The Wheel of the Year is a metaphor used by Wiccans in their practice of Wicca and witches in their practice of witchcraft, although witches usually use the term "Sabbath". It is a calendar for the cycle of the seasons and consists of eight festivals or Sabbats, spaced at nearly equal intervals through the year.
In some styles of Witchcraft, and in Wicca, and Wiccan forms of neo paganism, nature's processes of life, birth, death, and rebirth are believed to follow a continuous cycle. Time is also believed to be cyclical and is represented by a wheel or circle. Birth, life, death, and rebirth, are mirrored by the progression of the seasons. In addition, Wiccans see this cyclical progression as a reflection of the birth, life, death, and rebirth of God and in the fertility of the Goddess.
Most of the names originated with real, ancient festivals, but the names Litha and Mabon were invented by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s and have continued to gain popularity with North American Wiccans. The word "sabbat" has the same roots as Sabbath (Christian) and Sabbath (witchcraft). It stems from the Old English sabat, Old Frenchsabbat, Latin sabbatum, Greek sabbaton, and Hebrew shabbat, which means "to cease or rest".
The dates of the festivals vary due to the numerous traditions, forms, and styles of Witchcraft, Wicca, and the modern Neopaganism. However, while each festival has somewhat different traditions associated with it and the dates can vary according to path, the meanings generally remain consistent.
The Wheel of the Year originates in the Northern Hemisphere, so to compensate in the Southern Hemisphere most Neopagans advance the dates by six months or so to bring them into alignment with their local, natural seasons.
Cross-quarter days traditionally fall at the end of the months, but some Neopagans consider them as having occurred at the midpoint of the two surrounding quarter days. These modern-day calculations typically result in celebrations being held a few days after the traditionally observed dates.
Observance of Moon Sabbats:
Sun Sabbats refer to the quarter days, based on the astronomical position of the sun. Moon Sabbats are usually observed during Full Moons, normally the Full Moon closest to the traditional festival date, but sometimes during the 2nd Full Moon after the preceding quarter day. This places the Moon Sabbat anywhere from 29-59 days after the preceding solstice or equinox.
Prior to modern Wicca, the Wheel of the Year was unknown, and at first, only cross-quarter days were observed. In 1958 members of Bricket Wood Coven added the solstices and equinoxes to their calendar to increase the number and frequency of celebrations. Gerald Gardner, the coven's high priest at the time, was on holiday on the Isle of Man when the coven increased the number of celebrations, but he did not mind, as in his opinion this change served to further their alignment with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, a style of Neo-druidism created and promoted by Ross Nichols, Gardner's friend.
There are no records that prior to the birth of Wicca all eight of the festivals were ever observed by anyone, anywhere.
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