Category: Sabbats

Imbolc

Imbolc

The word Imbolc is thought to have come from the Old Irish word oimelc, which means “ewe’s milk”. It is also said that the word itself, Imbolc, literally translates to “in the belly”. This is a fitting name for this Sabbat as we celebrate the return of Spring. Imbolc is one of the four Celtic fire festivals, the others being Beltane, Samhain, and Lughnasadh (Lammas). The ancient Celts celebrated this day as the coming of Spring when their herds would start to produce offspring and the farmers would go back to work in the fields. The origins of this Sabbat, though, date back to Neolithic times. We know this (or speculate at best) because the inner chamber of the Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara in Ireland is aligned with the rising sun on Samhain and Imbolc. The Mound of Hostages was built about 5,000 years ago in the year 3,000 BC (9).

Yule

Yule

Yule is typically celebrated around the same time as the Christian holiday of Christmas in the northern hemisphere, but they are two very different holidays. You can see from above that the dates range for the celebration of Yule and that is because it is celebrated on the Winter Solstice, which changes every year, but always happens within a certain date range.

Samhain

Samhain

October 31 – November 1 (Northern Hemisphere)
April 30 – May 1 (Southern Hemisphere)

Throughout the world, Samhain is typically known as Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere. Historically, this was the last day of the calendar year to the Celts. It was a time when grazing days for cattle were over and the herds were either put away for winter or separated in preparation for slaughter. As such, Samhain is closely linked with death. Farmers have taken the last of their crops and gave the excess back to the Mother for the New Year. In Wicca, Samhain is the third and final of the harvest festivals. It is a time of death in the Earth when the final crops have been harvested and saved for the winter.

As the death of the Earth, Samhain is also a time for honoring those who have gone before us. The veil between worlds is thinnest during Samhain, and that allows for communication with the next world and receiving messages from our ancestors. Samhain is also called the Witch’s New Year. It may seem strange to have the beginning of the year in the fall, but it makes sense when you think about it deeper. This is a time of death, not only for the crops and herds but for the days as well. This is the time of the year when our days grow shorter and nights grow longer. It gets colder as well, in most places, and we know change is coming. Things are dying, and with dying comes change and new beginnings. We think about our hopes and dreams for the coming year and allow for our deaths (whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or otherwise) to bring us hope for a new beginning.

At Samhain, our beloved Goddess is in her Crone form and begins her descent with God into the underworld. She is the Old One who brings us wisdom from the year that has passed and allows us to let go of the things that are holding us back. Our beloved Lord is in the form of the Ancient One, following the Goddess to the underworld to recuperate and be reborn. The Ancient One, much like the Crone, brings us wisdom beyond our years and a knowledge of life after death.

There are many things you can do this night to honor the gifts that have been given to you by the God and Goddess as well as honoring the lives of those that have come before you. It is typical to celebrate with a feast of some sort and a ritual. However, not everyone knows their ancestors, or not everyone has anyone they know who has passed on. This is ok because even though you may not know who they are, they are still out there. This is a time of the year for them to roam closest to the veil and easily pass on messages to their kin (you!).

Samhain Correspondences and Associations

  • Life Cycle, specifically death
  • Last Harvest
  • Fall Colors (orange, black, red, yellow, etc.)
  • Pumpkins
  • Divination

Samhain Celebration Ideas

  1. Ancestor Altar: Decorate your altar with items passed down from your family, photos of passed on loved ones, and images of things that remind you of your ancestry. Meditate in front of your altar, taking time to be silent and receive messages from the beyond. If you have a Samhain feast, leave a plate of food and some drink on the altar as an offering to the deceased spirits of your ancestors, the God, and the Goddess. If you want, you can also leave an offering outside for the passing spirits who are making their journey to see their own loved ones.
  2. Light a white candle and place it in the window. This is believed to help guide the spirits when the veil is thin, so they can find their way in the darkness.
  3. Dumb Supper: Now, I know this one sounds a bit strange, but hear me out. If you don’t know what a dumb supper is, I’m going to explain it to you. A dumb supper is not a stupid dinner, as it sounds. It is simply a supper prepared and eaten in total silence with an empty place setting (or two, three, etc.). In total silence, the dead, as well as the Lord and Lady, are invited to feast with you for the evening. The meal is made, and places are set, including plate(s) for the physically empty seats. It is a time of reflection and communication between the living and dead and should be eaten in total silence. There should be no talking between guests, as this interrupts the spirits who will join you. As such, it is not a supper for children unless they can maintain total silence throughout the dinner.
  4. Take a nature walk! Experience the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth for yourself in the beauty that is nature. Take a hike through the hills if you can, or go to a local park, and observe the changing scenery around you. Reflect on the time that has passed since the start of Spring and know in your heart that the death of the plants happens to make way for new life to come forward!
  5. Meditation for Samhain is also a wonderful way to celebrate. Essentially, you hit the “pause” button on life for a second and take the time to reflect on your life so far. Have you accomplished any goals recently? Have you let go of things that were holding you back? Has part of you “died” to make way for something better? Sit in a quiet space and meditate on these questions and any others that may come forward.

Mabon or Autumn Equinox

September 20-23 (Northern Hemisphere)
March 19-22 (Southern Hemisphere)

Mabon is the second of the three Celtic harvest festivals. It is also the second equinox, meaning that the dates will vary by year depending on the alignment of the Earth and its rotation. At this time of the year, the days and nights are equal in length, and, moving forward, we will start our descent into the dark half of the year. We don’t know for sure where the name Mabon came from, and its first use was in the 1970s by Aidan Kelly, an American academic and poet who has been influential to the neo-Pagan movement. He states that he was looking to different myths from Germanic or Gaelic literature and could not find anything that rang true to this Sabbat, so he settled on Mabon, from the story Mabon ap Modron, which translates to “Son of the Mother”. Regardless of the name given, many Wiccans choose to call this Sabbat the Autumnal Equinox rather than Mabon.

At Mabon, God is the Ancient One, the Wise Man who is preparing for his death at Samhain to be reborn at Yule.  The Goddess also grows older and is making preparations for God’s passing at Samhain, withdrawing into herself and storing her strength to give birth to the new God at Yule.

Things are teetering on balance at this time of year, with day and night being balanced, as well as life and death. After Mabon, that balance shifts and the darkness takes hold, allowing for the symbolic death of the Earth that allows for life to be reborn again after Yule. Since this is a time of balance where we recognize that aging is a part of the life cycle, it is a common time to honor the elders in our lives and those less fortunate than us. As is common with most Wiccan Sabbats, a feast is held with the produce of the season and reflection takes place among those in attendance.

Mabon Correspondences and Associations

  • Balance and Harmony
  • Aging and the Life Cycle
  • Cornucopias
  • Apples, Grains, and Corn
  • The colors yellow, gold, orange, and brown

Mabon Celebration Ideas

  • Feasting! Use fresh fruits and vegetables of the season to create some of your favorite dishes. Decorate the table with the colors of Mabon, or any that you associate with the fall season. As you enjoy your feast, take the time to honor your living elders, for their life cycle is nearing its end. Know that, though aging and death are part of our life here in the physical world, so is rebirth.
  • Acts of gratitude and thanks are great for the season of Mabon. Gather some non-perishable foods and take them to a local homeless shelter or food bank, sharing the wealth and thanks of the Sabbat with those who are less fortunate than you.
  • Have a Mabon ritual!
Lughnasadh/Lammas

Lughnasadh/Lammas

Lughnasadh (LOO-nuh-sah) or Lammas (LAH-mas)
August 2 (Northern Hemisphere)
February 2 (Southern Hemisphere)

Lammas, or Lughnasadh, depending on your tradition and preference, is the first of three harvest festivals, and one of four fire festivals, from ancient Celtic traditions and beliefs. This first harvest is the harvest of grains, and we can see the fruits of the union between the God and Goddess. The word Lammas comes from the Old English word hlāfmæsse, meaning “loaf mass”, and is highly connected to the harvesting of the grains and the feasts prepared at Lammas. Traditionally, this day was celebrated with the harvesting of the first grains and a feast. The ancient peoples that celebrated this festival knew the importance, though, and we can try to get back to that.

Named after the god Lugh, Lughnasadh (or Lammas) marks the beginning of the Sun’s descent into darkness and the coming of winter. The fruits of the harvest are celebrated as the reward of the union of the God and Goddess celebrated at Beltane. Even though it is a time of celebration, it is also a time of tension and uncertainty as, historically, not all things were harvested yet and winter was coming.

One of several historic sources for the four Celtic fire festivals Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain is the early medieval Irish tale “Tochmarc Emire”, or the Wooing of Emer, which is part of the Ulster Cycle. In the form we know it today it was written in the 10th or 11th century CE, but it is safe to assume that this tale – like so many others – contains a much older nucleus.

The tale narrates how the hero Cú Chulainn is courting Emer. He receives several tasks to fulfill, one of them being that he must go without sleep for one year. As Emer utters her challenge, she names the four major points of the Irish-Celtic year, as they are also mentioned in other Irish sources. Doing this, she does not use the solar festivals, nor Christian ones, which were certainly well known and established by the 10th century. Instead Emer choses the first days of each season.

Historically, the grain was cut and part of it was used for the feast. Another part of the first harvest was stored away to be used as seeds for the next harvest. In this way, we can see how the idea of the life cycle plays a part in this Sabbat: life as the growing grain, death as the harvesting of that grain, and rebirth as the seeds for the next harvest season.

Also, Lughnasadh was historically a time for not only feasting, but religious ceremonies, ritual athletic games (most notably the Tailteann Games), matchmaking, and trading. The Tailteann Games were originally held as funeral games in honor of the Goddess Tailtiu, the Mother Goddess of the god Lugh. According to the Leabhar Gabhála (Book of Invasions also called the “Book of Conquests”), the Goddess Tailtiu died of exhaustion clearing the plains of Ireland to make the land available for farming. Tailtiu was the daughter of the King of Spain, and the wife of the last Fir Bolg High King of Ireland. She survived the Tuatha Dé Danaan invasion, but her husband did not. She later married the victorious leader of the invasion force, Eochaidh Garbh, and became the foster mother of the deity Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Hand) who proclaimed that the first of August would mark the festival of Lughnasa (“Lugh’s Fair”), in honor of his foster mother. It was to be celebrated at Teltown as a funeral feast and sporting competition called the Oenach Tailten. Spectators could enjoy watching long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, contests in sword fighting, archery, wrestling, swimming, and chariot and horse racing. The games also included competitions in strategy, singing, dancing and storytelling, along with crafts competitions for goldsmiths, jewelers, weavers and armorers. Although the yearly staging of the Tailteann Games was interrupted several times by war or threat of war, the apparent continuity attests to their importance to the people of Ireland.

In modern times, most of us don’t grow our own food. So, how then do we celebrate the harvest festival? If you think of it in more spiritual terms, what “seeds” did we sow in the Spring? What do we need or want to finish before descending into the darkness of Winter? Were we adequately prepared for this “harvesting” of our spiritual selves?

At Lughnasadh, we take in the warm rays of the Sun and know that even though darker days are coming, we can get through them and they are a part of the life cycle. Lughnasadh is a perfect time to celebrate the gifts that we have been given. The God and Goddess continue on their journey, providing for us as their children and making sure we have the tools we need to continue on our spiritual path as well as our experience in the physical world. When we celebrate Lughnasadh, be mindful of what you are eating. If you harvest your own food, that’s wonderful! If you don’t, though, try to get food that has been locally grown and harvested. Give an offering to the God and Goddess, thanking them for their work. Don’t sit in front of the television or phone while eating your feast. Be mindful when you eat, not taking the food in front of you for granted.

Lughnasadh Correspondences and Associations

  • Grain and Harvests
  • Apples and Berries
  • Sickles, Corn Dollies, and Cornucopias
  • Games and Crafting
  • The colors yellow, brown, and orange

Lughnasadh Celebration Ideas

  • Feasting! Use fresh fruits and vegetables of the season to create some of your favorite dishes. Decorate the table with the colors of Lughnasadh, or any that you associate with the fall season. If you don’t grow your own food, try to get food from the source, taking advantage of the energy that can be found in freshly, and locally, harvested food.
  • Meditate on your goals from the past year. Have you accomplished the things you wanted to accomplish? Is there anything that you didn’t accomplish that you need to rethink or revisit? Have you gotten what you needed from those goals and, if not, does the goal need to change? Keep notes about your meditation and introspection to go back to often to remind you of the things you have planned for yourself, and the things you have accomplished throughout the year.
Wheel of the Year – 2018

Wheel of the Year – 2018

Below, you will find the dates for the Sabbats for 2018 depending on the hemisphere you call home.

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Image from Pixabay – johnhain

Northern Hemisphere

Imbolc – February 1, 2018
Ostara – March 20, 2018
Beltane – May 1, 2018
Litha – June 21, 2018
Lammas – August 1, 2018
Mabon – September 23, 2018
Samhain – November 1, 2018
Yule – December 21, 2018

Southern Hemisphere

Lammas – February 1, 2018
Mabon – March 20, 2018
Samhain – May 1, 2018
Yule – June 21, 2018
Imbolc – August 1, 2018
Ostara – September 23, 2018
Beltane – November 1, 2018
Litha – December 21, 2018