The Witch's Wheel
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans. It consists of either four or eight festivals: either the solstices and equinoxes, known as the "quarter days", or the four midpoints between, known as the "cross quarter days"; syncretic traditions like Wicca often celebrate all eight festivals.
The festivals celebrated by differing sects of modern Paganism can vary considerably in name and date. Observing the cycle of the seasons has been important to many people, both ancient and modern, and many contemporary Pagan festivals are based to varying degrees on folk traditions.
Among Wiccans, the festivals are also referred to as sabbats /ˈsæbət/, with Gerald Gardner claiming this term was passed down from the Middle Ages, when the terminology for Jewish Shabbats was commingled with that of other heretical celebrations. Mid-20th century British Paganism had a strong influence on early adoption of an eightfold Wheel. By the late 1950s, the Wiccan Bricket Wood Coven and Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids had both adopted eightfold ritual calendars, for balance and more frequent celebrations. This also had the benefit of more closely aligning celebration between the two influential Pagan orders. Due to early Wicca's influence on Paganism and their syncretic adoption of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic motifs, the most commonly used English festival names for the Wheel of the Year tend to be Celtic and Germanic.
In many traditions of modern Pagan cosmology, all things are considered to be cyclical, with time as a perpetual cycle of growth and retreat tied to the Sun's annual death and rebirth. This cycle is also viewed as a micro- and macrocosm of other life cycles in an immeasurable series of cycles composing the Universe. The days that fall on the landmarks of the yearly cycle traditionally mark the beginnings and middles of the four seasons. They are regarded with significance and host to major communal festivals. These eight festivals are the most common times for community celebrations.
While the "major" festivals are usually the quarter and cross-quarter days, other festivals are also celebrated throughout the year, especially among the non-Wiccan traditions such as those of polytheistic reconstructionism and other ethnic traditions.
In Wiccan and Wicca-influenced traditions, the festivals, being tied to solar movements, have generally been steeped in solar mythology and symbolism, centred around the life cycles of the sun. Similarly, the Wiccan esbats are traditionally tied to the lunar cycles. Together, they represent the most common celebrations in Wiccan-influenced forms of Neopaganism, especially in contemporary Witchcraft groups.