Q12. What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?

This is an easy one for my tradition. We’ve always been an eclectic group, but we’ve historically had a large number of members influenced by Wicca, so we have always celebrated the Solstices, Equinoxes, and Cross-Quarter days. The traditional seasonal symbolism lines up pretty well here in New England, and Wicca aside, as a tradition we have a strong emphasis on the seasonal/agricultural cycle. It is largely about food for us, though sometimes more symbolically than literally. We don’t do full moon or new moon rituals as a group, mostly because we are too geographically dispersed to meet that frequently.

Each holiday has certain themes associated with it, but whoever steps up to run the ritual has pretty free reign with what they do. It is not uncommon for them to entirely substitute a seasonally appropriate holiday from their own personal tradition. We’re fairly non-specific when it comes to names for the holidays. We are more concerned with coming together to celebrate these eight points of the year, not one specific way of celebrating them.

So for instance the Spring Equinox is coming up. We’ll usually call it Ostara, but we’re not particularly tied to one specific name for any of the holidays. The general theme of Ostara is new beginnings, childhood, or some version of “Yay, Winter is finally ending! You can see dirt with tiny growing things. The earth is no longer a frozen wasteland.” But this year, the folks running the ritual decided on a “Warrior” themed ritual, justified by the fact that astrologically the Spring Equinox is the start of Ares. So they’ve picked a few favorite “Warrior” gods and goddesses to honor. But beforehand, because we do it every year, we’ll be painting prayers for the coming season on eggs and hanging them on a tree. There will be no attempt to pretend this is relevant to the “Warrior” theme, and nobody seems to mind. (We’ve tried in the past omitting one of these longstanding traditions when it didn’t fit well with the theme of the ritual, and it was a wildly unpopular move. It is Ostara, and the People demand an egg tree!)

Beltane we have a weekend campout, with a Maypole and a bonfire. Unfortunately, early May is often chillier than we’d like it to be, but we’ve only had the occasional really-cold-and-soggy Beltane. It is the only holiday where we do anything honoring that male/female duality which features so prominently in Wicca. We carefully pre-select a “Green Man” and “May Queen” who are a reproductively viable male/female couple with some type of committed long term relationship. While this is definitely a sex and fertility themed holiday, we keep the event “family friendly”. We feel pretty strongly that there should be actual ritual sex between the Green Man and May Queen (not just sticking knives into goblets), but the sex happens offstage, in the privacy of their tent.

In somewhat warmer climates, Beltane is a celebration of the earth in full bloom, everything lush and growing and green. We don’t really get there until the Summer Solstice. The ritual is often a celebration of the sun or a “solar” god.  Since it is the turning point where the days begin getting shorter, there can be something of a death theme in there. It is also a good time for any Kemetic (Egyptian) rituals, because it is reliably warm enough for appropriate costuming. (A shenti over sweatpants is not a good look.)

Lammas and Mabon are consistently harvest themed rituals. Lammas specifically grain, and generally honors all the plants we kill and eat to survive. Mabon both about honoring livestock (and hunted animals), and about recognizing that the bountiful and sustaining period of the earth is quickly ending, as we enter into the cold, dark, dead time.

Samhain honors the ancestors. Often there will be some sort of portrayal of the underworld or land of the dead, for a specific tradition. It always ends by setting a table with candles and all of the “good dishes”, and calling the names of our beloved dead. It is a really powerful ritual for many people. We’ll hold it in late October or early November, but never directly on Halloween to avoid conflicts with trick-or-treating and other events.

The Winter Solstice, for us, is Yule, and it is unashamedly “Pagan Christmas”. We get a tree to decorate, we sing carols, we make reindeer cookies, and some of us exchange gifts. The general theme of Yule bringing light and joy and abundance to each other at the darkest point of the year. The worst of winter is still ahead, but at least the days aren’t getting any shorter. Imbolc is really mid-winter for us. Our default is a “candlemas” thing, lots of candles in the snow. It is still about bringing light to the dark cold time, but more with patience and focus, not with revelry like at Yule.

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