Wheel of Year

Solstice is…

December, 2018

Solstice is…


(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)


Holly sharp sting,

Red blood like

Berries, red, white

Mistletoe hang

Deadly dart and Baldur’s curse

Druids’ king seeking potion

Now a kissing spot

Love instead

Shown through gifts

Wrapped mysteries

Ribbons hiding

Hearts’ desires

Wrap the day in a bow

But presents wait

Wait for me:


The mother and priestess

Down in the woods

At the sacred crossroads

Of birch and oak

The mysteries of Male and Female

And everything in between

And beyond.


Here I find the altar

That no one knows of

But I

I lay the offerings



Nothing to scar or litter

Nothing to damage or drain

Leaving only footprints

For even I

Am not permitted to remain.


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.


A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon


Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon

The Sober Pagan

November, 2018

“H.A.L.T.”! Before You Continue Into The Holiday Season!

One of the discussions lately in the rooms of AA – at least here locally – is how to get through the holiday season without relapsing. As someone who has been around recovery for a while, I find my best bet is to stay home and enjoy my own company. This year, my son’s father – Mr. AA himself – is spending the Yuletide season with us, so it’ll be lots of recovery talk and talk about Buddhism and other spiritual paths. Plus lots of good food to eat! I admit, I am looking forward to this!

When people ask me my strategies for navigating holiday parties, I generally say, “Arrive late and leave early.” But of course – you can do this as a drunk, too. I used to do it all the time. I was always on my way somewhere else from some other place and I only had a minute to spare. But the way you lived as a drunk can help you out as a sober person. You just leave out the drinking part.

Lately I’ve been using the acronym “H.A.L.T.” when I discuss dealing with the holidays. Because the holidays – what I term the time between Canadian Thanksgiving (first Monday in October) to New Year’s Eve – and depending on where you live – all the way to Super Bowl Sunday – is a giant stretch of time involving endless office parties, family get-togethers, religious rituals, community celebrations and constant reminders that we are supposed to be having a great time!

H.A.L.T. Just stop. Think. What are you doing and why are you doing it?

Sometimes it’s not even about relapsing. It’s about running ourselves ragged trying to make everything perfect – to make up for all those years when we were perfect fuck-ups.

As you probably already know, “H.A.L.T.” stands for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired”. Whenever something is going wrong in our lives – it doesn’t even have to be a relapse – usually we are in the grip of one of those things.

I remember when I first got sober in my early thirties. Everyday, around three o’clock, I would get wicked hungry. I would have to get up from my desk and go to the break room and buy a candy bar or get a Pepsi. I started making myself an extra sandwich to get myself through the three o’clock hour. Then one day, I passed a bar with the sign “Happy Hour” in the window and it clicked. I was used to having a drink at 3:00 – I was used to drinking until the dinner hour. I wasn’t hungry – I wanted a drink. Once I understood that, my 3 p.m. munchies largely disappeared.

Anger is one of those issues where I disagree with AA in which I think that there are times that we should be angry and that anger can save our lives. That said, the thing is to use your anger wisely and of course, once you add alcohol into that equation, wisdom usually is not the outcome. Quite honestly, anything I can do sober I can fuck up beautifully when I’m drinking. So it stands to reason that if I’m angry about anything at all, taking a drink is not going to help the situation. Especially if I’m at a holiday party!

Loneliness is a killer but going out drinking seldom helps that. And if you’re with your family and feeling like you’re the outsider, having a drink probably isn’t going to help that situation. The only thing that cures loneliness is learning to love your solitude. And there’s always a meeting somewhere – AA, NA, Smart Recovery, WFS, SOS – find one and find your tribe.

The last letter is “T” and of course, that stands for “Tired”. It is so easy to give up when we are tired. So easy to take that drink that a friend is offering us at a party – so easy to justify it – just one, right? When we are tired, our brain doesn’t make good decisions. I know my brain doesn’t. I’m not sure what’s worse – being hungry or being tired. My brain doesn’t seem to be able to deal with either of them very well. So I always make sure that I am in a safe place when it’s late.

My “Happy Hour” is now spent in my own home – sipping tea and eating my home-baked cookies.

So “H.A.L.T.” – and enjoy the season!

Until next month – Brightest Blessings and Happy Holidays!


About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Imbolc Correspondences

February, 2018

(A Wooden Altar Tile dedicated to Imbolc. Found on etsy in Scriptorium Julianum by artist Julia Raduzhan.)


February 1, 2

Other Names: Imbolg (im-molc)(em-bowl’g) (Celtic), Candlemas (Christian), Brigantia (Caledonii), Oimelc, Festival of Light, Brigid’s (Brid, Bride) Day, La Fheill, An Fheille Bride, Candelaria (Mexico), Chinese New Year, Disting-tid (Feb 14th, Teutonic), DisaBlot, Anagantios, Lupercalia/Lupercus (Strega), Groundhog Day, Valentines Day.

Animals & Mythical Beings: Firebird, dragon, groundhog, deer, burrowing animals, ewes, robin, sheep, lamb, other creatures waking from hibernation.

Gemstones: Amethyst, garnet, onyx, turquoise.

Incense/Oil: Jasmine, rosemary, frankincense, cinnamon, neroli, musk, olive, sweet pea, basil, myrrh, and wisteria, apricot, carnation.

Colors/Candles: Brown, pink, red, orange, white, lavender, pale yellow, silver.

Tools,Symbols, & Decorations: White flowers, marigolds, plum blossoms, daffodils, Brigid wheel, Brigid’s cross, candles, grain/seed for blessing, red candle in a cauldron full of earth, doll, Bride’s Bed; the Bride, broom, milk, birchwood, snowflakes, snow in a crystal container, evergreens, homemade besom of dried broom, orange candle anointed in oil (see above)can be used to symbolize the renewing energy of the Sun’s rebirth.

Goddesses: Virgin Goddess, Venus, Diana, Februa, Maiden, Child Goddess, Aradia, Athena, Inanna, Vesta, Gaia, Brigid, Selene(Greek), Branwen(Manx-Welsh).

Gods: Young Sun Gods, Pan, Cupid/Eros(Greco-Roman), Dumuzi(Sumerian).

Essence: Conception, initiation, insight, inspiration, creativity, mirth, renewal, dedication, breath of life, life-path, wise counsel, plan, prepare.

Meaning: First stirring of Mother Earth, lambing, growth of the Sun God, the middle of winter.

Purpose: Honoring the Virgin Goddess, festival of the Maiden/Light.

Rituals & Magicks: Cleansing; purification, renewal, creative inspiration, purification, initiation, candle work, house & temple blessings, welcoming Brigid, feast of milk & bread.

Customs: Lighting candles, seeking omens of Spring, storytelling, cleaning house, bonfires, indoor planting, stone collecting, candle kept burning dusk till dawn; hearth re-lighting.

Foods: Dairy, spicy foods, raisins, pumpkin, sesame & sunflower seeds, poppyseed bread/cake, honey cake, pancakes, waffles, herbal tea.

Herbs: Angelica, basil, bay, benzoin, celandine, clover, heather, myrrh, all yellow flowers, willow.

Element: Earth

Gender: Female

Threshold: Midnight



Witches’ Paradigms Part 1: The Wheel of the Year

January, 2015

Part One: The Wheel of the Year

Whereas non-pagans are guided by sacred books, pagans are guided by nature. Nature guides us through the course of the seasons. We take our moods, our goals and the way we pursue them, from the seasonal round, which is called ‘The Wheel of the Year’.

Witches of our Celtic tradition follow three interlocking paradigms throughout the year. The course of the Sun throughout the year is plotted by the Wheel of the Year. The course of the lunar month is plotted by the phases of the Moon and their meaning. And the sequence of lunar months through the solar year is plotted by the Ogham Tree Calendar and the Rune of Amergin, as reconstructed by the poet Robert Graves in his seminal work The White Goddess.

The paradigms offered below are tools. Witchcraft is a craft, and witches make use of ideas as tools. More specifically, skills are tools, and lore is building material, like wood or stone or metal. What is important is what you build with them, and that is your personal Craft. Select your tools and materials among the many available, and feel free to make a re-selection. Eventually you will have a house to live in that feels just right.

When we follow the Wheel of the Year, we invite nature spirits to contact us and become involved in our personal lives.

The Wheel of the Year is depicted as a circle divided, like the compass, into eight equal segments by radii which contact the circumference at the points of the four cardinal directions plus the directions in between. The eight witches’ sabbats are plotted on these points. They are as follows:

1. Yule – the Winter Solstice, which generally falls between 20 and 23 December. The old Oak King is released from his prison in the sacred oak log or hod, as his sacred bird robin redbreast; he fights and kills the Holly King in his sacred bird-form, the gold crest wren, and hangs the latter from the holly bush. The Oak King is then reborn as the Child of Promise. He rules Middle-Earth until Imbolc, when the Maiden returns to rule with him.

2. Imbolc – The Maiden returns. The original pagan date was 1 February. The christian church moved it to 2 February. Many covens celebrate it on the 2nd because they are unaware of this. The Maiden may meet with the young Oak King and they may mate at this time. If they do, we shall have an early Spring. The Corn Maiden, constructed from wheat the previous Lammas, is plowed into the ground to instill last year’s fertility in the crops to come.

3. Ostara – the Spring Equinox, which generally falls between 20 and 23 March. The Maiden and the Oak King are mated and Spring begins in earnest. Witches send out their wishes for the year on a great solar tide.

4. Beltane – May 1st. The preceding evening is called Walpurgis Night. The Maiden becomes the Mother. The handfasting of the Mother and the Oak King is symbolized by the Maypole. Celts regarded this date as the beginning of Summer.

5. Litha – the Summer Solstice, which generally falls between 20 and 23 June. The union of the Mother and the Oak King reaches the acme of power. Then the Holly King appears. He is like the Oak King’s dark twin, his shadow, as the Jungians would say. He fights the Oak King for the favor of the Lady and wins. He kills the Oak King and imprisons his spirit in the sacred oak, which is cognate with the World Pillar. The Oak King’s spirit will remain imprisoned in the sacred oak until it is released on the following Yule.

6. Lammas or Lughnasadh – August 1st. Lammas, meaning ‘loaf mass,’ is the later christian name, but many witches like to focus on baking sacred bread on this eve (July 31st), so the name Lammas is often used. The Mother becomes the Crone. The bread is traditionally baked in the shape of a man, representing John Barleycorn, the corn or harvest god, an aspect of the Holly King who is sacrificed for the fertility of the harvest. The bread also stands for the matured craft of the second-degree witch. Coveners eat the bread at midnight. This is the first of three harvests, the grain harvest. A Corn Maiden is made of wheat, traditionally the last ear harvested, which contains the fertility of the fields. It is kept until the following Imbolc. Lughnasadh is the Celtic festival in honor of Lugh, who instituted celebratory games in memory of his mother Tailtiu, who died after plowing Ireland to make it fertile. Some witches celebrate Lughnasadh rather than Lammas, some celebrate both.

7. Mabon or Modron – the Autumn Equinox, falls between September 20 and 23. Initiate witches travel in spirit to the threshold of the Summerlands and there invite their ancestors and dead friends to visit them in Middle-Earth during the month of October. Mabon ap Modron is part of a tale in the Mabinogion, a compendium of Welsh mythology. It is apparently incomplete, as we know very little about the hero-god. He was abducted from his mother Modron when three days old and imprisoned at Gloucester. Arthur and his war band free Mabon. That is practically all we know, but there is a clue in the fact that only the salmon of knowledge knew where to find him. In the Craft tradition I follow, the knowledge possessed by the salmon, which is very ancient, is available to the initiate on the inner journey down the World Pillar. Mabon therefore stands for the Root-soul, the original identity of the witch, liberated by Inner Craft and brought back to Middle-Earth. At Mabon initiates descend to the Summerland and there invite their dead ancestors and friends to visit them at the dumb suppers of October. This is the second harvest, the fruit and vine harvest, and the knowledge brought back to Middle-Earth by initiates reflects its bounty in an inner harvest.

8. Samhain – October 31st, is the culmination of the series of ‘dumb suppers’ held with visiting ancestors. Now the gates of the Summerlands open wide, and Herne the Hunter (the Underworld aspect of the Holly King) leads forth the Wild Hunt, comprising human and non-human spirits. The Wild Hunt will range the skies from Samhain to the following Imbolc. Souls of those who have died during the year but failed to find the path to the Summerlands are gathered up at Samhain and shown the way. The Crone goes to the Summerlands to rest for the Winter. The ageing Holly King, soon to become the Lord of Misrule for the December festivities, takes over. This is the third and final harvest, in which whatever is still ripe in the ground is picked to save it from the curse of the Pookah. It is also called the blood harvest, for at this time the herds are culled and the weaker animals slaughtered for meat which will be salted down and laid up for the winter.

In general, Sabbats are celebrated on the evening before their date. Exceptions are at the solstices and at Beltane and Samhain. The solstices fall on the days of shortest and longest sunlight and should be celebrated on those actual days. Beltane is celebrated both on the preceding evening as Walpurgis Night, and on the following day when the dance around the Maypole and other festivities take place. Samhain, Hallowe’en, is celebrated on the evening of its date, October 31st. Its name means ‘Summer’s end’. The following day is a christian implantation and is ignored by witches.

The Lady and Lord together illustrate dynamic balance. The Lord, the god Cernunnos, is both the Oak and Holly King. They represent opposite tendencies of his dual nature. The Oak King is of Middle-Earth and rejoices in the outer world and its pleasures. The Holly King is an Underworld deity who promotes inner spiritual work and journeys down the World Pillar to the Summerlands. Left to themselves, they would tear the world apart but the Lady holds them together in harmony. She has three visible aspects: the Maiden, Mother and Crone. (Graves in his witchcraft utopian novel of the future, Watch the Northwind Rise, names these the Maiden, Nymph and Crone.) Unlike Cernunnos, she can manifest any of these at any time: “She is old or young as she wishes.” But left to her alone, the harmony she creates would be static. It would be like always eating so many vegetables, or taking so many sips of wine at meals. The extremes of the Oak and Holly Kings add passion and adventure to the cosmic harmony through their excesses, which the Lady keeps within prudent limits. This serves as an example to witches, who seek dynamic balance in their lives. As Lin Yutang once said, pursue moderation moderately.

The word ‘Sabbat’ means ‘restful recreation.’ The word ‘Esbat’ is from Middle French esbattier, and means ‘to frolic.’ Thus the main celebrations of witchcraft are joyous affairs, the farthest thing from the grim oh-so-solemn assemblies of some churches. Esbats are generally held at the Full Moon. When an Esbat and a Sabbat fall on the same date, the Sabbat is given precedence.

The Wheel and the Elements:

Witches seek a dynamic balance in their lives with humanity, plants, animals, and spirits, both of Middle-Earth and the worlds on The Other Side. In so doing, they focus on the four ancient elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These correspond roughly to the three states of matter (solid, liquid and gas), plus detectable energy (Fire). Etheric matter or energy is a fifth element or ‘quintessence,’ that witches cultivate through achieving a good working balance with the other four, and can be understood as referring to energies not yet detectable by current scientific methods.

Each element has a power contained within it which increases through the practice of witchcraft. Air contains the power to know, Fire the power to will, Water the power to dare, and Earth the power to keep silence. Ether contains the power to go, that is, to conduct spirit journeys either from waking or dream, up and down the World Pillar. Travelling to the Summerlands while in the body is an etheric goal of initiates.

While the four powers are cultivated throughout the year, the four quarters of the Wheel of the Year are each associated specially with one of the elements. The North, from Samhain to Imbolc, is associated with Earth and the power to keep silence, that is, to keep still both mentally and physically, within and without. It is a time favorable to meditation and quiet home handicrafts. The East, from Imbolc to Beltane, is associated with Air and the power to know, that is, the power of understanding. The South, from Beltane to Lammas or Lughnasadh, is associated with Fire and the power to will. And the West, from Lammas or Lughnasadh to Samhain, is associated with water and the power to dare. This means the power to dare to go beyond one’s limits, to reach out for new life, whether through a change of consciousness or of life circumstances.

The major Sabbats occur on the cusps between one elemental quarter and the next, because the transitions from one element to another are of primary importance. Thus, the minor physical Sabbats occupy the cardinal points of the Wheel, while the major spiritual Sabbats are on the points in between.

Imbolc, occurring on the cusp between the power of silence and the power to know, is a time of silent intuition, when images and feelings from the dream-soul (who corresponds in some ways to the Holly King) begin to stir, like lambs in the bellies of ewes at this time of year.

Beltane, occurring on the cusp between the power of knowledge and the power of will, stands for the union not only of heaven and earth, but of theory and practice. Witches are nothing if not practical. The price of knowledge gained in the East is putting it into practice in one’s life in the South, cultivating the will.

Lammas, occurring on the cusp between the power of will and the power of daring, is the time when the witch applies will power to the uncanny realms of spell-casting and change of consciousness, as well as to adventures that lead to revolutionary life-changes.

Samhain, occurring on the cusp between daring and silence, is when acquired skills are allowed to sink down into the unconscious mind, there to incubate and give rise to new life. A musician will put away sheet music and improvise quietly on his or her instrument. The cast spell will be ‘earthed’ and put out of mind. Problems will be set aside for the unconscious to solve. Spontaneity will replace methods and rules, and one will be ready to join the celebrations of Yule and Saturnalia.

The power to go is cultivated through lucid dreaming, knowing one is asleep and dreaming while it is happening, and also from a peculiar state of heightened awareness while awake called lucid waking. A few people have the knack to cultivate this power up front, but most of us need to approach it gradually, through the balanced development of the other four powers, by following witches’ paradigms and conducting sacred rituals.



AUDEN, W.H., ed., The Portable Greek Reader, New York, Viking Press, 1948.

CAMPANELLI, Pauline and Dan, Ancient Ways; Reclaiming Pagan Traditions, St. Paul, MN, Llewellyn Publications, 1992.

ELLIS, Peter Beresford, Celtic Myths and Legends, New York, Carroll and Graf, 1999.

FRAZER, Sir James, The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion, Abridged. Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Reference, 1994.

GRAVES, Robert, The White Goddess; A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 27th printing, 1993.

_____________, Watch the Northwind Rise, New York, Avon Books, 1949.

LELAND, Charles G., Aradia; the Gospel of the Witches, Custer, WA, Phoenix, 1990, orig. publ. 1890.

RYALL, Rhiannon, Celtic Lore and Druidic Ritual, Berkshire, Capall Bann, 1994.

______________, West Country Wicca, Custer, Washington, Phoenix Publishing, 1989.


February, 2009

Imbolc is almost here. And while the shadows are still lengthening and the cold feels like it will be here for a long time to come, we know that the spring and warmer weather will be here soon.

One of the themes for me at this point on the Wheel of the Year is the Hero’s Quest: The sacred journey taken by heroes of old to find the treasure of knowledge. As Pagans and Wiccans, we should always be searching for knowledge of all kinds. And so the Quest is an important idea for me. It closely parralels our own path to illumination and knowledge.

In my Family Coven’s tradition the story from Yule to Imbolc is that the Crone, locked away in a tower by the Lord of Winter, gives birth to the Sun at Yule. This taxes Her so much that She falls into a deep sleep near death. The Sidhe tend to her and succeed in making her young and beautiful again but they cannot find a way to waken Her.

So they send the Sun King, after He vanquishes the Holly King, on a quest to find the way to waking the sleeping Maiden. For in doing so He will waken the Earth from the slumber of Winter. They speak to Him of a sacred grove guarded over by a wise and powerful Deva.

Full of hope and light the young Sun King sets out on his quest to find the Sacred Grove. Long and far he searches for this Grove. When at long last He finds the sacred grove He follows the winding path through the labyrinth to the center. It is here that he is told by the Deva of the grove, that love’s true kiss is all that is truly needed to waken the Maiden.

This angers the Sun King. The fact that all this time has been wasted only to find that the answer is so simple. It is at this time that the Sun King is gently reminded of a few lessons, by the protector of the Grove. These lessons are:

That the journey we take is often the most important part. For, oftentimes, it makes us ready to accept the answers that we seek on our quest.

The Labyrinth is the path to initiation, and while there is only one path through, the hardest step is always the step going forward.

The Sun King’s journey, as long as it was, tells us to never give up if the cause is right and just. And it also tells us to strive all the harder in the face of adversity and challenge.

When you gather together with your famiy for this next Sabbat of Imbolc, keep these lessons in mind. And as Winter drags on remember that it is moving towards Spring and that we need to stay strong and hold out hope for warmer weather.