In modern Neo-Paganism, the sabbats are the eight great
festivals of the sacred year. The sabbats follow the ancient festival
days that were common throughout Europe, though different
cultures poured variant meanings into their celebrations.
Over the centuries, as Christianity became the dominant form
in the West, ancient pagan worship sites were replaced with
churches and the festival days integrated into the Christian liturgical
calendar. Many of these older pagan festivals survived
in secularized form and many of the practices were reinterpreted
by Christians, especially the Yule (winter solstice) practices
that became part of the celebration of Christmas.
The eight sabbats are defined by the principal points in the
changing relationship of the Sun and the Earth over the year.
These points are measured by the easily observable point of the
suns daily emergence on the eastern horizon. Through the
spring, as the days grow longer, the sun appears to rise at a
point slightly further north each day and then as the days reach
their longest, it appears to pause and then start moving south.
As the shortest day of the year is reached, it again pauses and
starts north. The points of the pauses (the solstices), and half
way between them, when the length of the day and night are
equal (the equinoxes, formed four easily marked points in the
years. They, and the four additional points halfway between
them that mark points in the planting and harvest process, became
the eight evenly spaced holidays of the ancient world.
During the Middle Ages, the ancient Pagan practices were
invoked to supply content with the new understanding of
Witchcraft as Satanism advocated by the Inquisition. The sabbats
were identified as a time for Witches to gather to worship
His Infernal Majesty. That mythology survived in the secularized
celebration of Halloween.
In the 1950s, Gerald B. Gardner introduced his modern reconstruction
of Witchcraft which drew on ancient Pagan practices
mixed with elements of Asian beliefs and practices. It was
a nature oriented religion in which the worship of the Goddess
was central. Integral to the new Witchcraft were the ancient
eight festivals that became times of gathering for the emerging
Pagan community. In the Wiccan faith, the years begin on the
evening of October 31, Samhein. This day culminated the harvest
season, and heralds the coming of winter, a period of waiting
until the planting can begin a new food production cycle.
It is also a night in which the veil between the living and the
dead is thin and communication with spirits is facilitated. It is
a time to remember the dead and complete relationships with
Seven other sabbats follow
Yule (December 21)
Imbolc or Candlemas (Feb 1)
Beltane (May 1)
Lamas (August 1)
These festivals marked important events in agricultural
communities, though most modern Pagans are urban dwellers.
In the rituals, while some recognition of their past significance
is still noted, the sabbats have been reinterpreted as occasions
for personal magic and reformation and the veneration of the
As distinct from the eight major Sabbats, witchcraft covens
also hold a bi-monthly esbat at each new and full moon. These
are the covens regular meetings for its ongoing magical work
and group worship. (See also litanies of the sabbat)
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. Martins Press, 1973.