Cycles of Celebration

PagansThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga... celebrate a variety of holidays, depending on their tradition. Many holidays are linked to agricultural cycles and originate in pre-Christian religions. Pagans look to these ancient religions for inspiration, but also adapt their celebrations to the climate and culture in which they currently live. Other PaganThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga... holidays honor specific deities or ancestors. Pagans who are focused on nature spirituality attune themselves to the rhythms of the natural world and let the seasons of waxing and waning, birth, growth, death, and renewal reverberate in their lives. Because the individual microcosm is connected to the larger macrocosm, Pagans locate their spiritual life not only in the world of nature, but within themselves. In this understanding, the wheel turns unendingly, but rather than repeating the same pattern, change is a constant.

Nature-oriented and eclecticEclectic Pagans bring aspects of many spiritual paths together. Some Pagans pride themselves on the high degree of authority granted to each person to develop his or her own spiritual path. Hence, many practitioners adapt practices from a variety of Pagan... Pagans often celebrate the Wheel of the Year, a framework of celebrations that comes from WiccaWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and .... The eight WiccanWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ... holidays are called sabbatsThe term “sabbat” usually refers to the eight seasonal celebrations observed by many Pagan traditions, but can also refer to any formal gathering of witches or Wiccans. The seasonal celebrations include the winter and summer solstices, the spring and ... and include the winter and summer solsticesThe solstices are the extreme points in the yearly cycle of light and dark. The winter solstice (December 21) is the longest night of the year, and the summer solstice (June 21) is the longest day. Pagans may celebrate the winter solstice by staying up al..., the spring and fall equinoxesThe equinoxes, which happen twice a year, are days when night and day are of equal duration. For many Pagans, these holidays signify balance. Although practices vary according to region and climate, many Pagans celebrate the birth of spring on March 21 (t..., and the four midpoints between them. This ritual calendar is based on old Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions. The winter solsticeThe solstices are the extreme points in the yearly cycle of light and dark. The winter solstice (December 21) is the longest night of the year, and the summer solstice (June 21) is the longest day. Pagans may celebrate the winter solstice by staying up al..., known as Yule, is celebrated around December 21, the time of year when the nights are longest and the days shortest. The solstice is also the inception of the light that will grow as days lengthen once again. Some Pagans stay up the entire night to greet the returning light, described by some as the birth of the Sun GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality.. The spring equinoxThe equinoxes, which happen twice a year, are days when night and day are of equal duration. For many Pagans, these holidays signify balance. Although practices vary according to region and climate, many Pagans celebrate the birth of spring on March 21 (t..., which takes place around March 21, is named for the Germanic goddessGoddess is a term used to refer to the female deity, either in the singular as the supreme divine reality, or in the plural as one of many particular or localized feminine deities. In the Hindu tradition, the Goddess refers to the very powerful, even supr... Ostara and celebrates the balance between the light and the dark. The summer solstice, called Litha, is the inverse of the winter solstice. This day of the longest light, June 21, is often celebrated with all-night vigils and bonfires, and it is the crest of the summer and the forerunner of the harvest. The fall equinox, called Mabon, takes place on or around September 21, again a day of balancing of dark and light. In many traditions, the autumn equinox is a harvest festival.

Evenly spaced between these are the four other festival days. ImbolcImbolc is the Celtic name for the Neo-Pagan High Holiday celebrated on or near February 2. This time of the year signifies creativity, initiation and the taking of form of the new year that started at the winter solstice. It is also known as Brigid, after... is celebrated on or near February 2, a day dedicated to Brighid, the Irish triple GoddessGoddess is a term used to refer to the female deity, either in the singular as the supreme divine reality, or in the plural as one of many particular or localized feminine deities. In the Hindu tradition, the Goddess refers to the very powerful, even supr... of smith-craft, poetry, and healing. ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church. adapted this celebration into Candlemas, and, as in ancient times, candles are often lit (or blessed for use in the coming year) on this festival day. It is a time of new beginnings and for formulating desires for the year to come, as well as a favored holiday for initiations.

The springtime/early summer festival of BeltaneThe festival of Beltane is celebrated on or around the first of May. It honors the generative energy of spring time, the energy of sexuality, and the fruitfulness of union. Many Pagans celebrate it with a maypole dance, a ritual in which participants perf... occurs around the first of May. In celebrating the generative energy of the season, Pagans also honor the energy of sexuality and the fruitfulness of union. Many Pagans celebrate Beltane with a maypole dance, a ritual in which participants perform a simple, circular dance while holding strands of ribbon attached to a central pole. The result is a colorful braid wrapped around the pole. Often, a wreath of flowers is placed at the top of the pole, and this wreath slowly descends the pole as the braid is woven. The dance is playful and exuberant, with participants often decked in colorful costumes. Following the maypole dance, there is feasting, and baskets of flowers are sometimes exchanged.

On the first of August is the summer harvest festival, LughnasadThe Pagan Holiday of Lughnasad or Lammas celebrates the first summer harvest. It takes place on or near the first of August and, for some Pagans. represents the wake of the Sun King. In one myth cycle, the Sun King comes into being at the winter solstice,..., also known as Lammas. Those who practice Irish traditions often honor the godThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. Lugh at this holiday, as well as his mother Tailltu, whose funeral games were traditionally held at this time. WiccansWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ... often celebrate it as the wake of the Sun King. In a common Wiccan mythMyths are stories human beings tell about the nature of reality: how the order of things we know came to be and by what deep truths the this order operates. Myths may concern the events of creation, the divine dramas of God or the gods, or the discoveries..., the Sun King comes into being at the winter solstice, achieves union with the Goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice so that the wheel of life can continue. This late summer harvest festival is his wake, at which fruits of the harvest will be honored and shared.      

SamhainSamhain is an originally Irish holiday, now commonly known as Halloween. Celebrated on October 31, it is the night of the year when the veil between the spirit and the material worlds is the thinnest. It is thought to be the best night for communicating w... is observed on the eve of November first. This holiday marks the beginning of winter and the new agricultural cycle. Samhain and the eve of Samhain were widely observed even after the Christianization of the British Isles. Christian observance of All Saints DayAll Saints Day is November 1, the day on which the church celebrates the saints, known and unknown. on November 1 and All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31 created a new context for this popular observance. Samhain is believed to be the night when the living can most easily communicate with the dead (especially beloved family members and ancestors). The beginning of winter, the time of death and decay in the wheel of the year, is said to be when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is the most permeable. The masks and images of ghosts and spirits that abound in popular celebrations of Halloween derive from the ancient belief that the dead can manifest in the material world on this night. For American Pagans today, Samhain is a time to meditate on loved ones who have passed away. Meditative trance-journeys to communicate with ancestors or deceased family and friends are part of many Samhain rituals. Some Pagans also honor their ancestors with a dumb supper, a feast eaten in silence with a full plate and an empty chair left open for the beloved dead. 

Other Pagan traditions celebrate seasonal transitions as well, but with differences in timing and meaning. Heathens have eight main common holidays that mark seasonal turnings, but they are less fixed to specific dates; Yuleblot, for example, is usually celebrated between December 19 and December 26 and may involve honoring the ancestors as well as the returning light. Instead of Beltane at May 1, Heathens celebrate Walpurgisnacht, a holiday devoted to Freya and other goddesses. Winternacht is observed around October 31, and while it may include honoring the dead, other groups mark the beginning of winter by making traditional offerings to particular godsThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. and spirits. Some Heathens also celebrate additional holidays in honor of various gods and ancestors. These may include “Days of Remembrance” for those martyred during the Christianization of Northern Europe. Other reconstructionistThe Reconstructionist movement is a recent development in American Judaism, beginning with Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881 - 1982) who understood Judaism to be a civilization and culture, kept vibrant by constantly changing and adapting to new situations. The ce... religions also look to historical celebrations for their holidays. For example, Hellenic (Greek reconstructionist) Pagans often observe festival days in honor of the Olympic gods, such as Hera, Apollo, and Artemis.

Pagan holidays, like Pagan ritual in general, are focused on nurturing relationships: between Pagans and the land, their gods, their ancestors, and each other. For many Pagans, the expression of joy and gratitude for blessings received is a central part of their religious practice. The many celebrations of the Pagan ritual year reflect the life-affirming attitude that characterizes contemporary PaganismThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga....


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