The Meanings of the Eight High Days
(Kirk's note: Boy, is this stuff terrible. It hurts to read it now. I'm surprised he passed me.)
The dates given are approximate and do not necessarily correspond with the lunar and solar cycles of any given year.
SAMHAIN October 31
Samhain marked the beginning of the ancient Celtic New Year, and was actually a time between when the veils between the worlds was thinnest, and the spirits of our beloved dead walk the earth, visiting family and friends and joining in rituals and celebrations. Samhain is the best time to contact the spirits and is excellent for divination.
In Wiccan circles this is when the God dies so that He may be re-born at Yule. This is the final harvest festival, when the last of the harvest is brought in. Food is left out for the dead overnight and candles placed in windows to guide them on their way.
Crone Goddesses, and Gods and Goddesses of the dead are best invoked at Samhain. Gods such as Cernunnos, who gathers up the souls of the dead during the Great Hunt so that he may take them to the Isles of the Dead, is an excellent choice. And the triple deity Morrigan (or just Badb, Her crone aspect) is a good choice. Other appropriate Gods include Arawen, the Welsh God of the underworld; Pwyll; or Crom Cruiach. Goddesses include Arianrhod, Cliodna or Rhiannon.
Other Names For Samhain Samhuinn, Samonios, Halloween, Feast of the Dead
Symbols Cauldron, jack o'lantern, balefire, besom
Colors Black and orange
WINTER SOLSTICE December 21
The Winter Solstice is the time when the night is the longest and the daytime the shortest in the year. This holiday was not celebrated in Celtic times but was introduced into Britain by the Norse invaders and called Yule. However, there is some evidence that it was marked in earlier times when the stone circles and grave mounds were built and used.
In Wiccan circles this is the time when the Holly King, the God of the waning year (Gwyn ap Nuad in Wales), would battle to the death with the Oak King, the God of the waxing year (Gwyrthur ap Gwreidawl in Wales). It is the time of the birth of the young solar God, such as Belinus or Mabon, or by the concept of rebirth, which can be symbolized by the rebirth of the sun, following hard on the heels of Samhain.
This is a time to extinguish lights and then re-light fires or candles to welcome the sun's returning light. For indoor rituals, the fire can be brought indoors in the form of the Yule Log.
Goddesses can also be invoked at this time, such as Modron or the Mabinog, the mother of the reborn God.
Other Names For Winter Solstice Yule, Midwinter, Alban Arthuan.
Symbols Evergreens, wreaths, holly, Yule logs
Colors Red, green and white
IMBOLC February 2
This is the feast of the Goddess Brigit, celebrating the return of the sun and the first planting festival (in Ireland , this is the first date of the ploughing of the sod). The Goddess can also be honored here as the waiting bride of the returning sun God, or as Her recovery period after the birth of the God at the Solstice. The God is but a boy, but his growing power is felt as the sun warms the earth and the first seeds sprout.
This is a time to light fires and candles in profusion, sometimes within a wreath. Brideogs, or grain dollies, are made from dried sheaves and dressed as the Goddess Brigit, and processed through the circle in ritual before being laid in a special bed on the altar with a wand placed next to her.
Young Gods (such as Mabon or Belinus) can be invoked as well at this time.
Other Names For Imbolc Imbolg, Oimelc, Lupercalia, Candlemas
Symbols Candles, grain dollies (Brideogs), ewes, burrowing animals
Colors White, silver, pale yellow
OSTARA March 21
Ostara is the time of the Spring Equinox, a time when the powers of dark and light are equal, with the light becoming ascendant. This holiday did not exist in ancient Celtic times but was introduced by the Teutons.
This is a time to celebrate the first day of Spring, when the world is coming to life and nature shifts to rapid growth after the sluggishness of winter. It is a time of beginnings, of action, of planting spells to be harvested later and to tend to ritual gardens.
The Goddess Eostra (from whom Ostara is named), a Teutonic Goddess of great fecundity, can be honored at this time, as well as other fertility Goddesses, such as Boann or Rhiannon. Also, youthful deities awakening to sexuality, such as Aengus Mac Og, Ialonus or Neit, are appropriate.
Colored eggs, connected to Eostra's sacred Hare, are useful ritual objects for Ostara, symbolizing new beginnings. They can be kept on altars until Beltane.
Other Names For Ostara Spring Equinox, Alban Eiler
Symbols Eggs, butterflies, trefoils, buds, blossoms
BELTANE May 1
The first day of summer, at this time the veils between the worlds are very thin, as at Samhain. This is the time when the Gods and Goddesses mate, the earth is fecund and fertility is rampant. The mating of the Gods is an act that symbolically fertilizes the animals and crops for the coming year.
Beltane is the magic of the blossom and the sidhe and the heavy magic of the earth. As this is the beginning of summer when all nature is reaching a climax of power, it was often thought safest to sleep at home and not be abroad on this night. In ancient times, farmers would drive their herds and flocks between two bonfires before sending them out to summer pasture, as a purification measure.
May poles (representing the male principle) and cauldrons (representing the female) are celebrated now. At this time Wiccans (and Druids) into sex magik may celebrate the Great Rite, where the Priest and Priestess enact, either symbolically or actually, the mating of a God and Goddess. Unlike at Yule, now it is unlucky to give away either fire or salt, as to do either is to give your luck away.
Gods and Goddesses to be invoked at this time include young couples, such as Rhiannon and Pwyll, Blodeuwedd and Llew, Olwen and Culhwch or Grainne and Diarmuid.
Other Names For Beltane Bealtaine, May Day, Rudemas, Giamonios, Bhealltainn
Symbols May Pole, flowers, cauldron or butter churn
Colors Red and white
MIDSUMMER June 21
Midsummer is the time of the Summer Solstice, when the day is the longest and the night is the shortest. This is the time when the Gods are at the peak of their power and Goddesses are pregnant. As another fire festival, Midsummer was not celebrated by the ancient Celts but was imported later.
In Wiccan circles, this is the time when the Holly King, symbolizing the waning year, is victorious in battle against the Oak King, symbolizing the waxing year.
This is also a good time to invoke Gods of the sun, such as Balor or Beli, Lugh or Llew, MacGreine, Len of the Many Hammers; or to invoke Goddesses of the sun, such as Aine, Adsullata, Grian or Sul.
Other Names for Midsummer Summer Solstice, Litha, Feill-Sheathain, Alban Heruin
Symbols Fire, solar disk, feathers, blades
LUGHNASSADH August 1 or 2
The first of the three harvest festivals, Lughnassadh is dedicated to the God Lugh (or the Welsh/Cornish God Llew). In ancient days the date of this festival would actually be changed to coincide with the first reaping. Games and competitions were also held at this time for the funeral of Lugh's foster mother.
This is the beginning of autumn. The sun is slowly dying and rises further and further to the south.
This was the harvest of grains primarily, and the baking of the first loaf, so bread is an important part of any ritual. Also pies made from freshly picked berries are appropriate. This is the time of the goddess Earth at her height with the ripening of the Light. Goddesses of abundance and grain, such as Taillte, Cerridwen, Erce or Habondia may be invoked with Lugh.
Other Names For Lughnassadh Lughnassa, Lammas, August Eve, Elembiuos
Symbols All grains, bread, threshing tools, corn dollies
Colors Gray, gold, green, yellow
MABON September 22
Mabon is the Autumnal Equinox and the second harvest festival, dedicated to the fruits of the vine and with apples and to the completion of the grain harvest started at Lughnassadh.
This is again a time of balance, like Ostara, though now the sun is receding and the nights are longer than the days.
The Celts celebrated newly made wine, harvested apples and visited the burial cairns of their loved ones to place an apple on them, symbolic of the wish of the living to be reunited with their dead (Avalon, one of the names of the Celtic Lands of the Dead, literally means land of apples.)
This is a good time to invoke the God Mabon and His mother Modron as the bringers of the second harvest. Other Gods invoked could be Essus or Grannos and other Goddesses invoked could be Artio or Nantosuelta.
Other Names for Mabon Autumn Equinox, Wine Harvest, Feast of Avalon, Alban Elued
Symbols Apples, wine, grapes, cornucopias, vine garlands, wheat sheaves
Colors Orange , russet, maroon