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Many pagans see the calendar not as linear, but as the Wheel of the Year, forever turning and coming back again full circle. The Wheel is divided into eight sections and each has its own festival. These are based on the four Fire Festivals and the four Cross-quarter Festivals.
The Fire Festivals, linked to the position of the sun in relation to the earth, are the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes. We know these festivals have been marked for a considerable length of time as many sacred sites all over the world have stones aligned to the sunrise or sunset of these four solar events. The Cross-quarter Festivals are of a rural nature and mark important times in the farming calendar; very necessary to survival for our ancestors. These are Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas and Samhain, although there are different names given to them depending on the source. There are always six or seven weeks between each of the eight festivals, so never too long between ceremonies and celebrations.
By their nature, these festivals are very much part of folklore and rooted in local custom. There’s no doctrinal tract that states how they must be celebrated, no set of rules or rituals that must be adhered to religiously. Customs have been handed down through the centuries, and others have been newly invented or discovered. Paganism isn’t about sticking to dogma – it’s about finding your own path and doing what feels right for you. Human nature can veer sometimes towards wanting a set of rules and guidelines. We enjoy the comfort of ritual and of course ritual has its own power. But it’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone – other than the stones themselves!
There’s a lot of information about how to celebrate the eight festivals, and if you’re new to this, one of the best books for beginners is “Sacred Celebrations” by Glennie Kindred. Personally, I would create a little “nature” table to mark the season and focus on objects that have special meaning, be it an acorn or a snowdrop, a stone or a seashell. Lighting a candle is always a good way to focus your attention, staring into the flame and concentrating on positive, affirmative thinking. Beautiful scents and music can heighten the senses’ perception, and many people like to eat and drink something to acknowledge the bounty of Mother Earth. And of course, if possible get yourself outside in the open air for a meditation, still or walking, especially at sunrise or sunset.