Why Pagan Rituals Begin at Sunset
Why are Pagan holidays observed at Sunset 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.
In ancient times, calendars served as a link between the Divine universe and humankind. Thus calendars were often held as sacred tools or sources of information. These early calendars provided instructions for when to plant, hunt or migrate between cold and warm climates. They were used for divination and prognostication, as well as, for tracking religious cycles to honor the Gods or worship the Divine universe.
Lunar calendars are often measured by the cycles of the moon. A new month occurs on each full moon or new moon phase. Lending a 12 month 28 day calendar year. The problem with lunar calendars is they often exist in a cycle that has no regard to the tropical (solar) year. Thus they fall out of cycle ever so often and a major shift must be accounted for in some fashion. Lunar calendars lose 45 days every four years, making it very difficult to create a long term yearly cycle. In order to keep these calendars in sequence additional days or months are interjected. This is called intercalation. Our own “Leap Year” is a perfect example of intercalation.
Many lunar calendars follow the same type of mathematical approach seen in the Chinese calendar. The cycle of the moon is about 29.5 days. A lunar month therefore is either 29 or 30 days long. And there are often 13 months in a lunar calendar year. The Chinese calendar starts it’s year between late January and early February. That’s another reason the number 13 is important to the Pagan world.
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, nor 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. Which is why Pagans honor the moon phases over a three day period. Some scholars believe, those three days were also established to honor each nature of Goddess, in the form of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. No one really knows for sure. And it’s quite possible that the three day celebrations are a combination of both aspects.
Like Pagans, many other religions continue the practice of evening festivities to this day. 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 ancestral traditions into 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, by attending Midnight Mass. In the morning when you wake, Santa has come and a larger Christmas feast is prepared for one and all on Christmas Day.
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 the world generally slows down, we take a breath and we can focus on the blessings we have in our lives.
Even though in modern times we recognize the chances in science and the advancement of understanding of the Universe and our place in it, Pagans still observe our spiritual events like The Pagan Sabbats and Esbats at Sunset. Some Traditions and Covens use that scientific timing and begin their rituals exactly at Moon rise. There’s no right or wrong time to honor one’s spiritual observances. Do what feels right to you and your rituals will have more meaning and you will have a greater connection to that event.
© 2019 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.