Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wheel of the Year

Today is 3rd Quarter Uposatha which gets me thinking of the Moon which gets me thinking of the Wheel of the Year. How so? Well, the phases of the moon can coincide with the Wheel of the Year. What's the WotY, you may ask. Our year is based on the (fairly) circular movement of the earth around the sun. Imagine that instead of our calendar being laid out from top to bottom, it's laid out as a never-ending circle. The Pagan year divides this circle into eighths. The dividing days called sabbats fall on the equinoxes, the solstices, and the days in between (cross-quarter days).

In most traditions, the greater sabbats are the cross-quarter days and the lesser sabbats are the equinoxes and solstices. To me this doesn't make sense. The equinoxes / solstices are marked by the specific position of the earth and are calculated astronomically. The cross-quarter days cannot be calculated without them. Therefore, I like to think of the equinoxes / solstices as greater sabbats and the cross-quarter days as lesser sabbats. Really, I'm not sure why any of the sabbats would have a greater or lesser significance. The sabbats are: Yule / Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain. The Witch's New Year is commonly celebrated at Samhain (Halloween).

Now you know what the WotY is. The moon has 8 main phases: new moon, waxing crescent, 1st quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, 3rd quarter, and waning crescent. If I could superimpose the moon phases over the WotY, Yule would correspond to New Moon. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and new moon is when the moon is hidden in the sky. In Egyptian Paganism, winter solstice is the new year. The equinoxes correspond to the 1st and 3rd quarters. The moon is in perfect balance with the light and dark halves; likewise day and night are equal lengths.

Celebrations of the moon are called esbats. In contrast, the sabbats celebrate the sun.

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