How to Get the Most Out of Your Year
Author: Merlin Hekatos
In this article I will explain the eight Wiccan Sabbats and how I choose to celebrate them. First of all, why do we celebrate these seasonal festivals? And whom are we worshipping and honouring by doing so?
Wiccans, Pagans, and Witches celebrate these holidays to attune themselves with the cycles of nature and to build a connection to the Goddess and God. Most Wiccan festivals are connected to a specific Deity, such as Brigid on Imbolc and Lugh on Lughnassadh. The eight Wiccan Sabbats are the most popular Wiccan holidays; four of them are Greater Sabbats, which are agriculturally based. The remaining four are Lesser Sabbats, which are astronomically based. The days leading up to the Greater Sabbats are the days of the “Wild Hunt” in which the Horned One and his entourage soar across the skies. The word “holiday” is derived from “holy day”. Therefore, these days aren’t just an excuse to be lazy or have time off school or work; they are sacred!
Wiccan mythology promotes the idea of the “Wheel of the Year” which is symbolic; the phrase “the wheel has turned” means the seasons are changing or that another Sabbat has arrived. Throughout the “Wheel of the Year” the Goddess changes from Maiden to Mother to Crone.
The First of the Sabbats, which begins the “Wheel of the Year”, is Samhain, which is pronounced “sow-in”. This is the “Witches’ New Years Day” and a Greater Sabbat. Samhain also is known in the common tongue as “Halloween” and “Alls Hallows”. On Samhain it is a known fact (amongst Witches) that the “veil” between the worlds is thin, both the worlds of the Living and Dead and of the Human and Faery and possibly many others. Samhain is one of the most important of the Sabbats and is a time to honour our Ancestors and to acknowledge our shadow selves. You can celebrate Samhain by carving pumpkins and setting a lit candle inside to welcome friendly spirits and to scare away malicious ones. Bobbing for apples also is a traditional festive game; apples are sacred at this time and have many connections to magick. Just a few of these connections are that apples carry the Pentagram inside them (the ancient symbol of the five elements) and that their peel can be cast into water to divine the initials of your true love. Samhain means “summers end”. This Sabbat is sacred to most deities especially crones such as Hecate and Cerridwen. You can celebrate Samhain by trick or treating (if, like me, you’re still a child at heart). Or you can get together with other Witches and have a circle. You can also try a séance (commune with the Dead although I wouldn’t recommend using an Ouija board, unless you are either very experienced or with someone who is.)
Samhain falls on October 31st and November 1st. The God dies and descends under the Earth, thus autumn and winter begin because of the Goddess’s sorrowing, and she, too, descends under the earth to be with her lord.
Yule is a Lesser Sabbat, falling on 21 December. Yule also is known as the Winter Solstice and is the time when God the sun is reborn again. Yule is four days before Christmas; therefore it is rumoured that Christians heard that it was the birth of the sun, but then chose to teach that it was the birth of the son (Jesus). Yule is the longest night of the year; the following sunrise begins the ascent of the sun, and the days will become longer from now on. The Holly king rules at this time, and holly is sacred at this time, along with Mistletoe and Juniper. It is traditional to burn a Yule log as part of your celebrations; the wood used is traditionally oak. It also is traditional to sprinkle myrrh and frankincense resin on the Yule log along with handfuls of leaves and make a wish and let the smoke carry your wish up, to the newborn sun, which will grant your wish. You can either burn your Yule log in a fireplace or in a bonfire; it will not make a difference. Everyone can take home a piece of the Yule log, in a festive red or green bag, and you may put this under your bed to ensure a safe and happy home. Mulled wine is a traditional concoction of mulled spices, wine, apples, and brandy, too, (although I have been successful in making a non- alcoholic “mulled wine” with mulled spices, shandy , lemonade, apples and lemons, and even some shloer). Mulled wine is the perfect thing to keep you warm and enlivened throughout the Yule celebrations. At Yule we celebrate the sun’s growing strength. Solstice means “suns stand still” while Yule translates as “wheel”. The wheel is symbolic of the wheel of the year, the ever-changing, never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
Imbolc, or Imbolg, is a greater Sabbat that falls on the 2nd and 3rd of February. Imbolc also is known as the festival of lights. Imbolc means “In the belly”. The first of the plants are beginning to grow again, and the first of the animals are been born as the Goddess resurfaces to renew the land. Imbolc also is known as Candlemas or Brigid; this holiday is sacred to the Goddess Brigid, the Goddess of fire, inspiration, and water wells. She is the bride; her entire desire and purpose is to find her mate. Imbolc, along with the Roman holiday of Lupercalia, honours the God of nature and coincides with the modern holiday of St. Valentine’s Day. Imbolc is a good time to spring clean both inside and outside your body.
Ostara or Oestara is a lesser Sabbat. also known as the Spring Equinox, Ostara falls on 21 March. Ostara is sacred to the Ancient Goddess Eostar or Astarte, whose symbols are the egg and hare and who give rise to the term Oestrus. She is probably the oldest Goddess of fertility and can be traced back over 4, 000 years. Ostara is the first sign of spring; it also is the Witches’ version of Easter. It is a time to celebrate that spring is here and that the land is alive.
Beltane is a Greater Sabbat and is the fertility festival falling between April 30th and May 1st. Beltane is time to honour creation itself and is sacred to the Irish god Bel. Beltane is the marriage of the Goddess and God. It is traditional to dance around a maypole (symbolic of the God) and wind ribbons around it (representative of the Goddess.) On Beltane the Lord and Lady will their magick, which makes the land fertile and the wheel dance. On Beltane you celebrate the sheer joy of being alive and rejoice in all of nature’s creations. Also on Beltane it is traditional to light bonfires that are named Bel-fires or Balefires.
Litha is a Lesser Sabbat that falls on 21 June and is celebrated on the 22 June. Litha also is known as the Summer Solstice, the shortest night of the year and the longest day. Litha also is known as Midsummer. The Holly king defeats his Twin brother the Oak king and begins his annual reign. From now on the descent of the sun begins, as well as the descent to winter. It is traditional to throw lavender on the fire to ensure safety for the coming year. Litha also is a traditional time of the year when we have rededication ceremonies, renewing our vows to follow the Lord and Lady. Litha is the best time to pick flowers for healing purposes, for the sun is at its strongest. Litha is the time to celebrate the joys life has brought and practice letting go of things that no longer serve your highest good.
Lammas or Lughnassadh (pronounced loo-nus-oo) is celebrated on 31 July and 1 August. Lughnassadh also is one of the Greater Sabbats and marks and honours the harvest. The Mother knows she must sacrifice her lover king to the wheel of time and for the good of all. Lughnasadh also is known as the Feast of Breads, so it is traditional to bake bread and to offer some to the Goddess and God on this festival.
Mabon ,also known as Madron, is the final harvest of the crops before winter. You can write down what you feel most proud of and throw the paper into the fire, along with a handful of sage, as an offering to the Goddess and God, asking them to bless and acknowledge your efforts. Mabon also is known as the autumnal or fall equinox; it is the other time of the year, along with the spring equinox, when night and day is in balance. It is the Witches’ version of Thanksgiving, and we celebrate the coming of the fall on 23 September.
Another powerful time that we Witches celebrate is every full moon, new moon, or dark moon; these are called Esbats. These are potent times for making magick of all kinds and are very appropriate to honour or to ask for the aid of the Goddess at her most visible and invisible phases, the Maiden at the New Moon Esbat, the Mother at the Full Moon Esbat and the Crone at the Dark Moon Esbat.
I hope this essay inspires you to become closer to the Goddess and God and shows you how. I hope I have provided some insight to the Wiccan Sabbats, and I would like to thank both Witchvox and all the people who read and commented about my last essay, the journey of my spirituality. You have been my inspiration to write this essay. Also thanks to the Goddess and God for providing me with the knowledge to write this.