Celebrating the Seasons

Celebrating the Seasons


Ways to Celebrate the Holidays
Further Resources
Making Meaning From our Environment


To learn more about historical pagan practices, as well as information about how many Witches, Pagans, and Wiccans celebrate the holidays, I encourage you to look at Mike Nichols' comprehensive site The Witches' Sabbats. If you're not very familiar with these holidays, you may want to look at that before reading my suggestions. I am not sure how accurate the historical information is, and I encourage you to do your own research.



Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

Following are some concepts and ritual practices which I have found to be meaningful for me when celebrating the seasons. Some of them are seasonal activities which can easily be shared with non-Pagan friends. One way to incorporate seasonal celebrations into your life is simply to invite friends and family for a special meal, bless it, and share it together. Eating seasonal foods is a great way to connect more deeply with the earth. Also, any ritual can be tied into the current season by invoking the elements in terms of what is going on at the moment (e.g. "We call on the spirit of Water, who at this time is covering the earth in a blanket of white" or "Fire, we feel you today in the hot sun").

Yule/ Winter Solstice

This is a time to focus on the light within, the inner fire of the spirit, the hearth-fire.

Winter is a time of year that can be depressing for some; take the time now to set an intention for yourself this winter. Going within can be introspection rather than depression: what are your goals for this time of hibernation?

For group ritual: begin the ritual in darkness, or turn all the lights out at some point; then candles can be lit in the darkness to symbolize the return of the light.

Decorate an evergreen tree. Evergreens symbolize the continuity of life throughout the cold winter. (Think about the environmental impact of your actions: do you need to cut down a tree, or can you find another way to celebrate? You may want to decorate a living tree in your yard instead, or bring home large fallen evergreen branches to decorate.)

Stay up all night with candles burning.

Get up to greet the dawn. If you like, you can ring bells or sing a song to welcome the Divine Child of Light who is born on this day.

Eat eggs sunny-side up!


Imbolc:

This is a time of new beginnings, a good time for initiation, self-dedication, or starting on a new path.

Consecrate any new tools you have gotten in the past year. Cleanse or purify any tools whose energy needs to be refreshed.

Do a ritual of self-forgiveness for any mistakes you have made or people you have harmed. Charge a glass of milk with love and comfort, and drink it in.

Celebrate Brigid, goddess of poetry and inspiration, with a poetry reading or other creative event.


Spring Equinox

Go on a "spring walk" and search for signs of spring (green buds, melted ice...).

Plant seeds, and state your intentions for things in your life that you are "planting."

Do a ritual for balance. Invoke the element you feel you are lacking. If you feel different parts of your life are out of balance, create a balanced mobile with symbols representing different parts of your life (work, family, activism...) and hang it where you can see it every day.

Clean house. Take care of unfinished business.

Celebrate by decorating, eating, hiding eggs.

Cook green foods (for the growing earth).

The Ace of Wands

Beltane/ May Day

Commonly this is seen as a celebration of sexuality and fertility.

Dance the Maypole.

Do a self-blessing. Take a ritual bath with scents or oils first.

Walk the boundaries of your land/ home/ territory, possibly reinforcing shields or protective magick.

Summer Solstice

Stay up all night with candles lit (naturally, be mindful of fire safety)

Have a great party! This is the shortest night of the year.

Or a variation: Have a costume party. This night is about transformation and shapeshifting. Invite people to come as something completely different from their everyday self.

This is a great night for magick of change and transformation, especially using the power of fire. Burn a bag of herbs or other small object (a twig, a leaf, etc.) charged with the energy of something you would like to release.

The summer solstice is the time when the power of the sun has grown to its fullest. Meditate on the ways in which you have grown over the past year. Create a ritual celebrating an accomplishment you are proud of.

Cook golden (sun-colored) foods.

Meditate on the five elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit). How are these elements manifested in your life right now? Is one stronger, is another less strong? Which elements do you need to strengthen? Which elements are presenting challenges for you?


Lammas/ Lughnasadh

Pray for "peace and plenty" for the earth and all its creatures.

Bake bread, or cornbread. Fill it with your hopes as you make the dough and bake it. Focus on your hopes as you eat it.

Work to end hunger: Donate to a food bank or food pantry, or volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Commemorate the death of the Celtic god Lugh by celebrating heroes and those who have made sacrifices for causes you believe in.


Autumn Equinox

This is a time of thanksgiving. Hold a dinner party with your friends and give thanks for the blessings in your life. Pass around a glass of juice, cider, water, or wine - each person gives thanks for something and takes a drink.

Balance-related activities (listed under Spring Equinox) are good at this time also.

In a group, the balance of light and dark can be played out through a grapevine type dance where people weave in and out, carrying white and black scarves.

This is the time of Persephone's descent into the underworld. Honor Persephone and her mother Demeter. Ask Persephone for blessing guidance if you are beginning any kind of journey.


Samhain

Make an altar for your beloved dead or for your ancestors.

Cook foods that belong to your culture. Invite your friends and ask each person to bring a dish that belongs to their culture or family tradition. Make time for each person to tell the story of their dish.

Leave offerings by your ancestors' gravesites, if they are nearby. If not, leave offerings for your ancestors in a place that represents them to you (for example, if your ancestors are Polish, leave the offerings in the park named after Polish immigrants).

Leave cakes, cookies, or other small treats at a crossroads for the dead.

Honor your spiritual ancestors - those who are not your blood relations, but who have given you inspiration and serve as your role models.

Cut open an apple (sideways) to find the five-pointed star of rebirth inside. Drink apple cider.


Further Resources



Making Meaning From Our Environment

For Pagans and Witches, the cycles of the earth are a focal point of our spiritual practice. The seasons of our Earth are created by the elliptical movement of the earth around the sun. This cycle is manifested differently in different areas of the planet, and is also affected by differences in climate and geography; a resident of a coastal area will have a different experience of "winter" than an inland dweller at the same latitude. So my description of seasonal celebrations is obviously shaped by a lifetime spent in the northeastern United States. Even in one geographical location, though, the seasons don't happen the same way every year. Some springs are milder while others are more chilly.

Our experience of the seasons is also affected by personal factors. Past events that took place in a particular season may surface, or we may be preoccupied by current events in our lives. The meaning of autumn will be different for a person who is grieving the loss of someone s/he loved than for someone who is excited about starting a new school program. The person grieving a loss may walk slowly, shivering in the chilly air, seeing the touch of death in each leaf that falls from the tree; the person starting a new program may feel invigorated by the brightly colored leaves and the brisk wind.

In a sense, these people have changed their beliefs about the meaning of the season to match their current experience. Psychologists call this "accomodation": revising our mental maps ("schemata") to incorporate new experiences. Individual, personalized rituals give room for these changes in our cognitive maps; the first person in the above example may be designing an Autumn Equinox ritual around grief and letting go, while the second person may be invoking the Goddess of New Endeavors and celebrating autumn as a time of change and beginnings.

Alternately, we may change our understanding of our experiences to match our beliefs about what the season "means." In the Pagan community there are some fairly standardized concepts about the meanings of our holidays; we "know" Yule is about rebirth, so we consider our current experiences and think of the ways in which we are being "reborn" through them. Psychologists call this "assimilation": revising our interpretation of our experience in order to fit it into our cognitive maps. (Here is a further explanation of assimilation and accomodation.)

When assimilation happens unconsciously, it can be a defense mechanism preventing us from absorbing new ideas; but we also use assimilation in a conscious manner as part of our magickal practice. Large group rituals typically encourage this type of cognitive "assimilation" in order to bring group members together in a shared experience (e.g. asking everyone to visualize the ways in which they are "planting seeds" in their lives at a Spring Equinox ritual).

I think these theories are helpful in understanding how Pagans can share certain seasonal concepts or practices, while we can also be flexible enough to create rituals around our individual ways of seeing of the seasons. Both of these are valid ways to make meaning out of our experiences.



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