Also known as Halloween, it is the Pagan New Year. It is a time to reflect back on all the things that have come to pass in the previous year. A time to look forward to new beginnings. It is one of the most Holy of our Holidays and brings many Pagans together every year. Traditionally, it was believed that all the crops had to be harvested by this time, otherwise a mischievous spirit would go around on that night and contaminate all the unharvested crops and make them useless to humans. Because of this, Samhain is known as "The Last Harvest".
It is also called "The Feast of the Dead" in some traditions for obvious reasons. Many people feel that on this night, the veil between the seen and unseen is very thin and loved ones who have passed on may be contacted. We try to honor their spirits in some way on this night, to remember them and perhaps to feel their presence with us once again.
On Samhain, our Mother Earth begins to prepare Herself for the long winter ahead. She settles in for Her long slumber and allows the Horned God to reign over this half of the year. Our God in turn prepares the cattle and forest animals for the winter months by protecting them with thick furs, or hiding them away for the winter.
In other traditions, it is the Holly King and the Sun God who's time is coming to an end.
The Winter Solstice, Yule, marks the shortest day of the year and thus, the longest night. This is the darkest part of the year and therefore a time when the Sun God symbolically "dies". Yet He is reborn again to begin His reign all over. From this point on, the days get longer and eventually warmer as His strength grows and matures around MidSummer. The Goddess sleeps at this time after giving birth to the Sun God. The Death of the Holly King and the Birth of the Oak King is celebrated at this time.
In our tradition, we see the Horned God as the ruler over this half of the year. As a protector of the wildlife and our Mother while she sleeps during the cold Winter months. He is at His strongest at this point.
We like to celebrate this Sabbat by making Crafts indoors and giving them as presents. We tend to follow the idea of Brotherhood and Goodwill towards Man at this time. It is a reminder to us that these were harsh times for ancient people. They had to stick together in order to survive the Winter. We set up Yule trees, symbolic of the Tree of Life, and light candles to remind us that warmer days will return and from this day forth, the nights will be getting shorter and the days longer.
Also known as Candlemas, this Sabbat is the re awaking of the Earth Mother so that She may return to make our lands green again. It is also a time when the Sun God is encouraged to grow in strength so that He may awaken the Goddess from Her Winter slumber.
Imbolc actually means "in womb". This refers to all the Life that is laying beneath the hard frozen ground, in our Earth Mothers "womb", waiting to come forth in the Spring. It is up to the Sun God to warm the frozen ground and stir these seeds so they may blossom.
In our tradition, we take this time to encourage others and ourselves. The dark Winter months tend to depress many people, and several seem to give up hope. On Imbolc we try to restore that hope in order to survive. We light candles in a variety of ways to show that there will be brighter times and hopefully to encourage that inner light within all of us to ignite and flare.
The Spring Equinox brings a time of balance. The Sun God has overtaken the darkness and day and night are of equal lengths. The Goddess, our Earth Mother, awakens from Her long slumber to replenish the Earth. We see new Life rising from the cold ground.
The Horned God has grown weak from the Winter and at this time dies in order to return to the healing Earth. From His "death", He is reborn as the Green Man. He has shed his antlers and fur for green leaves and vines. He is young still, but as the days grow longer he gains strength. He is a God of fertility, to aid our Goddess in the growing of our fields and livestock.
Many Pagan customs from this Sabbat continue to this day. For instance, the Easter Egg is a common Pagan custom. Eggs have always been a symbol of fertility and thus used as a symbol for this holiday. They were traditionally painted red or scarlet to symbolize the Suns rays in hopes that the rays of the Sun would warm the Egg and from it would spring Life. Easter is celebrated around this time because it has always been, in older traditional religions, the time of the willing sacrifice and rebirth of the God. Therefore it was only logical to place the sacrifice and rebirth of Jesus around this time.
Also known as Mayday, this Sabbat is a time of Sacred Fertility. The Goddess and the Green Man perform the Great Rite, sacred sexuality, in order to make the land lush and green. Because Maypoles are phallic symbols they are erected and danced around to celebrate the masculine aspect of this Sabbat. Many Pagans today also use a cauldron in their Maypole celebrations in order to symbolize the womb of the Goddess.
In some traditions this is the time when the Oak King mates with the Goddess, is sacrificed and then reborn. The Sun God is nearing His zenith as the days get longer.
On Mayday we celebrate the Great Union of the Gods in order to reproduce and replenish the Earth. To bring Life to it after the cold Winter. It is a time for Love, Sex and Merriment. All positive aspects of growth and reproduction are celebrated. Births, Marriages, Initiations, Unions, etc. are all very common at this time. It is truly a period of great celebration, for it marks the coming of warmer days and greener fields. A time of sweet memories and blessed unions.
The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and brings us to the zenith of the Sun God's power. He is celebrated and honored in order to ensure a large harvest. He is thanked for the Life-Giving Light that He brings. This is also the time of the Great Battle of the Oak King and His twin, the Holly King. It is during this Battle that the Holly King, representing the darker, colder half of the year, slays the Oak King, who represents the lighter, warmer half of the year, in order to keep the wheel of the year spinning. The cycle of Life, Death and Rebirth is constantly flowing, always changing...never static.
Our Tradition honors the Green Man in all His masculinity. He is at the height of His reign and roams through the fields playing harmless pranks and games. We too celebrate this time with games and competition. It is a time for growing strong. The harvest is coming soon and the Winter months will be harsh. We usually re-enact the Battle of the Oak and Holly Kings, more as a form of competition than a religious aspect. Honoring the Green Man is our main focus on this Sabbat.
The first harvest, also known as Lammas, is a time of great celebration. It is at this time that we first begin reaping the fruits of our hard labor. We celebrate with great feasts and lots of thanksgiving, sharing in wine, music and dance.
As the reign of the Holly King continues the days continue to grow shorter and the nights longer and colder. The first stirrings of Winter may be arriving. The Sun God, overcome by the darkness that is falling upon him, begins His descent into the Otherworld. Here again we see the mating, sacrifice and rebirth of the King, only this time, instead of the Oak King, it is the Holly King who lives the cycle.
At our festivals we acknowledge the Green Man and the Earth Goddess as Lovers who, after months of hard work, can reap the rewards of their labor. The Green Man grows old and weak from the chore of fertilizing and planting. The Goddess, too, begins to show signs of weariness from the planting and growing season.
The Autumn Equinox not only brings us again to a time of balance, but also to the second harvest. This is a time of preparation for the cold months ahead. We take our cue from the balance of day and night and resolve to equalize within ourselves anything that we believe to be "tipping the scales". It is important to strive toward a balance of mind, body and spirit during this time in order to be prepared for the sometimes depressing, colder months ahead.
The nights grow longer and colder now. The Sun God is overtaken by the darkness which will reign supreme from until Yule. The lengthening nights cause the Goddess to grow tired and weak and she prepares to sleep through the long Winter.
To help His children survive the coming season, the Green Man returns to the Earth, sheds His leaves and vines and is reborn as the Horned God with the antlers and fur of the animals He must protect. Thus begins the reign of the Horned God, Father and Protector of those trying to survive the long, cold nights.