Esbats and Sabbats – The Holy Days of Witchcraft

Esbats and Sabbats – The Holy Days of Witchcraft

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Every religion has its own days of power, reverence and  celebration. Wicca is no different in this regard. The holidays that Wiccans  celebrate are referred to as Sabbats, or the Eight High Holy days. They occur  approximately every six weeks, and denote the changing of the seasons. The sun,  as a representation of the God, is revered during a sabbat, and the ceremony for  a particular holiday is often performed at high noon. The other type of holy day  that is more familiar to most people is the Esbat. The Esbat is a monthly  occurrence that generally coincides with the moon being full. It is the night  when witches gather to perform ritual and magickal workings for the coming  month.

This article will detail all of these holy days and  hopefully shed a little light on what witches do throughout the year to honor  their Deities.

The Esbat
As stated  above, the Esbat is a ceremony that coincides with the cycles of the moon.  Generally, the day that it is done occurs when the moon is full, though this is  not necessary. The full moon is significant because witches firmly believe that  the power of magickal workings wax and wane with the phases of the moon. When  the moon is waxing, or becoming fuller, it is good to perform rites that are  drawing things to you or increasing positive influences in general. When the  moon is waning, or diminishing, it is good for banishing influences that are no  longer wanted, or getting rid of negativity. Yet when the moon is full, the  magickal workings are at their peak, and it is good for nearly any rite that a  witch may wish to perform. The new moon, or dark moon, occurs when the moon is  not visible at all. During this time, the rites that are performed are either  for extreme protection rites or negative magicks.

On whatever day the esbat is performed, it is done in the  evening or at night. The reason behind this is that these rites are meant to be  working with the Goddess, who represented by the moon.

The actual process of performing the esbat can be summed  up very concisely. The witch or coven will gather at a designated ritual space.  There, they will cast a circle, and perform rites that will raise their magickal  and psychic power, and then direct that power at their desired goal. Since there  are so many variables as to what a witch or group of witches may wish to direct  their energy, it is difficult to offer up an example of what these rites may  entail.

However, one of the things that is a common theme among  esbats is that it is a time for connecting and communing with Deity. This is  often done by the reciting of The Wiccan Rede and The Charge of the Goddess  while in circle. Afterwards, time may be spent in either meditation or  performing acts of divination with tarot cards, runes or other means. This is  followed by a communion of cakes and wine, where the gathered witches will  celebrate their coming together and catch up on the previous month and make  plans for the coming one. Then the ritual circle is opened, the leftover cakes  and wine are offered up to Nature, and the witches will go their separate  ways.

The Eight High Holy Days
There are eight major holidays that Wiccans celebrate:
Samhain (pronounce saw-vin or sow-en)  – Yule – Candlemas – Ostara – Beltane – Midsummer –  Lammas – and Mabon

Each of the Holy Days represents a different turning of  the seasons, and a different phase of life. The common representation of these  phases is the God, though many practitioners incorporate an aspect of the  Goddess in some fashion as well. They are primarily Sun festivals, and, unlike  esbats, the rituals are often performed when the sun is at its highest in the  sky.

Sabbats are usually large gatherings where entire families  will come together and celebrate with food and drink in addition to the  religious rites.

Samhain
Samhain is  probably the most recognizable of all of the Wiccan Sabbats. It falls on October  31st and signifies the ending of one cycle of the year. While many view it as  the beginning of the next yearly cycle, that does not actually occur until Yule  in December.

The main symbolism behind this holiday is death and  honoring loved ones that have passed on. It is commonly thought that on this  night, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, and witches take  advantage of this opportunity to communicate with their family and friends who  have passed on.

Samhain is also the last harvest festival of the year, and  the last opportunity for the coven and their families to come together to share  their resources before digging in for the winter. The period of time between  Samhain and Yule is spent contemplating plans for the coming year and  remembering the year that has passed.

Yule
Yule is  generally thought to coincide with the Christian holiday of Christmas. This is  not precisely so. Yule actually falls on the day of the winter solstice, which  generally falls on or around December 21st.

The significance of this holiday is that of rebirth. This  is the day where the days begin to grow longer, and the sun is making a  comeback. The general representation of this is of Holly King, a Dark God,  passing and being replaced by the Oak King, or Sun God. Though the sabbat that  signifies the beginning of the year may vary from tradition to tradition, this  is the one that is most popular in signifying the beginning of the year.

All of the sabbats represent a phase of life, and Yule  falls into the fertility category. This is a time of conception, where the  beginnings of life begin to stir. When covens and families come together on this  holiday, plans begin to be made for the coming year, as well as preparations for  the coming spring.

Candlemas
Candlemas  is also known by the name of Imbolc. It is well and truly the first fertility  festival of springtime. The specific date that this day falls on varies from  tradition to tradition, but it can be anywhere from January 31st to February  2nd. At this time, we are beginning to see the very first signs of spring, and  the renewal of life.

The festivities for Candlemas all center on clearing out  the old and making way for the new. The Maiden aspect of the Goddess is honored  at this time, as are any Gods and Goddesses that relate to love and fertility.  This holiday is considered an especially auspicious time for a new marriage or  relationship.

One of the traditional symbols of Candlemas is the plough.  They are often decorated and incorporated into the festivities. Another  tradition for the holiday is to create a besom, a simple broom constructed of  twigs or straw, and use it to ritually cleanse the home. It is then placed near  the front, symbolizing sweeping out the old and welcoming the new.

Ostara
Also called  Eostar, this High Holy Day falls on the spring equinox, on or near March 21st.  This is the second of the three fertility festivals. Springtime is coming on  full force at this time, and planting for the year’s crops is well underway. New  spring growth can be seen everywhere, and the Gods are petitioned for luck with  the crops and the home.

Two of the traditional symbols for this holiday are the  egg and the rabbit. The egg is an emblem of new life and new growth, and it is  incorporated into many ritual workings and festivities at this time. The rabbit,  known for its prolific mating habits, is also a symbol of growth and abundance.  Both also symbolize change. The Christian faith has fully adopted both of these  symbols into their celebrations that occur at near the same time.

Beltane
Also know as  May Day, this Holy Day falls on May first. It is the last of the fertility  festivals for the year, and with it comes unabashed sexuality for many  traditions. The May Pole is one symbol of this holiday that is found throughout  many traditions. It is a tall pole set in the ground, symbolizing the Sun God  uniting with Earth. It is decorated with long ribbons and fresh flowers, and, of  course, maidens traditionally dance around the pole.

One of the traditional May Day activities for this holiday  is to secretly leave baskets of flowers and goodies at the doors of your  neighbors.

Generally, this is a holiday that celebrates and revels in  the return of the sun.

Midsummer
This Holy  Day celebrates the God, represented by the sun in all of his glory. It is  celebrated on the summer solstice, when the longest day of the year takes place.  Midsummer is neither a fertility festival nor a harvest festival. In this way,  it is similar to Yule. On this day, rites often center on protection for the  home and family for the coming year, rites of divination, and celebrating the  abundance of The Oak King in his prime of life.

For those who work with faerie energy in their rites,  Midsummer is an ideal time to commune with them. It is a common tradition for  witches to go out in the twilight and look for faerie folk in stands of oak, ash  and thorn trees.

Lammas
Another name  for this holiday is Lughnassadh. It occurs on August 1st, and it is the first of  the three harvest sabbats celebrated by witches. Attention turns now to harvest  the crops and gardens, and preparations begin for the coming winter. The days  are beginning to grow shorter, and the Sun God begins to lose his strength as  the days grow shorter.

As this is the time of year when we first begin to reap  the bounties of harvest, it is often a holiday accompanied with feasting and  celebration. Decorations and dollies are often made from dried ears of corn, and  used in rites and to decorate the home.

Mabon
Mabon is the  primary harvest festival, counterpoint to Ostara, and it occurs on the Autumnal  Equinox. On this day, witches pay homage to retreating daylight, and prepare for  the coming winter. This holiday symbolizes the God in old age and readying for  his impending death and rebirth.

Though this holiday is a little more somber than the rest  of them, it is also one where Wiccans are sure to give thanks for what they have  received throughout the past year. It is a popular time of year for witches and  pagans to give back to their communities, and generally share their bountiful  harvests.

With so many holidays to celebrate, Wiccans always have  something to look forward to in their faith. As the seasons come and go, witches  around the world celebrate the wheel of the year. Though traditions and names  may be a little different from place to place, they are all basically the same  at heart.  Thanks for reading, and, as  always: Blessed Be!!