Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Days of Celebration - The Wiccan Sabbats

Once again, I find myself receiving requests for information from various sources about one subject.   Seems like interest comes in droves at times!  I will share this article from my website, A Rainbow of Spirituality, to provide some enlightenment to those who seek answers.

Every religion honors special days of the year set aside for celebrations of various events
that are important to the specific religion's theology, and Wicca is certainly no exception. The Wiccans annually celebrate eight special holidays, or Sabbats, derived from the French word meaning "to frolic and revel." The purpose of this section is to provide information on each Sabbat, the day it is usually celebrated on (minor disagreements are evident among different traditions and practitioners), various other names of each Sabbat, and what the holiday is actually celebrating. Most of these Sabbats will be familiar to the non-Wiccan, as the Christians have adapted most Pagan celebrations into its own holidays, making a few cosmetic changes in the process, and I have endeavored to specify the Christian equivalent of each holiday wherever possible. The Roman Catholic Church undoubtedly did this in order to make it easier for the Pagans to be converted to the new religion. Hence, most Pagan holidays have been "Christianized" by the clergy of the Church. All of these holidays encompass the Wheel of the Year (sometimes called the "Wheel of Life" for obvious reasons), a circular symbol used to illustrate the holidays and their effect on the Wiccan consciousness throughout the year. You will notice that each of the Sabbats taken together is symbolic of human existence, as well as every living thing in nature, utilizing the Goddess and God to personify the travel from birth to death to eventual rebirth in an unending, oscillating cycle.

Here, then, are each of the Sabbats:

Associated Stones:  Obsidian, onyx, carnelian
Other Names: All Hallow's Eve, Ancestor Night, Feast of the Dead, Halloween
Christian Equivalent: All Saint's Day (Halloween itself is celebrated commercially, but is not considered a holy day by Christianity), and All Soul's Day
Day: October 31
Purpose: Samhain (which is supposed to be pronounced sow-en, though some modern Pagans pronounce it as spelled) is the most important holy night of the year. In fact, it is considered the Celtic New Year. It is believed to be the evening in which the veil between the realm of the living and the dead is thinnest, allowing members of the spirit realm to walk the earth in great numbers. It is thereby considered the evening where our loved ones who have gone over to the other side of the veil are honored with a special feast. This is certainly the reason All Saint's Day was created by the Roman Catholic Church to celebrate honored individuals who have passed on, as well as the similar All Souls Day, which honors the memories of our individual loved one's who have passed on. The association with spirits of the dead walking the earth, as well as faeries and other etheric beings roaming the material plane in large numbers that evening, is probably the basis for the modern Halloween's emphasis on ghosts and goblins, and the popular stereotypical image of the witch as a swarthy old crone with green skin was derived from negative images of real witches as being corrupt harbingers of evil or mischief. The jack o' lantern, a still popular decoration, is derived from the image used by ancient Pagans to keep unwelcome spirits from the hearth during the celebration. Calls to your ancestors and loved ones for assistance is appropriate for those practicing spell work on this day, as is spell work for endings and calling upon the Crone aspect of the Goddess.

The God symbolically dies of old age at this point, though the Mother Goddess is now pregnant with the reborn Sun God in her womb.


Associated Stones: Bloodstone, garnet, ruby
Other Names: Yule, Winter Finding, Saturnalia
Christian Equivalent: Christmas
Day: December 21
Purpose: Winter Solstice celebrates the rebirth of the Sun God into infancy. All the major pantheons of deities have their version of the Sun God: The Greco-Roman Dionysus/Bacchus, the Egyptian Osiris, and the Norse Balder, just to name a few. Many myths exist to describe a kind and beloved being who dies and is subsequently reborn. The Christians adapted this day as the "official" birthday of Jesus Christ, the great prophet that Christian theology revolves around, and who has been deified as the Christian equivalent of the Sun God (the death and resurrection story of Jesus was by no means original, but has its variants in Pagan religions far older than Christianity). This day also celebrates the return of the sun, as the days begin to grow longer.

The Christian practice of putting up a Christmas Tree derives from the ancient Pagan tradition of bringing a yule tree in the home in order to welcome the nature spirits into the festivities of the day. The burning of the yule log derives from an ancient Germanic custom in honor of the god Thor, to whom yule wood was considered sacred.

The concept of Santa Claus is also distinctly Pagan. The image of this portly, joyous being derives from three main sources, each described below.

As for the first source, Santa Claus is partly an updated version of the Pagan Holly King, a benign and possibly devalued god-form who rules the year from the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice. On this day, he engages his rival, the Oak King, who rules from just after Winter Solstice to the beginning of the Summer Solstice, in a symbolic "combat," ending with the Holly King's "death" (he will be reborn and retake rulership of the Wheel of the Year from the Oak King in the summer). The modern image of Santa Claus in many ways resembles the Holly King, since the latter's colors were green and red (today considered the official "Christmas colors," as well as colors being popular for the garb of many types of elves and nature spirits), reindeer were a sacred animal to him (note the mostly Germanic names of Santa's reindeer), and who was said to be accompanied by elves who worshiped nature alongside him. Elves are a staple of Pagan belief, but are absent in modern Christian theology, which further underscores the Pagan origins of the Santa Claus image. This, of course, is the origin of the idea that elves were the "helpers" of Santa Claus in his toy-making duties.

The second source for the modern image of Santa Claus is the king of the Norse deities, Odin, who, according to Germanic tradition, walked the earth this night and granted "gifts" such as wisdom and prosperity to the virtuous; this is the original origin of the act of gift giving on Christmas. Though Odin was far from a joyous being, and his sometimes severe sense of justice was often beyond the ability of mortals to comprehend, he bore a superficial resemblance to the modern image of Santa Claus in that he was often depicted in the Germanic myths as resembling an elderly (albeit quite robust) man with a white beard, though unlike the modern image of Santa Class (often referred to today as "Sinter Klass" in some Northern nations), Odin wasn't corpulent, and was missing one eye (he sacrificed it to the Well of Mimir in exchange for the gift of omniscience), thus causing him to wear an eye patch.

The third source of the modern version of Santa Claus (which cemented the gift giving legend in the eyes of modern Christians completely) are from historical records of a kindly 6th century bishop who made toys and distributed them to needy kids each year at a certain time of the year, which more or less established the popular idea that Christmas is primarily for kids. This bishop was thus canonized by the Catholic Church as Saint Nick. It should be noted that the imagery associated with the modern Santa Claus in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages often depicted a violent hairy man of the wild, also emblematic of various Pagan species of solitary fay (or "faerie"), before the modern, jolly image based on more benign imagery and archetypes took its place.

The evolution of these various images finally reached their apex by the 19th century, and it was then that modern, familiar image of Santa Claus was born.

Hence, due to the fact that Santa Claus is in many ways a 'modernized' version of the classical Holly King, it can be said that he actually exists as a part of astral reality, and modern Wiccans pay homage to him in this manner, rather than contriving a whimsical story to children that Santa Claus is actually a seemingly immortal flesh and blood elderly man of material reality who literally physically travels to every home in the world on Christmas night, enters via the chimney, and leaves physical gifts behind for the children [which puts many parents in the position of explaining the popular company logos adorning the boxes of many of those gifts; this conundrum was actually dealt with in an animated Christmas commercial in the early 1980's, where Santa Claus was depicted as actually shopping in contemporary toy stores, such as K-Mart and Toys 'R' Us, for all of these gifts, rather than building them from scratch, as many of the popular stories describe his elves as doing! Both building or shopping for that number of toys every year would end up costing Santa many millions of dollars per year if he was truly a being of material reality, and astute children will often pick up on this discrepancy!].

As stated above, the God is a newborn at this time, being dutifully nursed by the Goddess.


Associated Stones: Amethyst, turquoise
Other Names: Sometimes spelled Imbolg.
Christian Equivalent: Candlemas
Day: February 2
Purpose: Imbolc celebrates the eventual return of spring. Fertility rites are important and appropriate now. The ancient Celts honored the fertility goddess Brigid at this time, who was adopted into Catholic theology as Saint Bridget. The God is now being raised by the Goddess as a young boy.


Associated Stones: Aquamarine, moonstone, rose quartz
Other Names: Ostara, Eostre's Day
Christian Equivalent: Easter
Day: March 21
Purpose: Ostara is a celebration of the thriving fertility of the land. The holiday is named after the Norse fertility goddess Eostre, also called Ostara, to which this day was held sacred by the Germanic tribes. Spellwork for abundance is appropriate, as are continued fertility spells. The word 'Easter' derives from the name of the goddess Eostre, who was honored on this day. The rabbit and eggs are ancient Pagan symbols of fertility for obvious reasons, and were adapted by Christianity into the whimsical image of the Easter Bunny delivering colored eggs, as the decoration of eggs was also an old Pagan custom of celebrating the holiday. The origin of the concept of the Easter Bunny and his famous practice of delivering Easter eggs can be traced back to the following story from Germanic legend.

Long ago, according to legend, many animals attempted to win the favor of the goddess Eostre, but as she is so difficult to impress, all of them failed utterly. However, one day on March 21, a rabbit decided to attempt to impress her by taking an egg from a local hen's nest and decorating it beautifully with paint. Much to the surprise of the other animals, Eostre was extremely enamored by the beautiful gift, and as a result, she gave the rabbit the task of creating and delivering such beautifully decorated eggs, which he carried in a basket, to everyone in the local villages on this same day every year in the future.

The God is now grown into adolescence, and he feels the first yearnings for the Goddess, who is no longer viewed as his mother.


Associated Stones: Bloodstone, sapphire
Other Names: May Day, Walpurgisnacht, sometimes spelled Bealtaine
Christian Equivalent: May Day
Day: May 1
Purpose: Beltane celebrates the successful beginning of the growing season, as well as honoring human sexuality (which the Christians disdained, and still do in matters of religion, though to a lesser extent, today). Many May Day traditions culled from the ancient Pagans are still carried on in various forms at the present time. The nut hunt that goes on today is a variation of ancient symbolism: the nuts symbolized the human testicles to the ancient Pagans (and is probably where the modern slang for testes being referred to as "nuts" comes from...honest!). The ancient Greeks honored the promiscuous nature god Pan and the nymphs at this time, and spell work for love and sex would be especially powerful now.

Other modern practices carried over from ancient times for this holiday include dancing around the maypole, which was symbolic of the male phallus to the Pagan cultures in the past, and of jumping over the fire, something women used to do for blessings and fertility (as a masculine element, the fire was also seen as a symbolic phallus). Of course, modern people in societies with a Judeo-Christian ideology have obviously long since forgotten the original basis of these activities. At this time, the God and the Goddess have now become young lovers.


Associated Stones: Emerald, jade, lapis, tiger's eye
Other Names: Midsummer, Litha
Christian Equivalent: None
Day: June 22
Purpose: The Summer Solstice is the celebration of the full growth of the harvest. The growing season is in full bloom and nature is most bountiful. Spellwork for childbirth and good health are very appropriate, as is spelling for abundance and money. The Christians, curiously, have not adapted this holiday into a corresponding summer celebration, though they probably have a day for saints earmarked for the occasion.

The Holly King retakes the rulership of the seasons from the Oak King at this time.

During this time of the Wheel of the Year, the God is now middle aged, and the Goddess remains his consort.


Associated Stones: Citrine, peridot
Other Names: Lughnasadh, Lunasa
Christian Equivalent: None, except for any celebration honoring St. Michael
Day: August 1
Purpose: Lammas is the celebration of the darkening of the year, as winter comes ever closer, and it entails the thanking of the Goddess and God for the past harvest and bounty of the land earlier in the year. Spellwork for the arts is very appropriate, as this holiday honored the Celtic god Lugh, which is why it is often called Lughnasadh (though I refer to it by its alternate name Lammas here to be responsive to those readers who are not Celtic Wiccan). Lugh was later adopted by the Roman Catholics as Saint Michael.

At this time, the God is elderly, and his time with the Goddess is near its end.


Associated Stones: Amethyst, topaz
Other Names: Mabon
Christian Equivalent: Thanksgiving (though it occurs much later on the Christian calendar in America)
Day: September 21
Purpose: This day celebrates the second harvest. The Greek god Dionysus, the patron god of wine and revelry, and his Roman equivalent, Bacchus, was honored here. Thus, spell work for happiness and revelry (i.e., partying!), along with invocations of gratitude to the Goddess and God (or any deity who embodies the harvest and abundance) for having sufficient food on the table this year and the company of many loved one's with whom to share it with, is very appropriate at this time.

It is a common opinion in the Wiccan community (which I wholeheartedly share) that the Christian celebration of Thanksgiving, which ostensibly celebrates the ill-fated peace between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, though not truly religious in a strict sense (but nevertheless celebrated by modern Christians, particularly since the Pilgrims themselves were Christian), is the modern equivalent of the Mabon celebration of abundance. Hence, due to the similarity of celebration and the aforementioned thanks for abundance, which is what the Pilgrims were celebrating, I can state my belief that this holiday is a takeoff of the Autumn Equinox without stretching the imagination too far.

This day is named for the Celtic god Mabon, the divine child of the Celtic war goddess Morrigan, who was later "Christianized" by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Andrew (which is also an amalgamation with the well known friend and disciple of Jesus Christ).

At this point in the Wheel of the Year, the God has died of old age, but the Goddess is pregnant with the reincarnated Sun God, who will be reborn on the Winter Solstice. 

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