In the past, when people lived with Nature, the turning of the seasons and the
monthly  cycle of the Moon had a profound impact on religious ceremonies. 
Because the Moon  was seen as a symbol of the Goddess, ceremonies as adoration
and magick took place in  its light. The coming of Winter, the first stirrings
of Spring, the warm Summer and the advent of Fall were also marked with rituals.

The Witches, heirs of the pre-Christian folk religions of Europe, still
celebrate the Full Moon and observe the changing of the seasons. The Pagan
religious calendar contains  13 Full Moon celebrations and eight Sabbats or days
of power.

Four of these days (or, more properly, nights) are determined by the Solstices
and  Equinoxes, the astronomical beginnings of the seasons.  The other four
ritual occasions are based on old folk festivals. The rituals give structure and
order to the Pagan year, and also remind us of the endless cycle that will
continue long after we’re gone.

Four of the Sabbats – perhaps those that have been observed for the longest time
–  were probably associated with the agriculture and the bearing cycles of
animals. These are Imbolc (February 2), Beltane (April 30), Lughnasadh  (August
1)  and Samhain (October  31).  These names are Celtic and are quite common
among Witches, though many others exist.

When careful observation of the skies led to common knowledge of the
astronomical  year, the Solstices and Equinoxes (circa March 21, June 21,
September 21 and December 21; the actual dates vary from year to year) were
brought into this religious structure.

Who first began worshipping and raising energy at these times?  That question
cannot be answered. However, these sacred days and nights are the origins of the
21 Craft ritual occasions.

Many of these survive today in both secular and religious forms. May Day
celebrations,   Hallowe’en, Ground-hog Day and even Thanksgiving, to name some
popular North American holidays, are all connected with ancient Pagan worship.
Heavily Christianized versions of the Sabbats have also been preserved within
the Catholic Church.

The Sabbats are Solar rituals, marking the points of the Sun’s yearly cycle, and
are but half of the Pagan ritual year.  The Esbats are the Pagan Full Moon
celebrations. At this  time we gather to worship She Who Is.  Not that Witches
omit the God at Esbats – both are usually revered on all ritual occasions.

There are 13 Full Moons yearly, or one every 28 1/4 days. The Moon is a symbol
of the Goddess as well as a source of energy. Thus, after the religious aspects
of the Esbats, Witches often practice magick, tapping into the larger amounts of
energy which are thought to exist at these times.

Some of the old Craft festivals, stripped of their once sacred qualities by the
dominance of Christianity, have degenerated.  Samhain seems to have been taken
over by candy manufacturers in North America, while Yule has  been transformed
from one of the  most holy Pagan days to a time of gross commercialism. Even the
later echoes of a Christian savior’s birth are hardly audible above the
electronic hum of cash registers.

But the old magick remains on these days and nights, and the Craft celebrate
them.   Rituals vary greatly, but all relate to the Goddess and God and to our
home, the Earth.  Most rites are held at night for practical purposes as well as
to lend a sense of mystery. The Sabbats, being Solar-oriented, are more
naturally celebrated at noon or at dawn, but this is rare today