition to confound or placate evil spirits.

Yule or Alban Arthuan, the winter solstice, occurs 21 or 22 December in the northern hemosphere. The festival of Yuletide is composed of a number of separate, but related, celebrations. These begin with the Mother Night, starting at sunset on 20 December. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon geola, 'yoke' of the year, the balance point across which travels the lowest ebb of sunlight. The old god (Sun) has died but the new god, conceived at Ostara, is born again.

The Poser prop used for the table graphic maybe downloaded from RanQuist Freestuff.
A 900 pel version of the table graphic maybe downloaded here. (CNE900pels.png; 0.99 MB)

The main source material for The Wheel of the Year comes from Nigel Pennick's The Pagan Book of Days - Destiny Books 1992.
Solstice and equinox dates, as well as other information, can be found at > The Wheel of the Year