The Wiccan Wheel of the Year is part of an Introductory Course in Wicca for incarcerated Wiccans, their families and friends, and prison Chaplains. It has been written to provide a greater understanding of Wicca as a spiritual practice and religion for those who seek to understand it, either as an incarcerated Wiccan or as someone who cares about incarcerated Wiccans.
Now that you know what Wicca is and what it’s not, and you know the history of Wicca and where it came from, it’s time to learn about the Wiccan holy days, or as we call it, the Wheel of the Year. Farmers, and before them, hunters and gatherers, had to be intimately aware of the seasonal cycles of the year. They knew that plants (and animals) grew during the light half of the year, and that even before the first days of Summer, early in Spring, the first sprouts appear. We called that the first Cross Quarter, because it crossed, (cut in half), the quarters set by the division of the year into Summer and Winter.
By observing these subtle changes, we were able to divide the year into a solar calendar. The Solar Calendar includes the shortest day (and longest night) of the year, known as Yule, which is celebrated on December 21st or 22nd, and is considered the first day of Winter. It also includes the longest day (and shortest night) of the year, known as Litha, which is celebrated on June 21st, and is considered the first day of Summer. The first day of Spring, which is called Eostre, (which is where the Christian holiday of Easter gets its name), is the Spring Equinox (which means “equal night and day”) and is celebrated on March 21st or 22nd. Conversely, the first day of Autumn, called Mabon, is the Autumn Equinox (and a night and day of equal length), and it is celebrated on September 21st. These are the days that make up the Four Quarters of the Wheel of the Year.
The Cross Quarter days divide the Quarters, filling out the Solar Calendar to give Wiccans the eight holy days of the year. Imbolc, which is celebrated on February 2nd, divides the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox; Beltaine, which falls on April 30th or May 1st, divides the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice; Lammas, which falls on August 1st, divides the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox; Samhain, commonly called Halloween, is celebrated on October 31 st, and divides the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. These Cross Quarter days, combined with the Quarters themselves, make up the eight spokes of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.