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The sabbats are a combination of solar and earthly celebrations. The daily cycle of the sun and the seasons of the earth determined the rhythms of activity for our ancestors. They lived close to the land and on an everyday basis observed its subtle changes.
The solar sabbats are called quarter days because they separate the year into four parts. The cross-quarter days are based on agrarian celebrations, which were extremely important to our ancestors who could not rely on food being trucked in from other places if the harvest was poor. For this reason feasting is an important part of a ritual gathering. While we don't have to worry about harvests and can enjoy almost any kind of food any time of year, if possible, try to have only seasonal foods at sabbat feasts to help you tune into the natural energy level for that particular time of year.
Each sabbat marks a changing point in the year that is accompanied by a shift in energy. If we are open to it, these times of transition can have a physical, mental, and spiritual impact on us. In addition, these turning points carry the mythology and symbolism of the Goddess and God.
The Sabbats: Mother Earth and Father Sun
Following are the basic themes and approximate dates for the celebrations, which can shift by a day or two.
Yule, December 21 (Winter Solstice): Marks the longest night of the year, the return of the light, and the (re)birth of the God.
Imbolg, February 2 (Midwinter): The time of quickening. Halfway between Yule and Ostara, the growing light is definitely noticeable. The baby God is growing and the Goddess is once again a maiden.
Ostara, March 21 (Spring Equinox): This is a time of balance when light and dark,
male and female energies are equal. This is the time of courtship between the
Maiden and young Lord.
Beltane, May 1: Fertility in the “lusty month of May.” This marks the sexual union of the Goddess and God. It is a time to feel the vitality of life.
Litha, June 21 (Summer Solstice/Midsummer): The Goddess becomes mother.
This is a turning point for the God as his light begins to wane. We celebrate long days and warm weather.
Lughnasadh, August 1 (Lammas): Time of ripeness. Because the Goddess and God provide for us, this is a time to pause and think about the blessings we receive.
Mabon, September 21 (Autumn Equinox): A day of balance. The time of the major harvest and the time to give thanks for abundance. Pagan Thanksgiving.
This is the God's last sabbat.
Samhain, October 31: The Goddess is alone as crone. The God has descended to the underworld. We prepare for our journey through the dark of the year.
Even though the Goddess changes throughout the year, she is eternal. She is earth.
The God is born and dies each year as the sun passes through its two phases called Big
Sun and Little Sun. The waxing and waning of the God also makes him the king and spirit of vegetation. He sprouts from the earth and is the son of the Goddess. He matures and spreads his seed to earth, becoming her consort. At winter he dies, but will be born of the earth again.
The seasonal cycles and all the mythology that has grown up around the Goddess and God provides a comforting continuity. Allow yourself to step outside your everyday world and experience the awe and wonder of this great drama.
The celebration of Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year and stems from the very ancient practice of honoring the return of the sun after the longest night of the year. A time of transformation, Yule symbolizes the rebirth of the
God to the virgin Goddess. The return of the sun/son brings hope and the promise of ongoing life, the coming warmth, and the reawakening of the earth. While the Celts had established Samhain as the beginning of the new year, tenth-century Nordic Pagans moved the new year to Yule to coincide with the solar year.
If the December full moon occurs before the winter solstice, it is traditionally called the Oak Moon. With its roots deep in Mother Earth and its topmost branches high above the ground, the oak was symbolic of living in both the material and spirit worlds.
Considered sacred by the Druids, trees figure largely in the Yuletide season. Yule marked the succession from the Holly King (king of the waning year) to the Oak King
(king of the waxing year). Holly symbolized death; oak symbolized rebirth.
The use of mistletoe can be traced back to the Druids of Gaul who gathered it from the highest branches of oak trees. Mistletoe is also called “the golden bough” and is considered powerfully magic, especially for fertility. At Yule its white berries are plentiful and symbolize the sacred seed of the God who embodies the spirit of vegetation and the divine spark of life.
At this time of year holly is bright and vital, promising ongoing life. Like holly, evergreen trees were considered sacred because they didn't seem to die each year, and so they represent the eternal aspect of the Goddess. The Great Mother Goddess/Mother
Earth remains constant while the God dies and is reborn each year; endings become beginnings.
With all the sacred trees, holly, and mistletoe brought into the home, it's no accident that Yule is a magical time of year.
Background for This Ritual
Solo practitioners will want to read this just before beginning the ritual. A place has been indicated in the group ritual where this is most appropriate for the Priestess or Priest to read to everyone:
Putting bright lights on Christmas trees and around the house began with the tradition of lighting candles and fires to honor the return of the sun.
The burning Yule log itself represents the new, shining sun. A piece of the
Yule log, which is traditionally oak, is kept from one year to the next providing continuity as the old year finishes and the new one begins; death is followed by rebirth. A common component of the Yule ritual, when done outdoors,
is to jump a bonfire and make a wish for the coming year. Tonight we combine this basic idea with the spiral, which is associated with the Goddess,
winter, and the winter solstice.
The spiral is a fundamental form found in nature. To ancient people, the spiral was a sacred symbol of the Goddess and her transformative powers.
Our ancestors knew about, and we are only rediscovering, the vortex of energy in a spiral that allows us to connect with our deepest selves, the web of life, and the Divine.
At the ancient site of Newgrange in Ireland there is a set of three spirals on the back wall of the inner chamber, sixty-five feet from the entrance. On the winter solstice, as well as the day before and the day after, the rising sun illuminates these spirals.
The spiral is also symbolic of winter hibernation. During the cold months we turn inward for a time of reflection. But the same spiral of energy that leads us downward inside ourselves in winter eventually leads us up toward the light in spring.
• Celebrate the rebirth of the God and the return of light.