The Sabbats are our ‘holy days’. We hold special celebrations, or ‘rituals’ on or around these dates.
There are eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. Four are Quarter Days, also called ‘Lesser Sabbats’ or ‘Low Sabbats’. These are the equinoxes and solstices. At the midpoint between each of these events, come the four Cross-Quarter Days, also called ‘Greater Sabbats’ or ‘High Sabbats’.
The four ‘Lesser Sabbats’ are those that align with the earth’s naturally shifting patterns – the longest and shortest days of the year, and the days when there are equal hours of light and dark. These would have been easily identified as stopping and starting places by ancient people, the original Pagans. Much like we consider the highest, or mid-point of something being its pinnacle, the Cross Quarter Days mark the days of highest energy, and are considered slightly more important for specific events than the Quarter Days.
When you put all of the Sabbats around the year, the pattern resembles an eight-spoked wheel, which is considered a holy symbol in many spiritual paths, including Paganism, Buddhism, and Jainism. As the days pass and Sabbats are celebrated, the wheel is said to turn – the Wheel of the Year that propels time forward.
Following is a list and brief description of each of the eight Sabbats. Eventually, there will be links to pages about each Sabbat.
Samhain (October 31)
Samhain is perhaps the most famous of the Sabbats; you may know it as Halloween. Samhain is the time of year when the veil that separates the world of the living from the spirit world is at its thinnest. Many modern Pagans use this Sabbat as a time to remember and honor their family and friends who have crossed over to the SummerLands, and to celebrate the end; without the end, there can be no beginning. Samhain is the Pagan New Year, and many find that divination for the coming year is especially powerful at this time. At Samhain, the Goddess is in the Crone aspect, aged and wise. She goes into the underworld to bring back the God, who will be reborn at Yule.
Yule (celebrated on the eve of the Winter Solstice; on or around December 21)
Yule is the celebration of the Winter Solstice. It is a celebration of the end of winter, and the coming of warmer days. In some Pagan faiths, the Winter Solstice is considered the New Year, and the time to honor and commune with deceased relatives and friends. Pagans who follow a Norse/Germanic path may celebrate this Sabbat with twelve nights, beginning on Dec. 20 and extending through Twelfth Night (January 1). Yule is a time for honoring Thor with the burning of a Yule Log, and we re-pledge ourselves for the coming year. We celebrate life and re-birth as the Horned God is reborn as the Sun King (or Oak King).
Imbolc (February 1)
Imbolc is derived from the Old Irish i mbolg, which means “in the belly”. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes. Another term for Imbolc is Oimelc. which means “ewe’s milk” and refers to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Imbolc belongs to Brighid, the Celtic goddess of who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. We celebrate Imbolc as a festival of the hearth and home. We take note of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Hearthfires, special foods (especially butter and milk), divination, making and burning candles are all common elements in this Sabbat. Imbolc is also the time when we ‘wake the earth’ – the long sleep of winter is ending and signs that life is returning to the world are everywhere. We celebrate the growth of the God, as the days grow longer and he gets stronger.
Ostara (on or around March 21)
Ostara might be most recognized by many as Easter; in fact, Ostara was originally a celebration of Oestre, the Saxon Lunar Goddess of fertility. It is from her name that we get our English word ‘estrogen’, and the symbols sacred to her also feature in modern day Easter celebrations – rabbits and eggs. Ostara has also been called ‘Lady Day’ and may refer to the festivals of other fertility goddesses such as the Greek Venus and Aphrodite, which also happen around this time of year. Again, this Sabbat is celebrated with traditional foods such as leafy green vegetables and sprouts, dairy foods and nuts. At Ostara, the God is a young man who catches the eye of the Maiden Goddess, ripe and beautiful.
Beltane (May 1)
At Beltane, we celebrate the fertility of spring and the greening of the earth. It is a day of flowers, fertility, dancing, and general merrymaking. Historically, cattle and other livestock were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. Today, we jump the balefire for similar reasons. At Beltane, the God is the young man in love who takes the Goddess as his bride. Their consummated marriage is celebrated with maypoles and bonfires. He is the Green Man, a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery. He is closely related to other forest spirits, such as Jack-in-the-Green, and to fertility gods, such as Herne, and Cernunnos. Beltane is also when the May Queen battles the Queen of Winter, a time for faeries and the tiny folk, and the celebration of life, abundance and prosperity.
Litha (on or around June 21)
Also called Midsummer, Litha is the celebration of the Summer Solstice. This is the point when the summer sun is at its highest; the days will slowly start slipping into the dark from now on. This is the mid-point in the year; a time of balance between light and dark, warmth and cold, abundance and scarcity, work and play, life and death. Litha is a time for fertility rites – not only for people and animals but also for crops. Handfastings and jumping the bonfires were common, and taking the ashes from Litha fires to spread in the fields to ensure fertility of the land was common. At Midsummer, the Oak King, married to the Goddess at Beltane, comsummates his marriage in a union so complete that it becomes a death. It is customary to leave offerings of herbs for him, to celebrate his impending fatherhood at this time of year.
Lughnasadh (August 1)
Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, is the first fo the three harvest festivals. We honor the Celtic God Lugh, and pay tribute to his foster-mother, Tailtiu who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for planting. Modern day celebrations of Lughnasadh include bonfires and dancing, and the ritual of blessing the fields, gardens and plants on this day. Lugh is a deity of storms and lightning, especially the storms of late summer. Gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. We also remember to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and seek protection for still-ripening crops. Lammas is also a time of sadness; we mourn the death of the God. The storms of late summer symbolize the pregnant Goddess’ tears for her lost lover. His sacrifice and her tears provide for us.
Mabon (on or around September 21)
At Mabon, we celebrate thanksgiving. This is the second of the three harvest festivals, and we use this time to give thanks for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the winter months. We pay homage to the impending dark, and give thanks for the waning sun. Mabon is when we draw close to family as we prepare for the winding down of the year at Samhain. It is a time to finish old business as we ready for a period of rest, relaxation, and reflection. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs and fertilizer are traditional. At Mabon, the God sleeps in the womb of the Goddess. She is content, pregnant and full in the Mother aspect, moving into the Crone and preparing to give birth.
For more information on the Sabbats, see:
- Introduction to the Sabbats by Mike Nichols
- The Witch Sanctuary.com’s Days of Celebration
- The Oak King and the Holly King