The Festival Cycle
The Wheel of the Year is divided into two parts: the Solar Cycle (the Solstices and Equinoxes), and the Earth, or Agricultural Cycle (Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas and Hallows). The Solar Festivals fall at the quarter-points of the year, following the positions of the Sun in relationship to the Earth. The Earth celebrations are held at the cross-quarters, the midpoint between the Solar Rites.
Today, we celebrate the cross-quarters, or Lady-festivals, on the dates assigned them after their adoption by the Christian Church. They were, however, originally marked at the exact mid-point. For example, true Hallows would have been November 5, instead of October 31.
We do not wish to imply, by the way, that we celebrate only the Lady at Candlemas, or only the Lord at Yule: the two cycles interact with one another. It is the energy produced by this interaction, the true Great Rite, the Union of the Cycles, that provides the energy that turns the Wheel, thus producing Life.
As the two cycles intertwine, the Lord and Lady join together to bring forth Life and Light. In an eternal round of Birth, Courtship, Marriage, Death, and Rebirth, they dance the Dance of the Seasons, weaving between them the patterns of eternity into the Tapestry of Life.
As we perform each ritual in its proper turn, we affirm our own relationships with the God and Goddess, with the Earth, with all Life and with the Universe. We begin to see our own individual threads woven into the patterns; the changing colors representing the changes in our lives. We come to see both the God and Goddess as present within each of us and within our own lives. This is the goal of every Witch, to manifest the Wheel within our lives, becoming one with Nature and the Gods.
The following is a brief outline of the Festival Cycle:
Winter Solstice, on approximately December 21, is the shortest day and longest night of the year. From this point forward, the Sun is in its waxing cycle. We mark this day as the Birth of the Lord of Light.
Candlemas, February 2, is the Festival of the Lady's return from the Underworld. As we crown our Maiden, we, too, experience the renewal that is manifest upon the Earth.
Spring Equinox, on or about March 21. Now Day and Night are equal. This is the time of planting and growing. The seeds within the Earth are mature, and their growth cycle may begin.
Beltane, on April 30 and May 1. This is a Festival of Love and Fertility. The marriage of the King and Queen is symbolic of the union of the Sun and the Earth, which results in the fertilization of the seeds that were planted at Spring.
Summer Solstice, on approximately June 21, is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The Sun is now at its peak and entering its waning phase. This is the Sacrifice of the Sacred King.
Lammas, on July 31 or August 1, celebrates First Fruits of the Harvest. We begin to see our work brought to fruition. Thus, we light a Need Fire to strengthen us for the Harvest period.
Autumn Equinox, on approximately September 21. Once again, the day and night are equal. This is a Harvest celebration and, as wheat is separated from chaff, we prune away the unnecessary to better enjoy the Fruitful Harvest that will sustain us during the Dark time.
Hallows (or Samhain), on October 31, is the time of the Lady's departure for the Underworld. The Veil Between the Worlds is thin, now, to allow for Her passage, so at this time, when the spirits of our loved ones who have crossed over may return to enjoy our celebration, we honor those who were killed during the Burning Times, and share our Feast with all who have gone before. This is also the New Year celebration, because the Dark Time that begins now will end with the return of the Lady at Candlemas, and we reassure ourselves of the coming of the new Spring.
The Eight Festivals form the Wheel of theYear, one of the many Cycles of Life. And so the Wheel turns on and on, whether in the changing of the seasons, or the lifetimes of a soul, or in the lunar month, as the Moon moves through its phases. Always, there are the Cycles. They are unending and unchanging, yet always new.