Sabbats

Southern Hemisphere Sabbat Dates

All times are Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) – add 1 hour for Daylight Savings Time when applicable.

Traditional Dates ‘Exact’ Times & Dates **
Lughnasadh/Lammas February 2 February 4, 2013 1:57PAM
Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) March 21 March 20, 2013 9:02PM
Samhain April 30/May 1 May 5, 2013 6:05PM
Yule (Winter Solstice) June 21 June 21, 2013 3:04PM
Imbolc August 1 August 7, 2013 6:21PM
Ostara (Vernal/Spring Equinox) September 21 September 23, 2013 6:44AM
Beltaine October 31 November 7, 2013 4:07PM
Litha (Summer Solstice) December 21 December 22, 2013 3:11AM
** Exact dates and times are from http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/2013.html – Equinox and Solstice data from the U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington DC. Cross-Quarter moments are interpolated as the midway points between the Solstices and Equinoxes measured in degrees along the ecliptic. Former NASA scientist Rollin Gillespie uses this spatial method rather than simply splitting in half the time interval between a Solstice and an Equinox.)

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is a Pagan metaphor and calendar for the cycle of the seasons. It consists of eight festivals, known as sabbats, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year.

In many forms of Paganism, the passing of time is seen as cyclical, and is represented by a circle or wheel. The progression of birth, life, decline and death, as experienced in human lives, is echoed in the progression of the seasons. Many Pagans also see this cycle as echoing the life, death and rebirth of the God and the fertility of the Goddess.

As the Wheel originates in the Northern Hemisphere (see article below: Introduction to the Sabbats), in the Southern Hemisphere most Pagans advance these dates six months so as to coincide with the natural seasons as they occur in their local climates. For instance, an Australian Pagan may celebrate Beltane on the 1st of November, when a Canadian Pagan is celebrating Samhain.

The Pagan Wheel of the Year turns through many significant dates and festivals. The highlights are the eight seasonal Sabbats, and the thirteen Esbats which we celebrate each Full Moon.

The Sabbats are divided into two groups. The Greater Sabbats; Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas, fall on dates that represent high energy in the season. The Lesser Sabbats; Yule, Ostara, Litha and Mabon, fall on the equinoxes and solstices, the dates of which vary slightly from year to year, and they mark the changes of the four seasons. The Greater Sabbats are also known as the “cross-quarter” days as they mark the point between the solstice and the equinox.

This seasonal cycle is one of the key ways in which we see the processes of birth, growth, death, and rebirth play themselves out, and the myth of the Wheel of the Year was created to illustrate this cycle.

There are many variations of the myth throughout the different Pagan Traditions but the underlying theme is the same, and the rituals of the Sabbats are derived from this myth. A simplified version is given below:

In midwinter, the Goddess gives birth to a son, the God, who grows to adolescence by spring. In spring, the Goddess appears to the God in a youthful form. She falls pregnant to him and grows in beauty through summer and autumn. Over the same time, the God ages and slowly dies, symbolizing winter. In the darkest time, when the days are at their shortest, the Goddess gives birth to her son, the God, whom she will again take as a lover in spring, continuing the life cycle or spiral.

In this myth the Triple Goddess goes through the changing aspects of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. The God brings forth the force of projective energy, the Spark of Life, and also the withdrawing and destructive energy of Death. The Goddess absorbs, reflects and transforms these energies. The Goddess and God are viewed as immortal and imperishable; they are the Duality of the Divine. Their different aspects are a symbolic shifting of cycles, ones we discover within ourselves, our World and throughout our own lives. This is the process that produces balance; within and without, above and below.

In spite of modern lifestyles and insulation from the natural world, we are still dependent upon the forces of nature, and contemporary Witches observe the Sabbats to establish and maintain a balance with nature. Sabbats are also a time for the Witch to look within, to reassess the life-path taken so far, and to reaffirm the directions she or he wishes to take in the future.

(There are many good books and websites which go into the different versions of the myth, meanings, symbolism and correspondences of the Sabbats in far more detail than they are presented here. This is just a brief overview of some of the main points.)


Introduction to THE SABBATS

by Mike Nichols

Thank you for the days,
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I won’t forget a single day, believe me.
– The Kinks, “Days” (Ray Davies)

The most important thing to understand about the eight Witchcraft Sabbats is that they are not man-made. By this, I mean that they are not holidays in the same way that Independence Day is a holiday, i.e., a calendar anniversary of some date that has a special importance in history. Indeed, the Sabbats of Witchcraft do not commemorate any historical event and are, as we shall see, almost antithetical to the concept of history. Nor are they randomly chosen holidays to observe some social institution, such as Mother’s Day. No, the eight Sabbats of Witchcraft were not man-made because they existed long before man was made. Or woman. Or the dinosaurs. Or life on this planet. Indeed, these eight holidays might be said to be as old as the Earth itself. They might not have been called “Sabbats” then, but they were there just the same.

The reason these holidays are so old is because they are a basic part of how the Earth works. Consequently, these holidays are not of history; they are of nature. You see, we happen to live on a beautiful blue-green planet that spins on its axis. And that axis is tilted, slightly, to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. The practical upshot of all this is that once a year, we have a night that is the longest night of the year, accompanied by the shortest day. When the hours between sundown and sunup are the greatest, and the hours between sunup and sundown are least. And we call this time the “winter solstice”. And exactly opposite it on the wheel of the year, we have its opposite, the longest day of the year, and the shortest night. And we call this time the “summer solstice”.

And having got this far in our analysis of the planet’s yearly cycle, it becomes easy to spot two more days that are similar and equally important. Each spring, there comes a day when the hours between sunrise and sunset are exactly equal to the hours between sunset and sunrise. And we call this the “vernal equinox”. Likewise, there comes a day each fall when the hours of darkness and the hours of daylight are exactly in balance. And we call this the “autumnal equinox”. It cannot be overstressed that the importance of these four days lies in the fact that nobody ‘made them up’; rather, they are simply a part of how this planet works.

It is reasonable to assume that even the most primitive of humans noticed this change in the hours of daylight, and the consequent change in the seasons. One can well imagine the anxiety in the mind of the “noble savage” as he witnessed the dwindling hours of daylight each autumn. And the sense of relief he must have felt when the year “turned the corner” at the winter solstice, and the days started to grow longer again, promising that spring would indeed return. Is it any wonder then that the oldest astronomical alignment of which we have a record points to the sun’s position in the sky on the winter solstice? And this is in a burial mound in Co. Meath, Ireland.

In fact, the relatively new science of archaeoastronomy underlies much of what has been discovered about the Old Holidays. Megalithic sites such as Stonehenge, for example, have clear alignments to both the summer and winter solstice, and the vernal and autumnal equinox. Nor are such alignments confined to the British Isles; indeed they can be found the world over: from the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the ancient temples of China; from the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi to the temples of Peru. The two solstices and two equinoxes must certainly be the oldest holidays known to humans, and they were known worldwide. Folklorists refer to these four days as the “quarter days”, inasmuch as they quarter the year. Astrologers know them, too, for three zodiac signs fit neatly into each quadrant, beginning with the first day of Aries at the vernal equinox. And modern Witches tend to call them the four “Lesser Sabbats” or “Low Holidays”.

The four “Greater Sabbats” or “High Holidays” of the Witches’ calendar may seem slightly less obvious at first. Essentially, they bisect the quarters we have already discussed, falling at the midpoint of each. For this reason, folklorists refer to them as the “cross-quarter days”. With these in place, the circle of the year begins to look like an eight-spoked wheel, which is a sacred symbol in many ancient religions. Because these four days are not as firmly marked by terrestrial events as the solstices and equinoxes, some writers have been led to speculate that they are derivative, and that their observation evolved at a much later stage of cultural evolution. Yet, although they may not be completely contemporaneous, their great antiquity was quite recently underscored by the discovery in Ireland of earthwork alignments of the sun’s position on the horizon for each of the cross-quarter days! That means that the holiday we today call “Halloween” has been celebrated as far back as megalithic times!

That the cross-quarter days should be regarded as more important than the solstices or equinoxes should come as no surprise. It is a common human experience that things reach their greatest strength, their moment of peak energy, at their midpoint. In observing a human life, for example, a person is usually at the apex of health and vigor at a point about halfway through his mortality. So, too, with most other things in nature. So, too, with each quarter of the year. The cross-quarter days can thus be seen as the four “power points” of the year. Consequently, those power points were marked by the four most important holidays of the Witches’ year which, according to the old folk calendar, also marked the turning of the seasons. These also correspond with the tetramorph figures of the zodiac, and were later adopted by Christian tradition as the sigils of the four Gospel writers.

Whenever I am asked what things make a Witch’s worldview different from other people’s, one of the first things I think about is the Witch’s sensitivity to the cycles of nature, especially the cycles of the moon and sun. In our modern world, insulated as we are from the progress of the seasons, we can go to the local supermarket and buy veggies and fruit year round, without consideration of what is “in season”. Still, a Witch can usually tell you where she is in the course of the year, or what phase the moon is in. (Incidentally, the word “Sabbat” was originally Babylonian and was used to designate the quarter days of the lunar cycle – full, new, first and last quarter – thus occurring about every seven days. It was only later that the ancient Hebrew people borrowed the word and used it to denote a day of rest and prayer, occurring every seventh day without exception.)

And nothing can keep a modern Witch in tune with the cycles of nature like observing the Old Holidays. I can still remember the feeling I sometimes got as a child that a particular night during the year was somehow special, charged with magic and power, alive and responsive to my inner thoughts and desires. Like Halloween night (always my favorite holiday) in some ways, but different too, and occurring at other points of the year. I never knew why such nights occurred, but I knew they had to be celebrated, by placing candles on the front porch railings, creating mysterious shadow plays where the light of an old incandescent street lamp fell on the side of the garage, or playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids, the wind helping my running. Or maybe an impromptu weenie roast (always a good excuse for building a big bonfire) was called for. I can’t prove it, of course, because I didn’t keep a diary, but I’d be almost willing to bet that I had stumbled onto the Old Holidays, vestiges of their primordial power still echoing down through the centuries.

Finding out more about these ancient holy days has been a lifelong labor of love for me, and I sincerely hope that the gleanings of my own research into these mysteries will kindle in my readers that same sense of magic and grounding or “connectedness” with nature that I have always experienced when contemplating the Old Holidays.

Most Recent Text Revision: Thursday, May 5, 2005 c.e.
Text editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press.
Document Copyright © 1995, 2005 by Mike Nichols.
Permission is given to re-publish this document only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. This notice represents an exception to the copyright notice found in the Acorn Guild Press edition of The Witches’ Sabbats and applies only to the text as given above. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.

The information about the “Wheel of the Year” at the top of this page and on the following sabbat pages was compiled by Jenwytch from:
Adams, A. & M., “The Learned Arts of Witches & Wizards”
Deittz, M. & Valverde, L. Chapter 8 in “WitchCraft – Beginner’s Guide to Wicca & Magic”
Starhawk, “The Spiral Dance”
West, K., “The Real Witches Coven”
Mything Links http://www.mythinglinks.org/Wheel~SouthernYear.html
Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) of Olympia, WA http://members.fortunecity.com/olycuups/olycuups/wheel.html
Akasha WitchCraft http://www.akashawitchcraft.net
Kindle the Fire http://www.angelfire.com/falcon/kindlethefire/sabbats.htm
Spiral Nature http://www.spiralnature.com/spirituality/paganism/wicca/index.html
Southern Wheel of the Year graphic created by Jenwytch with images scanned from books and found on the internet.