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The Wiccan Year


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The Wiccan Seasons

Samhain October 31 to December 22
Yule December 23 to January 31
Imbolc February 1 to March 20
Ostara March 21 to April 30
Beltane May 1 to June 20
Litha June 21 to July 31
Lammas August 1 to September 7
Mabon September 7 to October 30
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The Wiccan Year

The Wiccan year was divided into eight seasons, rather than the four we inherited from the Anglo-Saxons. These began with a festival commencing on the “eve” of the season. This was because the Wiccans considered that the day began at dusk rather than in the morning. We have echoes of this in, for instance, the commencement of Christmas festivities on Christmas Eve rather than at the dawn of Christmas day.

The year began with the Festival of Samhain on October 31st, because the Wiccans considered that the year bean with the onset of winter.

The dates given for the start and end of these seasons above are approximate. There are several reasons for this, not the least being the late adoption of the Gregorian calendar in England and Ireland. The Gregorian calendar wiped out twelve days from the Julian calendar to make the calendar astronomically accurate, which led many in Mediaeval Europe to demand back the twelve days of their lives which they thought had been stolen by the c3hurch. As a result Lammas, for instance, was celebrated variously on the first or the twelfth of August.

In addition to the seasonal festivals the Wiccans celebrated Full Moon and New Moon days, known as Esbats, as minor festivals. One ritual was the “Drawing down of the Moon”. The priestess, or sometimes priestess and priest carried out this ritual and acted as a vessel for the power of the lunar goddess to be manifested on earth.

I hope you find this article interesting; if you don’t, I can only say:

There is only one Yawn in the world,
And it goes from person to person.
(Anon.)


Samhain

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Samhain (an Irish word meaning “summer’s end”) heralds the start of the Wiccan year. Samhain begins on October 31, midway between the autumnal equinox (equal day and night) and the winter solstice (shortest day). The Wiccan year begins at this time because the onset of winter which was considered to be the start of the year.

October 31st was the time when Celtic people honoured the dead. The day was celebrated by inviting the souls of all evil people who, upon death, had to live in the bodies of animals, to a feast. The feast was to see if their deeds after death had earned them redemption.

The idea of evil people having a party did not appeal to the church and in 837, Pope Gregory changed the name to All Saints day. This also distanced the celebration from the Celtic custom of celebrating “eves” rather than days, as they believed that the day started at dusk. Formerly, “All Hallows Eve”, the later corruption to “Halloween” is obvious. “Hallows” is an archaic word for saint or holy man.

On Halloween, chestnuts are left on the table for any souls of the dead who come back to visit on that night. Another handy use for chestnuts is that they are reputed to be a cure for backache, rheumatic pain and headache. Carry a chestnut. Chestnuts boiled with honey and glycerine are also supposed to cure asthma and other chest problems. You would have to experiment with these cures yourself; I can’t comment as I don’t suffer with any of these conditions in the first place and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you substitute them for the remedy your GP prescribes. However, I can’t see any major problem with carrying a chestnut around in your pocket if you have a headache to see if it helps, although why it would, beats me.

It is the last of the three harvests after Lammas and Mabon.

Alphonse Mucha: Autumn

On the feast of Samhain, hordes of faeries come out from their hollows to wreak chaos and abduct the unwary traveller. One did not venture out without the protection of a charm or amulet – or the protection of turning one’s clothes inside out. Such a fate is recalled in the legend of Tam Lin, who is captured by the Queen of faeries when he fell from his horse. He eventually escapes aided by his one true love, Janet.

The queen of faeries is not amused: “Had I known, Tam Lin, she said, what this night I did see I’d have looked him in the eye and turned him to a tree”.

The ballad of Tam Lin, by the way, is on the Liege and Leif album by Fairport Convention.

If you are foolhardy enough to venture outside, remembering to reverse your clothes, you will find Andromeda at the zenith of the night sky on Eve Samhain. Interestingly the constellation contains the Andromeda galaxy, only other galaxy visible with the naked eye and also, the most distant object you can possibly see without a telescope. Andromeda in Greek mythology was daughter of Cassiopeia. Alpheratz or Sarah is a blueish white star which represents her head and also forms a corner of the great square of Pegasus.

Daughter of Cassiopeia and King Cepheus, Andromeda was doomed to die because her vain mother had outraged the sea nymphs by claiming the she was more beautiful than any of them. The Ethiopians were henceforth plagued with floods and storms. On consulting the Oracle King Cepheus was told to sacrifice his daughter to appease the nymphs. However she was saved by Perseus sweeping down from the sky on the winged horse, Pegasus.

The constellation of Cassiopeia lies to the North of Andromeda and Pegasus. Note that these constellations, of course, relate to Greek, not Wiccan, gods and goddesses.

Partly visible along the Southern horizon is the constellation of Phoenix. The Phoenix rose from its own ashes and is identified with death and rebirth. By extension this associates it with the dying and rising god, and the death of the old year and birth of the new. The constellation of Phoenix is only visible in the Northern hemisphere at this time of the year.

The Square of Pegasus is also visible to the South. Pegasus, the white winged stallion with a mane of gold and the most famous of all legendary horses, is the bringer of inspiration. The horse in legend is a symbol of intuition and inspiration but Pegasus, because he can soar into the skies stands for inspiration and imagination. His father was Poseidon, bringer of storms, god of the sea and creator of all horses. To this day we describe the foam and spindrift off the crests of an angry sea as “white horses”.

Pegasus’ mother was the Medusa, the once-beautiful object of Poseidon’s desire who was overwhelmed by him as by a tidal wave, resulting in Pegasus’ conception. However this rather irritated the goddess Athena as the somewhat spectacular event occurred in her temple. Medusa’s beautiful tresses were transformed in snakes and the rest of her stunning good looks suffered a similar downturn. She was banished to the far West of the world until Perseus killed her, Pegasus arising from her severed head; as you can gather, not a normal birth.

In Celtic tradition, Samhain is the time for honouring the dead. Their presence was welcomed and a meal was set for them. Often the space was illuminated by the original Jack-o’-Lantern, often carved from a turnip rather than a pumpkin. Jack is now associated with the Halloween lantern. On All Hallows Eve the dead are said to walk; it is easy to see how ancient traditions have been absorbed and transmuted into modern times. The other association of Jack-o’-Lantern is with the Will-o’-the-Wisp, the spurious lights in the distance which result from the spontaneous combustion of natural Methane gas released over marshland.

Judy Ann Nock in “The Wiccan Year” mentions a charm for Samhain. Equal parts of pine (needles or resin), clove buds and dried ginger root are combined in a mortar and pestle. Hey are ground into a fine powder and the mixture is placed in the centre of a three inch round piece of black felt. The edges are gathered and tied with a red thread. This is worn on your person or kept in a pocket.

The pine deflects evil, the clove is an offering to Hecate and the ginger honours the dead.


Yule

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A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereupon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends upon him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

(Thomas Hardy, Snow in the Suburbs)

In everyday language, “Yuletide” has come to be synonymous with the twelve days of Christmas but in the Wiccan calendar, Yule begins at the Winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night when the sun is at its lowest on the horizon and gives way to Imbolc on February eve (i.e., January 31). The significance of the “eve” in dates and festivals is that the day was considered to start in the evening.

The Yuletide celebration originated in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, the feast of the god Saturn, from December 17 to December 26 and December the 25th was the celebration day of Mithras, the solar deity whose Celtic name is Belenus, Lamh-fada in Gaelic and Llew Llaw Gyffes to the British.

The most prominent constellations at this time, close to the Zenith, are Orion the hunter and Taurus the bull. Orion was the greatest of all hunters and could kill any animal except, unfortunately, the scorpion which ultimately killed Orion at the behest of Artemis.

Alphonse Mucha: Winter

Taurus is identified with Zeus, who took the form of a white bull to seduce Europa, the Phoenician princess. Europa climbed on his back and was carried across the sea to Crete, where Zeus revealed his true identity. The arrival in Crete ties the story neatly to the Minotaur of the palace of Knossos. The palace of Knossos is, by the way, well worth a visit. Built three and a half thousand years ago, it is immense, architecturally advanced and had running water and a sewerage system. I couldn’t help noticing that the road, built from closely-fitting stone blocks, is still today good enough to ride a bike along without difficulty while the modern tarmac road is full of holes. So much for technological advance.

This is completely off the point but talking about roads reminds me of a guy we met in Glastonbury abbey who was firing pots in a small corner of the grounds in the mediaeval way. He told us that the origin of the word “pothole” comes from the fact that the king’s highway was made of clay and that after the road had been laid, along came the potters to nick a bit of it – and create a “pothole”. Eventually, when enough of them had been along with their little spades the road had “gone to pot”.

He took a pot out of his mediaeval kiln at 1100 degrees and licked it. (Yes, seriously, you didn’t misread that). It reminded me of my mother licking her finger and touching the iron to see if it was hot enough. You only touch it momentarily, the water boils off and you don’t get burnt. He used the same method with his tongue on a hot pot fresh from the kiln. This tells him if the lead content in the pot is correct – lead tastes sweet. Again, your tongue doesn’t get burnt but there is an unfortunate side effect. Over time, the lead sends you crazy – hence the term “potty”. Similarly, hatters used to go slowly insane because of the Mercury used in hats. Hence, “Mad as a hatter”. None of this has anything to do with Yule but interesting enough.

Above the horns of Taurus is the constellation Auriga whose brightest star, Capella, associates with Amalthea, she-goat and foster mother to Zeus.

The Yule log is a tradition of Scandinavian origin representing the god of nature: the Green Man. Usually of Oak or Birch, the log was decorated and then burnt, its flames invoking the rays of the sun and dispelling the darkness of winter. The ashes are used to fertilise the earth.

Again, Judy Ann Nock in “The Wiccan Year” mentions a charm for Yule: equal parts of Bay laurel, cinnamon and nutmeg ground with a pestle and mortar and placed in a circle of green cloth. Bind it with red thread and carry it on the solstice. All three herbs are ruled by the sun and are associated with the return of the light. The charm is said to enhance psychic awareness, project positive energy and they certainly emanate a warm and spicy aroma for a cold and dark time.


Imbolc

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If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight
But if Candlemas day brings clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and it won’t come back again.

(Old English Proverb)

Commonly known in modern times as Candlemas, Imbolc is also known as Imbolg, Olmec, Oimelg and Laa’l Breeshey. Commencing with the festival of Imbolc on February eve which concludes on the second of February, Imbolc heralds the return of spring. Imbolc concludes around the 20th of March when the Vernal equinox introduces Ostara.

Candlemas day is also known as Groundhog Day. On February the 2nd the groundhog wakes up from his winter slumbers and pokes his head out from his underground hibernation quarters. If the sun is out he will see his shadow, which will frighten him back into his nest and there will be six weeks more of winter. Another interpretation is that the crone Cailleach ventures in search of kindling for her fires so that she can keep winter going a little longer. If the weather is good she is successful and winter is extended for six weeks; if the weather is damp, the kindling is useless.

People in agrarian societies have to be pretty good at understanding the weather, either logically or intuitively as a matter of sheer survival. Many of these apparent superstitions therefore turn out to be supported by later scientific knowledge. For instance the saying: “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight, red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning” is generally accurate. The refractive index of the sky and therefore the bending of various colours in the daylight spectrum depends on the water content of the atmosphere. Whether the one about Groundhog Day is accurate I couldn’t say but you might want to test it out next time February the second comes around.

Candles are very significant in spiritual work. Often they are lit for loved ones who have passed over, for those in distress or who are distant, and to ward off evil spirits. A blue light from a candle indicates a good spirit nearby.

Beeswax candles are used in church because bees come from paradise. Bee venom is an ancient cure for rheumatism, arthritis and other joint maladies, and bees have been considered to be the messengers, or even spies, of the gods.

If a bee flies into your house and out again it is supposedly good luck but if it dies there, it is bad luck. In any case I would like to put in a word for bees and wasps as I don’t like anything to be killed unnecessarily. Animals will normally not attack you unless they feel threatened. I have been encouraging uninvited bees and wasps on to my hand and escorting them outside all my life and it has never got me stung. The main thing is, don’t panic – they are not really interested in you in the first place.

This time is sacred to Brighid, whose worship was far more widespread than most of the Celtic deities who were tied to a location. Her name comes from the Celtic root “Brig”, which means “exalted” and she was considered to be the bringer of civilisation. Wife of king Bres Mac Elatha and mother of Ruatha, half god and half giant, her following originated in Leinster in Ireland and was attended by an all-female priesthood. Many scholars consider that she was assimilated into St. Brigid in the Christian tradition.

At this time of year the constellation of Leo makes his first appearance over the horizon, culminating in April and the bright stars, Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, are overhead.

The Leo group has been identified with a lion since Babylonian times, also by the Egyptians and Greeks along the way. The lion is a symbol of kingship. The brightest star in the group, Regulus, is Latin for “king”.

Castor and Pollux, the heavenly twins, were divine and spent half their time on earth and half in heaven. They give protection, especially for mariners. Imbolc is associated with water and as water if also associated with the emotions, by extension the heavenly twins represent emotional protection.


Ostara

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It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills,
And April’s in the west wind, and daffodils.

(John Masefield, the West Wind)

Ostara begins at the Vernal equinox, around the 20th of March, and lasts until the midpoint between the equinox and the summer solstice. The second solar festival of the Wiccan year heralds and celebrates the arrival of spring and the return of the maiden goddess, Persephone, from the underworld.

The world is full of potential: newborn calves and lambs, emerging buds and shoots.

The Easter egg is a continuation of an ancient tradition in which the egg symbolises this time of year on many levels. It represents fertility but the yolk was also associated with the return of the sun. Eggs were an essential component of the diet and often it was the tradition to collect the coloured and speckled eggs of wild birds at this time – a tradition which is likely to get you arrested in an age of endangered species and disappearing wildlife.

Alphonse Mucha: Spring

An ancient Germanic custom honoured the Goddess Eastre. She held open the gates of Valhalla for the slain sun-god Baldur, thereby bringing light to man. She held the hare or rabbit sacred and the Easter hare laid eggs for good children.

The Great Bear or Big Dipper is overhead in the night sky. Often called the Plough, Following the two stars furthest from the “handle” leads your eye to Polaris, the pole star, while continuing the line leads to the “W” formation of stars known as Cassiopeia. The Great Bear is associated with Artemis “the untamed one” often represented by a great she-bear. Artemis was goddess of the moon and thanks to her we have birthday cakes. Her birthday was celebrated with moon-shaped honey cakes. We write “Happy Birthday” in icing sugar on the cake from the tradition that if you write something on a piece of food and it is eaten, the person who eats it gains the power of the phrase.

Another association is with Callisto, daughter of the king of Arcadia, who was turned into a bear either by the wrath of Artemis at the sacrifice of her chastity to Zeus, An alternative version is that she was changed into a bear by Zeus himself to protect her from the anger of his wife, Hera.

The constellation of Virgo, Maiden of the Harvest and one of the largest constellations in the sky, is also in evidence at this time. She is variously associated with Persephone or with her mother, Demeter. Another association is with Hygeia, goddess of health (sic. “Hygiene”).

The other significant constellation is Bootes, the Ploughman. There is no particular mythology attached to Bootes.


Beltane

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You must wake and call me early, call me
Early, mother dear
Tomorrow ‘ill be the happiness time of
all the glad New Year-
Of all the glad New Year, mother the
maddest, merriest day:
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May mother
I’m to be Queen o’ the May

(Tennyson, The May Queen)

Beltane follows Ostara and ends at the summer solstice. Beginning on April 30th or May 1st, it is associated with “May Day” and dancing around the Maypole. Much was made of mayday in my junior school and all the parents were invited. I remember being put in charge of the record player, which at the time was a wind-up mechanical device. Unfortunately I didn’t wind it up enough so the celebratory dance ground to a halt along with the music and the dancers, half way through. I remember that the following summer was a washout which goes some way to proving the effectiveness of ritual.

The druids celebrated May Day as the start of the New Year. They started a huge bonfire as a symbol of the spring sun and revellers danced around it. Then they marched cattle through the fire to purify them. Lovers walked in the smoke from the fire for luck. The hearth fires were extinguished and rekindled from the bonfire. The tradition of the Beltane fires continued in Wales until the mid-nineteenth century and in Ireland until the mid-twentieth.

The Maypole was an invention of the Romans, who cut a Pine tree, stripped the branches and wrapped it in violets. In the middle ages the Roman Maypole tradition was combined with the Druidic custom of dancing round the fire to create the idea of dancing round the maypole to encourage the spring crops. The tradition was suppressed by the puritans but returned after they lost their grip on the population.

In England, there was a tradition that washing your face with the morning dew on May Day would make you beautiful. No harm in trying it!

In mythology faeries abound at this time, especially shape-shifting ones which may appear as a deer, a swan or a falcon or as a beautiful woman detectable only in her graceful, ethereal movements and a scent of apple blossoms; the Tylwyth Teg (fair family) in Wales and the Daoine Side (mound dwellers) in Ireland. In fact, although fairy – like images appear in Etruscan art from 600 B.C. they do not appear in Celtic art until well after the rise of Christianity. It seems that in the Druidic tradition, sidhe or faeries were considered to be the dead waiting to return to mortal life. Common to all regions is the characterisation of faeries as belonging to a matriarchal society, capable of the casting of spells and the distortion of time. One night in a fairy realm often resulted in the loss of several years back in the human realm.

Libra, the only constellation representing an inanimate object (the scales) makes its first appearance in the night sky in May. Libra is associated with the goddess of justice, Astraea. Hence the representation of the justice card as scales in Tarot packs. Astraea lived on earth during the golden age but when we all became so iniquitous that the gods couldn’t put up with us, packed their bags and ascended to heaven, she was the last to leave. Her scales remind us that she will come back some time to conduct her own personalised day of reckoning.

Taurus, the sacred bull appears in many mythologies such a Mesopotamian cosmology, the Mithraic cult of Persia, and the cult of the Minotaur in Crete. Isis, Aphrodite and Selene are associated with Taurus.

As mentioned elsewhere, Knossos, the palace where the Minotaur’s labyrinth allegedly was is well worth a visit. Unfortunately Arthur Evans, who originally excavated it, has a lot to answer for. He tried to embellish it by using concrete to repair it and made a mess of it making it difficult to separate the original artefacts from the repair. However, the Cretan guides usually tell you that Knossos is the best place to start looking at Minoan palaces before moving on to the more natural, but less easy to decipher, temples such as Phaestos.


Litha

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It is full summer now, the heart of June;
Not yet the sunburnt reapers are a-stir
Upon the upland meadow where too soon
Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see his treasure scattered by
The wild and spendthrift breeze.

(Oscar Wilde, the Garden of Eros)

From the summer solstice until the beginning of Lughnasad, midway between the solstice and the autumnal equinox, Litha heralds the waning of the light.

The Sabbat of Litha is the culmination of the Green Man or Oak King, the sacred male principle and the embodiment of the spirit of nature. He is eventually cut down as a representation of the harvest and of the cycle of life and death. Great fires were lit and burning wheels often cast down the hillside. Midsummer’s eve was recognised as a time of intense magic and the presence of faeries, as in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream.

At Stonehenge on the summer solstice, and the evening of the winter solstice, the sun falls directly on the heel stone. The sun has been doing this since Stonehenge was built five thousand years ago.

The race of faeries came into existence when the Tuatha De Danaan, a fighting force whose formidable array of weapons included incantation and poetry as well as spear and shield, were defeated by the Milesians, a race of men, whose equally formidable weapons included ballads. The Tuatha decided to retreat from the surface of the land into an underground realm, taking their spells and magic with them. There they became the daoine sidhe, the people of the hills, and each god or goddess became a faerie.

Alphonse Mucha: Summer

The myriad of constellations visible at this time of year includes Hercules, Gemini, the Corona Borealis and Draco.

Hercules, Bottom’s ‘Ercles in Midsummer Night’s Dream, was son the illegitimate son of Zeus and Alkmene and as such invoked the persistent wrath of Hera, Zeus’s wife. Hercules was a hero throughout the Mediterranean lands.

Castor and Pollux, the heavenly twins, are described under the reference to Imbolc in this document.

Directly North of Hercules towards midnight on midsummer’s eve is Draco, the dragon.

Draco is associated with the goddess Athena and with the founding of the city of Thebes by Cadmus. Rumour has it that after the dragon was killed, Cadmus was instructed by Athena to bury the dragon’s teeth, from which grew men who helped him in the creation of the city.

Another association is with Tiamat, the primordial dragon of Babylonian mythology.

Finally, we come to the Corona Borealis or Ariadne’s crown. Ariadne was daughter of Minos, king of the Minoans. The traditional sacrifice to the Minotaur was seven men and seven maidens, of which her lover Theseus was one. It was Ariadne who provided him with the ball of string which allowed him to defeat the Minotaur and by re-winding the string, find his was out of the labyrinth.


Lammas

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It was upon a Lammas night
When corn rigs are bonnie
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light
I held awa to Annie:
The time flew by wi’ tentless heed
Till, ‘tween late and early,
Wi’ sma’ permission she agreed
To see me thro’ the barley

- Robert Burns

Following Litha, Lammas takes us to the autumnal equinox (equal night and day). Lammas is often called Lignasad from the Celtic Lughnasad, nasad meaning “Games” or “festival” of the deity Lugh. August 1st represents the first day of the Celtic Autumn and is the last of the four great fire festivals of the Celtic year. It is also the first of the three harvests along with Mabon and Samhain. The name survives in modern Gaelic: the month of August is Lunasa. It is the start of the harvest and the Lammas loaf is still made from the first grain of the harvest in many parts of the United Kingdom. The loaf is broken into four pieces – not cut with a knife – and the pieces distributed at each corner of your property. It is left for the birds to eat with the spell:

I call on the spirits
Of North, South, East and West
Protect this place
Now, at the time of blessing

Another ritual is the baking of bread in the shape of a man, which is then eaten. Could this be the origin of the gingerbread man?

In earlier times holidays were timed to coincide with the festival of Lughnasad so that as many hands as possible were freed up to help with the harvest; there are echoes of this in the modern August bank holiday.

There is little historical evidence of what occurred during the festival but it appears to have lasted for two to four weeks and may have originally been aimed at the roundup of the flocks before the Anglo Saxons later dubbed it the feast of first fruits.

Lugh was the grandson of Balor, a Fomorian king. There was a prophecy that Balor would be killed by his grandson. To avoid this Balor imprisoned his daughter Eithne so that no man could touch her. However, this plan was thwarted by Cian, her lover, who reached her by disguising himself as a woman. She gave birth to triplets of which only Lugh survived. Other myths ascribed Lugh’s parentage to Dagda, the supreme god who controlled the weather and the harvest.

Lammas is associated with water and along with the festivals of Beltane and Midsummer, wells were often visited. Many of the associated festivals either survived from Pagan times or were revived in Victorian times. There are over six thousand holy wells in Britain and Ireland and many of them are associated with “well dressing” – decoration with elaborate floral tributes. Other festivals are Lhuany’s day on the Isle of Man (Lhuany is the Manx Lugh) and Lammas Towers in Scotland, which essentially involved rival gangs injuring each other with clubs.

In England a relatively tame version of blood sacrifice involved pricking one’s finger with a needle, dripping the blood into a well and throwing the needle in after it. This, apparently, was a cure for a range of ills.

August is a traditional time for fairs; some because of Lammas and others, probably coincidentally, because of the chance of favourable weather. These include the Puck fair, Muff fair and Ram fair in Ireland, the Royal National Eisteddfod in Wales, the Highland games and in England the various Wake fairs, the Nottingham Goose Fair and Grasmere sports.

Temporary marriages lasting a year and a day could often be obtained by joining hands through a stone with a hole in it, whilst the practice of buying and selling wives at Lammas fairs continued into the nineteenth century – as in “The Mayor of Casterbridge”.

John Barleycorn was the God of the Corn sacrificed at Lammas as related by the Strawbs:

But he lived to tell the tale
Now they pour him out of an old brown jug
And they call him home brewed ale

A darker version of the story is told by Arnold Wesker in the play Afore Night Come. Tradition has it that the first passing traveller was sacrificed to the corn. The angst of the unsophisticated farm workers is amplified by the presence of a crop spraying aircraft, which is rumoured to cause sterility: they need a fertility ritual to compensate. As the play develops that reason that the village is known as Headless Cross becomes frighteningly obvious.

One of the most spectacular events in the night sky at any time of year is the Perseid meteor shower (meteor showers are named after the constellation from whose direction they appear to come, in this case, Perseus). The shower peaks on August 12th.

I remember laying outside a tent on the Isle of Wight on a family holiday looking up at the shower as shooting star after shooting star appeared. If you want to wish on a star, this is as good a time as any.

Leo is the dominant constellation at this time. Corresponding deities from other civilisations are the Babylonian lioness Neshtu and Egyptian lion-headed warrior goddess Sekhmet.

The lion is known for strength and nobility and in folklore, for generosity, mercifulness and responsibility rather than ferocity. In Androcles and the Lion, the lion dare not harm a man who had previously pulled a painful thorn from his paw. In one of Aesop’s fables, “The lion and the Mouse” Aesop describes a lion sparing the life of a mouse who later rescues him by gnawing through cords which are binding him.


Mabon

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Leaves are falling all around,
Time I was on my way
Thanks to you I’m much obliged,
Such a pleasant stay
But now it’s time for me to go
The autumn moon lights my way.
I smell the rain and with it pain
And it’s heading my way.

(Led Zeppelin)

The sun crosses the celestial equator, this time heading south, and from the equinox, Mabon takes us to the close of the Wiccan Year at the end of October. It is also the second of the three harvests along with Lammas, the first and Samhain, the third.

Mabon means “Son of the mother”, apparently a tautology but actually an obscure reference to birth and rebirth, the dying and rising god of many religions, the descent of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, into the underworld.

The leaves are dying and falling to the ground, but when they decay they will provide nitrates to fertilise next year’s growth. The Wiccans were not too hot on biochemistry by appreciated the idea of rebirth. Mabon was stolen from his mother as a child and held in the underworld where he did not age, later emerging as the oldest human.

The solstice was therefore one of the most significant times in the calendar and many Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age artefacts attest to this. From Stonehenge in the West of England to the megalithic passage tomb at Knowth in County Meath, many such artefacts contain alignments with the sun at this time.

The grief of Demeter at losing her daughter Persephone caused her to render the world barren; when Persephone was restored to the world Demeter made restitution and the world came back to life.

Three constellations are now overhead:

- Lyra (the lyre, instrument of Apollo which he bequeathed to his son Orpheus who “with his lute made trees”). Orpheus also descended to the underworld to plead for the release of Eurydice. In this he was successful because his music so moved the queen of the underworld. The story has obvious parallels with that of Demeter and Persephone.

- Cygnus (the swan, Caer to the Wiccans, object of the affection of Angus, the Celtic Eros). Angus was pining for his one true love whom he had only ever seen in a dream and his father, fearful for his son’s life, assembled a hundred and fifty nymphs for Angus to pick from. Angus immediately recognised Caer.

- Aquila (the eagle, messenger of the gods and the symbol of power and courage). The eagle was said to be the only bird that could fly between heaven and earth. Every year as autumn approached, she went to a lake called Dragon Mouth where she and her attendants turned into swans. Eventually Angus also turned into a swan and they were reunited and regained their human forms.

Each has a first-magnitude star, respectively Vega, Deneb and Altair. These comprise a group called the Summer Triangle.

For thousands of years the autumnal equinox has been in Virgo but was previously in Libra.

Virgo represents the soul’s first point of full maturity. Vulcan should rule Virgo but it has a temporary home in Mercury until Vulcan manifests itself. It is often said that Virgoans exhibit “the distant thunder of Vulcan”. Interestingly, a very small object orbits close to the sun inside the orbit of Mercury, which could be taken as Vulcan. Virgo is associated with mercurial flexibility but also as an earth sign is solidly grounded.

The scales of Libra seek balance which is found momentarily in the equinox. Also it is the balance point between Yin and Yang, the soul’s last outwardly-looking point before the introspection of winter.


Acknowledgements and further reading (and listening): Books:
The Wiccan YearJudy Ann NockProvenance Press
Beltane RavenGrimassiLlewellyn Publications
LammasAnna Franklin and Paul MasonLlewellyn Publications
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle
A – Z of SuperstitionsCarole PotterChancellor Press
The Encyclopaedia of MythologyArthur CotterelLorenz Books

Plays:
The Mayor of CasterbridgeThomas Hardy
Afore Night ComeArnold Wesker

Music:
Tam LinFairport ConventionLiege and Leif
John BarleycornSteeleye Span
Scarborough FairSimon and Garfunkel

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© Ken James 2008