The Eight Stations of the Year for the Southern Hemisphere
As the earth cycles the sun on its annual journey, the respective seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres are created by the tilt of the earth’s axis. Thus the key pivotal quarters of the solar cycle are the solstices and equinoxes, which determine the transition from Winter to Spring to Summer and Autumn, or in the tropics the patterns of wet and dry seasons.
The solstices and equinoxes are celebrated as solar festivals. Celtic traditions also recognized major seasonal changes at the mid-season point and thus divided the year into eight stations of approximately 6 weeks duration. The mid-season festivals are often referred to as lunar festivals.
The season cycles are reversed in North and South hemispheres, so the seasonal festivals are celebrated at the opposite time of year to the northern hemisphere.
The precise time of the solstices and equinoxes changes a little from year to year but falls mostly on the 21st or 22nd day of the relevant month. You check out the actual astronomical times of solstices and equinoxes for a given year in a reliable calendar or ephemeris.
The mid season festivals, Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnassadh can be calculated by the moon, which creates a greater degree of variability. For the sake of simplicity I choose to adhere to the calendar dates for these festivals. Some pagans accord these four festivals with the four phases of the moon:
Samhain – No Moon
Imbolc – 1st Quarter – waxing moon
Beltaine – Full Moon
Lughnassadh – 3rd Quarter – waning moon
The Celtic Year begins with the descent into darkness, half way between the Autumn equinox and winter solstice. This is in keeping with day ending at sunset. See Everything Cycles for more details on the cyclic relationships of the seasons, directions and human lifecycle.
The Eight Seasonal Festival Names and Dates
A short introduction to each of the seasons with their Southern Hemisphere dates NB: SH indicates date in Southern Hemisphere, NH Northern Hemisphere date
Samhain SH: April 29-May 1 (NH: Oct 30 – Nov 1) Celtic new year is a 3-day festival celebrating the last day of the old year, the day out of time and the first day of the new year. Time to remember the wisdom of the ancestors, bring in the last of the harvest and make final preparations for the onset of winter. The ancient Scottish festival of Halloween included carving ghoulish faces into turnips and a hollow for a candle, to scare away fey beings and spirits – this has been adopted in North America using pumpkins.
Yule – Winter Solstice SH: June 21 (NH: Dec 21) Shortest day and longest night of the year, celebrating the return of the sun. Pagans customs included decorating an evergreen tree as a symbol of life continuing beyond the darkness. Winter solstice marks the beginning of the coldest time of the year. In the subtropics it also signifies the start of the dry season.
Imbolc SH: August 1 (NH: Feb 1 or 2) Also known as Candlemas, this festival honours Braide or Brigit, goddess of poetry, silver-smithing and midwifery. It celebrates the lengthening of days, first signs of approaching spring, rising of the sap, lambing season begins and chickens start to lay. In Australia, August 1 was celebrated as Wattle Day, with the first wattle flowers blooming to herald the start of the bush spring and the goannas and lizards emerging from their winter dormancy. In the northern hemisphere, festivities such as Chinese New Year are celebrated at this time.
Spring Equinox – Ostara SH: September 21 (NH: March 21) Celebrating spring, a new productive cycle begins, things in balance. Ostara is the pagan goddess of dawn and root word for Easter. Pagan symbols for the spring equinox included eggs, rabbits and bouquets of spring flowers.
Beltaine SH: November 1 (NH: May 1) Spring in it’s full glory, celebrating fertility. In Europe, May Day was when the animals came out of the barns to free range on the new seasons pasture.
Midsummer’s Eve – Summer Solstice SH: December 21 (NH: June 21) The sun at it’s zenith, longest day and shortest night, the abundance of summer and start of the summer holiday season. Summer solstice symbol is fire and water. In the subtropics it marks the start of the wet season.
Lughnassadh SH: February 1 (NH: August 1) Also known and Lughnasa and Lammas, is a time for celebrating the summer harvest, and time of harvest festivals and fairs, backing and sharing bread from the new grain harvest. The Norse culture called this festival “Thing-tide”, summer holidays over and time to get back to business, work, school.
Autumn Equinox SH: March 21 (NH: Sep 21) Winter finding, autumn harvest and start making preparations for the approaching winter. The equinox, equal day and night, symbolises restoring the balance.
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Celtic Wisdom with Robyn Francis – an Introduction