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Celebrating The Old Ways in New Times – Final Edition

Celebrating The Old Ways in New Times 2023 – Final Edition

Bright Blessings!

Since 2016, I have written about the Sabbats in this column. As the Wheel turns, and seasons change, so do we, and this old witch wants a new topic. This will be my final Celebrating The Old Ways in New Times, and starting with the next issue, I will be writing a column about Tarot. I’m a Tarot reader and have been for years. I was lucky enough to be one of the readers at the psychic fair that was this past weekend at the shop where I get to read, and let me tell you, being a Tarot Reader is one of my favorite jobs!

Writing about the Sabbats is part of being a witch, and for me, it has been a part of my training as a High Priestess. My Priest has had me turn in various write-ups of rituals for Sabbats and he’s let me read Sabbat rituals others have created. There is no one correct way to do Sabbat and doing Sabbat articles these years has shown me that. This final article you are about to read will be a summary of what each Sabbat on the Wheel of the Year is. Other PaganPagesOrg writers besides me will continue publishing all about the Sabbats, and our archives have plenty you can read about!

Blessed Be,

Lady Saoirse


The Wheel of the Year




The Wheel of the Year is a cycle of seasonal festivals that are sacred to Neo Pagans. An eight spoked sun cross that looks like an eight sliced pie symbolizes it. The eight high days celebrate the seasons based on the movements of the Sun and how the earth and seasons change. I will focus on history of each, what they symbolize in the passage of time, and how they symbolize the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. I will also share some ways they are celebrated. These are celebrated by many Wiccans, New Agers, Heathens, and Druids, all of whom have their own specific traditions and rites they use. However, many who move within Neo Pagan circles follow the same calendar within a few days of one another.

In ancient times, there were four main High days celebrated by Gaelic people Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnassadh. These main four can be the only ones celebrated if you want, and you get one for each of the four seasons. However, Yule and Ostara are from Germanic non Wiccan practice and are considered very important. Litha could be as old as the neolithic times, and Mabon was created in the 20th century by Aiden Kelly, a very important scholar Wiccan. For me, I’m good with just Beltaine for Summer and Samhain for Winter. Some scholars and historians believe that Beltaine and Samhain were considered the two most important Sabbats back in pre-Xtian times. Each group and individual can decide for themselves what is important to them. Without further ado, here are the eight Sabbats.


1)-Samhain- November 1

For some, this is the end of the yearly cycle, but for most, this is the start of the celebrations on the Wheel of the Year. It’s even called the Witches New Year. Samhain is the start of the winter half of the year and was originally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It was the final harvest celebration and a time to remember the dead. It is believed the veil that separates the land of the living from where the dead reside in the Otherworld is thinner, so the dead can come across to visit. Another time it is believed the veil thins is at Beltaine, or the beginning of the Summer half of the year. Samhain is attested to on the old Gaulish Coligny Calendar that dates back to the second century, and apparently they celebrated it for three days although we have no idea exactly what all they did.

Traditionally, it was the time of final harvest because weather turned harsh afterwards, and you have to clear the foods and store and prep them or they will go bad. It was also the time they took the animals from the grazing fields to the winter areas where they were sheltered from weather. Bonfires were lit to drive out bad spirits believed to cause death and disease, and people and animals were blessed. They feasted and had fun too. Also- it was a time to ward off the dead. It was believed the dead carried the living back to the Otherworld with them, and the fae or fairies did too. This was not seen as a good thing, so the people took measures to safeguard against it. They did not go out at night on Samhain unless the absolutely HAD to, and if they did, they turned their clothes inside out or carried a piece of iron to keep safe. They also had bonfires which symbolized the power of the sun, which was waning or dimming and nights grew longer, and would hold off the darkness of disease or malevolent spirits. Some people put out the fires in their house Samhain, and relit them from pieces of the ceremonial bonfires. High Kings of Ireland sometimes had major gatherings every three or seven years where a huge festival and competitions were held. They would use this time to forge new laws also.


2) Yule/ Winter Solstice- December 21

The Xtians have taken a lot from Yule and Winter Solstice gatherings as their own. Yule is Germanic, and Celtic people celebrated the Solstice. The Winter Solstice, also called Midwinter, celebrated the fact the shortest day and longest night had come- and the days would begin to grow longer. Bonfires were again lit, using some sympathetic magic, emulating the Sun’s power, and to also lend some heat to the strengthening Sun. January through April were lean months foodwise, and called famine months. People were dependent on the Sun to make it warm and to make food grow. They also depended on the Sun to make it warmer so they were not closed up in close quarters with everybody and sharing contagious diseases. More people sickened and died in Winter months from starvation and illness, and the Winter Solstice offered hope these bad times were not going to last forever, but the people would come through them. The Sun was seen as being reborn at this time.

Yule comes from an old word, Jol or Jolnir which is another name for Odin. At some points it was called Yule Tide and was celebrated from November through January- something the Xtians adopted for Christmas. At other times it lasted three days, and some modern Norse Heathens or Pagans celebrate Yule for twelve days with each day having its own specific significance. Hakon the Good decreed everybody had to bring food and drink to the main celebration and the festivities went on until everybody ran out of ale. In pre Xtian times, the farmers all brought animals to be sacrificed to the main temple, and the statues of the gods got some of the blood, and the blood was used to bless the people and then the meat became the feast. The chieftain or host led toasts, and of course the very first toast was drank to Odin. The second toast to Njorder and Freyjr, and the third was drank to the chieftain. More toasts were made to the departed kin.

Some of today’s Norse Pagans celebrate the twelve nights, with the final night being called of course, Twelfth Night which is on New Year’s Eve by staying awake, doing prayers and vigils every hour.


3) Imbolc- February 1

Also called Oimelc, it means in the belly, and alludes to the milk the animals would be producing, as it was calf and ewe season. In the belly was how the growth was in the earth- about to burst forth. The earth, like a pregnant lady, was filled with life- impending spring- and she would soon give birth. Signs of Spring have already begun at Imbolc. Birds that went to warmer places have begun to return, and the thawing of ice is beginning. Buds are on the trees also. Even though February and January are typically the coldest months, first signs of Spring can be seen. In North America today, we consider April or May as Spring, but it was considered that Imbolc began Spring. The goddess Brigid was venerated at this time and that transferred to St. Brigid’s Day for the Catholics. The goddess is beginning to shed her other form- the winter hag in some traditions, and other traditions see her as battling the winter hag, also called Beira or the Cailleach. Late winter sees a battle of weather patterns with freezing storms coming in and warm days- like the two goddesses are at war to maintain control of the earth. It is said that the Cailleach strikes the ground with her staff when winter comes, and that freezes the land. Other myths state the Cailleach washes her plaid in Corryvrecken Whirlpool until it is pure white, and that makes it winter. Come Imbolc, Brigid is taking over.

People made a bed for Brigid and placed what we now call a Brigid’s Cross on their door to invite the goddess into their homes to bless them. Food and drink were left for her, and clothes were left outdoors for her to bless. Both Pagans and Xtians were said to do this, the Pagans venerating the goddess, the Xtians asking for blessings from the Saint.

Weather divination is also done. It is said that if Imbolc is bright and sunny, the Cailleach made the Sun shine so she could gather firewood, and there would be six more weeks of winter. However, if the weather is nasty and yucky, she overslept, and winter will break. This has been recycled as Groundhog Day.


4) Ostara- March 21

This one is one myths are made of. Some insist the goddess Ostara never existed, but Jacob Grimm and Bede say different. She is supposedly a goddesss of Spring and Bede wrote that in Eostromap- or the month of April, Anglo-Saxon pagans had a celebration in her honor. Her celebrations were supposedly transferred over to Easter. In the 1800’s , Jacob Grimm had other things to say. “We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart . The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG remains the name ôstarâ … it is mostly found in the plural, because two days … were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.

OstaraEástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.”

Various historians and religious writers have speculated- with no evidence- that hares and eggs were associated with Eostre, and one even said the hare must have at one time been a bird because it lays eggs.

We may never know the whole truth about the goddess Eostra and what traditions were celebrated but today’s Pagans have reclaimed some of the traditions they say Xtians adapted. Ostara comes between Imbolc and Beltaine and is one of three Spring rites Pagans today celebrate. It is celebrated on the Vernal Equinox, when it is considered to be Spring. As to the Sun, daylight and night are balanced, and the days grow even longer. New Life and growth are celebrated in various ways. Wiccans celebrate the goddesses fertility growing ever stronger and the father god is seen as growing towards manhood. They will be united at Beltaine in their wedding celebration. It is said that painting eggs at Ostara time predates Xtianity and that the hare has always symbolized fertility. Ways to celebrate include casting circle and giving offerings to the goddess, and asking for the energy of the celebration to propel new things forward into our lives. And for the love of all things holy, watch for the sales and enjoy some of the half priced chocolate!!!!!!!


5) Beltaine- May 1

My favorite! Beltaine was traditionally the beginning of the Summer half of the year in the British Isles in pre Xtian times. It is halfway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. It was a time when the animals were brought out to the Summer pastures. Two blessed bonfires were lit, and the people and animals walked between them to be blessed from all the gunk and sludge and negative energies the Winter would have on them. There was prayer to encourage growth and productivity as well. Again, fires in the house were put out, and would be relit from the ceremonial blessed fires. Rituals to protect and bless the dairy, crops, people, and livestock were done, and of course, there was feasting. Today’s Pagans dance a Maypole and observe fertility magic for human beings. There is a standing joke that Wiccan Beltaine gatherings are big orgies. Sounds fun!

Indeed, Gardner thought all Pre Xtian Pagans did everything all about sex, because HE loved sex that much but the lore from the British Isles and Germanic lands tell a different story as do archaeological sites. It was about producing for food, not about getting laid. Beltaine was an opportunity for the people to ask the powers that be to make the growing season as productive as possible so the starvation months didn’t hit them hard. They believed gods and spirits would smile upon them and protect them if they were appeased. The fae, also were given gifts, and this was another time it was believed the veil between the worlds thinned. Instead of warding off the dead like at Samhain, they gave offerings to appease the sidhe. For me, for Beltaine, I always like to have fires and bless those and have everybody walk between the blessed fires. If anybody is physically capable, they leap over the fires, which is old practice. People and animals leapt over the blessed flames. When the flames died down, rubbing ashes on the body to bless yourself, and sprinkling the ashes at your home or fields was done to protect and bless also.

The Maypole was not a Gaelic tradition. It was Germanic, and was added after they invaded the British Isles. It was first recorded being used in the British Isles in the mid 1300’s. Germanics invaded into the British Isles after Roman Colonization ended. We don’t know exactly what the Maypole meant to ancient Pagans, but today it symbolizes fertility and is an example of cultural exchange. The festivities changed and combined the blessings of pre-Germanic invasion Gaelic practice with the Germanic Summer customs.


6)Litha/Summer Solstice- June 21

Litha is when day is longest, and night is shortest, and it celebrates the sun at the height of its power. To emulate that, traditionally, in the British Isles, bonfires burn day and night in some places to give more power and strength to the sun. Torchlight processions, to further give the sun power can be seen to this day, although most celebrants are Christianized and just do the rituals as matter of tradition. A modern story some Wiccans embrace tells of the Oak and Holly Kings. The Holly King rules over winter, and the Oak King rules over summer. At the Solstices, they battle. Summer Solstice, the Oak King, the youthful, physically powerful king overthrows the Holly King, who has become old and weak.

One place in Europe where over 20,000 people gather for Summer Solstice is Stonehenge. It is an old site we know little about, and it was built in such a way that the sun rises over certain stones in the complex on certain specific days. One such sunrise is when the Midsummer, or Summer Solstice sun rises aligning with what is called The Heel Stone. We don’t know what was done all those years ago at Stonehenge for the Solstice, but it is believed it was sacred to them. The Summer Solstice is when the Sun is at the height of it’s power, and rituals give thanks and ask for it to continue- the harvest is not ready yet, and more power and heat is needed from the sun to make the food continue to grow.

Because the weather is nice for outdoor gatherings, often there are festivals and feasts. Music and fellowship and drinks and food are had and everybody enjoys gathering, feeling good, and basking in the rays of the sun. It is believed this is a very very old celebration that predates written records and unless more writings turn up, we may never know exactly what was done back in those days. We just know it was important enough they built places like Stonehenge that gives evidence it was a holy day. Work there started about 5,000 years ago and it went through four different phases of construction over about 1,000 years!


7) Lughnassadh- August 1

Lughnassadh, held on August 1 is the first of three harvest celebrations for Wiccans and was originally celebrated in pre-Christain Ireland, and spread to the Isle of Man and Wales. Situated between the Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox, it is included with Imbolc, Betaine, and Samhain as a seasonal celebration and coincides with Lammas, celebrated by Christians. Lammas celebrates a miraculous release of the apostle Peter from prison, and some bake bread with the first harvested wheat of the season to celebrate. The ancient Pagan Gaels attached different meanings to the season. They held Lughnassadh.

Lughnassadh saw a large sports event, festive market, and large gathering held in honor of the god Lugh’s foster-mother, Tailltiu. Legend has it that she died planting crops for the people when they had just moved into Ireland and the ancient celebration in honor of her great love and sacrifice for the people may have started back as early as 632 BCE. Athletic competitions like running, archery, spear throwing, and high jump competitions were held, and crafts persons had competitions of their own, to see who was considered to be the best weavers, armorers, metalworkers, and jewelers at the competitions. Most surprisingly, however, special trial marriages were arranged at Lughnassadh called “Taillten Marriages.”

The couples often met for the first time there and had a one year trial marriage called a handfasting. At the following Lughnassadh, they could make their marriage permanent, or part ways if they preferred. These marriages are documented as being done until the thirteenth century. Besides the marriages and crafts and athletic competitions, other important events were competitions for singing and storytelling, as well as dance. Legally binding agreements could be renewed, and new ones could be created at Lughnassadh time as well. 

Today’s Pagans see it as a good time for handfasting’s, or bake a corn or wheat dolly or bread, sacrificing it into the ground to bless the land. Some honor the god Lugh and Tailtiu and have a celebratory feast of “first fruits” or a first harvest celebration. Thanks is given for the beginning of harvest.


8) Mabon- September 21

This one is celebrated on the Autumnal Equinox and the name Mabon comes to us from Aidan Kelly. I actually got to speak with him about this. He could not really find a deity he felt reflected Autumnal Equinox except for the Welsh Mabon ap Modron. I am going to just read what he told me about this,

Archaeological and mythological evidence is that the fall equinox is an ancient ( at least 5k years) fest associated with death and rebirth of a young person (Kore, Issac). Mabon is the only one I could find in the Northern myths.”

He is a minor character in an obscure tale in the Mabinogin,” He said What myth about a child rescued from death night have been associated with the equinox in Northern cultures?” That’s how he chose Mabon. Mabon’s name comes from the god Maponos, which means “great son.” He was born to Modron and was stolen from her three days after his birth. A very long and complicated story with mythical animals gets around to the point of him being rescued by King Arthur and his men, but it is believed both he and his mother were originally a mother /son goddess god pair. He could only be found once the oldest of the animals, a salmon was consulted. Then he eventually helped King Arthur and his men.

Mabon is celebrated on the Autumnal Equinox. Day and night are equal, and after this the days grow ever shorter, the nights longer, as we approach Samhain once again. The sun god dies and will be reborn at Winter Solstice. Some use this as Witches Thanksgiving. Some will take stock of what they have harvested or accomplished and they will thank their gods and guides. This is the last Sabbat before Samhain, and a time to celebrate transitions and change.


As the Wheel of the Year turns, some people apply the seasonal transitions to their own lives. At Samhain, they honor their dead. At Winter Solstice, they sink into the cold months, strengthening themselves like the Sun that is slowly growing in power, and they hunker down like our ancestors did, reserving their strength. At Imbolc, they pay attention to the budding earth that is about to burst forth with new life, and they plan for goals for the year. At Ostara, they celebrate new life, new times, and new goals. At Beltaine, they come out more, thriving and accepting the blessings the earth and the Sun give. At Midsummer, they are at their greatest strength, and they revel and celebrate their vitality and personal power. At Lughnassadh, they gather with others, celebrating accomplishments, and showing their best skills. At Mabon, they give thanks for all that has happened this year, and feast with the people they love.

No matter how you celebrate your Sabbats, may they be blessed, may they be joyous, and may they bring you closer to your goddess, gods, and your soul kin. So Be It!



About the Author:

Saoirse is a practicing witch, and initiated Wiccan of an Eclectic Tradition.

A recovered Catholic, she was raised to believe in heaven and hell, that there is only one god, and only one way to believe. As she approached her late 20’s, little things started to show her this was all wrong. She was most inspired by the saying “God is too big to fit into one religion” and after a heated exchange with the then associate pastor of the last Xtian church she attended, she finally realized she was in no way Xtian, and decided to move on to see where she could find her spiritual home.

Her homecoming to her Path was after many years of being called to The Old Ways and the Goddess, and happened in Phoenix, Arizona. She really did rise from her own ashes!

Upon returning to Ohio, she thought Chaos Magic was the answer, and soon discovered it was actually Wicca. She was blessed with a marvelous mentor, Lord Shadow, and started a Magical Discussion Group at local Metaphysical Shop Fly By Night. The group was later dubbed A Gathering of Paths. For a few years, this group met, discussed, did rituals, fellowship, and volunteering together, and even marched as a Pagan group with members of other groups at the local gay Pride Parade for eight years.

All the while, she continued studying with her mentor, Lord Shadow, and she became a Third Degree High priestess in 2022. She belongs to the Black Dragon Clan.