Are you looking to deepen your Pagan practice with a daily practice or holyday observance? Here are some places to start with a focus on renewal and health for 2021
The Sabbats 2021
Wiccan holidays called Sabbats are based on the journey of the earth around the sun. Each year has two solstices and two equinoxes which divide the year into four parts. Then there is one holiday in between each of these parts, which divide the entire wheel of the year into 8 holiday pieces.
In the Northern hemisphere, where Wiccan paganism originated, they go like this. The winter solstice on December 21st is like a new moon, it is when the sun is lowest in the sky and the day is shortest. The summer solstice, six months later on June 2th, is when the day is longest and the sun is highest in the sky. The spring equinox is halfway between the two, meaning that the sun is halfway to its height, and the fall equinox is halfway between the summer and winter solstice on the other side of the year. The equinoxes have equal length days and nights and so are about balance. Each holiday of the year can be celebrated in it’s simplest form by what is happening in nature thematically and in our harvest of food at that time. The holidays in between these ‘cross quarter days’ – the solstices and the equinoxes – have similar themes in harmony with whatever is going on in nature.
You really can make it up
As long as you honour the spirit and intention of a given festival, you can adapt it to your local conditions. What matters is that you are sincere. You don’t have to celebrate the things that were happening seasonally in Ireland, Italy, Greece or Egypt, although you can. It is equally, and perhaps more authentic to celebrate according to what is happening in and on the earth where you actually live. If apples flower near the time of a certain festival in your locale, then recognizing the flower of something that will bear fruit is a perfectly appropriate way to celebrate that holiday, whether it was done that way in another place and time or not.
Candlemas / Imbolc
Imbolc is celebrated around the time that the ewes were pregnant with baby lambs in Ireland. It was the first inkling of spring and rebirth. However, in Vancouver, where I am, February 1st, the spring bulbs are sprouting. New hope is happening. Themes of hoping for things that have not begun, or to cheer for the world very slowly waking are perfectly appropriate.
Celebrate Imbolc by envisioning what you want your year to contain, dedicate yourself to a goal or god and indulge in hope in the bare first sliver of spring.
Spring Equinox / Ostara
Spring equinox, March 20th in the northern hemisphere, is when spring is well and truly here, and any activities that celebrate that, or invite you to symbolically or literally plant things you wish to grow this year are completely appropriate.
As well, there is that other holiday celebrated on the sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox (yes, I mean Easter) which has a bunch of symbolism appropriated from Spring Equinox that you can re-appropriate. So bless candy eggs and eat them to incorporate the blessing. Celebrate the fertility and abundance of bunnies and chicks. Dye eggs red to embody the fertility they symbolize, and bless and eat them. Bless seeds with your intentions for the year and plant them.
Beltaine, celebrated on April 30-May 1st is the fertility of spring. The actual solar date it falls on is May 4th, so if you need to, you can celebrate it any of those dates, although May 1st daytime is traditional. It celebrated breeding season, for humans as well as livestock. With winter well and truly over by May 1st, and the ability to go outside in less clothing, we notice our bodies and those of others we desire about this time of year.
All acts of love and pleasure are our rituals. It is traditional to bless Beltaine by making love in a mindful way with someone you like, love or lust. Or if you want to celebrate fertility in a less overt way you can celebrate the sexuality of flowers and pollen making love in the skies. Heterosexuals celebrate fertility symbolically by dancing around tall poles to wrap them in a sheath of ribbons (yes, that is literally what it’s about) but those of us who don’t relate personally to that imagery can find ways that are truthful to our own hearts and bodies. Plunge hands into earth? Eat symbolic pastries of our preference (Pastistis? Cream puffs? Eclairs?). I’m a traditionalist, personally, so I celebrate more literally if I can, but if I had kids I’d probably have them making flower crowns or going on nature walks to see, count or collect the signs of spring.
Summer Solstice / Litha
The sun is highest, light is at it’s most powerful. Certain foods are harvested. It’s time to be grateful. We are at the height of summer, and all the things summer embodies are most powerful. Enjoy and celebrate.
Lughnasadh (August 2nd) in Vancouver, Canada, where I live, often falls on the same weekend as gay pride, a kind of queer Beltaine, and may be celebrated as such by those who relate to that. More broadly, Lughnasadh is hot and dry and continues the harvest more fully. Corn is ripe, sweet and plentiful. Eating the foods of the season with gratitude and surrendering those dreams that will not bear fruit this year are the tasks of this season. Some plants will yield a good harvest, and some will not, and it is in August that we know. Perhaps it is so in life.
Fall equinox (September 22) and Samhain in many cultures are the two times when livestock are culled for meat. Fall equinox is normally celebrated with both feasting and letting go of summer. Alternately, you can focus on the balance between light and dark, between abundance and the beginning of decay.
Samhain (October 31st) is the beginning of winter weather in Vancouver. The rains will begin in earnest around this time. In other places, the first snow fall will be around now. The leaves have fallen. Animals have been killed and stored for food. Traditionally this is a time of recognizing the deaths that have happened in the current year, and reaching out and honouring one’s beloved and revered dead. I find it a good time to speak to my people who have passed, or recognize them in some way. Grieve your dead. Grieve what must be grieved from the year, and allow it to fall and rot to feed the renewal that will come as the world turns. If you wish to celebrate Halloween, consider doing it by dressing as someone from your honoured dead, someone you respect and admire. But please no sexy Ruth Bader Ginsberg costumes. I don’t think she’d like it.
It’s dark on December 21st. In olden times, this was a good time to break out the preserved fruit and eat it to prevent scurvy and to share food with others to keep everyone healthy through the remainder of the winter. It’s a good time for telling sacred stories, having family traditions, and of course, feasts. You can celebrate the fertility of life in the middle of a season where everything is dead and still by honouring the evergreens, and those plants that still have colour (particularly fertile female red, like holly and poinsettia, or fertile male white like mistletoe) at this time of year.