As Sabbats don’t necessarily fall on the same day each year, knowing when to celebrate can be confusing for someone who is only just getting acquainted to The Wheel of the Year. The Wheel represents a cycle rather than a typical calendar’s beginning and end. Sabbats mark times to celebrate and honor the earth. There are also Esbats, which traditionally, signify a time to worship and do magical work. To clarify, Esbats flow with the phases of the moon, but we will just be focusing on the Sabbats in this post.
You’ll notice that the peak point of many of the celebrations fall when the sun reaches a point measuring fifteen degrees of the astrological sign active at that time which is the astronomical date that the quarter day occurs.
- Yule, also known as Midwinter and Winter Solstice, is celebrated between December 20-23rd when the sun passes into Capricorn. Yule celebrates the joyful promise of new growth in the darkness of winter. This is a time to celebrate hope, renewed life, health and light.
Yule comes from the Norse “jol,” which was a Germanic feast with merrymaking to honor the gods and to encourage plenty and peace. It’s likely that the term travelled to the British Isles with the Saxon’s and became attached to what would become the twelve-day Christmas season. The jols took place more than once a year, often around Midwinter and again around Midsummer, but the name only persisted with the native winter festival.
Items such as candles, fires, and evergreen in the form of trees and boughs are typical Yule symbols. The flames symbolize the sun, while the greenery represents life everlasting, despite the apparent death of the earth. The Yule log unites these two symbols.
- Imbolc is celebrated between February 1-2nd when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Aquarius. Imbolc celebrates the beginning of spring, creativity, life and purifying the self of negative baggage.
Imbolc comes from three different festivals. It’s one of the clearly Celtic festivals with no Saxon influence. The Celtic Imbolc is celebrated from sundown on February 1st to sundown on February 2nd. This agricultural festival marks the lambing and calving season in the British Isles. Candlemas, the Catholic festival of the purification of the Virgin and the blessing of candles, is celebrated on February 2nd. The third influence on Imbolc is La Feile Bhird, or Brigid’s Feast Day. Celebrated in Ireland and outer isles of Britain and Scotland, this festival honors the goddess (and later saint) Brigid. The original translation of her name in Irish Gaelic meant “bright flame,” and from this an association with Brigid and fire began.
- Ostara, the Spring Equinox, is celebrated between March 20-23rd when the sun passes into Aries. Ostara celebrates beginnings and openings.
The seed is a powerful symbol, indicative of new beginnings and the potential for life. At Ostara, the return of fertility to the land that began at Imbolc is now complete and celebrated. Themes of growth and planning for future crops (spiritual and otherwise) surround this sabbat.
- Beltaine is celebrated on May 1st or April 30th when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Taurus. Beltaine celebrates life and death.
This sabbat celebrates life in all of its forms just as Samhain is the celebration to honor death as an essential part of the life cycle. Related themes are sexual fertility and the blessing of the fields and newly sprouted crops. In some Western European areas, the traditions of May Day have carried on. This is the third and final festival of fertility. Many of its traditions parallel those found at Yule, such as raising a tree like structure, the exchange of gifts and the gathering of greenery to be weaves into garlands. Both festivals confirm life.
- Midsummer, also known as Litha, is celebrated between June 20-23rd when the sun passes into Cancer. Midsummer is a celebration of abundance, the sun and brightness.
Midsummer is a time of great light: the days are long and the nights are short. The crops are abundant and everywhere there is life. The symbol associated with Midsummer is the bonfire, representing brightness and the prevalence of the sun at its peak.
- Lughnassadh is celebrated on August 2nd or when the sun reaches 15 degrees into Leo. This is the opening of the harvest season.
This is an essential time to assess the beginnings of the season of harvest in our own lives. Food is a major theme as in many areas fresh vegetables and seafood begin to be inexpensive and plentiful.
- Harvest is celebrated between September 20-23rd when the sun passes into Libra. Harvest celebrates the hearth, home, family, successes and light/dark.
Harvest is the festival of thanksgiving and plenty. It is also called Mabon by some modern neo-Pagans. At this time you celebrate the success of harvest but it’s still a season of work and activity. This sabbat balances activity with pause to give due recognition to the effort involved in every step of the process.
- Samhain is celebrated October 31st or when the sun reaches 15 degrees into Scorpio. This is a time for quiet, reflection, respect for death and the underworld. During this time the veils between worlds thin.
Samhain is the third and final harvest festival but also as the year is a seasonal wheel, is a beginning. It marks a period of solemn introspection and evaluation and subsequently the preparation for the fallow period where earth sleeps and regenerates its energy. The spirit realm is much more close and makes this time a great opportunity to perform divination, both to gain insight on the previous year and to gain guidance as the Wheel begins to turn again.