Step Two Lesson from the Green Witches Coven. An online Coven of Witches sharing tips on Witchcraft and casting Spells that work with harm to none!
Witches name the seasonal cycle the Wheel of the Year. Witches celebrate a cycle of eight festivals, which occur every six or seven weeks throughout the year and divide the wheel into eight segments. Each of these festivals is named Sabbat.
This is Step Two of the Green Witches Coven online lessons to become a real Witch. If you are a member of the Coven you need to have completed Step One before moving on to this Step.
Four of the Sabbat festivals have Celtic origins and are known by their Celtic names of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. You may be more familiar with the Christianised versions of Candlemas, May Day, Lammas and Halloween.
The other four are points in the solar calendar. These are the Spring and Autumnal Equinox (when the length of the day is exactly equal to the night), the Summer and the Winter Solstice (longest and shortest days of the year).
These Sabbats help you tune in to the seasons and the cyclical characteristics of nature. The festivals historically mark important times in the agricultural cycle of the year. The festivals were used to honour the ancient gods and goddesses and to acknowledge the birth, death and rebirth of everything within nature. The ancient peoples believed that without divine intervention the cyclical nature of the land, that provided food, warmth and shelter could not continue. All of the eight Sabbats were celebrated in the Ancient world in some form or other.
I haven’t always been a Green Witch, nor did I celebrate and honour nature.
I was born in an industrial town on the outskirts of two major cities. In fact my birthplace of Lancashire in the United Kingdom was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution beginning around 1700 saw the massive shift from an agricultural, rural based society reliant on the land, the seasons and the forces of nature for its very survival to the machine and factory based way of living. The two great industries of coal mining and cotton mill production coupled with urbanisation changed not only the landscape of the whole of Britain but changed the daily lives of millions of people. The changes subsequently spread throughout Europe and North America and eventually impacted the whole of the world.
No more were people living off their small plots of land and using wood from the forest for shelter and for fuel. Gone were the days when it was possible to be self sufficient by growing crops and vegetables and keeping animals for food. The rising and setting of the sun, the moon phases and the changing seasons mattered little in the depths of a coal mine or in the large, noisy and dusty factories.
In the factory mill or working down the pit you were paid a wage that enabled you to buy food, pay for shelter and use coal for fuel.
The factory siren, the mine whistle, the Town Hall clock or the ‘knocker up man” all summoned workers from their slumber. The clock was now master. The changing seasons mattered little if you lived and worked in an industrial town. My great grandparents, grandparents and parents all lived and worked in this industrial setting. Whereas the previous generations of my family line all worked on the land and lived in a rural setting.
As a girl growing up in an industrial town I knew little of nature. The concrete tower blocks, built on what was once farming land, rose to infamy in the 60s and 70s and housed the industrial town dwellers. The urban sprawl laid waste the natural land. The newly built supermarkets of the time replaced the corner shop, the market, the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. As time raged on, plastic wrapped, factory processed, deep frozen, additive laden foods became standard fare. We could buy everything and anything from all over the world with little thought given to fair trade, intensive and damaging farming techniques, battery chickens and inhumane treatment of animals. We cared little for the transportation impact on carbon emissions so long as we had a full range of plentiful and cheap perfectly shaped, blemish free foodstuffs.
Today, I am lucky enough to live in a rural community on the Greek Island of Crete. The people here are mainly self sufficient farmers producing all their basic needs in a natural, organic and “gentle on the land” way. Great care, effort and energy are used to grow fruits and vegetables and to tend livestock in a humane way. The care and effort they put in is evidenced in the absolute freshness, goodness and nutritionally rich and tasty foods they produce.
The changing seasons, the sun and the rain, matter greatly to the farmers. Many do not own a clock or a watch and use the sun as their time piece. They know with the guidance of the changing seasons throughout the year when to plant, when to prune and when to harvest.
As well as the sun they follow the phases of the moon believing that the moon produces an influence on the development of growing plants. There are specific times in the moon’s cycle when it is beneficial to plant certain crops and other times to harvest. The belief in moon farming by the phases of the moon is an ancient system of agriculture used by the Ancient Greeks but still holds place today. It is believed that the sowing of seeds, planting of trees, sheering of sheep and setting of hens should occur during a waxing or growing moon. The waning moon is said to be the best time for fruit picking and preserving and for pruning and wood cutting.
The phases of the moon and the cyclical nature of the seasons link in with the religious festivals and holy days that punctuate the year here in Crete. Great importance is placed on religious worship held in the many, many Greek Orthodox Churches here. Candles are lit, prayers are chanted, offerings are made, incense is burned and holy blessed water is used in the rituals that celebrate feast days and important religious festivals.
Not to dissimilar to how Witches today may conduct Magic spells as you will see later.
But back to the Christian festivals – the most important of which is the religious festival of Easter when the concept of death and resurrection are the central feature.
The date for Easter Sunday is dependent on the sun and moons cycle. It always falls on the Sunday, which follows the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox being the time when the length of the day is exactly equal to the night and the sun and moons influence is the same.
Indeed the ecclesiastical calendar has marked similarities to the Pagan Sabbats of the ancients. This is because the Christianisation of Pagan feast days took hold soon after the fourth century A.D. and incorporated the Pagan holidays and festivals into the Christian church.
In this way the Pagan festival of Spring Equinox became Easter, the Winter Solstice has been Christianised as Yule or Christmas and the Summer Solstice became St. John’s Day (John the Baptist). The most famous and celebrated Sabbat is that of Samhain which was Christianised into All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween.
Being aware of the turning of the Wheel of the Year and marking significant points in it enables the modern day Green Witch opportunity to reflect on the forever turning of the circle of life. It gives us chance to be reminded of the ever changing, never ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. We can reconnect with the natural world in purely natural ways.
For many of us the hectic modern life lived at a frenetic pace is simply too stressful. Like a caged hamster on a wheel, frantically running fast and getting nowhere, we need to take a rest. We need to pause in our thoughts, words and deeds.
Pausing for reflection on events such as the coming and going of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter focuses the mind on what nature gives us and what it takes away.
The first days of fertile spring with new growth of colourful wild flowers carpeting hillsides, baby lambs being born and fresh energy surrounding us may inspire us to take on new, fresh and creative projects.
The long daylight hours of Summer can motivate us to get the unfinished tasks we were meaning to do finally completed.
Autumn may focus the mind on harvest and abundance and a need to preserve and cherish all we hold dear in preparation for a long winter ahead.
Saying farewell to the carefree days of a bright Summer and warm Autumn may for some seem a sad time - and quite literally very sad for others. The Winter months that trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) quite literally signals a dark and depressing time for many sufferers.
In the winter months with very short daylight hours many of us journey to workplaces in the dark and literally never see daylight all day returning home again in darkness.
In this modern day we seem to be disconnected from the seasons. We can buy unseasonal strawberries in winter. We can turn up the heat and wear hardly any clothing in the depths of winter. It maybe snowing outside but with the flick of switch we can experience tropical heat. We have lost the ability to tell time and where we are on the wheel of the year.
A Witch can easily reconnect with the seasons of the year by acknowledging and honouring the eight Sabbats.
The dates each year of the Solar festivals – the Winter and Summer Solstices, known as Yule and Litha and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, known as Ostara and Mabon – vary slightly each year. This is because the Earth’s orbit around the sun does not align itself exactly to modern calendars. They are always on or around the 21st of December, 21st June, 21st March and 21st September.
The four intervening lunar festivals are fixed dates each year - Samhain (Halloween) 31st October, Imbolc 31st February, Beltane May 1st and Lammas August 1st.
Below is a brief introduction to the eight Sabbats that make up the Wheel of the Year.
Samhain, which is pronounced “sow-in” heralds the beginning of the year and is the first spoke on the Wheel of the Year. More commonly known as Halloween, this Sabbat is held on the 31st October each year. It marks the beginning of the dark period of the year which will gradually give birth to a new sun and new life.
Samhain has been celebrated since ancient times and has its origins in Pagan Celtic traditions. Traditionally it was believed that the barrier between the living world and that of the dead was lifted during this special time. Because of this it is a time of remembrance, honouring ancestors, thinking about the past and looking forward to the future.
Traditionally Samhain saw bidding farewell to the Sun God as he faded away into the darkness. This absence was only temporary, though, as he is born once again to the Goddess at Yule. At Samhain the Goddess takes her role as older wise woman known as her Crone aspect.
The Christians adopted this ancient festival and celebrated it as All Hallows' Eve, later shortened to Halloween. In the Christian calendar All Hallows' Eve is followed consecutively by All Saints Day and All Souls Day thus still retains its connection to the dead.
The Winter Solstice or Yule is a celebration of the shortest day and longest night and begins the Yuletide festivities on or around 21st December. Traditionally Yule was celebrated as a welcome return of the Sun God who had been given life by the Goddess. As the Goddess tends her newborn son, she takes a rest, in order to prepare for the change and growth of the coming seasons. This is a time to rejoice, and to look forward to lighter, brighter days.
The Christians celebrate this time of year as Christmas and claim it as the birth of Jesus.
Yule is the longest night of the year, marking the time when the days begin to grow longer and the hours of darkness decrease. Love, family togetherness, and accomplishments of the past year are also celebrated at this time.
Imbolc is celebrated on 1st February. It was Christianized to become Candlemas. Often this festival is named the Feast of Lights and candles are lit in homes. It marks the first signs of spring and new life after the cold dark winter.
Imbolc means 'in the belly' and symbolises the growing of life in the womb of Mother Earth. On this day the Celtic goddess Brigid is celebrated. In the Christian church it is St. Brigid’s Day – a Christianised version of the Pagan goddess.
Traditionally this day marked the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the new Sun God. He grows steadily into a young boy by this time and brings the lengthening days of sunlight. His power however is unpredictable because of his youthfulness bringing warm sunshine one day, the next, grey skies. The Goddess begins to manifest her Maiden aspect, as the earth is fertile and creative at this time and ready to give birth to new things.
Ostara is also known as the Spring Equinox. On this day both day and night are equal. Ostara falls on or around 21st March and marks the beginning of spring. This festival has been Christianized to Easter.
At Ostara it is the time when the maiden aspect of the Goddess embraces spring and begins to cover the Earth with fertility, budding trees, colourful wildflowers and the freshness of spring. This is the time when the Goddess, joyful in the youthfulness and lust of a Maiden sees the strengthening adolescent Sun God in a very new light. The God grows in maturity, his strength on the verge of conquering the darkness. The Ostara Sabbat is a celebration of the return of spring when night and day, light and dark, the Sun and the Moon, male and female are equal. It is a time of balance, when all the elements within us must be brought into a new harmony. It is a time of year to make a commitment or recommitment to your spiritual growth. It is a time to look ahead in hope and joy for what is to come. It is a time for cleaning and purification.
Beltane or May Day is an ancient fertility festival celebrated on May 1st. The traditional lighting of bonfires and dancing around the Maypole celebrates the fertility of the earth. Beltane is traditionally is a time of great merriment, a celebration of the joy of life reborn. The celebration of life and love and the weaving of all things together in the dance of the maypole are of course symbolic of the burgeoning life and fertility of spring. Traditionally many couples choose this day to marry.
Traditionally at Beltane the God is now fully grown and is aroused by the Maiden with her fertility all-encompassing. Their union creates the new Sun God-to-be and many couples choose this day to marry or to be hand fasted. In some Pagan traditions hand fasting is the union (similar to marriage) of a male and female. The couple’s hands are fastened together with a rope or ribbon and this is where the saying ‘tying the knot’ originates.
Litha also known as Midsummer and the Summer Solstice is celebrated on or around 21st June. The Summer Solstice marks the shortest night of the year and the longest day. The power of the sun is at its zenith now, as is the God’s. Both God and Goddess now mature in their deepening love; celebrate the fertility of the earth despite the knowledge that from this point on, his power will begin to wane.
Lammas or Lughnassadh (pronounced loo-nus-oo) is celebrated on 1st August. Lammas is the first of the harvest festivals, it also marks the waning strength of the God as the nights grow longer and the days become shorter. The Goddess, now fully evolved in her Mother aspect, looks on sorrowfully at the God’s demise but finds comfort and strength in the realisation she carries the seed of the new year's Sun God within her. Lammas is a time of thanksgiving and counting our blessings.
Mabon is also known as the Autumn Equinox. Mabon falls on or around September 21st. This day marks the final harvest of the crops before winter. Mabon is once again a time of balance when days and nights are equal. Nature readies itself for the cold winter dark as the Sun God wanes in his powers. The themes then of Mabon are the completion of the harvest, the balance of light and dark, and of male and female. The Wheel of the Year turns once again towards Samhain getting ready for the depth of winter and the start of a new turning of the Wheel.
Go to a park, forest or other place where you can collect items that are representative of the current season, for example leaves, wildflowers, pine cones etc. You can place these items on a special place, shrine or your altar if you have one. Make notes in your Magical Journal of how you felt about your outdoor trip. What did you smell, touch, hear, see and taste while out walking? Be aware of where you and nature are on the wheel of the year.
Creating positive energy is very important if you are to live an abundant and prosperous life and build up good karma. A great way to do this is by undertaking some charity work.