The Wheel of the Year: A Witch’s Calendar of Events

The Wheel of the Year: A Witch’s Calendar of Events

Apr 27, 2023

We all know what a calendar is, and most of us refer to one almost daily for one reason or another, but did you know that witches have their own unique calendars? This calendar is known as the Wheel of the Year, and it represents the eight significant dates celebrated and important to witches, Wiccans, and other Pagans. These dates are known as Sabbats, and there are four solar festivals (solstices) and four seasonal ones (equinoxes) in this nature-based calendar.

Much like the Easter Christian holiday, the solstices and equinoxes dates can vary slightly in any given year. Approximately every six weeks or so, we have an event to look forward to, and we all celebrate these events in our own way.

Today we will look at the wheel of the year, customs associated with each of the celebrations related to the wheel of the year, and some cool facts about these celebrations. Let’s get started.

Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique - The Esoteric Witch

What is the Wheel of the Year?

As I mentioned in the introduction, there are eight festivals in the wheel of the year, each a celebration of our connection to the natural world around us. Each festival marks the end of one season and the beginning of the next.

While the wheel of the year is based on ancient Celtic roots, it is most commonly used today by neo-pagans. It is also strongly associated with Wicca, witchcraft, and all forms of paganism, as most of these faiths are nature-based.

This calendar has one unique purpose: to help us connect with nature and be aware of its seasonal cycles. You don’t have to practice any specific religion to celebrate this calendar. The wheel of the year is for everyone who wants to have a greater connection to our natural world and the universe holistically.

The beginning and end dates of each festival in the year’s wheel mark the seasonal shifts, and celebrating these shifts is one of the best ways for all of us to connect with the spiritual world. In fact, you will find that the most substantial spiritual connection is our connection to Mother Earth.

Great Sabbats and Lesser Sabbats

The four great Celtic festivals are the major sabbats, Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. These festivals are celebrated between the solstices and equinoxes, and they corresponded with farmers, who recognized the year as being divided into two parts, half-light and half-dark.

The Coligny Calendar, attributed to the Celts, was discovered in France. This calendar includes these four festivals, which mark the change of seasons. The lesser sabbats were also added, giving us a total of eight celebrations throughout the year, about one every six to seven weeks or so, and make up the witch’s wheel of the year.

There are four cross-quarter or fire festivals, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassadh/Lammas, and Samhain. Then you have the four quarter-point or solar festivals, Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule. Let’s take a closer look at these festivals.

Imbolc/Candlemas – February 2nd

Imbolc - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

The first cross-quarter/fire festival we will discuss is Imbolc, also called Candlemas. Imbolc comes from the word Imbolg, which means “in the navel.” This festival celebrates the “womb” of Mother Earth, which takes place when the first signs of spring arrive.

Everything is coming to life after a long winter’s rest. Baby animals are born, trees are sprouting, and flowers are blooming. The planet is awakening, and milk from sheep and cows is used as offerings.

Imbolc is associated with light, with candles and bonfires often lit to symbolize the sun’s strengthening. Darkness is slowly fading, and the ice is thawing. This was a crucial time for our ancestors because there would be new crops if they didn’t have much food left. The sun is returning to birthing Spring.

The Celts celebrated Brigid, the goddess of fire. The celebration, also known as St. Brigid’s Day, is associated with the Irish goddess Brigid who is also linked to the home, raising livestock, and blacksmithing. Elements of fire, such as candles and bonfires, were used in her honor during the celebration of Imbolc. 

When planning your Imbolc celebration, be sure to include the colors pink, white, and light green. These colors can come from plants and herbs, such as chamomile, cinnamon, witch hazel, and blackberry. If you plan on incorporating crystals into your celebration, the best options are turquoise, amethyst, citrine, and bloodstone.

Choose incenses such as lily, jasmine, chamomile, and vanilla. Food and drink choices can include sunflower and pumpkin seeds, oats, poppy seed cakes, and seed bread (multigrain bread will do the trick nicely).

Traditional meals eaten to celebrate Imbolc vary depending on the region, but some popular dishes include:

Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish made from mashed potatoes, cabbage or kale, and butter or cream.

Bannocks are flatbreads made with oats and traditionally cooked on a griddle.

Oatcakes are a simple and hearty Scottish biscuit made with oats, flour, and butter.

Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake made with grated potatoes, flour, and milk.

Cawl is a Welsh soup prepared with lamb or beef, root vegetables, and barley.

Brigid’s crosses, although not a meal, Brigid’s crosses are a traditional Imbolc symbol made from straw or rushes, often hung in the kitchen.

These dishes are often made with seasonal ingredients and represent the return of spring and the coming of new growth and abundance.

Ostara – March 21st

Ostara - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

The first day of spring finds us celebrating Ostara, also known as the vernal or spring equinox. This is a day of balance, with the sun right above the equator. Light and dark are equal for this short period, followed by periods of longer light.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the days begin to get longer until we arrive at the summer solstice. This is a time to enjoy the great outdoors, and to get a lot of gardening done. Ostara is a celebration of the fertility of Mother Earth, and it is the spoke of the wheel of the year that gives us our first outdoor festivities of the year, and we enjoy the fruits that we can collect at this time.

At one time, this was a celebration of the Hieros Gamos. This was when a man and woman entered a sacred marriage representing both male and female deities. They would have intercourse (also called the “great rite”), which could be actual or symbolic. The sex act was performed to represent the earth’s fertility.

The name Ostara comes from the Germanic goddess of spring, Eostre/Ostara. Typically, celebrations in her honor were held during April, with feasts and celebrations much like Christian Easter celebrations. These celebrations were all about fertility and new beginnings, which we associate with spring. Ostara appears as a rabbit, which is known for its reproductive abilities.

Many beautiful colors are associated with Ostara, including shades of pink and green, yellow, and white. Crystals for your celebrations include amethyst, rose quartz, and aquamarine.

You have a choice of many herbs to use for Ostara celebrations. These include meadowsweet, clover, lemongrass, spearmint, catnip, daffodils, tulips, and crocus, to name a few. Incense to use can consist of rose, strawberry, sandalwood, violet, narcissus, and jasmine.

If you are trying to decide on an Ostara menu, eggs are a great choice, as they symbolize life. Other foods on your Ostara table include kale, spinach, lettuce, light breads, seeds, and honey.

The Spring Equinox, is a time of renewal and growth, and many of the traditional foods associated with this holiday focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Here are some traditional Ostara meals you can try at your next Ostara feast.

Eggs: As a symbol of new life and fertility, eggs are popular at Ostara. Try incorporating them into a quiche or frittata, or boil and decorate them for a festive touch.

Spring vegetables: Fresh vegetables like asparagus, spinach, and peas are in season during Ostara and make a great addition to salads, soups, and side dishes.

Honey-glazed ham: Ham is a traditional meat served at Ostara, and a honey glaze adds a sweet touch that pairs well with the other flavors of the season.

Hot cross buns: These sweet buns, spiced with cinnamon and studded with raisins or currants, are a traditional Easter food and a perfect addition to any Ostara feast.

Carrot cake: Carrots, a symbol of fertility and new growth, make a delicious addition to a moist and flavorful carrot cake, a popular dessert for Ostara celebrations.

Remember that the Ostara meal is to celebrate the coming of spring and the renewal of life, so focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients and dishes that reflect the season’s themes.

Beltane – May 1st

Beltane - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

Next on the wheel is Beltane, which is traditionally celebrated by Celtic neo-pagans. This is a celebration that honors the midpoint between spring and summer. This is when the planting gets sown, and many animals are at their most fertile. Beltane marks the point that is right between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.

The word Beltane comes from the Gaelic for “bright fire.” Most Beltane celebrations involve using bonfires as a protective symbol, with rituals being performed to protect humankind, cattle, and crops, as well as for encouraged growth. The smoke, flames, and ashes from these bonfires are thought to have special powers of protection.

Beltane is also celebrated by many other cultures, including several earth-based practices that have spring festivals. These celebrations are about Mother Earth’s fertility and a time for all to come together to celebrate life.

Ancient celebrations included banquets that were held in the open air. In fact, because winters tended to last longer in the northern areas, this was often the first outdoor holiday celebration of the year. The banquets would include foods available at this time of year, including fresh fruits.

This festival is also where we find the “Queen of May.” A young woman would be chosen to represent the goddess of nature, and Bel, a god of fire, was also worshipped. A main rite of this festival involved jumping over a bonfire, and this was thought to attract a partner, attract luck, or for purification. Cattle were also used in these rituals, and they would be passed between two bonfires to attract a high level of milk production.

The festival is associated with fertility, new growth, and the coming of the warmer months. The Maypole has been a central part of Beltane celebrations for centuries. The Maypole is a tall pole, often made of wood, erected in the ground, and decorated with flowers, ribbons, and other symbols of fertility. It is a phallic symbol representing the masculine energy of the sun, while the earth represents the feminine energy of the earth. The Maypole is traditionally danced around by young couples, weaving ribbons together as they move, symbolizing the union of masculine and feminine energies and the creation of new life. The Maypole dance is a joyful and celebratory event that symbolizes the abundance and fertility of the earth. 

The colors representing Beltane are red, green, yellow, and blue. Plants and herbs used in rituals often include daffodil, dandelion, paprika, primrose, rose, hawthorn, meadowsweet, and oak. If you are deciding which incense to use for your Beltane celebration, the most recommended are rose, Ylang-Ylang, peach, vanilla, and frankincense. When adding some crystal magic to the mix, be sure to use emerald, beryl, malachite, sunstone, and rose quartz.

Naturally, you will also want to enjoy some of the traditional foods of Beltane for your celebration. These can include sweetbreads, elderflowers, oats, cakes, and, of course, wine. 

You can add dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt for a traditional Beltane fare as they represent fertility and abundance.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those in season, represent new growth and rebirth, such as strawberries, asparagus, and rhubarb.

Meats, such as lamb, pork, or beef, were often consumed after the livestock were put out to pasture for the season.

Grains, such as barley and oats, were often used in Beltane rituals and ceremonies.

Honey and other sweeteners, representing life’s sweetness, were used to sweeten foods and drinks. Mead is often associated with Beltane as it is a traditional drink made from honey and water and can symbolize fertility and the sweetness of life. However, whether or not it was served at Beltane feasts would depend on the specific cultural and historical context.

Some specific dishes that might be served at a Beltane feast include lamb stew, roasted vegetables, fruit tarts, honey cakes, and oatcakes. Since Beltane is time for outdoor celebrations, many people have picnics or outdoor feasts to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Litha – June 21st

Lithia - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

Litha, also known as the summer solstice, the festival solstice, or midsummer, takes place on the longest day of the year, when the sun is at its maximum power. This can occur between June 20 and June 22; the sun will be at its highest position in the sky.

The summer solstice is a celebrated time of year for many cultures and is often marked by festivals and ritual celebrations. This is a time of energy and vigor, and nature is celebrated. Traditionally, bonfires are used in these celebrations.

Legend has it that King Oak and King Holly fight to rule over the earth’s seasons. King Holly, defeated by his brother King Oak in Winter, returns after six months to defeat King Oak and retake his throne for the warmer months. This is the time when we are still enjoying the warm days of summer, but also know that winter lies just around the corner.

Many celebrations take place during this time, including setting a wooden wheel on fire. This wheel represents the sun. The flaming wheel is dropped down a hill, representing the sun’s decline. The celebrations also included a variety of games, particularly for young people, to draw on their energy. During this time, plenty of fights would take place as young men were in full bloom and wanted to demonstrate their vigor.

Red, gold, yellow, and orange are all colors associated with Litha. Crystals to use for Lithia can include sunstone, citrine, yellow topaz, ruby, and calcite. Choices of incense can consist of rose, lavender, orange, lemon, and sage, and plants and herbs to use include dandelion, sunflowers, rose, lavender, sage, mugwort, and calendula.

When planning your summer solstice feast, be sure to include plenty of ice cream. Also, remember to set out squash, carrots, honey, and apple cider.

Traditional Litha feasts often feature fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season, as well as grilled meats and bread. Perhaps consider some of these Lithia favorites at your next Summer Solstice celebration.

Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and other summer berries are often enjoyed at Litha feasts. They can be served fresh, in desserts like fruit tarts and pies, or made into jams and jellies.

Grilled meats: Litha is a great time to enjoy grilled meats like chicken, beef, and pork. Vegetarian options like grilled portobello mushrooms or tofu skewers are also a good choice.

Summer vegetables: Fresh vegetables like zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, and corn are all in season during Litha. They can be grilled, roasted, served as a side dish, or mixed into salads.

Bread: Bread is a traditional Litha food and can be made in a variety of forms. Some popular options include sun bread (a round bread with a design resembling the sun), cornbread, and flatbreads.

Honey: Honey is often used as a sweetener in Litha dishes, and can be drizzled over fruit, added to marinades, or used in desserts like honey cakes or mead.

Lughnasadh/Lammas – July 31st

Lammas - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

As the wheel turns, we come to Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas. This is the harvest that is closely linked to farming and the harvest, and this was when the fruits from the first harvest were enjoyed. This is a celebration of gratitude and thankfulness for the fruits of the land and the hard work involved in farming (this celebration was held in preparation for the upcoming season of working in the fields).

This is the time to collect what has been harvested already and sowing crops that will be gathered in the coming months. This was also a time for some people to prepare for the winter hunts, with games being played that demonstrated skills. These games were not just about entertainment, although adults did enjoy watching them. The youths showed they had the necessary skills to hunt and provide for their families.

It was not uncommon for marriages to occur during Lughnasadh, as these marriages were often the result of romances that began during Beltane. Pilgrims used this time to visit holy places, and people would celebrate with bowls or plates filled with fruits, vegetables, and grains.

In celebrating Lughnasadh, people recognized that this time of work was the beginning of preparations for the colder winter days that would lie ahead. The god of light and fire, Lugh, was honored. He was said to be quite an artist and had many talents. He was a young man who was blinded after defeating King Balor in battle.

Some versions of the Lugh story speak of King Balor being Lugh’s father or grandfather. This Irish myth basically tells us that Lugh is the young, talented man who defeats the weakened older man. As with the other festivals, Lughnasadh symbolizes the renewal of the cycle.

The colors representing Lughnasadh are green, gold, yellow, and light brown. If you use crystals, the most recommended would be citrine, golden topaz, amber, tiger’s eye, and peridot. Plants and herbs to use in your rituals can include heather, blackthorne, clover, basil, and ivy.

A proper Lughnasadh celebration can only be complete with sandalwood, mint, rose, and frankincense. Food and drink should be abundant, including breads, oats, honey, corn, and apples, all of which are found during the first harvest.

The Celtic festival celebrates the beginning of the harvest season. It is traditionally held on August 1st, though some celebrate it on the nearest full moon. 

Here are some traditional foods served at Lughnasadh celebrations:

Lughnasadh is sometimes called the “Feast of Bread” because of the importance of grain in the harvest. Traditional breads include soda bread, cornbread, and bannock.

Berries: August is prime berry season, and berries such as blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries are often featured in Lughnasadh dishes.

As the first harvest festival, Lughnasadh traditionally includes sacrifice and feasting on a harvested animal, such as a pig or a lamb.

Potatoes: Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and turnips are commonly eaten at Lughnasadh feasts.

Honey is often used in Lughnasadh dishes to symbolize sweetness and abundance.

Apple cider is a popular beverage at Lughnasadh celebrations, made from the harvest’s first fruits.

Corn is another important symbol of the harvest and can be used in dishes such as corn chowder or corn on the cob.

Lughnasadh is also a time for gathering and drying herbs for the winter months. Fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, and rosemary can be used in dishes, while others can be dried and stored.

Mabon – September 21st

Mabon - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

Mabon, or the autumn equinox, comes during the harvest when the sun’s light wanes and darkness takes hold. On the wheel of the year, Mabon is a time to celebrate and reflect. We are thankful for the harvest, and we can still feel the spirit of nature as the summer winds down and the growing season ends.

This festival represents the harvest seasons, as well as thankfulness and joy. It is all about giving and a bit of melancholy as the summer closes. Day and night are in perfect balance right now, and this is a time for considering our life choices.

This is a time that commemorates the passage of the Goddess into the Underworld. We see the beginning of the decay of the spirit of nature as winter draws near, which is the result of the absence of the Goddess.

The harvest has been gathered as the light descends into darkness. Some animals begin to reproduce, while others go into hibernation. Hunters start preparing for the hunting season. It is time for Mother Nature to rest, and now we find the boundary separating the visible and invisible worlds becoming blurry.

The festival of Mabon is a celebration of the collection of and thankfulness for the second harvest, much like Samhain. Colors associated with Mabon include brown, gold, yellow, and orange, the autumn colors. Crystals to use in your celebrations can include amber, lapis lazuli, citrine, and sapphire.

If you are using plants and herbs, be sure to have some sage, as well as rosemary, chamomile, and marigold. Use sage, pine, apple, frankincense, and cinnamon. Your choices for food and drink include rye bread, potatoes, nuts, fresh meat, apples, and wine.

Mabon, also known as the autumnal equinox, is a time of balance and abundance in harvest. Traditional foods served at Mabon celebrations include dishes made with fruits, grains, and vegetables that are in season, such as:

  1. Apple pie or crisp
  2. Roasted root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips
  3. Corn on the cob
  4. Squash soup or casserole
  5. Baked beans
  6. Warm bread with honey butter
  7. Cranberry sauce or relish
  8. Apple cider or spiced wine
  9. Pumpkin or pecan pie

These foods celebrate the bounty of the harvest and the transition from summer to fall. Many Mabon celebrations also incorporate a ceremonial sharing of food, giving thanks for the blessings of the season, and acknowledging the coming darkness.

Samhain – October 31st

Samhain Triple Goddess - Wheel of the Year - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

Samhain is known by many names, including Halloween, All Soul’s Day, and All Saint’s Day. It is thought to be the most important festival of the Celts and the most important festival for witches and Wiccans.

The festival of Samhain, which is Gaelic for “end of summer”, is thought to be the Celtic New Year’s Eve. This is when the darkest time of the year begins, and all of the saints are celebrated. While it is the beginning of the new year for many pagans, it is also the last spoke on the witch’s wheel of the year.

Samhain is a time when many different goddesses and spirits are honored and celebrated in various cultures and traditions. However, the goddess most commonly associated with Samhain is the Celtic goddess Morrigan, who is associated with death, war, and sovereignty. She is often depicted as a triple goddess and is said to be particularly active during the Samhain season, when the veil between the worlds is thin and communication with the spirits is easier. Other goddesses who may be honored at Samhain include Hecate, Hel, and Cerridwen, among others.

In ancient times, Samhain celebrations would take place for an entire week. During this time, ancestors were celebrated, and invited to come back from their graves to visit with their descendants. The Druids would communicate with these spirits.

Samhain is associated with the end of fall or autumn and the start of the colder winter season. It celebrates hunting and honoring the dead. Death was faced courageously, and because death is also tied in with sexuality, this was also a time when people let their sexual desires run freely. This gave the people a way to celebrate life ahead of death.

During this time, whatever cattle had not already been used would be sacrificed if it was thought they would not survive through the winter or couldn’t get enough to eat. These sacrifices were offerings to the gods and the spirits, and the meat from the animals was served at the banquets along with harvested foods.

The rest of the harvest would be stored and saved for the winter. It was believed that bad luck would befall anyone who collected the harvest after Samhain. This bad luck could include punishment or an unhealthy harvest. Therefore, people would make sure they were prepared for winter in time.

One of the biggest celebrations that we still enjoy today is the “silent dinner”. Chairs and plates of food are placed around the table to invite the spirits of the deceased to join in. Then, the dishes are removed from the house so passing spirits can also enjoy the food.

The colors associated with Samhain are black, gold, silver, purple, and orange. The best crystals to use for Samhain rituals include clear quartz, smoky quartz, onyx, obsidian, and bloodstone. If you are burning incense, sage, frankincense, mint, cinnamon, and myrrh are all recommended.

Plants and herbs used in Samhain rituals include calendula, nutmeg, sage, rosemary, and even garlic. Food choices can include meat, potatoes, parsnips, apples, pumpkin, cider, and spiced wine.

Traditional foods served at Samhain celebrations often include seasonal ingredients such as pumpkins, apples, and root vegetables. 

Be sure to include some of these traditional fares at your next Samhain feast.

Soul Cakes are small cakes made with spices and dried fruit, often served as offerings to ancestors and spirits.

Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish made with mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage, and sometimes bacon or sausage.

Roasted root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips roasted with herbs and spices.

Apple cider or mulled wine is warm, spiced beverage made with seasonal ingredients.

Pumpkin soup is a hearty soup made with roasted pumpkin, broth, and spices.

Barmbrack is a sweet bread filled with dried fruit, served with butter and honey.

Roast meats such as turkey, ham, or beef are often served as the main course of a Samhain feast.

Candied or caramel apples are a sweet treat made by dipping apples in sugar or caramel.

Yule – December 21st

Yule - Year of the Wheel - Sophia Monique, The Esoteric Witch

Yule, also called the winter solstice, is when winter has fully taken hold, and celebrations are held indoors. Family and friends would come together to tell stories, play games, and enjoy a variety of traditions.

One of the most common traditions of Yule is burning a Yule log, which is still done in many religions today. Other traditions for this festival include eating roasted meats and dining on the most recently collected harvest. These celebrations lasted for two weeks, until what we know to be January 6 on a regular calendar.

The winter solstice celebrates the birth of the sun. December 21 is the shortest day of the year and the beginning of the return of longer days. The sun begins to strengthen, threatening the end of winter.

There are some arguments surrounding Yule. While many consider Samhain to be the equivalent of New Year’s Eve, others consider Yule the first celebration of the year’s wheel. All arguments aside, Yule is the first holiday we celebrate upon the beginning of the new cycle, and the rebirth of the sun.

The colors associated with Yule are red, green, and gold. The best crystals for your celebrations include emerald, citrine, bloodstone, and clear quartz. Plants and herbs should consist of pine, fir, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and oak leaves (or anything else in season at this time of the year).For your celebrations, food includese soups, nuts, hot cider, and mulled wine.

Traditional Yule meals tend to feature hearty, warming dishes, often with a focus on ingredients that are in season during the winter months. Some examples of traditional Yule foods from various cultures include:

Roast meats, such as ham or turkey

Root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and potatoes

Winter squashes, such as pumpkin and butternut squash

Cranberries often served as a sauce or relish

Mince pies, a sweet pastry filled with dried fruits and spices

Fruitcakes, dense cakes made with dried fruits and nuts

Wassail, a spiced hot drink often made with cider or wine

Gingerbread, a sweet and spicy cake or cookie

Hot cocoa or mulled wine, warming beverages perfect for cold winter nights.

Remember that traditional Yule foods can vary depending on the region and cultural traditions.