Yearly Rites

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Throughout the year, seasons change and new elemental energies replace the old. The fiery hot days of summer lead to the breezy days of fall, which in turn leads to the icy days of winter, which turns to the blooming, flowery days of spring. There’s something primal and vital about following the turn of the year. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years and still do it to this day.

We color eggs in spring and look forward to the Easter bunny; bunnies and eggs are old pagan fertility symbols of spring. If you didn’t know that, better you hear it here than on the street ;-). We hang lights on our houses around the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, though after the days start to get longer again. It’s long been a time of rebirth and light even before Jesus. Then there’s my favorite holiday, Halloween (you’ll find on this blog how batty I am for it, no pun intended), the day we still culturally associate with a “thinning of the veil” between the living and the dead.

You’ll finding honoring the turn of the year is one of the most powerful ways to stay in tune with nature. Through it we honor rebirth (spring), life (summer), death (fall) and reflection (winter). To honor the turn of the year is to honor and celebrate our own lives. We gain celebration and gratitude, and remember just how truly vital the earth is. So below, I’ve listed the traditional “sabbats” that mark the year into eighths. These are markers in which to honor the earth, the elements and the miracle of life.  You can find posts on this site devoted to activities for celebrating the yearly sabbats, like this one here.

Lughnasadh (August 1) marks the first of the harvest sabbats. It’s a time of celebration of “the first harvest” when thanks are in order for all the bounty of a prosperous summer. You might sprinkle some oats on the ground as symbolic thanks to Mother Earth or reflect on a particular blessing you are grateful for.

Mabon marks the Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 21 or so), a day of balance when day and night are on equal footing before the night starts to get longer as fall advances. The second harvest sabbat, it’s a high time for thank. You might even think of it as an early Thanksgiving. This is the time to eat harvest foods like apples and reflect on the gratitude for your gifts in life. What were you most thankful for this year? Write it down and return to it when you are feeling low. You might also reflect on balance between light and dark. It’s also the official start of fall, the time when the air element dominates the season. Air was traditionally seen as the realm of spirits and souls, and so governs times of death and decay. But between the gusty days knocking down the leaves, the vibrant colors and invigorating, crisp nights, I personally see fall as a time of bounty, possibility and creative energy.

Samhain (October 31), or Halloween. This marks the traditional day of the departed, the time when the veil was seen to be thinnest between the living and the dead. It’s the day you reflect on the departed and your memories with them. You might even put out a symbolic offering to them or leave a symbolic place for them at the table for dinner. It’s the time of endings, but with endings come new beginnings. It’s also been called “The Witches’ New Year” or “The Celtic New Year.” You might use this time to give thanks for the high points of the past year (time to pull out that list from Mabon) and formulate goals for the rest of the turning of the year. It’s an excellent time to assess where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Yule (December 21 or so), or the Winter Solstice, marks the longest night of the year. However, it’s also the night when the darkness will be “defeated” by the light, as the days will start to get longer after. It’s been a time of renewal, light and rebirth since pagan times. Jesus was tacked on because people wouldn’t forgo their solstice celebrations (people like to get political about this, but it’s historical fact). Modern-day Christmas is the latest incarnation of solstice celebrations. The burning of a Yule log and hanging lights on the house are celebrations of the longer days to come. Bringing in a Christmas tree symbolizes eternal life, since an evergreen weathers even the harshest of winters. The nice thing about this time of the year is, odds are, you don’t have to go out of your way to celebrate it or get in tune with it; it’s still so part of our culture. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, a meditation in front of a candle or a bonfire to celebrate the returning light might be in order. This is also the beginning of winter, the time of water: that cold, depressing time of the year. All is covered by ice, or if you live further south, rainstorms. It’s an emotional, reflective time when the psyche turns inward. You may meditate with water, look at your inner goals and further refine what you wrote at Samhein or drink warm tea for invigoration.

Imbolc, (February 1), marks another strong light festival. By this time we’re all usually flat sick of winter. Up here in the North, we’ve shoveled more times than we can count by this time. My favorite sweaters are starting to get holes, I’ve worn them so much. So almost as an unconscious pick-me-up, this is the day people traditionally light candles and bonfires to signify the approaching spring. In some cultures it marks the first planting. Up here in Wisconsin, it serves more as a reminder that, yes, all this flippin’ snow WILL melt. It’s a time to bolster your fortitude for the way ahead, reassert yourself to your path. It’s a popular time for dedications or renewals of purpose. In addition to some fire meditations, you may also revisit your goal list for the year and either see where you’ve come or start planning if you haven’t started.

Ostara (March 21 or so), or as we know it, Easter. This is the day of the Vernal Equinox, another balance day between night and day, though the days are continuing their march to the longest day of the year. Light will officially achieve dominance, and this marks the official first day for spring. I consider spring to be the time of the element of earth. If you’re a gardener, you might be planning what you want to grow and purchasing seeds. It’s the time for watching what the earth is really made of: Wolverine-like super powers that allow it to regenerate every year like nothing even happened. You might use this day to freewrite about balance, meditate on the re-growing earth or take a “mindfulness hike” on one of the first balmy days. To celebrate the earth’s fertility, you might dye Easter eggs.

Beltain (May 1). You may know this one as May Day. My mother remembers dancing around a May Pole on May 1, back when she was in grade school. This is a day celebrating general fertility, rifle with phallic symbols like the May Pole, so get your blushing out of the way now. It’s the time traditionally when people whould jump bonfires for protection and marriage. It’s the biggest celebration of all for life and love, in short. You might bring fresh flowers into your home or be able to do an outdoor earth meditation in the warmth for the first time. It’s another time of new beginnings: a truly mutable, transitive time of the year. Pull out your goals for the year, measure your progress and really put your hand to the grindstone.

Litha, (June 21 or so), the Summer Solstice. This is the longest day of the year, the true triumph of flame. The summer, the time of fire, has officially started. It’s another celebration of life, as well. Harvest some red roses for your home, dance in the rays of the sun, remember what makes you alive. Your plans for the year should be in full swing. This is a time for all things candle work.