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The Yearly Sabbats: Celebrating Change

Within many traditions, holidays and special dates often commemorate an event or a person. For example, Vesakha (Buddha Day) celebrates the life and actions of Lord Buddha. Christmas recognizes the birth of Jesus Christ (even though it is generally agreed that December 25th is not his actual birthday). Pesach (Passover) honors God’s delivery of the Jews from Egypt. The Wiccans (and many Pagans) however, set their holy days according to changes in the earth and the path of the stars.

Called “Sabbats,” each of the eight annual Sabbats follows the “Wheel of the Year,” a Neopagan term which describes the earth’s natural cycles. Since the concept of time within many Pagan traditions is cyclical, these Sabbats mark times dealing with growth, death, and renewal. There are eight such Sabbats in all, each of which are separated fairly evenly across the year.

The Wheel of the Year

In addition to the eight major Sabbats, Wiccans also have “Esbats,” meetings which occur for various reasons yet usually fall on full or new moons.

Here is a breif detail about the eight Sabbats which constitute the Wheel of the Year. Please note: Because each Pagan tradition varies, no two may celebrate in the same way. I will try and provide a general definition of the day and encourage you to search further into celebration details regarding specific traditions.

Samhain: Widely considered the most important of the Sabbats, Samhain is the beginning of the New Year for Wiccans and many Pagans alike. Celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere on October 31st at sundown, it is believed to be the time when the veil between our world and that of the afterlife is thinnest. For this reason, Wiccans and Pagans take this time to honor their ancestors and those now in the spirit world.

Yule: This Sabbat celebrates the winter solstice (Dec. 19-23) and the rebirth of the God with the coming sun. Here, celebrations can be held in private or in coven settings. This is the Pagan holiday early Christians adopted as the birth of Jesus in order to better assimilate Pagans into the new Christian faith due to the analogous use of the rising sun.

Imbolc: Here we celebrate fire and light and the Sabbat itself is closely associated with the Celtic hearth goddess, Brighid. This Sabbat is held around February 1st.

Ostara: The vernal (spring) equinox, this time celebrates the coming spring and renewal of life. In some traditions, we celebrate the gaining strength of the God from his winter birth and the rejoining of the God and Goddess to form earth’s renewed life. March 19-23.

Beltane: The Beltane Sabbat celebrates fertility and life. In the Northern Hemisphere, this Sabbat falls on May 1st. Rituals for this day typically involve bonfires, maypole dancing, and in some cases a “High Beltane” with a ritual union between the God and Goddess.

Litha: Summer solstice. Litha celebrates the longest day of the year when the sun shines the longest. June 19-23. It is a time to honor the sun and take in some solar energy.

Lammas/Lughnasadh: At this time we celebrate the first of the three autumn harvest festivals and honors the time of the first harvest. Traditions vary regarding rituals and events, however one involves baking a cake in the form of the God, offering thanks for the harvest, and eating the cake as a symbolic sacrifice (the God and his cycles represent life and death). Early Wiccan sources called this time “August Eve.” Early August.

Mabon: This Sabbat honors the second harvest and initiates a time of gathering the fruits of the earth and sharing the blessings of the Goddess and God among our fellow Man. Celebrations occur during the Autumn Equinox, around September 21-24.

So there is a list of the eight major Sabbats honored by most Wiccans and many Pagans. As we see, each time honors a change in the earth and how it influences our daily living. In this way, these celebrations bring awareness to our relationship with nature. Everything indeed has a time and a season, including ourselves.

What are some of your traditions around the changes of the earth? Do you honor the Sabbats from the Wheel of the Year? Do you have a unique way of recognizing the phases of the seasons?


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posted November 5, 2011 at 1:36 am


Thank you for adding depth there. Yes, I enjoy hearing from the NC folks.

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posted November 4, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I’m also in NC, by the way. Durham to be exact. Funny how many North Carolinians pop up on here. :-)

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posted November 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm

One important point I’d like to point out is that many of the holidays in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year are practiced different (or not at all) in different pagan religions. Yule and Ostara are, historically, holidays from Germanic cultures while Samhain and Imbolc are Celtic. So the Wiccan Wheel of the Year is a modern amalgam of holidays from different historical cultures. The mythology of the Goddess and God as tied to the Wheel of the Year are also modern. None of this is to put down Wicca or their Wheel of the Year, but I think too many times non-Wiccans who practice these holidays in far different ways get ignored.

For example, a Celtic Recon or Traditionalist would celebrate Samhain and Imbolc in a more historically focused Celtic manner, however they would not celebrate Yule or Ostara. A Germanic Heathen on the other hand, would celebrate Yule and Ostara but not Samhain or Imbolc. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense to celebrate Samhain and Yule in their historic sense, as they both have very similar purposes and motifs. I guess the point is that Wiccan Yule is its own particular thing, but it isn’t the same as historical or modern Heathen Yule. Just thought I’d point that out, even though the whole issue can be confusing.

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posted October 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm


I’ll give you my humble take based on my limited experience, however Helen/Hawk is right. For a great answer, this question would do wonders on the Facebook page (Congregation). As for my answer, human life is cyclical just as all life. Our purpose is to live to the fullest, honor the divine, and each other. We come from the womb of the Goddess, just as all life does, and we develop in the same way. When we die, some believe we go to the Summerlands (an afterlife concept I haven’t covered yet). Others believe we simply return to the earth from which we arose.

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posted October 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm


Thanks for adding depth, as always.

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posted October 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm


Where in NC are you?

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posted October 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm


I agree.

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posted October 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm

@ Andrew. Marco’s question(s) would be interesting on FB aka The Congregation

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posted October 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Dear Andrew,
Sorry for this, but i need to answer a question not related to the topic…
i’d like to know as a Wicca how do you explain the purpose of life… where do we come from? and where we are going? and why all these? why God/Godess created us?

these classical questions poped to my mind while reading about the wiccan calendar :)

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posted October 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I’d add that Imholc is celebrating the 1st stirrings of life deep in the ground. Seeds are starting to sprout.

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posted October 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm

What do I value most from the Christian tradition? The glorious heritage of their liturgical music. What do I value most from Wicca? The Wheel of the Year.

I do find that over the years I have come to my own relationship with some of the holidays based on my local climate and geography (given that here in the NC Piedmont many flowers are already blooming by Imbolc, for instance, it sort of feels closer to Beltaine…)

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Editor B

posted October 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm

In my estimation the Wheel of the Year is Wicca’s most beautiful gift to humanity. As you note it has been embraced by many other Pagan paths.

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