This is an introduction to the Wheel of the Year cycle composed of the eight Wiccan solar holidays, known as Sabbats.
Yule (Winter Solstice, circa December 21) is the shortest day of the year. The Goddess gives birth to her Son, the God. Since the God is symbolized by the Sun, this marks the point of the year when the God is reborn as well. Thus, Wiccans light fires or candles to welcome the Sun's returning light. The Goddess, slumbering through the Winter of Her labor, rests after the delivery. Wiccans celebrate the return journey of the Sun and the life it will bring. Yule is seen as a reminder that death is followed by rebirth.
On Imbolc (February 2), the Goddess has recovered from giving birth to the God. The lengthening periods of light awaken her. The God's strength is increasing and He is now a young, lusty boy. The warmth of the Sun fertilizes the earth (the Goddess), causing seeds to germinate and sprout. And so, Imbolc celebrates the earliest stirrings of Spring. It is a time of purification, creativity, and inspiration, a welcoming of change from the old to the new. This is a traditional time for Wiccan initiations and dedications.
Ostara (Spring Equinox, circa March 21) marks the first day of true Spring. The hours of day and night are equal. The Goddess fully regains her strength and envelops the earth with fertility. Light is overtaking darkness, and the young God is now maturing. The slowness of Winter is taken over by the fruitful bustle of Spring. Ostara is a time for beginnings, action, and planting opportunities for the future.
Beltane (May 1) marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Nature flourishes and He is stirred by the abundance of energy. The God desires the Goddess. They fall in love and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant, which ensures new life after the harvest. Beltane celebrates vitality, passion, love, and desires consummated.
Litha (Summer Solstice, circa June 21) is the longest day of the year. The God is at the peak of his power, as is all of nature's bounty. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God. It is the high time of the Sun and is marked with festivals of fire. In the past, bonfires were leapt to encourage fertility, purification, health, and love. Litha is a classic time for magick of all kinds.
Lammas (August 1) is the time of the first harvest, when the plants of Spring drop their fruits or seeds. Summer is waning; the nights grow longer. So too the God begins to lose His strength. He becomes the God of sacrifice, being cut down in the fields. The Goddess watches in sorrow and joy as She realizes the God is dying, yet lives on inside Her as Her child. Lammas is a time for giving thanks for what we have and making offerings of gratitude. It is a reminder that nothing in the universe is constant.
On Mabon (Autumn Equinox, circa September 21), once again day and night are equal. The God prepares to take His journey into the unseen, towards death. This is the completion of the harvest begun at Lammas, when the fields are cleared of their bounty. Nature draws back, readying for winter and its time of rest. The Goddess nods in the weakening Sun, though fire burns within Her womb. She feels the presence of the God even as He wanes.
Samhain (October 31) marks the Pagan New Year. In the past, this was the time when animals were slaughtered to ensure food through the depths of Winter. Identified with the animals, the God falls as well to ensure continuing existence. The veil between the worlds of life and death is said to be thin on this night. Samhain is a time of reflection, looking back over the last year, coming to terms with death, and honoring ancestors.
After Samhain, Yule comes around again, and so the Wheel of the Year's cycle continues.
Adapted from 'Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner' by Scott Cunningham.