Wheel of the Year

 In North America, Europe, and elsewhere many (but certainly not all) Pagans follow spiritual traditions inspired by ancient Celtic or other northern European cultures. Based on these cultures, a popular system of seasonal celebrations is now known as the Wheel of the Year.

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A Druid Wheel of the Year

 

The traditions of Druidry and Wicca in particular defined much of their practice in the 1960s. At that time there was also a movement to combine the seasonal festivals of the Druids (the solstices and equinoxes) with the ‘fire festivals’ into one system, resulting in the Wheel of the Year.

The Pagan Wheel of the Year (or Eightfold Cycle) consists of eight seasonal festivals- the Solstices and Equinoxes (for a total of four times during the year which are dictated by the relationship between the Earth and Sun), and the four ‘cross-quarter’ or ‘fire festivals’ which are not determined astronomically, but are related to the traditional pastoral calendar in the Northern Hemisphere.

The graphic on this page is a Druid version of the Wheel of the Year for the Northern Hemisphere; it uses modern researched Welsh names for the solstices and equinoxes, and shows some of the relationships between the holidays.

For Pagans that do celebrate the Wheel of the Year, these are the festivals in the Northern Hemisphere:

Festivals During Celtic Winter

Samhain

jack-o-lantern
Other names: Samhuinn, Sauin, Nos Calan Gaeaf (First Day of Winter), All Hallow’s Eve

Dates: Oct 31– Nov 2

Samhain traditionally marks both the end and beginning of the Celtic Year. Considered by many Pagans to be the most important of the four ‘cross-quarter’ or ‘fire festivals’, Samhain is also the last harvest of the year and a faerie time.

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Winter Solstice

Other names: Alban Arthan Light of the Bear), Alban Arthuan (Light of Arthur), Yule

Dates: Dec 19–23 (date will vary by year)

The winter solstice is the day with the shortest daylight and longest nights, but it also marks when this starts to reverse and the daylight increases. This solstice is celebrated as the return of the sun at the darkest time of winter.

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Imbolc

Other names: Oimelc, La Fheile Bride, La Fheill Brighde, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Day

Dates: Feb 1–2

Imbolc is the first of four “fire festivals” in the Wheel of the Year and is also considered the first of three spring festivals. Even in this coldest time of the year signs of spring appear, and daylight is noticeably longer.

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Spring Equniox

Lituanian Eggs

Other names: Vernal Equinox, Alban Eilir (Light of Spring), Alban Eiler (Light of the Earth), Ostara

Dates: Mar 19–23 (date will vary by year)

The vernal equinox is one of two days in the year when daylight and night are about equal. This is the second spring festival, and the signs of new growth are now well underway.

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Festivals During Celtic Summer

Beltane

top of Maypole

Other names: Beltaine, Bealltainn, Calan Mai (First of May), Calan Haf (First of Summer), Boaldyn

Dates: May 1

Beltane occurs around May 1 in the northern hemisphere. It is the beginning of Celtic ‘Summer’, the second fire festival of the Celtic year, and the third and final spring festival of the year.

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Summer Solstice

Oberon_Titania_and_Puck_with_Fairies_Dancing._William_Blake._c.1786

Other names: Alban Hefin (Light of Summer), Alban Heruin (Light of the Shore), Midsummer, Litha

Dates: June 19–23 (date will vary by year)

The Summer Solstice is the day with the longest daylight and shortest nights, but it also marks when this starts to reverse and daylight decreases. This solstice celebrates the height of summer.

Go to Summer Solstice pagearrow

Lughnasadh

Other names: Lammas, Lunasdal, Luanys, Gwl Awst, Goel Est, Goeul an Eost, 1st Harvest

Dates: Aug 1–2

Lughnasadh is the first of the three Pagan autumn harvest festivals. It is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest.

Go to Lughnasadh pagearrow

Fall Equinox

Other names: Autumnal Equinox, Alban Elfed (Light of Autumn), Alban Elued (Light of the Water), Mabon

Dates: Sept 20–24 (date will vary by year)

The Fall Equinox is one of two days in the year when daylight and night are about equal. It is a time of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth, and is the second of the three pagan harvest festivals.

Go to Fall Equinox pagearrow

Date of Publication

This Wheel of the Year page was originally published on 12-19-2012, with many revisions since then.