Within modern Neo-Paganism, particularly among Wicca
(or Witchcraft), time is measured by the movements of the Sun
and Moon. In ancient European cultures, such a frame of reference
would be common to the community, but in the modern
world, the secularized Christian calendar has become dominant.
The ancient calendar was anchored in the observation of
the movement of the rising sun as it traveled north and south
along the eastern horizon. The most northerly point coincided
with the longest day of the year and the most southerly point
with the shortest day. Halfway between, the day and night
would be equal. These four days became known as the summer
and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes, and
they, along with four additional days, half way between the solstices
and equinoxes, provided an overall framework for community
activity. In the modern world, no longer tied to an agricultural
cycle, the points on the solar calendar have become the
holidays that assist in defining the Wiccan faith.
While there are records of ancient European tribes marking
the important points on the solar calendar, there are few records
of their paying attention to the lunar cycles, at least as a
point for gathering and the working of magic. The idea of
meeting monthly at the new moon or bi-weekly at the new and
full moons (the esbat), appears to be a practice introduced by
Gerald B. Gardner, who created modern Wicca over a number
of years after retiring to England in the 1930s. Previously, he
had been a Mason in Southeast Asia and while there may have
learned of the so-called ‘‘Moon Lodges,’’ Masonic groups that
met monthly according to the lunar calendar.
Modern Wicca is built around small intimate groups of ten
to twenty people (covens) who gather in a culture that is either
secular or follows another faith. While several covens may father
for the solar festivals (sabbats) to celebrate together, the
real work of the coven is done in its esbats. Common to all Wiccans
is the full moon esbats. It is at these meetings that one develops
their psychic powers, learns to do magic, and focuses the
spiritual life.
Most covens also meet at the new moon. New Moon rituals
tend to be for personal growth, healing, and the initiation of
new ventures. These tend to be the most intimate meetings of
the coven and rarely are outsiders admitted. Full Moon rituals
are for the working of magic, banishing of unwanted influences,
and assistance for those in need. Central to the esbat is
the ritual act of ‘‘drawing down the moon,’’ magically raising
a whirlwind of power and symbolically drawing it into the circle
within which the coven meets, As the energy is released, each
member feels an empowerment for their life.
Ravenwolf, Silver. To Ride a Silver Broomstick New Generation
Witchcraft. St. Paul, Minn. Llewellyn Publications, 1995.
Valiente, Doreen. The ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. New
York St. Martin’s Press, 1973.