Wheel of the Year (or the 8 Sabbats)
Eight Sabbats or Festivals of Wicca
In nowadays Wiccans and some other neo-pagan groups celebrate 8 main sabbats or festivals. Majority of these traditions are in one way or another based on the folk-lore but the suggestion that Wicca sabbats are exact recreations of Celtic festivals is not exactly correct.
The Eight Sabbats are divided into two sets of four. These are the Grand Sabbats, which are feminine and dedicated to the Goddess, and the Lesser Sabbats which are masculine and celebrate the God. The Grand Sabbats are Lunar in character, and in former times were tied to the Lunar Calendar. Some groups still reckon the Grand Sabbats by the Lunar calendar, and some fix their date by other means, but most groups today celebrate them by the Calendrical dates which will be given. The Lesser Sabbats are Solar in nature and are the Equinoxes and Solstices of the Sun, on which the Solar calendar is based. As the year is divided into a Dark and a Light half, there are two Grand Sabbats and two Lesser Sabbats in each.
SAMHAIN November 1. Begins the Dark half of the Year. DARK.
YULE December 20-22. Celebrated on the Midwinter Solstice, date varies. DARK.
IMBOLC February 1. DARK.
OSTARA March 20-22. Celebrated on the Vernal Equinox, date varies. DARK.
BEALTEINNE May 1. Begins the Light half of the Year. LIGHT.
MIDSUMMER June 20-22. Celebrated on the Summer Solstice, date varies. LIGHT.
LUGHNASSADH August 1. LIGHT.
MABON September 20-22. Celebrated on the Autumnal Equinox, date varies. LIGHT.
A list of the eight Sabbats follows:
Samhain (October 31)
Samhain is based on the traditions of Celtic New Year. The day is believed to lift the border between this world and the Otherworld. The main importance of Samhain is paying tribute to the elders, ancestors and deceased relatives. The rituals of Samhain include gathering of a group to remember the ancestors, making offerings to the souls of deceased and banishing the evil spirits. The banishing is often done with fire and loud songs. Care should be taken during all Samhain activities. Remember that you are responsible for people around you and that the core of this festival is not to harm anyone but simply to banish dangerous energy. Observe those rituals as a way to start the next “turn of the wheel” on a clean sheet.
Yule or Midwinter (around December 21-23 – check the calendar for the Winter solstice)
The significance of Midwinter is the symbolic rebirth of the God. Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. This is the point where the Sun (the light) starts growing stronger. To help the light gain power people lit candles. Many traditions that are now attributed to modern day Christmas actually started several thousand years ago. Some archaeological excavations and folk-lore that has been preserved through the years of darkness can tell us about the old customs. It was a tradition to adorn the houses with branches of evergreen plants such as firs and pines to mark the eternity of the existence. Nobody ever cut down whole trees – it is just a latest addition to our consumer lifestyle. A tree is sacred and there is no reason to destroy it. A major part of the sabbat was a feast and songs that we shared with people we loved.
Candelmas (February 1)
It is the celebration of the approaching spring, the festival of milk. It is a brand new start, everything is slowly waking up. After the Norse mytology it was early spring when Audhumla, the holy cow freed the world from ice. The centre of Candelmas feasts is the milk. Candles are lit too but this time not to banish things but to celebrate the light and renewal of Nature. For many Wicca practitioners Candelmas is the time of new resolution (not the New Year), pledges and review of what’s been achieved and what needs to be changed. Candelams (Imbolc) is a good time for meditation.
Ostara (March 21-23 or the Spring Equinox)
It is a very interesting time for Wicca – the day and night becomes equal in length. The rolling of eggs and egg fighting is a tradition that is thousands of years old and derived by Wiccans from the folk-lore. Our ancestors observed that the majority of birds start laying eggs on or around Ostara. Eggs symbolize rebirth and fertility, they are manifestations of new things to come. That’s why many European countries have kept the tradition of painting eggs. Some paint them with symbols that will represent the things they wish to achieve, others will use methods that randomize the result of egg painting. Then looking at
This festival is all about fertility. The God is entering the youth aspect and gaining strength while the Goddess is now associated with her Maiden aspect. Ashes from the sacred fires used throughout the winter were scattered around the fields to attract good harvest. There is a practical side to this custom too – ashes make a great fertilizer. Some Wiccans make offerings to dwarves and fairies by leaving milk and food on stones. Apart from Samhain, Ostara is another moment in the wheel of year when the Otherworld comes very close. Only this time the spirits of our ancestors can be accessed through water. Just take care. The safest method is to gaze into a bowl of clean spring water. Just free your mind from any thoughts and if there’s a message for you, you’ll understand it.
Beltaine (May 1)
Beltaine is a mix of the old Gaelic Beltaine festival and the May Day celebrated by Germanic tribes. This is the apogee of the fertility. Many European countries decorated their houses with spring flowers and young branches of birch-trees and other plants (again, make sure you don’t damage the tree, it is ok to take branches if you say thank you to the Lady). Beltaine is the day of love. The most significant custom is erecting maypoles (long polished wooden poles) to dance around them. For our ancestors this was the day when engagements and marriages were arranged.
Litha or Midsummer (June 21-23 or whenever the summer solstice occurs)
This is the longest day and the shortest night of the year, the moment when the wheel of year starts turning towards darkness once again. In terms of celebrating this Wiccan sabbat, it is similar to the Beltaine. The maypoles are still in place, the floral decorations are replaced by fresh ones. It is important to keep all the windows and doors open to let the light in and to keep the energy flowing. As the sun sets large bonfire are fired and people gather around it singing songs. An old custom goes that it is a bad sign to go to sleep on a Midsummer’s day – it is better to stay awake and greet the rising sun as it appears for the first time it has entered the path to darkness.
Lughnasadh or Lammas Day (August 1 or 2)
The first of the autumn harvest festivals in Wicca calendar. Our ancestors honoured the Earth and thanked her for the harvest and everything else she is providing. Like Beltane in Spring, this is another good day for marriages and initiations in Wicca covens. August Eve represents the strength and power, hence the majority of all traditions are orientated towards displaying of strength (please don’t mix it with violence or aggression). It is understood from different sources that our ancestors engaged in contests displaying strength such as carrying barrels. This Wiccan sabbat is kept to celebrate the immense strength of the Nature and to thank of all good things it gives us.
Mabon (September 21-23)
This is the Autumn equinox – a moment when the day and the night are the same length. It is the official start of the Autumn, when we are all entering darkness. This is one of the quieter Wiccan sabbats. The usual noise and dance is replaced by a peaceful observation spent within the circle of your family or a wider group. Harvest Home is a ritual of thanksgiving for the harvest. The essence of such thanksgiving is sharing. Offerings to deities and fairies are rarely made nowadays especially in large cities. Instead of that it is charity many people devote themselves to.
A note on the names of the sabbats. As you may notice, I am not using some of the modern Wicca names for the sabbats. Some of those have been coined only decades ago. I feel I am closer to the traditions of Earth Spirituality practiced by our ancestors that’s why I think bringing new, sometimes irrelevant names, is not always the best idea. However, the alternative names are given in the table and it really doesn’t matter how you call the Wicca sabbats while you observe them with respect and joy.