The Pagan Sabbats

Image from: Megan Granata

Image from: Megan Granata

What Are They?

Sabbat {Greek – Sabatu – to rest}
The Pagan holidays, called Sabbats, are seasonal celebrations representing birth, life, death and rebirth, the cycle of life itself. These celebrations are a means to attune the physical human mind, body and spirit with the flow of natures’ energy and the essence of the Divine Spirit in one’s life. For Pagans that can be a God, Goddess, or a collective Divine consciousness or spirit, such as the Great Spirit or to some The GreatSpirits, with an emphasis on the plural.

It is a bonding time, a time to recognize the aspects of the season within the self. “To become one with nature” is a common metaphor for the overall purpose and intent of these holidays. They are almost always reverent, link the individual to the Divine force in their life, and reconnect to the Divine Universal energy around us that we are all part of.

You might think of it this way;
I am not the Goddess, you are not the God. But You and I And All things seen and unseen make up the Divine force in the Multi-verse of existence. We are connected and intertwined together to create the whole of the Divine Spirit.

Most Pagans believe that by joining forces with the Divine in our lives, we bring harmony, balance and order to our physical existence. These are necessary aspects of life for positive change and to create an atmosphere for spiritual learning and growth that lead toward enlightenment. Living in harmony and balance creates a daily connection to the Divine within an individual. It’s a connection that’s persistent, instead of only occurring during meditation or ritual.

There are eight Sabbats observed during the Pagan calendar that were initially designed to divide the year into equal parts. All Sabbat ceremonies begin at sunset on the eve of the dates given and continue to sundown on the following day. It’s also important to note that early Pagans followed a Lunar calendar and not the Solar calendar of today. We’ll get into that in a bit.

The Festival Dates & Times
If the original intent of the Sabbats is to create a union for a harmonious flow of energy, then the dates we’ve become accustomed to here in the North would be at odds with practicing these ways in the Southern Hemisphere.

Let’s take Bealtaine as an example. Bealtaine is the last of the spring fertility Sabbats, and is commonly celebrated on May 1st or May 6th. But if you’re practicing in Australia, May is not the season for spring. Conducting rituals and ceremonies to create a flow of harmonious energy at a time when your ritual is at odds with the season you’re in, can create discord rather than a natural flow of energy.

Rather than relying on the common calendar dates for celebrating your Sabbats, you should adjust the dates to coincide with your hemispheres seasonal changes. For those of you in the south check out the High Holy Days Calendar for the Southern Hemisphere.

Rituals At Sunset
Why are Pagan holidays observed on the night before the dates listed in most Pagan calendars? The early calendars used by ancient Pagans were based on lunar cycles, not solar cycles. A day did not begin at midnight or with the sunrise, but rather with the night and moon rise. To the ancient pagans, night fall was the beginning of the new day and rituals would be celebrated as the Goddess Grand Mother Moon rose in the sky to greet her children.

All that changed when the solar calendars proved to be more accurate in counting the hours and the year. But even it’s not exactly perfect in the days of old. Thus we add a day in February every 4 years to account for that “Leap Year” time and fill the gap. When we talk about timing in the Pagan world, we should remember that life is not precise. They didn’t have the benefit of the U.S. Naval Observatory to precisely track the heavens, the Earth’s spin and rotation around the sun like we do. Today we know the exact second the Moon will be full. But in the world of harmony and nature, if you want to conduct a ritual for Grand Mother Moon, you can choose the time without being that exacting. Same with the holidays.

Still many other religions continue the practice of evening festivities to this day; it’s not just a pagan thing. But some of these early observances have made their way into cultural traditions. Take Christmas for example. Traditionally families wake up on Christmas day, open presents and discover what Santa brought during the night. But if you know a Celtic family they may still incorporate some of their ancient pagan ancestor traditions in their observances without realizing it. It’s common for a Celtic family to open presents and have a private family feast at sunset on Christmas Eve. Followed by a night of Church going if you’re Catholic, attending Midnight Mass. In the morning when you wake, Santa has come and a larger Christmas feast is prepared for one and all.

Honoring the season and Divine at sunset during the quiet and peaceful flow of the night, brings out the connection to the Divine without distraction. It’s a nice reverent time of the day where we slow down, take a breath and can focus on the blessings we have in our lives.

Wheel of the Year

Wheel of the Year
Painted by Vivienne Shanley on disc made by Mark Highland
Museum of Witchcraft Cornwall, U.K.

Quarters & Cross Quarters
Each part of the year is divided into the Quarters and Cross-quarter ceremonies. A method that creates the balance within the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life within those seasons.

The Quarter festivals are the four most reverent festivals observed by pagans. They typically involve a Divine myth and associate the time period with a God or Goddess of the region or a local Hero in a regional legend.

In the early pagan days, these regional deities and stories were similar from place to place, with slight variations that were specific to that area or that tribe of people. Thus many stories exist with different names, but the stories are very similar, if not exactly the same. For instance, the May holiday is known as the holiday of Bel, Beltain, Beltane, Bealtaine and Bealtain, all talking about the same hero of the Celtic lands.

Over time these regional legends have developed into more formal observances world-wide in modern Pagan Metaphysical practices.

The Cross-quarter ceremonies are seasonal observances that break up the year by a solstice or equinox. They are often seen as times where pagans give thanks for the end of the season and may have less to do with a deity or hero, and more to do with the cycle of life and changes in nature.

The Quarter ceremonies, these are also called the Fire Festivals. Each one has variations in its name, Imbolg is also known as Imbolc for instance.

  • Samhain the Pagan New Year Festival
  • Imbolg
  • Bealtaine
  • Lughnasadh

Cross Quarter ceremonies to honor the seasons.

  • Yule begins on the Winter Solstice
  • Ostara on the Spring Equinox
  • Mid-Summer Festival or the Summer Solstice Festival
  • Mabon on the Fall Equinox

Not all practitioners chose to practice their craft on these special holidays. But rather chose to honor the festival on the day before and rest during the day of the actual observed holiday on the Solar Calendar. For instance, Samhain begins on October 31st at sunset when most observances are held. But November 1st is the actual holiday date on the Solar Calendar for the Northern Hemisphere and that would be the day of rest. In this method, special rituals are conducted as part of the gratitude and preparation for rest and inner reflection during the daylight hours. It also harkens the time back to the original meaning of the holiday as a Sabbat (a day of rest).

Other practitioners chose to use the energy of these holidays to include some special magikal needs for family or friends, including a magikal expression during the ritual observance. Neither way is right or wrong, but rather a simple matter of choice and tradition. Some practitioners do without magikal practices entirely during the High Holy Days. So it’s all about choice and what feels right to you.

Sabbat Observances
The early Celts were very balanced in the way they scheduled their lives. One of the places this is seen most clear are in the High Holy days. Each festival fell in between a solstice or equinox. February 6 for Imbolg, May 6th for Bealtaine and August 6th for Lughnasadh as examples. Once again with the advent of the modern calendar, the festivals were assigned to dates based on solar cycles. To some degree this does throw off the balance intended for the cycle of the lunar year. And it’s also one reason varying traditions hold their festivals on different days. Wicca for instance recognizes May 1st as the date for Bealtaine where as my Celtic tradition places the holiday on May 6th.

Northern Hemisphere Sabbat Dates
Holiday Alternative
Date Purpose
Samhain Summers End,
Celtic New Year
15° Taurus Nov 1 Pagan New Year,
Honoring the
Dead, Cleansing and releasing
Yule Fionn’s Day.
Return Of The King
Winter Solstice Dec 21 Rebirth, Life triumphs over death
Imbolc Imbolg,
Bridgid Day,
Festival of Lights
15° Leo Feb 1 or 2 Purification, Initiation, Dedication
Ostara Lady Day,
Spring Equinox Festival
Spring Equinox Mar 21 Conception, Regeneration, New Beginnings
Beltane Bealtaine,
May Day
15° Scorpio May 1 or 6 Passion that fuels Life, Joy, Fertility
Midsummer Litha’s Day,
Summer Solstice Festival
Summer Solstice Jun 21st Transition, Planning
Lughnasadh Lammas,
Festival of the Sun
15° Aquarius Aug 1 Gratitude, Abundance, Fruition
Mabon The Feast of Avalon,
The Apple Festival
Autumn Equinox Sep 21 Giving thanks, Reflection

Not all of these dates are set in stone. The differences in observances come mostly from regional influences. Again, there is no right or wrong. Today some celebrations are honored based on the day of the week for the convenience of attendees. For instance Lammas might fall on a Thursday during the work week, yet a gathering might not be held until Friday evening when everyone can participate without worrying about an early morning alarm the next day. Whatever works for you, is fine.

Many people will honor the actual holiday privately on the scheduled date listed on the calendar to at least observe the actual moment in time. Then gather with like-minded folk in fellowship on the weekend. This is especially true for the Solstice and Equinox celebrations. Along with Samhain, which is an extra special holiday for Pagans.

If you’d like to read more about aligning your energies and how you can connect to the world around you, check out The Correspondence Of This and That: – The Meaning Behind Correspondence Lists. Where you are in the world has as much to do with when you celebrate a Sabbat or an Esbat (the Moon rituals). Where you are in the world will also influence how you set a correspondence to colors, animals and many more things that appear in your life.

© Springwolf
© 2012 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Spring’s Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.