The Magickal Universe

Where Magick is a way of life!


Sabbat Festivals. 

"The Wheel of the Year" is a Pagan term for the annual cycle of the Earth's seasons. It consists of eight festivals, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. These festivals are referred to as Sabbats.

The festivals have historical origins in Celtic and Germanic pre-Christian feasts, and the Wheel of the Year, in modern Paganism, is really a combined reconstruction of the cultures' solstice and equinox celebrations. These festivals have been utilised as traditional times for the community to celebrate the planting and harvest seasons. The Wheel of the Year has been important to many people both ancient and modern, from various religious as well as cultural and secular viewpoints.

In many forms of modern Paganism, natural processes are seen as following a continuous cycle. The passing of time is also seen as cyclical, and is represented by a circle or wheel. The progression of birth, life, decline and death, as experienced in human lives, is echoed in the progression of the seasons. Wiccans and some Wytches also see this cycle as echoing the life, death and rebirth of the Horned God and the fertility of the Goddess.

While most of the Sabbat names derive from historical Celtic and Germanic festivals, the non-traditional names Litha and Mabon, which have become popular in North American Wicca, were introduced by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s.

Many modern Pagan groups (but not all), observe the eight festivals called Sabbats and although Sabbats includes aspects of both the Goddess and God, the Sabbat celebrations are most closely associated with the energies of the God.

Four of these, the "Lesser Sabbats" fall on the solstices and equinoxes and are also known as "quarter days", the "quarter days" are loosely based on or named after the Germanic festivals.

The other four "Greater Sabbats" fall in a midway point between these and are also known as "cross-quarter days," or "fire festivals", the "cross-quarter days" are inspired by the Gaelic fire festivals.

The eight major festivals, Sabbats, are distinct from the Pagan "Esbats", which are additional meetings, usually smaller celebrations or coven meetings, associated with the various phases of the moon. Although both forms of festivals includes aspects of both the Goddess and God the Esbat celebrations are most closely associated with the Goddess.

Pagans acknowledge that Our Goddess and Mother, the Earth is both alive (matter) and sentient (consciousness). We are one with the Earth, of the Earth, not apart from her. Our Mother's rhythms of life are our life rhythms.

When Her children live without an aware and conscious connection to the Earth, we create stress, disharmony and dis-ease, for ourselves, for our Mother and for all life on this planet.

However when we tune into her rhythms and once again are united with Her, we are restored to harmony and She teaches us to embrace the ever-turning cycle of creation and destruction.

Pagans engage in this cycle by aligning themselves with the "Wheel of the Year", the annual cycle of the Earth Mother, as She flows through Her changing seasons.  

By observing the sacred holidays (holy-days) which mark the cycle of the "Wheel of the Year", Pagans align themselves with this fundamental cycle and learn to work within the natural currents of energy and life rather than against them.

The Sacred 'Wheel of the Year' and the cycle of the 'Esbats' teach Pagans their place within the cycle of creation and destruction, occurring within Nature and affecting all aspects of our lives. This is told within Paganism as the Story of the God as He passes within the Cycles of the Mother.

The following are the most commonly accepted correspondeces and accompanying story associated with each of the Sabbats, (for further informaion on each Sabbat click on the linked Sabbat name).

Samhain/Hallow's Eve/Halloween - Death/Conception -  tells of the Goddess being impregnated in the union of the earth Goddess and the sky God. The sacred writings also speak of a union, the union of the divine and the human. As we follow the wheel we will look at the intersection of these stories and ask if the sacred writings can point us to the fulfillment of the Pagan story of the wheel, and how this might transform our lives.

This is the most important Sabbat of the Wiccan faith. A festival that celebrates the Ancestors and the dearly departed and marks the time when the veil between the world of the mundane and that of the Spirit is at its thinnest. It is the Pagan 'New Year' and at sunset, when neither the old nor new year exist and thus when time stands still, humans can commune with their ancestors and loved ones who have passed over. This is the time of the final harvest when Summer is already losing its power and people must prepare for the long winter ahead by preserving foods and slaughtering all but the animals which will be used for breeding next season's stock.

Yule/Winter Solstice  - Birth - the time of the birth of the Sun God. This is the divine child of promise, a child of hope, an awaited child, called the "Sun Child", the "Sun of righteousness" the "Sun of justice".

This festival marks the re-birth of the sun with the cyclic story of the death of the Holly King (the king of the waning year) and the re-birth of his son the Oak King (the king of the waxing year). The longest night of the year and Winter is at its peak.

Imbolc/Candlemas - Quickening - the Goddess is 'virgin'. The 'God-Mother', the physical mother of the Divine Child, is promised His birth by an Divine Spirit.

The youth, the 'Divine Sun Child', stands before a group of elders, teaching the elders, thus demonstrating the student surpassing the teacher - growth in wisdom and maturity, and the Divine ability to reveal the Sacred Mysteries.   

The time of the quickening. The baby Oak King is growing and the Goddess is a maiden once more. This Sabbat belongs to the fire Goddess Brigid, who presides over healing, the well springs and the hearth. Spring is on its way and we can very clearly see that the days have

become longer and the warmth and light of the sun is returning. Imbolg comes from the ancient word meaning 'ewe's milk' and reminds us that this is lambing season. In addition, the grass is beginning to grow again and the Spring flowers are just beginning to come forth from the ground.

Ostara/Eostre/Spring Equinox - Emergence - the balance of light and dark in the sky reminds us that we are surrounded by both light and dark, both good and evil. Ostara, the return of the light, is a time of celebrating the victory of light over dark, when the divine child, went into the world of death to bring about the victory of light.

This Sabbat is named after the Saxon Goddess Ostara and this festival specifically marks an equal balance between male and female energies. The young Oak King courts the maiden Goddess. Spring has arrived and there is an equal balance of light and dark. Flowers are blooming, birds are nesting and all around, new life is bursting forth.

Beltaine/Beltane/May Day - Growth - the union of the Goddess and the God in the Herios Gamos - the Great Rite. The intimate relationship of the divine, shares with all, an embrace of love. A union, celebrated within the Heavens and the Earth.

This is a time of great fertility and is a fun filled time in marked contrast to the sober and sombre Sabbat of Samhain. It celebrates the sacred marriage of the Oak King and the Goddess and the consummation of that union. The fire God Baal is celebrated at this time as the God of light or 'The Bright One' while the Goddess Maya is also celebrated. The summer begins and the warmth is welcomed.

Midsummer/Mid-Summer Solstice/Summer Solstice/Litha - Fruition - The Sun God, comes to maturity, the Divine Child no longer, and is wounded defeating the 'Lord of the Underworld'. The "Sun of righteousness" experiences pain and suffering for the people. The Dark Lord welcomes Him in death, and this victory of darkness over light symbolises death. But death brings about renewal and change, and rebirth.

The Holly King is born of the Goddess and the Oak King dies. This symbolical cycle is repeated each year as new life takes over from old. The longest day of the year and Summer is at its height.

Lughnasadh/Lammas - Releasing -  we celebrate the death of the Sun King as he sacrifices His life for the Land , the Mother and for the prosperity of His people. The God's gift of his physical form, his body, is symbolically eaten as bread and the spilling of His life force, his blood, is symbolically drunk as wine. Within Paganism this is called the Ceremony of Cakes and Ale, this shared meal helps us to remember the God's sacrifice.

This Sabbat is in honour of the Celtic Sun God Lugh and marks his life in sacrifice so that the fruits can ripen. He is a God of harvest and light. The first harvest is brought in. Some flowers are already beginning to fade while the late bloomers are coming into their fullness. The new life that came in Spring is fast developing toward adulthood and we are beginning to see the outcomes of the fertile energies sewn earlier in the seasonal year.

Mabon/Autumn Equinox - Harvest - the Sun King travels to the undying lands, 'The Summerlands'. Pagans see this as the promise of a place of peace and reflection between lives. The Divine child now rests, awaiting the turn of the Wheel to begin the cycle again.

There is equilibrium between male and female energies. The second grain harvest is brought in and the hunt begins. There is an equal balance of light and dark, Summer and Winter, male and female.

Sources and further information:


Image (c) 2009 Terra Sphere Coven BOS.