Religion 101

On or about February 2, 2013 (there is some variation by region and by tradition), a significant holiday on the religious calendars of Wiccans and other Neopagans will begin. However, which particular Wiccan holiday it happens to be will vary, depending upon which particular hemisphere of the world — the northern, or the southern — you happen to reside in.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it is Imbolc. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is Lughnasadh (also known as Lammas).

(Since the season prevailing in one hemisphere is always the opposite of the season prevailing in the other hemisphere, seasonal holidays between the two hemispheres are staggered or out of sync from each other by some six months. So, by way of example, when the spring equinox occurs in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumn equinox occurs in the Southern Hemisphere — and vice versa.)

As I write, Wiccans and other Neopagans in the Northern Hemisphere are today preparing for (or may already be celebrating) the festive winter-ending, spring-starting arrival of Imbolc, while their fellows in the Southern Hemisphere are doing the same regarding the equally festive grain harvest celebration of Lughnasadh.

The natural cycle of the seasons is referred to among contemporary Pagans as “the Wheel of the Year,” and Wicca’s eight Sabbat festivals are spaced evenly around the perimeter of that wheel.

Of these eight annual Sabbats, four are classed as “lesser,” and four as “greater.”

The two equinox festivals of Mabon (fall or autumnal) and Ostara (spring or vernal), together with the two solstice festivals of Yule (midwinter) and Litha (midsummer), comprise the lesser Sabbats.

The Wheel of the Year is completed by the four greater Sabbat festivals of Samhain (summer’s end), Imbolc (winter’s end), Beltane (May Day, the first day of summer), and Lughnasadh (the first of three autumn harvest festivals).

As two of Wicca’s four greater Sabbats (or “fire festivals,” or four “cross quarter days”) — all four of which are distributed midway between the annual equinoxes and solstices (the four seasonal “quarter days”) on the Wiccan religious holiday calendar – Imbolc and Lughnasadh fall directly opposite each other on the Wheel of the Year. So, whenever one festival is being celebrated in one hemisphere (e.g., Imbolc in the north), its polar-opposite counterpart (e.g., Lughnasadh in the south) is being simultaneously celebrated in the other hemisphere.

Imbolc, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring or vernal equinox (which, in the Northern Hemisphere, begins on or about today, Feb 2), is essentially a festival commemorating the conclusion of winter, and the beginning of spring. Imbolc is also sometimes known as Candlemas (so named for  the candles lit on the Christian holiday coinciding with this date, which some view as a Christian adoption and adaptation of this originally pagan holy day), or as Brighid’s Day (after St. Brighid, a Christian saint thought by some to represent a “Christianization” of a pre-Christian pagan goddess named Brighid).

Lughnasadh, halfway between the summer solstice and the fall or autumnal equinox (which, in the Southern Hemisphere, begins on or about today, Feb 2), is Imbolc’s polar opposite, marking the beginning of the fall harvest season. Named after a pagan god named Lugh, Lughnasadh is also known as Lammas (from “Loaf Mass”), so named for the loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the newly harvested wheat and brought to church, in what some take to be a “Christianized” adoption of an older pagan traditional practice.

So, to my Wiccan friends and readers in the Northern Hemisphere: “Blessed Imbolc!”

And to my Wiccan friends and readers in the Southern Hemisphere: “Blessed Lughnasadh!”