One resolution I feel cool, calm, and collected about this year is my intent to observe and more thoroughly understand each of the eight sabbats on the witches’ wheel of the year.
Sabbats are festivals and ceremonies commonly celebrated by many pagan people marking the waxing and waning of Earth’s cycles of death and rebirth. Scholarly witches suggest these ancient pre-Christian festivals and ceremonies marked cycles in nature as well as farming and agriculture.
I’m somewhat well acquainted with honoring equinoxes and solstices but less familiar with using their witch-honored names. I’m an enthusiast since I’m young when it comes to Samhain, but I’d like to be more intentional in weaving this day into the yearly sabbat system as a whole.
For example, Imbolc, Lunasa, and Beltane are sabbats I’ve never paid much mind to...
But this year, I am dedicated to seeking a deeper understanding of some of the modern pagan customs borne from the ancient roots I feel connected to. And nothing brings understanding like practice and immersion.
During this time I’d also like to remind myself how to eat in accordance with the seasons, and allow food to be a focus of each sabbat. I’m lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest where food is plentiful and fresh. I always feel better when I stick to in-season local foods when I can, and I’d also like to finally learn to can and preserve later this year.
I’ve made it my mission to mark the year like a traditional witch. Here are the sabbats in order:
February 1st - February 2nd is when one of four traditional Gaelic seasonal festivals is observed by many modern pagans and witches. (The others are Beltane, Lunasa, and Samhain)
Imbolc honors Brigid, the Irish goddess of poetry, wisdom, and protection. The pagan sabbat's name means “in the belly” and marks the time when domesticated animals are pregnant with milk. It's the beginning of spring on the Witch’s Wheel of the Year and the first harvest season after Yule—the harvest being milk.
Energetically, it is a wonderful day for cleansing, purifying, and making way for the new. Manifestation spells performed on this day hold a lot of power. Many covens initiate new members on this day.
I plan to spend Imbolc cleaning my house and making homemade plant milks, some of which will be infused with turmeric and rose to cleanse and purify the gut. I hope to gather with other witches to meditate, light candles, and witness each other releasing old energy as we step into spring.
March 19th - 23rd is when spring is nigh and the night and day are equally balanced. It is a celebration of all of the abundant new life and sprouting seeds everywhere. The spring equinox and the beginning of the astrological new year also coincide with Ostara.
This is a wonderful time for starting new journeys as well as simply celebrating abundance. Spring is associated with the element of air in many respects so anything having to do with music, speaking, or communicating is appropriate for Ostara. Infuse the air with soothing incense and invite spirits to be present for the birth of newness. Whereas Imbolc is best for cleansing, Ostara is best for decorating and beautifying.
I’ll be adorning my altar with fresh flowers and feasting on fresh produce this Ostara. I also hope to spend the day’s evening with other witches, preferably outdoors in a fresh, airy setting, recognizing the things we are creating and the newness floating into our lives.
May 1st marks the shift from spring to summer on the Witches' Wheel of the Year when young animals are coming into maturity. In modern Wiccan traditions, there may be a play enactment of a God and Goddess coming together to form new life.
For all witches, it is a fire festival where bonfires are welcomed by the deities in celebration of the dawn of summer. It is a festival of sexuality and sensuality. Passion, creativity, courtship, sex, flirtation, conception, and more are the modalities most appropriate for the occasion.
I plan to spend Beltane dressed like the goddess I carry within, hopefully by a roaring fire with my sweetheart or other witches. I may also refresh the gentle herb-scented top drawers of my dresser.
June 19th -June 23rd heralds in the summer solstice, the great turning point that not only is the longest day of the year, but it’s also when the sky begins to slowly darken in the direction of eventual winter. It is regarded as a festival of divine inspiration, and to many witches, it symbolizes a battle between light and darkness, with the darkness being the eventual victor.
Whereas Beltane is about passion and courtship, Litha is a time of self-realization and commitment at a time when the days are about to grow darker, shorter, and colder. Handfasting and marriage rituals are commonly performed at Litha.
Like Beltane, Litha is a fire festival, so candles and bonfires of all sorts are welcome. Abundance is everywhere. It is a wonderful day for a gorgeous feast with everyone you know and a dance under the stars, making heartfelt commitments to the ancestors.
5) Lughnasadh ("loo-nah-sah")
Did you know that there is a “witches’ thanksgiving?” Along with the darkness comes the gifts of the harvest. This celebration lands on August 1st and ushers in the last three of the four Gaelic harvest festivals.
This sabbat was named after the Irish god Lugh. His mother, Tailtiu, is an earth goddess, and at this time of year, she dies along with the crops. Lugh must battle other deities to protect the harvest she leaves behind.
For witches this is not only a feast day, it’s also a time when offerings must be made to Earth, giving thanks for all that she has brought to us this year and promising her our protection.
Some ways to celebrate this day include canning and preserving food, preparing a feast, and making offerings to Earth in some form such as pouring coffee or moon blood over the earth under the moonlight, tending a community garden, volunteering for an environmental justice organization, or working in a community kitchen.
Much of the pre-Christian pagan traditions around the Autumn Equinox, which occurs at around September 19th-22nd each year, have been lost. “Mabon” is a name newly adopted by pagans around the 1970s. Regardless of its origins, this festival marks a meaningful point of balance between the darkness of night and the light of day and the shift into fall.
Apples have come to be associated with Mabon, symbolizing life and even immortality as we step into seasons of colder weather. An apple cut in half reveals a five-pointed star, or pentacle, representing Earth, air, fire, water, and Spirit, and makes a fine addition to any altar at this time of year.
Making and drinking cider, putting away summer things and bringing out sweaters, gathering together to mark the change in seasons, and letting go of the summer and embracing the coming seasons of rest are what I hope to be doing this year at Mabon.
In the Tarot, this card may translate from the Nine of Wands
7) Samhain ("sow-in")
The easiest witches' sabbat to name is the one landing squarely on October 31st.
This is the day the reaper comes to collect the harvest, and thus this sabbat is associated heavily with the death aspect of the cycle of life. Death is celebrated as an important part of life. Samhain is considered to be the day when the veil between the spirit world and the living world is as thin as can be, so many who do not normally experience the spirit world might at this time of year.
Many witches celebrate this sabbat with yet another feast that includes a place set at the table for ancestors and other members of the dead. Others will bake something special for their altar as a gift to the spirits. This is also a special time of year for visiting the graves of those who have passed, leaving offerings of flowers and small fruits as gifts.
Upon the Winter Solstice at around December 21st, Yule begins and lasts until January 1st. This Norse pagan-inspired festival is the modern witches’ Christmastime. But instead of celebrating the birth of Christ, we celebrate the birth of the sun/light as the days are about to grow longer toward the eventual abundance of summer.
For pagans and witches, it is a time of rest, good tidings, and goodwill towards others. We burn Yule logs, which are decorated with cinnamon and cloves for good luck and long-lasting health, and we feast together yet again.
Other customs that make Yuletide special include decorating a Yule tree, building a solstice altar with evergreen branches, lighting candles, and giving natural, handmade gifts to friends and loved ones.
Will you celebrate with me this year? Subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of this page for more on the sabbats and more content like this.