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The Wheel of the Year
Most Pagan religions follow the Wheel of the Year for celebrations (names & exact dates may vary).
Almost all Pagans celebrate a cycle of eight festivals, which are spaced every six or seven weeks through the year & divide the wheel into eight segments.
Four of the festivals have Celtic origins and are known by their Celtic names. The rites practiced at these festivals help followers attune themselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the moon and the seasonal quarters.
The other four festivals are points in the solar calendar. These are, Spring Equinox, Autumn Equinox, Summer Solstice & Winter Solstice.
All together they make up the 8 Festivals of the Wheel of the Year. The Path of the Sun, & its ever changing seasons.
Neolithic sites such as Stonehenge act as gigantic solar calendars which marked the solstices & equinoxes & show that solar festivals have been significant dates for hundreds of thousands of years.
the four Celtic festivals
Samhain or Winter Night 31st October/1st November
Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn’) is the most important date in the Pagan calendar as it marks the death of one year & the birth of another for most Pagans (although some Pagans use Imbolc for their new year).
This time of year has been celebrated in Britain for centuries & was the most important festival of the year for the Celts of iron age Ireland who saw it as a time when gods of the Otherworld mingled with men. They celebrated with feasting & boasted about their conquests in battle, proving their stories by showing the tongues of their opponents on sticks.
When the Romans invaded Britain they added on elements of their harvest celebrations in which they honoured the goddess of the fruits of trees, Pomona. Later when Christians tried to supplant pagan festivals, they concealed Samhain in the guise of All Saints Day (or All Hallows Eve), when the all Christian saints were remembered (in place of the pagan gods).
The modern Halloween is perhaps all that is left of the festival for most people. However, Pagans retain elements from all these historical celebrations. While death is still the central theme of the festival this does not mean it is a morbid event. For Pagans, death is not a thing to be feared. Old age is valued for its wisdom & dying is accepted as a part of life as necessary and welcome as birth.
At Samhain loved ones who have died are remembered & their spirits are often invited to join the living for feasts.
Death also symbolises endings, so the passing of relationships, jobs and periods of life are reflected upon. These things can now be sanctified & life can move on.
Samhain heralds in a time of darkness & disorder. Like the Celts, modern Pagans see it as a time when the boundary between the spirit world & the earthly world is at its thinnest.
Practising Pagans use personal rituals to make contact with people who have died & to make contact with the divine. Feasting is part of most celebrations. While some Pagans recall the debaucherous Celtic festivities & indulge in excesses of alcohol & food, others choose to celebrate frugally, without the use of any intoxicants. Many are vegetarians, while others support organic/free range farming, as an expression of Pagan respect for nature.
Imbolc 1st/2nd February
Associated with the coming again of light & life, Imbolc (pronounced ‘im’olk’) was important to the Celts. For them the success of the new farming season was of great importance. As winter stores of food were getting low Imbolc rituals were performed to harness divine energy that would ensure a steady supply of food until the harvest six months later.
Like many Celtic festivals, the Imbolc celebrations centred around the lighting of fires to celebrate the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Originally, the fires were then used to burn the Yule decorations & other discarded items (from this we get our tradition of spring cleaning). We now remove our Christmas decorations after twelve days but in earlier times, celebrations lasted from Yule until Candlemas. Torches & candles were lit from the Yule Log & carried in procession around the community.
It was also the holy day of Brigid (also known as Brigit, Bride, Brid), the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. Christianity changed this to St Bridget’s Day, & Candlemas became the Purification of the Virgin Mary, when worshippers offer lighted candles in her honour, blessed and sprinkled with holy water & carried in procession.
Imbolc is still a special time for Pagans. As people who are deeply aware of what is going on in the natural world they recognise that there is strength in cold as well as heat, death as well as life. Many feel that human actions are best when they reflect the actions of nature, so as the world slowly springs back into action it is time to carry out the small tasks that are neglected through the busy times of the year.
Rituals & activities might include the making of candles, planting spring flowers, reading poetry and telling stories.
Beltane or May Eve 30th April/1st May
Beltane is a Celtic word which means ‘fires of Bel’ (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer & the fertility of the coming year. Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In springtime, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families & fields.
Festivities generally involved fire which was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Cattle were often passed between two fires & the properties of the flame & the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd. Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations & there are many traditions associated with it.
It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse & revitalise. People, leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) & happiness through the coming year.
For most Pagans today, the creation of fertility is still an important issue. Because of its sexual imagery, the tradition of dancing round the maypole is still very popular with modern Pagans. Others see fertility as referring to the need for active & creative lives. We need fertile minds for our work, our families & our interests.
Lughnasadh, or Freysfest, Lammas 2nd/4th August
Lughnasadh (pronounced ‘loo’nass’ah’) comes at the beginning of August. Celts held the festival of the Irish god Lugh at about this time. The festival is known as Freysfest or Lammas by some Pagan traditions, remembering the Anglo-Saxon festival of hlaefmass (loaf mass) also held at this time.
For agricultural communities this was the first day of the harvest, when the fields would be glowing with corn and reaping would begin. The harvest period would continue until Samhain when the last stores for the winter months would be put away.
Although farming is not an important part of modern life, Lughnasadh is still very much seen as a harvest festival by Pagans and symbols connected with the reaping of corn predominate in its rites.
see Wren's Nest at the bottom of this page for current dates
Main annual events & other events coming up:
Moots - The First Sunday of each Month - Currently held on every other Friday evening 7 pm till 10pm (count two weeks from the 5th October 2018).
An assembly held for debate, especially in Anglo-Saxon & medieval times. Where members raise (a question or topic) for discussion; suggest (an idea or possibility).
OUR GOAL: to be Held from 10 am - 12pm/1pm this gives approximately a two hour window to run through the structure of a meeting with room for more time if requested, i.e. in-house workshop, talk/disscussion on a set topic.
12pm/1pm - 1pm/2pm for feasting.
8 Festival Ceremonies - currently when possible we meet for a full day & overnight camp on a Saturday through to Sunday lunch. OUR GOAL: to be The Sunday closet to the festival dates.
Members gather at 10;30am for an 11am start, with finish approximately 12pm.
Lunch 12pm/12:30pm - 1pm/1:30pm
A finish at either 1pm or 2pm allows members the opportunity to still have the afternoon with their respective family or friends. depending on the venue members of course are welcome to stay & chat to their hearts content, there is no obligation to stay.
Sunday Circle Gatherings - Ritual
These are the Sundays with nothing ascribed to them, they are for the pure delight in performing sacred ritual, to be out in Nature working your spiritual path. During ceremony/ritual at the point of the section dedicated as the 'main work' this is left up to the participants preferences. the 'main work' of course needs to be discussed in advance so those who have an interest may attend.
Gather at 10:30am for an 11am start, with finish approximately 12pm. Lunch 12pm - 2pm
Why set days & times?
Most groups meet for the eight seasonal festivals. Additionally there are regular meetings between the festivals, Sunday Circle/Ritual gatherings, & separate meetings for 'general members', Bards, Ovates & Druid grade members.
Most groups find that it is best to pick a day convenient to everyone & stick to it - for example, the Sunday before the festival.
This regular routine allows members to plan ahead for the year.
Decide on a start & finishing time so that everyone knows what to expect. Keep the arrangement constant & simple so that no-one gets left out. Of course it can be changed.
Many groups include a tag that says something of what they are, here’s a quick rundown of those & what they mean, or might mean:
Order – in theory this is a big group with its own way of doing Druidry, likely to have member groves, formal membership. Think The British Druid Order, ADF, OBOD. Every so often someone with big ideas & a small following will call themselves an order too, even if technically they look more like
a grove. This can cause confusion. In an Gorder, the founding grove may be called the mother grove.
Grove – a closed Druid group, usually has a defined membership, celebrates the cycles of the year & may meet at other times to study & socialise. May belong to an order, may be independent.
Seed Group – especially in OBOD, a group that aspires to be a grove but dooesn’t feel qualified yet.
Gorsedd – a ritual group meeting to celebrate, it may well not have a formal membership or gather outside of ritual. Again, may be part of something else, may not. Sometimes groves run gorsedd as part of their service.
Moot – a social gathering.
Learning circle – a study group, with a degree of equality and sharing, not formally led teaching.
The Community of the Druids Nemeton combines the concept of a moot & learning circle & also includes the groups 'order of business'.
8 Fire Festivals
The Wheel of the Year
Dates in BOLD are the dates of group ceremony, the closet Sunday to the actual days. ***see Wren's Nest for current meets
Imbolc 1st/2nd February - Sunday 28 January (actual following Wednesday/Thursday)
Alban Eiler/The Spring or Vernal Equinox 20th/21st March - Sunday 18th March (actual following Thursday-Friday-Saturday)
Beltane 30th April/1st May - Sunday 29th April (actual same Sunday-Monday)
Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, 21st June - Sunday 17th June (actual following Thursday)
Lughnasadh, 2nd/4th August - Sunday 29th July (actual following Wednesday)
Alban Elfed/Autumn Equinox, or Mabon, 20th/21st September - Sunday 23rd August (actual Saturday before)
Samhain - Winter Night - Holloween 31st October/1st November - Sunday 28th October (actual following Wednesday)
Alban Arthur/Winter Solstice, or Yule or Midwinter 20th/21st December - Sunday 16th December (actual following Friday)
Friday Nights Social Gatherings
TGIF - The time to let your hair down, with:
story telling, dancing,
Gather at 7pm till late - depending on location drumming may have to be over by 9pm ( our own woods solves this challenge)
White Horse Camps
Experience Druid Spirituality and Community
find them at:
White Horse Camps offer you the opportunity to practice your druidry on the land within a supportive Druid community founded in the teachings of OBOD.
We hold four camps a year to celebrate the fire festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
Each camp is a unique event that weaves together ceremony, creativity, workshops, fun and laughter to provide a themed magical journey through the energy of the particular season.
Above all, we explore our connection to the land and its spirits, and it is for this love of the land that we bear the name of the White Horse that, for our spiritual and ancestral forebears was the sacred symbol of the land itself.
We have been extended a marvelous courtesy by the Wiltshire Bushcraft Club, who have allowed us to set up a small stone circle in a mixed deciduous woods near Royal Wootton Bassett, as we are currently a small seed group, we aim to meet there once a month on a Saturday, camp overnight till Sunday lunch time, to celebrate & perform ritual appropriate to the season. This is instead of the events program above, although that remains a goal in the long term.
It costs £10 per person for the overnight camp or £5 per person per day. This is charged to us by the Bush Crafters, as they have rent to pay for the woods.
Saturday 31st March 10am gather till Sunday 1st April
Saturday 21st April 10am gather till Sunday 22nd April
Saturday 26th May 10am gather till Sunday 27th May
Saturday 16th June till 17th June
Saturday 21st July till 22nd July
Saturday 18th August till 19th August
Saturday 15th September till 16th September
Saturday 13th October till 14th October
Saturday 10th November till 11th Novemebr
Saturday 22nd December day event only
Scroll to the bottom of the page for a full list of the 8 Festival Dates.