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Academy Excerpt: The Wheel of the Year An introduction to the basic Sabbats

Pagan Path Sabbats Wheel of the YearThere are eight Sabbats in the Wiccan year, and most Witches celebrate these eight holidays.  Some Pagan paths celebrate different holidays, but these are the most frequently celebrated and widely accepted.

Four "Greater" and four "Lesser". Of the four "Lesser" Sabbats, two are Equinoxes and two are Solstices. Greater and Lesser are terms we will explore later but for now just remember that "Lesser" doesn't mean it is less important and "Greater" doesn't mean it is more important.

This article is an excerpt from the PaganPath Academy course: Witchcraft & Wicca - Finding Your Path. Full enrollment in the Academy with access to this entire class and many others is available at the bottom of this page.

Because some of them correspond to Equinoxes and Solstices, the dates may vary from year to year. Also, some Witches celebrate Sabbats on slightly different dates. This is a brief introduction to the Sabbats and you will study each of them individually in lessons after midterm exams.

Most Sabbat celebrations involve casting a circle or creating sacred space. Within this space a solitary practitioner may honor and celebrate the season, the Earth, Nature, the cycles of life, deity and more in his or her own way. Covens usually have dancing, music, feasting (in the circle with "cakes and ale" or after the main ritual in a casual manner), re-enacting of myths or other divine dramas and much more.

Sabbat celebrations are just that, celebrations! It is important to set aside these times to do something special - to stop and smell the flowers if you will. You will find that doing so will energize you, particularly if you are able to perform any type of ritual, or part of a ritual, outdoors. Eventually you will come to the point that you can feel a Sabbat drawing near.

Notice in the picture at the top of this page that when people in the Northern Hemisphere of the world are celebrating spring at the Beltane, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating the harvest at Samhain. Look at the opposite side of the Wheel for any Sabbat to see which Sabbat is being celebrated in the other Hemisphere.

Moving clockwise (deosil) around the Wheel above, Samhain is the first Sabbat we will discuss. It is the beginning of the Wheel of the Year and is considered the "New Year" for many Witches. Some alternative names for this Sabbat are: Hallowmas, New Year, Shadowfest, Martinmas, Summer's End, All Hallow Eve, Samhuin, etc. For some Witches, this is the third and final harvest, and for many Witches it is a time to honor and celebrate ancestors. This is a Greater Sabbat and is called a "cross quarter" because it falls about midway between an equinox and a solstice. The "veil between the worlds" is thought to be thin at this time.

Yule is also considered the New Year by some Witches, but less frequently than Samhain is. Being the Winter solstice, this is the shortest day of the year. This is a Lesser Sabbat (which doesn't mean it is less important!). Some alternative names for this Sabbat are: Mondranacht, Yule, Yuletide, Alban Arthan, New Year, etc.. A major theme of this Sabbat is the rebirth of the Sun.

Imbolc brings an increase in warmth, the waxing of the light of the Sun and for some Pagans the first stirrings of spring. Some alternative names for this Sabbat are: Imbolg, Oimelg, Feast of Lights, Candlemas, Imbollgc Brigantia, Lupercus, Lupercalia, Feast of Pan, etc.. Falling about midway between the solstice and the equinox, this is one of the four Greater Sabbats or "cross quarters".

Ostara is the Vernal or Spring Equinox and is also called Eostre, Ostara, Oestara, Lady Day, Alban Eiler, Oester, etc.. It is a time of rebirth within the Earth. As an equinox, this is a Lesser Sabbat.

Beltane is a Greater Sabbat, falling between the equinox and the solstice. As with Samhain, the "veil between the worlds" is thought to be thin at this time. This is the first day of Summer and Earth is full of fertility and growth. Some alternative names for this Sabbat are: Walpurgisnacht, Beltain, Beltaine, Bealtinne, Walburga, Festival of Tana, May Eve, May Day-May 1st, Rood Day, Roodmas, Eve of St. Walburga's Day, etc.

Midsummer is the Summer Solstice. The shortest night of the year, this Sabbat is a celebration of the Sun at its peak and the warmth of the Earth. A very energetic time and traditionally a time for all types of spells and magic this Sabbat is also known as Midsummer, Litha, Alban Hefin, etc. Like Yule, this Solstice is a Lesser Sabbat.

Lammas is a time of harvest as the bounty of the earth is reaching maturity. For some Pagans it is the first of three harvest Sabbats. Also known as: First Harvest, Lughnasadh, Lughnassad, Cornucopia, Thingtide, Eve of Lady Day, Lady Day, etc. Falling between the Solstice and the Equinox this is one of the four Greater Sabbats.

Mabon is the second of three harvest celebrations for some Witches. It is a Lesser Sabbat being the Autumnal Equinox. Alternatively known as: Autumn Equinox, Winter Finding, Alban Elfed, etc. Celebrations of the harvest dominate this Sabbat.

Look closely at the Wheel of the Year at the top of this page and mark the Sabbats on your calendar so you know when they are coming up. Be sure to go outside on the Sabbat days and sense the energies around you. Make a few notes in your Book of Shadows regarding your thought, feelings, observations and the seasonal energy. You will use these notes later to construct your own special Sabbat celebrations.

Not everyone follows the eight Sabbats.  Some Pagan traditions only celebrate six festivals, others have four or even twelve.  As you travel your path you may discover that your Wheel is different than the one presented here.  Click on the images below to view a variety of Wheel of the Year interpretations.

Wheel of the Year

Assignment:

  1. Please take a moment to review (link to sound)the Sound Files in the PaganPath Library. You will find audio files to help you pronounce the various Sabbat names and other words used in the Craft.
  2. Try making your own Wheel of the Year.  You may click on the images below to enlarge them, then right click to print as a template for your own Wheel, or do an internet search for other images, or try freehand without a template. The Members' Exclusives area contains several fonts you might find helpful for creating your Wheel or your Book of Shadows.  Look under the little gears icon at the top of the page after you login.

This article is an excerpt from the PaganPath Academy course: Witchcraft & Wicca - Finding Your Path. Full enrollment in the Academy with access to this entire class and many others is available by sending $25 in yearly Membership dues below.  You will have immediate access to all Academy courses.

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