The 8 Neo-Pagan High Days

November 1 – First Cross Quarter

The first cross quarter, often called Samhain, is a time of remembrance for the dead.  It is thought of as the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, and thus it is a liminal time when we can more easily communicate with the Mighty Dead, the Ancient Wise.  It is the final of the harvest festivals, and is often celebrated with a great feast honoring those who have passed.

In our Grove we’ve celebrated Samhain by holding a “dumb supper.”  During this time we have a feast with the Grove members and create a plate of food specifically for the Ancestors.  Then one by one, while everyone is quiet, we go up the altar and tell a story or share a memory about our ancestors.  It is a time for community with each other and our ancestors.

In current culture it is linked to Halloween.  Children wear costumes (which stems from the folk wearing masks so the spirits wouldn’t recognize them) and candy and other treats are given out, hearkening back to a time of offering hospitality to travelers.

December 21 – Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice, often referred to as Yule, is the longest night of the year.  It is seen as a time of death and rebirth.  It is the darkest night, but from that point on the days will get longer each day, and so hope is renewed that the winter will not keep getting darker and it will end eventually.

Hellenic tradition celebrates Heliogenna at this time, as a rebirth of the Sun.  The honored deity is Helios, God of the Sun, and it is a time for the folk to reflect back on what they did the past year and to wipe their slate clean of that which they don’t want to take into the coming year.  This is similar to the practice in current culture of making New Year’s Resolutions.

February 1 – Second Cross Quarter

The second cross quarter, often called Imbolc, is the time of year when the sheep begin lactating again, signaling that the winter is coming to a close and spring is just around the corner.  Imbolc celebrates the fire that burns within, and the hearth.  This is likely because the family stays together more and remains around the hearth more in the wintertime.

In current culture, Groundhog’s Day is celebrated on February 2nd, and is a time when people look to a groundhog leaving his borrow to see how much longer the winter will be.  So, in the same sense, winter is coming to an end, it will last just a bit longer, and spring is just around the corner.

March 21 – Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox, often called Ostara, is the time of year when winter is finally letting go of the world and the day and night are the same length.  It is a time for fertility, new life, and new beginnings.  Farmers can begin planting, and new livestock are born to sustain the herds.

In Hellenic culture the festival of Anthesteria takes place around this time.  It is a three day “Festival of Flowers” that celebrates the coming of spring, new wine (honoring Dionysos here), and the ancestors.  The first day, the Opening of Jars (Pithoigia), is where the new wine was opened and libations to Dionysos were poured.  The folk prayed that wine drunk mixed with water as Dionysos taught would be good for them.  The second day, the Day of Cups (Khoes), was a time for revelry and merrymaking.  The third day, the Day of Pots (Khytrai), honored the ancestors by leaving out traditional food for the dead (Orsini).

May 1 – Third Cross Quarter

The third cross quarter, often known as Beltane, is a time of revelry, and like Samhain, a time when the veil between the worlds is thin.  It is another liminal time, though in the case of pop culture associated more with fairies and magical beast than with the dead.  However, this is okay because it is seen as a time when the folk can communicate more easily with the Gods and with the Nature Spirits.

In our Grove we generally dance the Maypole, which is a derivative of Morris Dancing.  “Morris dancing, in fact, has been claimed to be a remnant of a pre-Christian Celtic, or Druidic, fertility dance” (Witcomb), though the historic evidence supporting this is questionable.  Despite this however, dancing the Maypole is an example of neo-pagan practices surround May Day, or Beltane.  It is considered a fertility dance that focuses on raising power.

June 21 – Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, is the longest day of the year.  It is a time to celebrate the glory and power of the sun, as well as the mighty Fire within.  During this celebration there often would have been many bonfires burning.

A modern Hellenic celebration is Prometheia, referencing Prometheus, the Greek Titan who gave fire as a gift to mankind.  It is a three day festival with the first day honoring the ancient philosophers and remembering the ancient Greek culture and traditions. On the second day the surviving parts of the Prometheia trilogy by Aeschylus are performed.  They relate the tragedy of Prometheus and how he was punished for giving fire to mankind.  The theater performance is followed by revelry late into the night.  On the third day purification, name giving, and marriage ceremonies take place (Prometheia).

August 1 – Fourth Cross Quarter

The fourth cross quarter, also known as Lughnassadh, is the first of the three harvest festivals.  The summer months where food is in short supply due to the heat are coming to an end and the bounty of the fall harvests is a time for celebration.  In Celtic tradition this festival honors Lugh and a variety of warrior games were held in honor of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailltiu.  In Hellenic tradition warrior games were also held at this time of year for several days following the main ritual.  During Panathenaia a 2-mile uphill torch race was held ending at the Acropolis.  “The first runner one to arrive with a torch still alight was the winner and his torch was used to light the fire to burn the sacrifices” (Panathenaia).

In addition to the competitions, Panathenaia was a celebration of Athena’s birthday, or the birthday of the city of Athens.   It is celebrated as a time when Gods and mortals feast together.  During the Greater Panathenaia the main workings for this festival were giving the statue of Athena a new peplos, or robe (Winter).

September 21 – Autumn Equinox

Autumn Equinox, or the neo-pagan festival of Mabon, is the second of the three harvest festivals.  It begins the dark half of the year, as it is the day when the day and night are the same length, but the nights will become longer from this day on.  It is a time for reflection on the joys of the summer months and the light half of the year, and a time for contemplation of the coming hardships of the dark half of the year.

In our grove we celebrate this festival as our Anniversary Rite, a time when our spiritual work really took off.  We have a Grove Poem that is read every year at this time, adding a new stanza each year.  The new stanza reflects our work from the past year, carrying on the theme of reflection and contemplation.


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