I have been taught a pretty traditional interpretation of the Witches Wheel of the Year by my teacher, the late Lady Phoebe of the Coven of the Catta. She was initiated by Dame Sybil Leek, but got most of her knowledge from books written in the 1960s-1970s. But the fact is these were written for a European cycle of the year and are not set in stone for those in other climate zones or hemispheres. So every witch makes their own version of the Wheel of the Year.
We were taught the Legend of Persephone and her winter journey into the underworld and re-emergence in the Spring. These were re-enacted in our second and third degree initiations. We were Not taught the cycle of the Oak and Holly King. We do consider the summer to be the time of the Goddess of Nature and the winter to be the time of the God of Nature, but there is no line in the sand where one begins and the other ends and the transition is more fluid with both of them going through their warm and cold, light and dark aspects.
At a formal coven gathering I do the rituals as I was taught of course, following the liturgy completely. But over the decades in my own practice I have combined other relevant practices combining the native Himalayan shamanism that underlies Tibetan Buddhism and Nepali Shaivism, AmerIndian practices, Northern European practices and Haitian Vodoun. After all most of the native pagan religions around the world are pretty much the same except for their deity names and how the ritual is choreographed. A witch drawing a pentagram on the earth and a Mambo drawing her veve and a Hindu drawing their mandala and a Navaho drawing their sand painting are all making the same sacred space.
I have an inside temple all set up, and I have an outside temple of standing stones in a circle. If the weather is decent (I live in the north east USA in a temperate zone) I try to have the ritual outside. But sometimes I so the ritual inside and then run outside to do something seasonal like light a fire or make outside offerings on the tree stump altar. Of course sometimes I am just plain lazy and just light a candle and some incense, make an offering and prayer and salute the moon and sun and earth.
Before I even get into the seasonal rituals here is what I do for the Full and New Moons. Sometimes I do parts of the traditional full moon ritual, and sometimes I just run outside and worship our Lady spontaneously. For the new moon I am completely Tibetan Buddhist and Shaivite in that the day before the new moon I worship Rahula to avert disaster and for the new moon I worship Mahakala and burn things I want to go away and to avert untimely death.
Now regarding the 8 fold seasons in the northern temperate zones here is some of what I do. The Equinoxes and Solstices are the celestial events where the days and nights are longest or shortest or balanced, but fact is on earth is it Not the season yet. It is not until the cross quarter days where these energies are fully grounded in nature around us. Yes on June 21st it is the longest day of the year, but it does not really feel like summer until Lammas in August. Yes the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, but the height of winter here is at Candlemass in February. So it seems on the compass points we have the celestial points of the wheel and on the cross quarters we have the earthy points of the year.
So let’s start with Yule since it is coming up soon. That ritual is usually held inside. I put my cauldron in the center of the temple and decorate it with pine cones, fresh cut holly, acorns, and whatever else seasonal I can come up with. This year i am into bayberry scented candles, so that is what I will have burning in the cauldron. Traditionally we try to burn the nine sacred woods of rowan, apple, elder, holly, pine, cedar, juniper, poplar and dogwood. But the fact is one may not have all those woods growing in your woods, so I just substitute whatever nine kinds of wood I can find. And since you can’t burn wood inside without setting off all your smoke detectors then that part of the ritual is for outside later. Another witch priest turned me on to just cutting a log of wood, drilling 3 holes in it placing white, red and green candles, and then decorating it with holly and such. It looks really nice and is more practical for inside work. For good luck and prosperity for the new year we also jump over the candle in the cauldron or the bonfire outside holding hands as couples. We also circle the cauldron with our besoms, making a wheel, to the Eko Eko Azarak chant. And don’t forget that wonderful feast of shared food culminating with all those delicious xmas cookies the witches bring and our Christian relatives give us!
As a side note, even though I was never taught this, I often move the cauldron around the circle to the direction of the season, which just seems logical and magickal. So the cauldron is in the north at Yule and moves around deosil for the other Sabats.
I love Candlemass because I hate January and February because it is cold and dark and i turn another year older, and this is the ritual where you can see the first flicker of the candle that the Goddess is holding as she makes her way out of the cave of Hades. In the old coven the Handmaiden of Vestal Virgin wore a simple crown of aluminum foil (which is cheap and looks good in candle light) decorated with small birthday candles. It was lovely. The Priestess bends down and pounds the earth with her hands calling forth the earth Goddess Hertha to wake up and come forth again bringing the green of spring. I have added the blessing of packets of seeds that will be planted much later. Candlemass is all about hope for the future. We also call forth the God of the Sun and the Goddess of Nature to come back and increase their light and warmth and life. I am not including the exact chants made to the gods as you can read those anywhere and there are many versions and fact is just make up your own prayers from the heart. Candlemass also has a special place in my memory because one time we all planned to get together at the old Covenstead and in the end no one could come except Lady Alsace and myself, so we just had the ritual together anyway, just the two of us, and it was a powerful ritual showing that when a Priestess and Priest come together then the Gods are there also.
I have never been much for celebrating the Spring Equinox because here it is still cold and rainy. But it is a time where one can begin to glimpse the Goddess coming forth in the early green grass, or rather garlic, springing forth. And if you want you can combine some of the traditions of a pagan Easter with the eggs and flowers and such. We also call this day Lady Day going back to the Catholic Mary devotions of this time of year. Of course this is also the time for spring house cleaning, both physical and psychic, so it is a good time to burn up all those herbs you collected last autumn and put them to use.
Now May Day or Beltane is a day to celebrate! It is finally getting warm here and the plants and flowers and tree leaves are starting to manifest the green we have missed all winter. It is a day to celebrate fertility of plants, animals and humans. The main witch tool is the besom, which in our coven has a phallic carved end. It is also the time to use the wand. For me I like to use the athame in the winter and the wand in the summer, just because they seem to match the season better. Our wands also have a double phallic end. It is a good day to go around the yard and property and gather up all the fallen branches from the winter and have a nice big bonfire to get rid of the dead in nature so the growing green can manifest. Decorate your altar with fresh flowers. If we do not have a Maypole then we take our besoms and stand them up together like a teepee tying the top ends together with a red cord or cingulum. And those seeds that were blessed two Sabats ago can now be planted in seed starters to start growing inside for later transplant outside once the threat of frost has passed.
The Mid-Summer Solstice feels almost the same as May Day to me. But of course nature is in an orgasm of growth. Besides fire there is also water involved in this season because as the pagans realize this is the one time the sun is directly overhead and can shine down directly into the wells. That’s why the Christians celebrated John the Baptist day at this time too. And we all know how important the rains are in the summer to grow the local crops, so we pray for enough rain but not too much and no too little so the farmers are happy. I like to bless my crystals at the solstice as they are a combination of fire and water. I put them outside on the standing stones and pour water over them and leave them out in the moonlight.
Lammas is the time of the beginning of the reaping of the summer’s crops. One can go to the local fruit and vegetable stands and they are practically giving the produce away. So you can decorate the altar with all these fresh produce almost like an early Thanksgiving. Traditionally a loaf of bread is displayed because now the grain is ripe enough to be reaped and baked into bread, cakes and pies. A witch friend makes a great bread poppet we can dissect and eat like John Barleycorn.
Like the Spring Equinox the Autumn Equinox is not something i celebrate much, except maybe the full moon time of it. To me it is a continuation between Lammas and Samhain.
All Hallows Eve or Samhain is a wonderful and favorite festival for us witches of course. Hey it is Halloween too when we can dress as witches and no one bats an eye lash! Many witches consider this to be the beginning of the witches year, but I still consider Yule to be so. This is the season where we honor our dead. In our coven we leave the circle open, then ring a bell 40 times and invite the dear departed to enter as we light candles to them. I also like to so a small dumb supper after the ritual as we feast.
So my favorite rituals and celebrations of the Witches Wheel of the Year are Candlemass, May Day and All Hallows. But I also religiously celebrate the new and full moons too. I do not try to do the Sabats at the exact day they are astronomically or astrologically but whatever day or weekend everyone can get together. And I try to do them either on a waxing or full moon, except for the darker Sabats like All Hallows or Yule which I try to do near new moon.
You will notice in this article that I use the seasonal name that I was taught in my Coven, and they were probably tied in to the old Catholic feast day names. We do not use names like Imbolc or Mabon or other Celtic names that are used nowadays.
Well this rambling article is about three days in the writing and I apologize if it is not all that polished or even of the same tense or person at times. It is just something I wanted to personally share. We all have what we were taught and we all add to that like making a big pot of soup and in the end it is all about how we feel sacred inside as we celebrate the sacred Wheel of the Year. Blessed Be!