It's because we are all responding to the changing energies of the different seasons and our Celtic ancestors were exquisitely aware of this.
They followed this seasonal flow of energy around a 'Wheel of the Year', honouring the changes with celebrations that kept them in touch with heaven and earth.
There are eight key points in the year - four Quarter days that mark changes in the sky, and four Cross-quarter days that celebrate changes in the land.
The Wiccan Sabbats
The Sabbats are seasonal festivals which mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year and the cycles of nature. there are eight sabbats; the Summer and Winter Solstices, the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes and the quarter days or fire festivals - Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh.
SAMHAIN - 31st OCTOBER
Samhain, or Halloween, is the death festival, marking the descent of Winter. The leaves are falling from the trees in drifts, and life is drawn away from the surface of the earth, and descends deep into the earth. Life is now in the roots and bulbs of plants which rest over the Winter. The Horned God who was Lord of Life and the Wild Greenwood has now truly taken His throne as Lord of the Underworld, the dread Lord of Shadows, the comforter of souls.
Samhain is a time of transformation and inner work. It is also a sombre time of remembrance, when we remember and honour those who have died. The veil is thinnest between the worlds and we call on the spirits of the dead and invite them to feast with us on this, the feast of death. We call upon our ancestors and contact the ancient wisdom. It is a time of endings, but also a time of beginnings, as Samhain is a Celtic New Year's Eve festival. Thus we give up the past and look to the future, and it is also a good time for skrying.
It is the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Samhain is a good time for banishings, and for sorting out unfinished business. At Samhain we look back and take stock of the past year and contemplate what we have learned. Samhain is also the time to face our shadow, the dark side of ourselves.
THE WINTER SOLSTICE: YULE - 21st DECEMBER
Yule is the time we celebrate the return of the waxing sun. Light and life can be seen to be returning and conquering death. Yule is a turning point, a point of change, where the tides of the year turn and begin to flow in the opposite direction. It is the darkest time of the year, the time of the longest night, but there is the promise of the return of light.
Holly and Mistletoe bear berries at this time, symbolizing fertility. Mistletoe berries are white, representing the semen of the Horned God, the Holly berries are blood red, symbolizing both the menstrual blood of the Goddess and the sacrifice of the God. Evergreen trees also represent youth and freshness, and are symbols of the promise of spring. A yule custom, still practised at We honour the spirit of the tree,
IMBOLC or BRIDE - 1st FEBRUARY
The Festival of Imbolc or Bride, is celebrated around 2nd February by Pagans, and by Christians who call it Candlemas. Imbolc is Irish- Gaelic, translated variously as "in the belly" and "ewe's milk", and represents the quickening of Light and Life.
The first stirrings of the coming of Spring can be seen, as the first flowers (snowdrops and winter aconite) begin to appear. Seeds which have lain dormant within the Earth over the cold Winter months begin to stir with life, as yet unseen. At Imbolc we celebrate the Waking Light of the soul. Our spirits begin to quicken as we anticipate the rebirth of Nature. In Wicca it is the traditional time for initiation. Now is the time for the banishing of Winter and the welcoming of Spring. We welcome the Goddess Who is renewed, reborn as the Flower Maiden. She has passed through Her phase as the Hag, Crone or Wise One, and is a Maiden again. Bride or Brigid is a three-fold Celtic Goddess who has been Christianized into St. Brigid, whose day is celebrated on 1st February.
In Ireland, St. Brigid's cross is made of rushes and straw, and goes back to pre-Christian times, representing the Sun Wheel or Fire Wheel. It may also be linked to an ancient ceremony connected with the preparation of the grain for sowing in the Spring. It was believed that the Spirit of the Grain, or the Goddess Herself, resided in the last grain harvested, and the last grain from the Harvest Festival was ritually brought into the house at Imbolc, blessed and planted as the first seed of the next harvest.
days grow gradually longer, but we are still in the dark half of the year (until Beltaine).
EOSTRE: THE SPRING EQUINOX - 21st MARCH
This festival is named after the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre or Eastre, also known in Old German as Ostara. Little is known about this Goddess, except that her festival was celebrated at the Spring Equinox, and became Easter, and that She was a Goddess of fertility, and was connected with hares and eggs.
The Anglo-Saxon lunar month, which became April, was called Eastermonath. The equinox is a time both of fertility and new life, and of balance and harmony. Light and dark are here in balance, but the light is growing stronger. It is a time of birth, and of manifestation.
The days grow lighter and the earth grows warmer. As at Imbolc, seeds may be blessed and planted. Seeds of wisdom, represents the sun, its white, the Goddess.
BELTAINE - 1st MAY
"This is the time when sweet desire weds wild delight. The Maiden of Spring and the Lord of the Waxing Year meet in the greening fields and rejoice together under the warm Sun. The shaft of life is twined in the spiral web and all of nature is renewed.
The Spiral Dance Beltaine (also spelled Bealteinne, Bealtaine and various other ways) is the beginning of the Celtic Summer, the light season of the year. In Irish Gaelic, Bealtaine is the name of the month of May.
In Scottish Gaelic Bealtuinn means May Day. The word originally meant "Bel Fire", and Beltane is associated with the Celtic God Bel, also known as Balor or Belenus. Bel is a God of Light and Fire with the Sun, . Fires were traditionally built at Beltane, and people would jump over the fire. Young, unmarried people would leap the bonfire and wish for a husband or wife, young women would leap it to ensure their fertility and couples leap it to strengthen a bond.
Cattle were driven through the ashes or between two Beltane fires to ensure a good milk yield. The maypole, still used in Mayday festivities, represents both the phallus and the Goddess. It is also the World Tree connecting the three Worlds, its root in the Underworld, its branches in the Heavens. The shaman`s spirit may travel between the realms via the World Tree, and the phallus is also connected with life, love and death.
LITHA: SUMMER SOLSTICE - 21st JUNE
At the Summer Solstice the sun is at its highest and brightest and the day is at its longest. The Lord of Light has fought the powers of darkness, and is triumphant, ensuring fertility in the land. But in so doing so, He sows the seeds of His own death. The Wheel turns and the Dark God (the Holly King) begins to wax in power as the Light God (Oak King) wanes.
The Goddess shows Her Death- in-Life aspect, the Earth is fertile, and all is in bloom, the Goddess reaches out to the fertilizing Sun God at the height of His powers. At the same time She presides over the death of the God. The Goddess dances Her dance of Life and Death, the Sun God loves Her, and dies of His love. The Summer Solstice is a time of fulfilment of love.
. Although the days begin to grow shorter after the Summer Solstice, the time of greatest abundance is still to come. The promises of the Goddess and God are still to be fulfilled.
At this time of year, our physical energy is generally at its peak.
LUGHNASADH - 1st AUGUST
Lughnasadh or Lammas is celebrated on August eve or August 1st and is the festival of the first of the harvests. Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon name for the festival, meaning Loaf mass. Lughnasadh is the festival of Lugh, a Celtic God of Light and Fire and God of crafts and skills. His Welsh form is Llew Law Gyffes, and in the Mabinogion story of Blodeuwidd and Llew, the theme of Llew as the sacrificed God can be seen (we need of course to consider the pre-Christian origins of the story).
Gronw can be seen as the Dark God of the Waning year, and Llew as the Bright Lord of the Waxing year, Blodeuwidd represents the Goddess in Her Flower Maiden aspect. Lammas or Lughnasadh then has the theme of the sacrificed God of the harvest, but he is sacrificed and transformed, rather than descending into the underworld to become Lord of Death, which comes later in the year.
MODRON: THE AUTUMNAL EQUINOX - 21st SEPTEMBER
The two equinoxes are times of equilibrium. Day and night are equal and the tide of the year flows steadily, but whilst the Spring Equinox manifests the equilibrium before action, the Autumnal Equinox represents the repose after action, the time to take satisfaction in the work of the summer and reap its benefits.
The Autumnal Equinox is celebrated on 21st September, and is the second harvest festival, with the fruit being gathered in. We celebrate the abundance of the earth, and make wine from the excess fruit, to preserve the richness of the fruits of the earth to give us joy throughout the year.
This is the time of the Vine. The God, who was Lord of the Greenwood in the summer and the Corn King at Lughnasadh now dances His last dance upon the earth, as Dionysus, God of wine, music and dance, before making his descent to the underworld to take up his role as Dread Lord of Shadows. The Lord of Light, the Sun King, His power waning, exists briefly in balance with the Dark Lord before giving way to the growing power of darkness, but the power of the sun is encapsulated in the grape and the fruits of the earth.