Well, I was talking about holidays this morning, and that makes this a rather timely post. This is my second in my posts about my faith, so I'm going to be talking about holidays with relation to the Wiccan faith.
If you have any questions about our holidays, feel free to ask me, and as always feel free to ask any other questions you have. I'm an open book, and I'll tell you as much as I possibly can, or refer you to someone who knows better than I do.
We have two kinds of holidays. The first kind are called Esbats. An esbat occurs twice a month- once on the full moon and again on the new moon. These are nights where the witch is able to do particularly strong magic, because the moon is in its two strongest phases. In our coven, as a general rule, we use them for what we call "working nights" which means we work on spells we wish to be particularly effective, or when we need to make or charge or bless magical supplies. Things like that. Many covens will do ritual on these nights and spend time together. As of now, our coven doesn't preform ritual for esbats on a regular basis, but thats a scheduling thing more than it is a lack of wanting to do it.
The second kind of holiday we have are the High Holy Days, also known as Sabbatsor fire festivals. We have eight of them a year. For these we preform rituals dedicated to the meaning of the holiday. Each of them will generally have a certain theme, and sometimes a certain goal. Afterwards we have a "feast" and celebrate with what we call "cakes and ale" As general rule our group does not use alcohol but a specially brewed cider instead.
The first holiday on our calendar is also the one you're likely most familiar with. You call it Halloween. We call it Samhain (Hallowmas, All Hallow's Eve). This is our new year. Most celebrate it on October 31st. Some wait until the sun is at 15 degrees scorpio. Either way, the point is the same. In celtic, the translation for the holiday means "summer's end" Its the last of our fall festivals and the beginning of our year. The primary focus of Samhain is transformation, regeneration, honoring the dead, honoring the harvest and preparing for the winter. This is also a good time to do divination work. Its always been one of my favorite holidays.
Also, I came back after I posted this to address a myth I thought needed covered, however obvious Ithink it is at this point. No, we don't worship the devil on Halloween. We don't poison candy, we don't turn into bats, we don't fly on brooms. We do purchase new brooms, but that's a different story altogether. Incidentally, all those candy scares we had as kids, the one that supposedly started it off, well, there were no razors in the candy. Turns out the kids uncle gave him drugs, and that's made him sick. I should note, his uncle was not a wiccan.
Our second holiday is Yule (The winter solstice). Its when the sun reaches one degree capricorn. If I remember right, this year its on December 21 or 22. It falls close to the traditional Christmas holiday. The word yule means "wheel" and is appropriate as our first holiday of the new year because our holidays celebrate the wheel of the seasons as well as the wheel of our lives. The primary focus of the holiday is rebirth and renewal. It is a time of giving blessings.
Imbolc is next, its also sometimes called Candlemas. Imbolc means "in milk"and the holiday represents new growth, the end of the winter season and is a time for purification. This holiday is usually February 2 or so, when the sun reaches 15 degrees aquarius. Its alternative name, Candlemas, is coined from the frequent use of candles in ritual for this holiday.
After Imbolc is Ostara (sounds like Easter, right? its a similar concept) This is the holiday that celebrates fertility, the beginnings of spring. Its a time where (in popular mythos) Persephone would return from the underworld to begin blessing the earth with new growth. Ostara is on March 20, 21 or 22 when the sun is at 1 degree aires. In case you've ever asked (andI know you have) what it is that makes Easter have eggs, chocolate and bunnies...well, that's our fault. Eggs, obviously, are a symbol of fertility, and thus incorporated into our spring ritual. Chocolate is a food that represents love (also, ahem, an aphrodesiac) so we give it to each other as a symbol of love to come. The rabbits....well...have you heard the term "multiply like rabbits"? You can draw the right conclusion, I know you can.
Beltane (May Day) is a special holiday for my coven, because it was the first holiday we celebrated together. It takes place on May 1, or when the sun is 15 degrees Taurus. Beltane means "bright fire" or "lucky fire" and is for the beginning of our summer. This is a time for love magic, weddings, and a time to preform ritual to protect your garden and animals. Most people are familiar with the celebration because of maypole dancing, which is still incorporated into many coven's rituals. It is also the holiday directly opposite Samhain, which makes it (technically) the second biggest holiday of the year.
Litha is our midsummer celebration, the celebration of the summer solstice. It occurs when the sun is 1 degree cancer. Usually the 20, 21 or 22 of June. This is another time to celebrate love marriage and the future before us. Its another holiday that is popular among Wiccans for marriages and divinations.
Lammas, or Lughnasadh, is the feast of bread. Its the celebration of the fall and the first harvest and takes place on August 1 or 2 each year. This is a time for playing games, blessing people, paying debts and preforming weather magic. It is a time to reflect on the gains that we have seen during our year.
Mabon, the fall equinox, is the last holiday before Samhain, and is when the sun is at 1 degree libra. It was on the 23 of September this year. It means "divine youth" and is a celebration of the second harvest. This is also the day where the sun is balanced equally between day and night, so ritual tends to reflect that theme. This year I preformed ritual and encourged my spiritual family to face the darkness within them as well as the light. It is a time to not only reflect on our gains, but to prepare for the coming winter, and with it, reflect on the "coldness" of our lives. Every person has parts of themselves that they dislike or fear and in those places are where I believe ew can find our greatest powers, the power to make change and do good, if we are able to face the darkness. That was a large part of my ritual theme.
That's the basics of what are holidays are for. As you can see, they reflect the cycle of the year, and thus, the cycle of our lives both yearly, daily and over a lifetime. I've only breifly touched on the themes of each holiday, and of course, there is much more to each of them. If you're interested in a particular one, as always, ask away.
I do want to clarify a bit about our rituals. There are so many rumors and supersticions about pagan holidays, I feel like I should address them.
First, I heard a lot as a teenager about "black masses" or Black Sabbats. These don't exist. There's no ritual sex in front of the coven, no dedicating ourselves to evil forces. Certainly there is no animal or human sacrifice. Anyone who's heard of these things going on should definately be wary of the term "wiccan" or "witch" because they don't have anything to do with our faith. We make a strict point to Harm None, which is one of our creeds. Groups that do that sort of stuff are cults, plain and simple, and have nothing to do with modern witchcraft.
Also, despite the term "cakes and ale" there is NEVER drunkeness in a ritual circle. One, its sstupid and dangerous (lit candles and a drunk? No thank you) . Two, you can't preform good magic, or magic at all, while you're tanked. IF there is any alcohol imbibed it is after the ritual and non-compulsory. Honestly, most of our coven don't drink, or drink so rarely, it would be silly to get tanked just because its a holiday.
Despite the fact that it frequently happens, we actually *can* preform a ritual during the daytime. WE prefer sabbats and esbats at night because of our belief that we draw power from the moon. So night is better, but not mandatory. Also, I think I've mentioned this, while we do sometimes have a bonfire, there is no requirement to dance naked around it. Some covens do, we sure don't. Its a preference thing. Also, with regards to "the witching hour" No, we don't have to preform ritual at midnight. The only time where we really like to do that is on Samhain, but that's because we believe thats the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. Since we are celebrating and honoring those who have passed before us, we certainly want them to be as close to us as possbile.
Also, I'd like to talk about the ritual circle. I mentioned in my last post that we use it as a sacred space to worship in. How anyone could thus believe that we are calling up astral nasties into the circle to go out and do our bidding is beyond me. For the record, no, we don't conjure spirits or demons or ghosts or anything like that when we're in the circle. We do ask that the spirits protect us while we are in it, but that's more like having guards than it is us yanking some spiny thing up out of the underworld (which we don't believe in) to do bad stuff to people who are mean to us. It is a holy place, a place where only goodness is allowed to enter. Sakura says to think of it as a portable church. This discussion could become complicated as we do take time to ask The Lord and Lady to be with us in the circle, and sometimes (like Samhain) we call on our anscestors so that we can honor them, but the long and short is, we're not dragging anyone out of heaven or hell so they can come chat with us. Suffice to say, we believe that the presence of Spirit and our anscestors is more what Christians might term as "in our hearts" than they are physically present like the ghosts in Harry Potter.
So that's holidays and a bit about our rituals. I hope you are learning, and interested, by these lovely updtes about my spiritual life. Oh- I did have a question asked earlier this week. It was an interesting one. I had someone on facebook ask me how Wiccans feel about LARP games. Uh, as far I'm concerned as long as you're not hurting anyone, go ahead and pretend to be a jedi or a vampire or whatever it is you role play. Now, you start hurting people and that's a big nono. I asked Saukura about this and he's on the same page I am. If there's a standard Wiccan party line on this one, I haven't heard anything. That sounds more like a coven preference to me. Sakura points out, there are some who pretend to be witches, but lets face it- they're pretending. There's no intent, so there's no magical work. If there is intent, well, lets go back to harm none. Karma sorts it all out in the end.
I'm interested to hear what you would like me to talk about next, so send me some suggestions, otherwise you're at my mercy for boring the hell out of you on some sort of witchy topic. Actually, I might cover astrology, if anyones interested in that.
Merry Part my friends,
Ps- I got a lot of my basic information from the wonderful head of the Black Forest Clan, Silver Ravenwolf. She has several books out there that are informative. I appreciate the tutelage she has unknowling bestowed on me. Also, I need to include a wave here from Sakura, who went over this post with me and put in his two cents as well. Its nice to have a teammate.
Oh, also, I don't own Harry Potter, Easter, Chocolate bunnies, or any other physical object I might have mentioned or franchise I might have talked about. Just so we have the legalities covered.