The seasonal cycle of the year is created by the tilt of the earth's axis as she leans toward the sun in the north or south at different points in her annual dance. Solstices are the extremes in the sun cycle (like new and full moon) when days and nights are either longest or shortest. At equinoxes days and nights are equal (like the waxing or waning half moons). The four cross-quarter days roughly mark the midpoints in between the solstices and equinoxes, giving eight seasonal "holy days" based on the natural cycles....
At the root of all people's cultures, if you dig far enough, is a reverence for Mother Earth and a celebration of the natural cycles throughout the seasons of earth's passage in relation to her closest relatives in the universe. Only the names, dates and specific events of the holidays have changed through the ages according to the prevailing culture. There are still cultures (such as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist) that honor the lunar cycles by celebrating holidays on new and full moons.
We use the fixed dates from the Gregorian calendar for the crossquarter days, although traditionally they are lunar holidays. Traditionally Beltane (May Day) and Lammas (Lugnasadh) are full moon festivals at which fertile, abundant, creative energy is celebrated while Samhain (Hallowmas) and Imbolc (Candlemas) are dark moon festivals, when death and rebirth, the crone and the underworld journey are celebrated. The cross-quarter days are fire festivals celebrating the height of each season, when the subtle shifts in energy, initiated at the balance points of solstice and equinox, begin to be visible in nature. For example, the increasing amount of daylight that begins at Winter Solstice becomes noticeable by Imbolc. (Musawa, We'Moon97, p. 30)
Imbolc, also known as Brigid (later renamed Candlemas by the Christians), is a cross-quarter fire festival, halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. The newborn moon of Winter becomes the infant crescent moon of early Spring. Under the waxing light of the Aquarian sun, we honor Februa, Goddess of Purification, and Brigid, Irish Triple Goddess of Poetry, Healing, and Smithcraft.
Spring is here. Time to wake up. Break the chains of Winter. Animals come out of caves, shedding their winter coats. Under a first quarter moon, life bursts forth; flowers smile. The Aries sun shines upon the young child Goddess playing hide and seek with the balance of light and dark. It is the time of the Goddess Eostara, the hare and egg her symbols of fertility. Persephone returns from the underworld to be reunited with her mother, Demeter. Joy abounds.
The wheel turns again and we come to the cross-quarter fire festival of Beltane. It is halfway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Buds open, flowers color the green fields as the sun enters Taurus and the gibbous moon shines on young love....
Rejoice. Leap the fire with friends and lovers, releasing past hurts. Allow the warmth of the fire to open your heart. Party in celebration of the erotic as sacred source of life. "All acts of love and pleasure are the goddess' rituals." Blessed be!
This is the longest day and shortest night of the year. Emotions rule under a full moon and a Cancer sun. The Goddess as mother is at the culmination of her fertility, sexuality, and power. The promise of possibility conceived at Winter Solstice is manifest.
This is the time of committed lovers. A magical time to make a commitment to love ourselves as well as the partner of our choice. A time to honor our sisterhood and women loving women.
In the midst of brightness we take our first steps into the darkness as the wheel turns and we begin the waning half of the cycle. In the light there is the dark, both having value and bringing completeness to the wheel of the vear. Blessed be!
Lammas honors the turning of the wheel once again as we reach the midpoint between summer and fall. The mother Goddess becomes the matron. Under the disseminating moon, the days continue to slowly grow shorter and the heat of the Leo sun intensifies. We may feel excited, anxious, and impatient as we enter the time of waiting. The grain is ripe but not yet harvested.
Lammas (Old English "loaf Mass") in the Wiccan tradition is a cross-quarter holiday acknowledging the miracle of rebirth. We celebrate the Grain Goddess (Corn Mother, Demeter, the Morrigan, Mawb) as source of life and offer her the first ear of corn.
Fall Equinox is also known as Mabon, for Queen Maeve of the Faery people. The promise of Solstice and Lammas is fulfilled as we reap the harvest. It is the Witches' Thanksgiving, and the wheel turns once more, bringing a balance of light and dark, with sun in Libra and waning moon at last quarter. The Goddess enters menopause as Earth no longer bears fruit, and Persephone silently enters the underworld. We give thanks as we gather the fruits and grains that will sustain us through the winter and increasing darkness.
This is also the time of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. A single stalk of wheat is presented, symbol of Demeter and Persephone, life gone into death until the miracle of rebirth.
This cross-quarter holiday (midway between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice) is the most powerful night of the year, the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. The waning moon reaches her darkest in this balsamic phase. The sun sets deep in watery Scorpio. The Goddess turns crone as we encounter Death in order to be reborn. The ending is the beginning as the wheel turns and Hallowmas becomes the Witches' New Year. Triple Goddess Hecate stands at the gates of death and gives life through midwifery in a never-ending circle.
It is the longest night of the year, the shortest day. We meet to honor the darkness at its peak, reclaiming the night sky and the dark womb as source of light and life. We rejoice in the return of the sun as the light begins to grow. The Goddess is the newborn baby. We honor the birth of the Sun Goddess, Lucina, coming with her crown of lights to disperse the darkness. Amaterasu (Japan) comes out of the dark cave, sees her reflection in a mirror, and lights the world with love from the beauty she sees. Yemaya (Africa) creates the world anew from her womb. (Danahy Sharonrose, We'Moon97)
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See also Moon Phases.