The Wheel Of The Year: What It Is & How To Work With It

the wheel of the year
Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

The Wheel of the Year is an ancient calendar based on the transition of the sun through the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter.

There are eight main celebrations (or festivals) that make up the Wheel.

4 Cross-Quarter (fire) festivals:

  • Imbolc (February 1st) for spring
  • Beltane (May 1st) for summer
  • Lammas (August 1st) for autumn
  • Samhain (October 31st) for winter

And 4 Quarter-Point (solar) festivals:

  • Spring Equinox (20th – 23rd March)
  • Summer Solstice (20th – 23rd June)
  • Autumn Equinox (20th – 23rd September)
  • Winter Solstice (20th – 23rd December)

The cross-quarter days are also known as the “greater Sabbats,” while the quarter-points are known as the “lesser Sabbats.” This isn’t because they’re less important, but because the energy is said to be greater during the cross-quarter festivals.

This calendar pre-dates the modern one most of the world follows, with Christian holidays such as Christmas Day and Easter. For tens of thousands of years, communities would live and plan in flow with nature, and celebrate the unique offerings that each season gifted.

This is what working with the Wheel of the Year is all about. Re-rooting yourself back into the natural world that we have become distant from, and creating harmony in your life. It’s the same reason that women live and lead in flow with the moon; this is the natural rhythm of the earth, and of us.

And when we live in harmony with her, we can get more done by doing less. We can create a balance between doing and being. We can speed up when the time is right, then slow down when we’re called to. And we can eat what is most nourishing for our bodies. We can sow seeds when the earth is most fertile, then lovingly tend to our garden and, in time, watch as the flowers bloom.

Working with the Wheel is not a new way; it’s the oldest way, one that you may subtly remember from many, many lifetimes ago.

The Eight Festivals of the Wheel of the Year

Samhain (Halloween) – 31st October

Samhain (pronounced sow-wen or saw-wain) marks the beginning of the New Year in Celtic and Wiccan tradition; and is often regarded as the most important Sabbat on the Wheel of the Year. It is also the third and final harvest.

On this day (and night), the veil between this world and the unseen world is said to be at its thinnest. Souls and spirits of loved ones may visit us, which is why offerings of food and wine are often left at front doors. This is also known as the Feast of Hecate—the chief goddess presiding over magic and spells.

It’s a wonderful time to remember loved ones who have passed, and honour the dead. But it’s also a time when your intuition will be heightened; through tuning in to what cannot be seen but can be felt or known.

What is trying to come through you? What wisdom is stirring and rising from your womb? 

The sun begins to lower and weaken each day after Samhain, which is why it is sometimes known as the dark time of the year.

Yule (Winter Solstice) – 20th-23rd December

This festival celebrates the shortest day and longest night of the year. From this day onward, the sun rebirths, and strengthens in our skies; increasing the hours of daylight each day through to Summer Solstice.

Yule is the longest night of the winter, and sometimes also referred to as “the dark night of our souls.” But with it comes seeds of hope as the light ever so gradually begins to return.

This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past year. What are you celebrating? What have you learned? And how have you grown? 

Yule has been overshadowed over the past few thousand years with the rise of Christianity and Christmas day, celebrated on the 25th. I’m not, and never have been, a Christian; yet for some reason I have always celebrated Christmas, along with so many other people across the world.

But over the past few years, I have noticed how out of alignment I feel with holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and Easter. They feel like props, made to distract and disconnect me from the real celebration and gifts of those times; which can all be found within ourselves, and in nature.

So I’ve begun to place less importance on them, and have chosen to work with the Wheel of the Year instead. And I encourage you to make your own choices, too. Ones that truly serve you, and align with the woman you’re becoming.

Imbolc (Candlemas) – 1st feb

Imbolc is a celebration of the Winter passing, and welcoming in the first signs of Spring.

The sun has returned, the trees are sprouting leaves, and crocus flowers bloom. It’s the beginning of a new agricultural year, with lighter, longer, and warmer days greeting us. This is the earth waking up again after her long, winter hibernation.

This day is sometimes also known as Brigid’s day—the Celtic Goddess of fire, creation, and healing. Around Imbolc, her fire begins to spark and awaken the earth, as well as our inner fire.

It’s the transition from the archetypal energy of the Crone to the Maiden. That means transitioning our focus from inwards to outwards; reigniting our passion, and beginning to create and move into action again.

The earth is ripe and fertile, ready for us to plant new seeds of intentions for the coming year; to nourish and tend to them between now and the harvest.

Where do you want to focus your energy over the next few months, and beyond? What seeds do you wish to plant? And what do you need to support you through the creation?

Ostara (Spring Equinox) – 20th-23rd March

Equinox means that the day is equal parts light and dark—there is a sense of balance, which means it’s a great time to try and restore balance and harmony to your own life.

Perhaps that means making more time for family or self-care, or exploring your spirituality. Maybe it means taking a step back from work, or even ramping things up a little. Find some stillness, and the right path will present itself to you.

Ostara (named after the Goddess, Eostre/Ostara) is the day Christians borrowed from the Pagans, and renamed “Easter.” The Easter bunny was originally a hare; a nocturnal animal sacred to the Goddess, and a symbol for the moon. Each day, the moon and hare were said to die and be reborn, which led to the hare being a symbol of immortality. And because the hare can conceive while pregnant, it (along with eggs) became a symbol for fertility and abundance.

Ostara symbolises the sun getting stronger, and the earth warming up and becoming more fertile each day up to Summer Solstice. Flowers are sprouting up and blooming all over. Animals begin mating. New life is birthed. The whole world seems to now be fully awake; refreshed and full of child-like energy. The Maiden archetype is in full bloom.

There is an expansive energy available to us all right now.

What can we let go of and leave behind, so that we can move forward? What can we physically and mentally clear out, to create space for the new? Where do you wish to grow, and what actions can you take towards that growth?

Beltane – 1st May

Beltane sits opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year, which means it’s a perfect contrast. While Samhain celebrates death, Beltane is a celebration of life. Spring has reached its peak, and Summer is around the corner.

Beltane comes from the phrase “Bel-tan” which translates to “good fire.” This is because the return of the sun and summer embody the element of fire. Ancient celebration would see torches of fire being lit and carried through the land, along with people making music, sharing stories in circle, and feasting.

Masculine and feminine energy join together, and work in harmony. This is a season of maturity, connection, and commitment; and a time for making the most of the abundant fertile energy that is available to us.

Beltane is both a time of fertility and harvest. Celebrating sensuality and sexuality, while conceiving and marriages were common. And reaping the first signs of wealth from the seeds we have sown.

The energy of earth is at its peak.

Now is the time to bring your dreams and intentions fully into action; but to also indulge in play and have some fun.

Litha (Summer Solstice) – 20th-23rd June

Summer solstice marks the longest day and shortest night of the year; the sunlight seems to endlessly brighten the sky, and we enjoy the long, drawn out Summer evenings.

Similar to the full moon, the air is now full of celebration and expansiveness; yet there is the unspoken knowing that the sun will soon begin to wane, bringing a return to the darkness.

This is a time for embracing the light.

You can think of Litha as the climax of the year; a celebration of all the beauty and abundance we have experienced so far, along with the beginnings of preparation for what’s to come.

Litha is also known as the Midsummer. The sun (the Divine Masculine) is at his most powerful, and the heat of Summer still lies ahead of us; but from now on, he will leave the sky a little earlier each day between now and Yule. Crops are in full growth, close to maturity as we edge nearer to the first harvest.

Litha is a time for being fully present, here and now. Recognising the richness all around you. Celebrating all you have brought to fruition so far, and really enjoying your achievements instead of mindlessly ticking them off a list and moving on to the next.

Lammas (Lughnas) – 1st August

Lammas is the first harvest—also known as the Grain Harvest.

Mabon (Autumn Equinox) is the second harvest of Fruit, and Samhain is the third and final harvest of Nuts and Berries.

Lammas is a festival for gathering in, and celebrating everything that has come your way so far this year. This is what gratitude is in its truest form: a reciprocity in giving and taking. Giving thanks for all that is, while receiving all the lessons we have learned and the gifts we have earned along the way.

Lammas is a beautiful opportunity to write a list of everything you have learned, experienced, and achieved this year.

Read it back to yourself, bask in the abundance that surrounds you, and give thanks. Because when we fully appreciate all that we have, only then can more come our way.

Mabon (Autumn Equinox) – 20th-23rd September

The Mabon Equinox is the second time of the year when there is a balance between light and dark; meaning the day and night are equal in length. There is a sense of harmony once more, which coincides with the Sun moving into Libra—the sign represented by the scales.

After this day, we enter the wind down to Yule, where daylight will continue to dwindle, with the days becoming shorter and much colder as we welcome in Winter.

Mabon is also the second harvest of the Wheel of the Year. Another celebration for all we have reaped, but this time, it’s a chance to celebrate the gratitude and abundance with others; family, friends, and our wider communities.

And we may begin to shift our focus from the outside, back inwards. This is a wonderful time for completing projects, and beginning to slow down. Start to make more time for rest and self-care.

How to Celebrate and work with the Wheel of the Year

There are so many different ways to honour and celebrate the turn of the Wheel:

  • Go inwards to reflect and journal
  • Check in with your intentions and goals
  • Meditate
  • Do an oracle reading
  • Decorate your altar with colours and objects that embody the essence of the festival
  • Cook or bake specific foods to offer the Gods and Goddesses on these days
  • Create your own ritual or spell
  • Light a candle
  • Plant something (when the soil is ripe of course!)
  • Attend a local celebration, or host your own

It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s meaningful to you.

These eight festivals, or Sabbats, are natural pauses in the year, where we can give ourselves permission to slow down and take a breath. To reflect on our lives, our choices, and our beliefs. And to tune in to the energy of the earth, and feel more in flow and in harmony with her rhythm.

This is the beauty and the magic of the Wheel of the Year, and it’s available to all of us.

More from Shani Jay

Women, I See You Playing The Shadow Game

You think I don’t see you, and others may not, but I...
Read More