Sabbats are the eight Wiccan festivals of the God, which mark the passing of the 'Wheel of the Year'. This charts the conflict between the Oak King and the Holly King (light and dark associations of the God), and the incarnation of the Great Mother in her various forms throughout the natural cycle of the year. They are often celebrated by large groups of people - for example, many people gather at Stonehenge each year at midsummer (the 'summer solstice').
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Around December 21st
Also; Winter Solstice, Yuletide, Alban Arthan
Yule is a celebration of the rebirth of the Sun and, therefore the God. He is, however, found in both the forms of the Oak King (King of light) and the Holly King (King of darkness) throughout the year. At Yule, he is reborn as the Oak King, and the daylight hours start to grow in length. The Goddess embodies the Mother.
Yule is probably best known because of its close coincidence with the Christian festival of Christmas. Many of the so-called Christmas traditions are actually derived from those of Yule. The Christmas celebrations which we are familiar with today flourished during the Victorian era - for example, decorating a christmas tree, having a 'Yule' log and kissing under mistletoe. Interestingly, it was also during the Victorian era that the 'myth' of Santa Claus was brought to England from its Scandinavian origins. Today our perception of Father Christmas is actually the result of a wide range of folklore influences, rather like Christmas itself.
Mistletoe is a tradition from the Druids, when the Cheif Druid cut the mistletoe from the sacred oak during the Winter Solstice festival. Pagans would bring a live tree into their homes during their Yule celebrations so that the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the coldest part of winter. Bells were hung on the branches of the tree so you could tell when a spirit was present, and food (apples, oranges, lemons) and treats (cinnamon) adorned its greenery so that the spirits would not go hungry. The five pointed pentagram, symbol of the five elements, would be placed at the top of the tree nad quartz crystals used to simulate icicles. The reason that pine trees and similar evergreens were used is that these were the only trees that still displayed external signs of life during winter. Thus the Christmas tree was born! Even the electric lights we use to decorate our trees are called 'Fairy Lights' - have you ever wondered why? Wreathes are placed on our front doors for a similar reason - 'Look, life is here!' we say to greet our visitors.
The red and green colours of the season (along with the practice of exchanging gifts) are of Pagan origin, probably due in part to the colours of the holly berries found in abundance. As it is a festival of the sun, Yule is celebrated by fire; a 'Yule log' is burnt during the celebration, and a piece is saved and kept throughout the year to protect the home. It is also used to light the subsequent year's log. The word Yule is derived from the old Norse word Iul, meaning wheel (as in the wheel of the year).
Yule is a time of 'rebirth' - new beginnings, setting new targets for ones self and putting any regrets or unhappiness of the old year behind us. We place evergreens such as pine, rosemary, bay, juniper and cedar on our altar.
Also; Candlemas, Imbolic, Imbollgc Brigantia, Lupercus
This Sabbat marks the point midway between Yule and the spring (or vernal) equinox. It symbolises the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the God at Yule, and the newborn Sun God is seen as a small child nursing from his mother.
It is traditional to light every lamp or candle in the house once the sun has set to celebrate the Sun's rebirth.
Imbolc is a time of new beginnings, and is a good time for spring cleaning, or putting those new year's resolutions into practice. Winter is swept away. Some covens consider this to be the most appropriate time for initiations into the Craft.
Around March 20th
Also; Vernal (Spring) Equinox, Alban Eiler
Ostara is known as the 'first day' of spring but is, in fact, a point of equilibirum between the summer and the winter. Although the Holly King (symbolic here of animal and plant life) is born on this Sabbat, the Goddess is in the form of the maiden (as the year is young and full of potential for life) and plays with the Oak King (who is now equal in strength to the darkness).
Holiday festivals at this time use brightly coloured eggs to represent the child within. Baskets of flowers and the Easter 'bunny' are of Pagan origin.
Ostara is a time for planting seeds, collecting flowers, working with herbs and tending gardens. Seeds, nuts and leafy vegetables are eaten. Flowers are placed on the altar, worn, and integrated with food dishes. As the days grow longer than the nights, this is a time to free ourselves from the constraints of the past.
April 30th (Mayday - May 1st)
Also; Mayday, Bealtinne, Festival of Tana, Walburga
Beltane is a celebration of fertility and sexuality, and commemorates the union between the Oak King and Maiden (so that the Oak King may be reborn the subsequent Yule)
Activities include leaping the Beltane fires for luck, or weaving a web of life around a May Pole (a symbol of the phallus of the God - flowers and greenary represent the Goddess). Other weaving is popular at this time - joining two separate things into one.
Beltane is generally celebrated around a living tree - ideally in a forest. It is a common time for Handfasting (Wiccan marriage ceremonies). This is a good period to deveop your potential for personal growth, and self-discovery, love and union.