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The Pagan Calendar is divided into eight ritual and celebratory events: four major and four minor celebrations that mark the passing of the year and celebrate a phase in the relationship between God and Goddess. This is sometimes referred to as the Wiccan Ritual Year or the Wheel of the Year. Since many pagans who celebrate these festivals are not Wiccan, we shall refer to it as the Wheel of the Year. Why a wheel? This is because the symbol that illustrates the sequence of the year is usually drawn in a circle, representing the continuous coming and going of the seasons and the years. A line has a beginning and an end, but a circle has always represented The Infinite.
[Image courtesy of Golden Valley Art]
[Copyright ©Golden Valley Art]
The four major festivals are called the “Greater Sabbats”, whereas the remaining four are “Minor Sabbats” and fall on the solstices and equinoxes.
These eight festivals of the Pagan Year are distinct from the “esbats” or monthly marking of the new moon and full moon.
Some pagans celebrate the festivals on the dates as dictated by the Gregorian Calendar, other pagans will celebrate the festival at the closest full moon, and others will look to the specific astrological conjunctions that mark the beginning of a festival.
According to Ronald Hutton (seminal historian on paganism), there is no evidence that pre-Christian people celebrated the eight festivals of the year. Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh were originally Gaelic quarter days. The concept of adding the equinoxes and solstices was adopted by modern Gardnerian Wicca in the 20th Century which also brought it more into line with Neo-Druidry. Many native peoples will have marked the equinoxes and solstices, which are observable in nature, but the actual eight-part Wheel of the Year is a more modern creation.
Some names for the God: Sun King, Green Man, Horned God, Father Nature
Some names for the Goddess: Mother, Maiden, Crone, Wise Woman, Mother Nature, Lady of the Wild Things
Samhain (31 October – 2 Nov)
Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) is considered the Pagan New Year. This is a time of celebrating the lives of those who have passed on and is a festival of the Dead. There is a general belief that the veils between this world and the afterlife are thinnest at this time of year, and as such it is a perfect time to welcome back the Dead, to remember them and hold feasts and celebrations in their honour. In paganism, death is very much a part of life, and is not seen as something morbid; it is a time to contemplate life and death as a sacred whole.
The old year dies and dissolves for the new year to begin. Death is merely a reminder of rebirth and how the Wheel of the Year keeps turning, even beyond the grave.
Other names: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Feast of the Dead, Ancestor Night, Festival of the Returning Dead
Yule (19 – 23 December)
Yule, which is also known as the Winter Solstice, marks the longest night of the year when the sun is at its lowest point. Between Samhain and Yule, the Lord of the Night (symbol of death) has ruled and the Goddess in her Crone aspect has given us wisdom. Now it is the time when Light returns and the Great God/Sun or divine male is reborn. It is one of the four solar festivals.
Other names: Winter Night, Winter Solstice
Imbolc (1 – 2 February)
Imbolc (pronounced Im-olc with a silent “b”) celebrates the land awakening and the growing strength of the Sun/God deity following his rebirth at Yule. The Goddess is venerated in her maiden aspect (her three aspects being: mother, maiden and crone/old woman). It is a time of cleansing, purification and dedication. The young god approaches the maiden goddess with desire; their love igniting the creative energy we see in spring.
Other names; Candlemas, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Day
Ostara (19 – 23 March)
An equinox is when the sun crosses the celestial equator – day and night are of equal length: for pagans this is a solar festival when the powers of winter and darkness are equal to the powers rising to bring summer and light. The Horned God rides forth on the hunt and heralds in a time of celebration. Winter is behind us and the potential for life and growth abounds.
Other names: Lady Day, Festival of Trees, Spring Equinox
Beltane (1 May)
Beltane is a time when the Great God and Goddess are united in sexual union: the mystery of the Sacred Marriage of God and Goddess, the Hieros Gamos/”greenwood marriage” that is often replicated within ritual through the year. Hence this is seen as a fertility festival, represented by such rituals as dancing around a phallic maypole. The God impregnates the Goddess creating the potential for life, the harvest of the land later in the year.
Other names: May Day
Midsummer (19 – 23 June)
The summer solstice marks the midsummer point of the year when the sun is at its highest point: the longest day in the year. One of the solar festivals; this is when the God is crowned Lord of Light and is at the height of his power. Having known complete love with the Goddess, he now turns and sets sail for the Land of Rebirth. From this point his powers start to wane and the days become shorter. The Goddess prepares to give birth to the fruits of the land, the annual harvest.
Other names: Litha, Summer Solstice
Lughnasadh (1 – 2 August)
Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sah) is a grain/corn festival or festival of the first fruits when pagans give thanks not only for food, but for all gifts and blessings, granted by the bounty of the fertile Goddess of the Land.
Other names: Lammas, Festival of the First Fruits
Mabon (20 – 24 September)
Mabon is an equinox, which is when the sun crosses the celestial equator – day and night are of equal length: for pagans this is a solar festival. As the days lengthen, pagans once again consider the darker faces of God and Goddess. It can also be a time to honour old age and the coming winter. This is a second harvest celebration, giving thanks for and sharing the fruits of the earth to ensure the blessings of God and Goddess through the winter.
Other names: Autumn Equinox, Second Harvest, Wine Harvest
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, by Scott Cunningham
Hedge Witch: Guide to Solitary Witchcraft, by Rae Beth
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Nb: If you find two pagans who agree, you haven’t found two pagans!
A pagan is person who practises a spiritual path; he or she follows either an established tradition under the “Pagan” umbrella or takes aspects of paganism, which are meaningful to him or her, and creates a way of living. A pagan is not somebody who only worships once a week or at special times in the year; a pagan path embraces all aspects of living and is a philosophy as well as a spirituality.
So what comes under the “Pagan” umbrella?
There are innumerable pagan paths: some draw on native religions such as the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans; some look to history and “re-kindle” Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythologies; then there are the neo-pagan religions of Wicca and the eclectic lifestyles and approaches of Green Witches, Hedgewitches and Kitchen Witches. There are Discordians and the followers of the Feri tradition, modern-day neo-shamans, magickians, wizards and witches. But not every pagan is a witch!
Pagans can be monotheists (believing in one god or goddess), polytheists (believing in two or more gods/goddesses), polyentheists (believing that god/goddess exists in all things) or even atheists (no belief in a god/goddess).
Paganism can (although does not have to) incorporate occult studies, and indeed some occultists would not describe themselves as pagan, although some definitely would. The occult world includes Thelemites (who follow the religion/philosophy of Aleister Crowley), Satanists (Satanism as created by Anton LeVey in the 1960s), Luciferians, Gnostics, Qabbalists … the list is virtually endless.
Isn’t it a bit vague having so many different paths under one word?
Yes and no. It can appear vague and confusing when you first approach paganism, but once you start learning, studying and exploring you will be overwhelmed with the richness both of paganism and the diversity of the people attracted to it. One thing is key amongst pagans: to accept the path that the other person walks. There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
Is paganism a cult?
No, paganism is not a cult. There is no one figure who commands all pagans. Even though there are occasionally oddballs proclaiming that they are, for example, King or Queen of the Witches, this is something rejected by pagans and usually cause for much hilarity.
We abhor bullying and coercion in any area of life and this is something that goes very much against the Pagan Path. To reiterate the previous answer: There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
The word “cult” is often used as a slur word to disparage someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Often people using the word “cult” have their own agenda of conflict and negativity, rather than a true desire to promote spirituality and personal growth.
Are pagans devil worshippers?
The majority of pagans do not believe in the devil; Satan or the devil for them is a construct of Judeo-Christian religions and mythology. There is a lot of confusion in this area as the pagan image of, for example, Pan (who is the god of nature, hunting and revelry) has been subsumed into Christian culture as the epitome of “what the devil looks like”. Pan is by no means an evil god, and many pagans would even dispute the existence of evil itself, but would say that “evil” is energy just as “good” is energy: a gun is only a piece of metal until the gun-holder decides how to use it. This is a key point within paganism: there is no doctrine telling us what is wrong or right. We each carry a heavy responsibility as to how we use this “moral energy”. It would be easier if we were told what to do, but instead we have to cultivate self-awareness, respect of others, sensitivity to the environment, a knowledge of cause and effect and make our decisions bearing all this in mind within our spiritual framework.
Are pagans witches?
Some pagans are witches, but the majority are not. Many pagans do not practise witchcraft or spellwork. Witches can come in many guises: some are Wiccans, some Dianic witches, Green Witches, Hedgewitches, Kitchen witches, etc. Traditional witchcraft and Voodoo even draw on the spellcraft of Pennsylvanian Christian pow wow magic. Witchcraft is like a river with many tributaries feeding it – some of which lead to surprising sources.
What is a pagan ritual?
The answer to this will depend very much on which tradition you choose to work with. A pagan ritual in general will aim at focusing the energy of the person or participants (if it is group work); this energy can be drawn from themselves or from any of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether/Spirit, for example. Sometimes the energy is focused on sending healing to people, or on blessing the group, reconnecting with deity or many other things.
Rituals can be either in a group or worked individually. Rituals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. The main point, however, is to learn the basics and for that there are many good books and (through the Herefordshire Moot) willing people to teach and advise you.
Do pagans believe in Jesus?
Some do and some do not. Many pagans believe in a wide variety of higher beings. Jesus is one of these beings for some pagans. Some believe he was a great spiritual teacher, but not a god. Some have no feelings about him at all.
Who is the pagan god?
There is no single pagan god. As mentioned before, some pagans believe in one god or goddess, some believe in two or more and some believe in none. It depends on the tradition you are called to work with.
What do pagans do?
Pagans are just like anybody else. You will find pagans working in industry, in the military, employed, unemployed, well, sick, happy, sad, divorced, married, hand-fasted (pagan marriage) and other. Most pagans will work around the pagan year honouring the equinoxes and solstices, marking the new moon and full moon. Some will do elaborate rituals in groups or on their own, some will do nothing more than light a candle and internally connect with what is important to them.
Do pagans pray?
Some pagans pray in what would be recognised as a “traditional way”, others use forms of meditation, drumming, chanting or dancing. There are many ways of connecting with deity and pagans are pragmatic in that, if it works, they’ll try it!
Where are the pagan churches?
Most pagans would say that their church is Nature and that She is where they worship. Others might say that when they cast a circle (create a sacred space), that is their church. Since pagans believe that deity is everywhere, however deity is conceived, the idea of a fixed building in which to worship is unnecessary.
How do you become a pagan?
Try firstly to read as much as you can about paganism and its different offshoots. Meet up with pagans. Ask lots of questions! When you feel the time is right, you will know how best to dedicate yourself to your chosen path and deity or deities. Most people begin with a personal, individual dedication. Groups, such as covens (not all groups of pagans are covens), do not usually allow people to join them until they have shown a commitment to studying and learning about that particular path. A moot, however, is a social environment for meeting pagans: you don’t even have to be pagan to come along, just bring your interest and respect for others.
What do I need to be a pagan?
You only need yourself and a sincere interest to learn, a yearning in your belly that this is where you belong, combined with an open heart and mind for your fellow pagans. No one is going to judge you if you step on this Path and decide at a later date it is not for you. Our Paths can be winding ones, and each step teaches us something valuable.
Why do people say bad things about pagans?
People often ridicule what they do not understand. Hollywood has also created many damaging and untrue stereotypes. This is why it is important for people genuinely interested in paganism to inform themselves from reputable authors and to meet up with real pagans. You cannot teach your paganism by watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” or any other light entertainment. Paganism is a spiritual way of living that requires commitment, soul-searching, self-awareness and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easily, but the joy of finding yourself on the right Path with like-minded others can’t be overestimated.