The Fire Festivals. It takes time for energy to filter through into nature and actuality. This is where the cross-quarters or fire festivals come in: these are the midpoints between the quarter-points, and they mark the times when nature and form respond concretely to energy-changes started off at the quarter points. The zodiac is measured in terms of 360º, and Sun moves at more or less 1° per day. The quarter points are 90° from each other, and the cross-quarter points are 45° from the quarter-points. The ancients, at least in Europe, where seasonal changes of light and dark matter a lot, used these cross-quarters as festivals to celebrate and participate in the power of nature and her expressions.
Calendrical quirks have shifted these festivals away from their original astrologically-auspicious times (just as Yule has been shifted to Christmas, three days after winter solstice). The cross-quarters occur when Sun reaches 15° (the middle) of one of the four so-called fixed signs (which I prefer to call fixing signs). The fixing signs are Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio. The astrologically true quarter points thus take place around 2nd-7th May, August, November and February. To confuse things, the so-called traditional dates place these festivals a few days earlier – such as Beltane/Workers' Day on 1st May. However, the ancients were not as calendrically-fixated as we, and they often used to shift the festivals around a little to coincide with a new or full moon, or any other astrological power-point in time which was hovering around at the time. The ancient Celts used both solar and lunar calendars, in parallel – these calendars would go through a cycle of relationship with one another, which lasted 18-19 years, a so-called ‘metonic cycle’, at the cruxpoints of which would be special festivals of longterm significance.
Outwardly, there are visible seasonal changes at the four cross-quarters, and inwardly there is a quality of realism to life, a feeling of breakthrough in relation to the theme being explored underlyingly in each season.
It is important to understand the distinction between the quarters and the cross-quarters. The quarters represent change-points in energy-potential, both inwardly and in terms of light in the physical world. The cross-quarters represent change-points in manifest energy, inwardly and in terms of visible seasonal changes. The peaks of the four seasons, in manifest terms, show themselves at the cross-quarters. Thus, although the light starts increasing at winter solstice, this change is noticeable only at the following cross-quarter, Candlemas (Imbolc) in February, and although spring starts at the spring equinox, it manifests itself fully, in flowers and in throbbing growth, at Beltane or May Day, the May cross-quarter. And so on.
The cross-quarters used to be known as the Witches’ Sabbaths, times when the inner intents (or 'spells') of consciousness-workers such as witches worked through and became reality. These are times of coming-to-pass, of manifestation. The times for clarifying our intent are the solstices, and those for adjusting or reaffirming intent are the equinoxes. At the cross-quarters, it is necessary to actualise those intents.
Conscious energy-working is a process of bringing things from the dream-level to the reality level, and of intertwining our wills and activities with the natural flow of energy. In doing so, we enhance that natural flow and are supported by it. In ancient times, people would gather together at the quarters and cross-quarters, to meet each other, celebrate and focus their awareness collectively, in order to keep the human family moving in tune with the times. Today, people are starting to do this again – not for the romantic purpose of fantasising about ancients (though this happens too), but because they sense that it is auspicious and necessary, even if the reasons for doing so might not be intellectually clear.
Tuning into these eight points of the year, we can move into harmony with the integral cycle of the solar year. We are entering into active involvement with life-force and its cyclic modulations. And thereby our lives are enriched. Try it. It sheds new light on the four seasons, as well, especially on the underlying learning process inherent in the seasons. The seasons take place not only out there in our world, but also in here in the psyche of us all, whether or not we actually are aware of it.