Wicca & Witchcraft - Sabbats
There are eight standard Sabbats (or holidays) in the Wiccan calendar each year. These Sabbats represent the God and Goddess in their various aspects, and the seasonal aspects of birth, death, and rebirth. Traditionally, no magic is done on a Sabbat (unless it is a life or death emergency). The Sabbats are a time for celebrating, feasting and spending time with friends, family and loved ones. The Sabbats each honour different phases in the life cycle of the Goddess and the God. Below are the eight Wiccan Sabbats, starting with Samhain which is the Witches' New Year:
Samhain is celebrated on October 31st. Other names for this Sabbat include Halloween, Shadowfest, Martinmas and Old Hallowmas. Samhain is the Celtic name for this Sabbat. This is the night where the division that separates the physical world from the spiritual world is at its thinnest. Loved ones who have passed on, ancestors and spirits in general are easiest to contact on this night. Divination is at its very best on this day and scrying into fire or glass is a good way of contacting the the other side. Spirits will help you in divination. It is an Irish-Wiccan custom to place black candles in the windows for protection against evil spirits and to leave plates of food out for the spirits who will come and visit you on this night. The Crone is called upon during this night and the dying God is mourned. We reaffirm our beliefs in the oneness of all spirits and in the knowledge that our own physical deaths are not the final chapter.
Yule (the Nordic word meaning "wheel") is the Winter Solstice and is also known as Yuletide and usually occurs on December 21st. This is usually the shortest day of the year and the longest night. From this day on the days will once again grow longer as we head toward spring. The God represents the sun which returns after this night to bring warmth and fertility to the land. Yule trees are cut and decorated with images of whatever we wish to receive during the next year. A Yule log is burned and a portion of it saved to be used for protection of the home during the next year and in the lighting of the next year's Yule log.
Imbolc, Candlemas, Lupercus, or Candelaria is celebrated on February 2nd and marks the end of the Winter Season and the birth of Spring. It is traditionally celebrated as a fertility festival. In Ireland, Imbolc started out as a special day to honor the Great Mother Goddess Brigid. Corn is used is many of the rituals which are celebrated and grain dollies are made from wheat, corn or barley which has been kept from last year's harvest. Candles are lit as a form of magic to draw warmth from the sun and to represent the increasing warmth. On this night it is believed that the spirits of the dead walk among the living.
Ostara - the Spring or Vernal Equinox occurs in mid-march (usually between March 20 - 22nd) when the night and day are of equal length. Ostara is a celebration of balance and a festival of fertility. This Sabbat is the trinity of spring celebrations and is also a time of blessing seeds for future planting. Ostara comes from a Latin name for the Spring Goddess Eostre, for whom Easter was named. During Ostara, eggs are decorated and used as altar decorations to honour the Goddess and the God as well as carried as magical talismans for fertility. Eggs are also given as cherished gifts as they are sacred objects of life and fertility. The Great Rite, symbolic of the sexual union between Goddess and God and of the physical and spiritual union between all men and women, began to be enacted on the day of Ostara.
Beltane or May Day occurs on May 1st, falling opposite Samhain in the wheel of the year. Beltane marks the start of summer and is a time for feasting, celebration and joy. It is a time for looking forward to the future and to prepare for the summer months ahead. It is also a time for love and union as it represents the union of the Goddess and the God. The rituals may be quite erotic in nature. It is another fertility Sabbat and the Great Rite may also be a part of the ritual. Dancing around the Maypole may be a part of the festivities. Beltane is thought by Wiccans to be derived from a word meaning "balefire". It is traditional to take home a smoldering piece of the Beltane bonfire to bring blessings to your home during the coming summer months. It is also believed that the smoke from a Beltane bonfire is the best to use for ritual purification of tools, jewelry etc.
Litha or the Summer Solstice occurs around June 22nd and is the longest day of the year. Litha represents the Sun King and is a celebration of passion and of ensuring the success of the crop. The Goddess is heavy with pregnancy and so is the earth. This ritual is full of the symbols of fertility. Animal blessings are popular at Litha Celebrations, especially those designed for protection of familiars. Because this is a Sabbat which glorifies the God, it is a good time to make protective amulets.
Lammas occurs on August 2nd and is the first of three Wiccan harvest celebrations. It represents the beginning of the harvest cycle. In Western paganism it is a grain festival which is sometimes called the Sabbat of the First Fruits. Lammas honours the Celtic God Lugh and it is possible that it may have some association with the Roman Moon Goddess, Luna. Lugh was a God of harvest, fire, light and sun. Lugh's sacrificial death and rebirth as a sheaf of grain is often re-enacted on Lammas. Other rituals on this Sabbat contain enactments of growth, birth, honour, and thanks to the Goddess.
Mabon - the Autumn Equinox - is the second Wiccan harvest festival and occurs at or around September 21st. It is associated with the harvesting of corn and the completion of the harvest. After this night of balance, darkness will begin to overcome the light. This is considered, by many Wiccans, the official turning point to the dark of the year. This Sabbat was named for Mabon, the Welsh God who symbolized the male fertilizing principle. Rituals which enact the elderly aspects of both the Goddess and the God are performed at this Sabbat.