Wiccans and Druids and many other modern Pagans use the Wheel of the Year liturgical calendar. It is based on the agricultural calendar of Western Europe and defines a cycle, of birth/sowing, growth, decline/ripening and death/harvesting and storage of the crops, then rest and repeat. Some NeoPagan religions attach specific cosmological storylines to these activities, illustrating the cycle through the lives of Gods and heroes, but these vary quite a bit by tradition and the traditional folk holidays these are based on are, at their heart, agrarian. They have been Pagan and they have been Christian, but they were always agrarian.
The Wheel of the Year is made up of 8 observances, known among Wiccans as Sabbats. Although their names and other specifics may vary by tradition, the Wheel of the Year Sabbats are Yule or Midwinter, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Midsummer or Litha, Lammas or Lughnassadh, Mabon, and Samhain.
Dates of the Wheel of the Year Sabbats
The wheel has eight spokes, the four quarter days or Lesser Sabbats are marked by the Equinoxes and the Solstices. These occur on the 20th, 21st or 22nd of their month when the sun is at zero (0) degrees in the sign associated with the Sabbat, or the moment the sun enters that sign. These are cardinal signs into whose sign the Sun’s passage marks the solstices and equinoxes.
The four Greater Sabbats, also known as the Cross Quarter Days are approximately halfway between the equinoxes and solstices when the sun is about at 15 degrees of their respective signs, the fixed signs. The modern fixed days of each of these is usually the first day of the month in which it falls and these are usually two-day festivals beginning the evening before.
Samhain takes place halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Sostice when the sun is at 15 degrees Scorpio, or the fixed date of October 31-November 1 or November 1-2 in the Northern Hemisphere or May in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks the end of the agricultural year and the start of winter, though many activities, including the processing of animals and preserving of various cool weather crops would still take place after this time. It is often celebrated by NeoPagans as a feast of the dead and/or the witches New Year.
Yule or Midwinter is the Winter Solstice which occurs at 0 degrees Capricorn in December in the Northern Hemisphere. Many people in the Southern Hemisphere will celebrate Yuletide in June instead. It is usually marked on any standard Gregorian calendar as The First Day of Winter or the Winter Solstice. Yuletide is generally a time of rest, gathering and celebration of being alive. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year and some of our ancestors would not have seen much of the sun at all.
Imbolc or Candlemas is celebrated at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox at 15 degrees Aquarius or on the fixed date of February 1-2 in the Northern Hemisphere, and often in August in the Southern Hemisphere. This festival is often treated as the gateway to springtime, and marks the halfway point of the deep winter. If you have used up more than half your stored food at this time, you’re likely to starve before spring, especially if a sunny and bright Imbolc day predicts an extra-long winter.
Ostara is the Spring Equinox, which occurs at the moment the sun enters Aries in March in the Northern Hemisphere, and it may be celebrated in September in the Southern Hemisphere around about the 21st of the month. It is usually marked as such or as The First Day of Spring on any standard calendar. This is a celebration of the return of fresh food to the farm, including baby animals, milk and eggs and possibly wild, early, and often, bitter greens and preparing the ground for planting. NeoPagans may decorate eggs and have egg hunts, similar to the Christian Easter.
Beltane is halfway between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, when the sun is at 15 degrees Taurus or the fixed date of May 1 in the Northern Hemisphere or November in the Southern Hemisphere. It likely began as a celebration of the completion of planting, or perhaps of plowing, with fertility elements to ensure the fertility of the ground. In modern times, it’s often celebrated with a maypole, dancing and general outside fun in the sunshine. Sometimes it is celebrated as a wedding of the God and Goddess, sometimes this happens at the Summer Solstice instead.
Litha or Midsummer is the Summer Solstice in June, when the sun enters Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere and in December in the Southern Hemisphere, on or near the 21st of the month, usually marked as the Summer Solstice or The First Day of Summer on standard calendars. While the Summer Solstice would have likely meant a period of rest for our agrarian ancestors after the fields have been sown and the flocks have been driven out to pasture leaving just maintenance until harvest time, there would have been some significance to the longest day as well and some of their monuments attest this. In modern times, the Solstice is sometimes celebrated as a day of the Divine Marriage and sometimes it is seen as the day the Sun God is defeated by an enemy, but however it is explained cosmologically, picnics and BBQs abound.
Lughnassadh, Lammas or First Harvest is celebrated at the halfway point between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox when the sun is at 15 degrees in Leo or the fixed date of August 1 -2 in the Northern Hemisphere, February in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks the grain harvest, and the start of the harvest season for everything else. Lughnassadh is named for the Irish God Lugh and commemorates the funeral games of his foster mother. It is generally celebrated by NeoPagans with fairs, games, and, of course, food.
Mabon, also known as Harvest Home or simply Harvest, or the Autumn Equinox when the sun enters Libra, takes place in September in the Northern Hemisphere or March in the Southern Hemisphere on or near the 21st of the month. This is usually marked on a standard calendar as The First Day of Autumn or Fall. This is a Thanksgiving feast in every traditional sense.
Some people calculate these dates astrologically so there can be variation in dates between traditions by a week or more but most groups that do public rituals stick to the calendar dates for simplicity. If you’d like to do your own astrological calculations, visit https://horoscopes.astro-seek.com/astrology-ephemeris-planetary-online-ephemerides.