The Eightfold Year Cycle
Traditionally the year is divided into four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The Celts and other ancient cultures marked these seasons with festivals typically lasting for three days or longer. These times were marked by the sun and moon, but in modern times the dates can vary slightly.
In nature there is always a returning cycle that begins, grows, ends, and then returns again. There are no sharp dividing lines between where one season ends and another begins. However, the year can be divided into four in two different ways: quarter days and quarter days again divided into cross-quarter days.
The 4 Seasons of the Year
The quarter days are the solstices and equinoxes. Winter and summer mark the solstices — the longest and shortest nights of the year. Spring and fall mark the equinoxes — the days when the length of the day and night is equal.
The following dates are for the Northern Hemisphere. The dates are the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere. The winter solstice is in June and the summer solstice in December, and so on.
Yule — Winter Solstice (December 20 – 23)
Celebration of the return of the light, germinating seeds, and ideas to come.
Eostre (Ostara) — Spring Equinox (March 19 – 21)
New growth and plans for the coming year.
Litha — Summer Solstice (June 20 – 22)
Abundance and growth. The beginning of harvest and the lazy days of summer. Preparation for the coming harvest rush.
Mabon — Autumn Equinox (September 20 – 23)
The end of harvest. Take stock of all that has been accomplished. Reassess and let go of anything no longer needed or useful. Rest, restock, and prepare for winter.
The Cross-Quarter Days
When we divide the seasons again, we create the cross-quarter days. This comprises the eightfold system and is the most comprehensive way to celebrate the year cycle. The eight-spoked or double-solar wheel is an ancient symbol and appears in many cultures, but its meaning as an image represents the ever-cycling year and is consistent across the world.
The cross-quarter days fall between the solstices and equinoxes.
Samhain — Halloween and Day of the Dead (October 30 – November 1)
Boundaries between worlds are believed to be at their thinnest. Honoring our ancestors and loved ones who have passed on. Dressing up in costume. Carving pumpkins.
Imbolc — Saint Brigid also Groundhog Day (January 31 – February 2)
First signs of new life and the start of the farming season.
Beltain — May Day (April 30 – May 2)
Fertility and celebration of earthly joys and pleasures. Romance and new coupling.
Lughnasadh — Lammas (July 31 – August 2)
The beginning of harvest and start of a busy time preparing for needs during winter. Generosity and sharing of bounty, crafts, and ideas.
Taking time to reflect on each of these specific seasons and to appreciate their meaning, symbology, and the qualities they represent can be a fun and enriching way to plan our activities and intentions. We already celebrate some of these dates, such as Easter, Christmas, and Halloween, but these eightfold days are deeply rooted in our history and more than just a holiday or day off. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, these quarter and cross-quarter days can enrich one’s spiritual life and bring a new awareness into being.
Staying grounded in our connection to Mother Earth is a benefit and an experience we can all use a little more of. The Goddess would approve of this gorgeously healthy way of honoring ourselves and the seasons.
More details and ways to use and think about these eight seasons can be found at here.