The Sabbats : all about the 8 festivals of the Celtic & Pagan wheel of the year

- Categories : Routines and rituals

Samhain, Ostara, Beltane... I am sure you have heard one of these names somewhere! Or maybe you have already celebrated one of these holidays?

The sabbats, or celebrations, correspond in fact to the wheel of the year or the wheel of the sun which can be found in many traditions. References to universal symbols such as the circle, the wheel, the cross, the square, the number 4, are present on all continents and in all traditions of the world.

The wheel of the year

Among the Buddhists, the Buddha spoke of two circles: the wheel of samsara, which leads humanity towards darkness, and the wheel of Dharma, which leads it towards the Light. Four fundamental truths make this wheel turn and allow to reach the center.

Among the Hebrews, the temple of Solomon, which the Hebrews built to house the Ark of the Covenant, had 4 doors in the 4 directions and contained in its center the oracle of Iahweh. The Name of Yahweh itself, the Name of God, contains the great secrets of the divinity revealed by the number 4. It is made up of 4 fundamental Hebrew letters, each embodying the energy of one of the Archangels: IOD ( v) for Michael, HE ( x) for Raphael, VAU (n) for Gabriel, HE (x) for Uriel.

Among the Freemasons, the temples are built on the model of the temple of Solomon. In the Masonic temples, the orientation according to the 4 directions is of great importance. It is inside that the Freemasons assemble in a chain of circular union.

Among the Hindus, the God Brahma, the supreme reality creating the worlds, is represented with 4 faces, in the 4 directions. It is taught that the ultimate unity can only be approached through one of his 4 doors, and only the mind can reach the center, the direct knowledge.

Among the Native Americans the wheel manifests itself as the Medicine Wheel. It is the name that the Amerindians give to the round of the year with its 4 seasons, from which they draw a deep wisdom capable of solving the problems of human life.

Among the Celts, they knew the secrets of the 4 seasons and their divine intelligence. Four great festivals - solstices and equinoxes - marked the year. The Celtic cross, with its 4 branches, is another symbol of the Light tradition.

It is the same for the Templars, the Rosicrucians and the Essenes.

The Wheel of the Year is a universal wheel. It is not there by chance and I invite you, through this article, to discover all its wisdom!

The Wicca and Celtic calendar

The Celts lived in perfect harmony with the natural cycles of light and dark, and the changes of season were punctuated by a festival. With the demands of modern life, it is difficult to keep up with these rhythms, but for those who wish to connect with Celtic wisdom and improve their balance, it is good to make an effort to celebrate at least some of these festivals.

Their dates correspond to the northern hemisphere since the Celts are a northern culture.

They are presented as fixed dates while the Celts aligned themselves with the moon, and the actual dating varies slightly from year to year.

It has been said that each festival lasted three days, sometimes three weeks. The reality of life being what it was, it is more realistic to say that for most people, the feast lasted only one night, except perhaps Yule.

What is the origin of the word Sabbat?

The word sabbat dates from the 12th century and comes from the Latin sabbata (plural of sabbatum "feast of the seven days", the name of the feasts is usually a plural neuter in Latin), from ancient Greek, from the Hebrew šabat ("abstention").

The dictionary gives 3 definitions:

1. Word corresponding to the last day of the week, dedicated to prayer, among the Jews and the Christian Sabbaths

2. A nocturnal assembly that, according to a popular opinion, witches hold to worship the devil

3. Great noise that is made with disorder, with confusion, such as one imagines that of the sabbat of the witches.

In the Wicca movement, the Sabbats correspond to 8 important festivals. These festivals are inspired by pre-Christian Celtic and Germanic festivals.

These holidays follow a nature-based calendar and include four solar festivals and four seasonal festivals that occur between them.

What are the 8 pagan Sabbats and how do you celebrate them?

First of all, among the pagans, the year could be divided in 3 ways.

The first way was to divide the year in 2: the luminous year (roughly summer) and the dark year (winter). The symbol of these two halves of the year was the double spiral, which symbolized balance.

The second way of dividing the year was more complex as it was divided in 4, it was called quadruple year and it was equivalent to the 4 seasons. The four-spoked sun wheel illustrates the sun dividing the year into four seasons. It also symbolizes Mabon, the divine child.

And finally, the last way to celebrate the annual cycle combines the days of the beginning of the season and those of the mid-seasons into a year punctuated by 8 festivals. The 8-spoke sun wheel, or double wheel, is a very ancient symbol, which appears in many cultures, signifying the eternally renewed yearly cycle throughout the world.

This is what I propose you to see now.

Samhain: the end of summer

Date: from sunset on October 30 to sunset on November 1.

Samhain marked the beginning of the dark year for the Celts. It was the date of the new year.

On this night, the borders between the mortal world and Annwn, the realm of spirits and deities of the Other World, narrowed to the point of letting humans and beings from the Other World pass through. This moment corresponds to the night of Halloween, which is now a commercial festival but also a moment to honor the dead.

But at the time this night could be considered a dangerous time because any stranger could be a being disguised as a god or an evil spirit. This is where the expression "trick or treat" comes from , an expression used by children when they come knocking on your door to get some treats.

Basically, it was a time to offer hospitality to strangers to ensure that they would not cause trouble for the host and his family.

Samhain also marked the end of the harvest and the time to evaluate the food reserves needed to last through the winter.

This holiday was celebrated with large bonfires. The origin of the word bonfire is bonefire, bone meaning bone. In fact, the bones of slaughtered animals were to be thrown into the fire as an offering to the gods to solicit their generosity throughout the year, and to implore their mercy for the coming season.

On Samhain, the Celts used to sweep the house from the front to the back to get rid of old problems and set the stage for the good things to come. Kind of like a good spring cleaning, but in the fall! Cleaning has very therapeutic effects.

It was also a traditional time for divination. A relatively recent custom is to peel an apple into a single long strip, throw it behind your shoulder and see what letter it looks like. It should give you the initial of your future husband or wife. An even older tradition was to try to catch with your teeth apples floating in a barrel full of water. The first one to do so would be the first to get married

Yule : the winter solstice festival

Date: around December 22

At the winter solstice, the darkness is all powerful outside, but it is the privileged moment when we welcome in our inner earth the seed of the new which comes in the intimacy of our soul to open the doors of a great and vast future.

This period corresponds to the Water element.

Among the Celts, the longest night of the year was celebrated with a feast, singing, dancing and heavy drinking.

It seems that the season of Yule lasted twelve days (13 nights) and not from one twilight to the other as it was the case for Samhain.

At that time of the year, perennial plants were the only vegetation and were therefore considered a symbol of the continuity of life during the winter. Thus, the holly with its prickly leaves and red berries, protected from evil influences and the Celts decorated walls and doors with it.

Similarly, we know that mistletoe was a sacred plant and was found hanging above the door as a protective talisman for the home. This is often still the case today.

Another custom was to burn a log that burned slowly (for at least 12 hours), to symbolize the warmth and light of the sun (I think I just figured out where the Yule log came from!).

For the celebration of Yule, you should know that this festival does not require any special preparation.

Imbolc : the festival of the return of spring

Date: from sunset on January 31 to sunset on February 1, associated with the goddess Brigid.

The word Imbolc comes from the Irish and means "in the belly", referring to the ewe that is full. It was originally associated with the ewe's milk flow, the signal for the next birth.

The feast of Imbolc marked the beginning of field work and the end of winter. It was a time of preparation for the new year. And I come back to spring cleaning, an activity that is conducive to making room for the new.

To celebrate Imbolc, first make sure you finish all the little tasks that are lying around and anything that was left out over the winter.

Then celebrate this day by going for a walk in nature and connecting with the elements. Fill your whole being with the beauty of nature, its sounds, its smells, its colors.

Ostara (or Eostre) : the festival of the spring equinox

Date: around March 20th.

At the spring equinox, everything in nature comes back to life.

This period corresponds to the Air element.

The spring equinox indicated the exact beginning of this season. The first shoots of the new crop were just about to appear in the fields, the trees were adorning themselves with new leaves and the buds were beginning to open.

Ostara corresponds to Easter. And yes, Easter eggs are of Celtic origin!

Although Easter is officially a Christian holiday, the Easter eggs and bunnies, present everywhere in our time, are a powerful testimony to the origin of the Ostara holiday, which symbolizes the joy of life and the joys of fertility.

In Ostara it is the perfect time for you to make new plans for the coming year.

Beltane (or Beltaine)

Date: the day of May, the festival of Bel, from sunset on April 30 to sunset on May 1.

A very well known and still active festival, the Beltaine dance is a tradition dating back to a very ancient festival.

Beltane, the fire of Bel, corresponds to thereturn of the warmth of the summer sun and the beginning of the luminous Year. This festival symbolizes fertility in the pure sense, the joy of living.

The festival celebrates the union of Cernunnos, the lord of the dance, the lord of nature, with the mother goddess who makes the world fertile and healthy. And as for every Celtic fire festival, it was customary to make bonfires and probably to pass the cattle between two fires so that they could be blessed by Bel.

Some people preferred to jump over the Beltane fire to enhance their fertility and bring good luck. As with Samhain, the boundaries with the Otherworld became thinner during Beltane. While the atmosphere was lighter, care had to be taken not to offend strangers and spirits that might be lurking about.

Celebrate Beltane by lighting a fire (boxed) to celebrate the arrival of summer. As you light it on the outside of you, connect with that flame to invigorate it within yourself.

Litha: the festival of the summer solstice

Date: around June 21

At the summer solstice, it is the absolute victory of the light over the darkness of the night. It is the festival of the earth revealing all the wonders it contains in its perfect soul and intelligence.

This period corresponds to the Earth element.

Litha corresponds to the shortest night of the year and the time when the nights start to lengthen again on the downward slope towards the Dark Year.

Traditionally, herbs and plants collected on Litha night have more power and healing properties, as they have absorbed the light and strength of the sun at its peak.

This festival is a good time to take a short break in the middle of the year.

To celebrate Litha, stay awake all night to welcome the sun at dawn. You can greet the sunrise (and every other day of the year too!) and thank the earth for its abundance and blessings.

Lughnasadh : the harvest festival

Date: from sunset on July 31 to sunset on August 1, associated with Lugh (also called Belenos).

Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest and thus the beginning of intense and vital preparations for the coming Dark Year (winter).

According to Irish tradition, Lugh held this celebration in memory of his nurse. She had single-handedly cleared the plains of Ireland in preparation for the establishment of farms and the start of agriculture, and had died of exhaustion when her task was done.

Lughnasadh is the time to take stock of your own harvest. Look at what seeds you have planted and if you have set up all the conditions to grow your seeds, to make your projects grow.

Mabon: the festival of the autumnal equinox

Date: around September 23.

The autumnal equinox is the time of the harvest, when man reaps what he has sown. It is a time when we offer the best of ourselves to the sacred fire and ask that the negative accumulated by lack of vigilance be removed from us so that the fire can come and bless our lives.

This period corresponds to the Fire element.

For the Celts, the autumnal equinox signals the end of the grain and vegetable harvests. Wood is gathered and cut for the hearth that will burn all winter.

At Mabon, this is a time for you to take stock of what has been accomplished and to list the goals that remain to be achieved. It is also a time for introspection and calm.

Keep in touch with nature

Not so long ago, we could hear our grandparents talking about the importance of the seasons. There was a time to work the land and a time to sow, and then, after the harvest came the time for the land to rest.

This rhythm of the seasons can be found in the course of the sun's journey during the day, where there are also 4 well-defined periods: the sun rises; it reaches its zenith; it decreases; and finally, it sets.

A day in the life of man is also related to this natural rhythm: in the morning, you wake up and rise, like the sun; at noon, you are in top form; in the evening, fatigue is felt; and when night falls, you go to bed and fall asleep.

The cycles of human life are closely linked to those of nature. The events of nature are not external to us, they speak to us of our inner nature and the changes that take place in us throughout the year and our lives.

The solstices and equinoxes are moments of celebration and union with the forces of nature, which awaken our soul. You can awaken the inner life of your soul and resonate with the subtle forces and cosmic intelligences at work in nature.

What we must understand is that nature is the mirror of our inner life. Thanks to the soulful vision brought by certain traditions, we can see through the round of the year the reflection of our own life and of all the magical processes we go through

We tend to turn all these holidays into commercial ones, but originally everything had a deep meaning. All the secrets of life are ultimately given to us by living nature and by those traditions that have brought us these deeply rooted rituals in nature.

I hope this article has given you a different perspective on these holidays. At least that was my goal!

For your rituals

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The book of the Celtic symbols at the Ed. Contre-Dire

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Arjan - 01/12/2023 19:24:31

Hi, you stated that the Ostara hare (no, it's not a bunny) is Celtic, but actually the Ostara hare is Germanic.