Sabbats are pagan holidays. They mark the Earth’s movement around the Sun. In different pagan traditions, you will see different names for them and slightly different customs, but the energy and meaning of those days are basically the same no matter what pagan path you take. You may honor different deities if your path is Nordic, Greek, Slavic, Celtic, etc., but you will see how the basic nature of your holiday is the same or very similar to those of your pagan friends around the world. We celebrate different seasons, their beginning and peaks. That is why we put our sabbats on the Wheel of the Year to mark their position.
As you can see in the image above, there are two kinds of sabbats; Quarter Sabbats that mark the beginning of each of the four seasons and Cross-quarter Sabbats that mark the peak of each season. They are also known as lesser and major sabbats. For example, winter will begin on the Winter Solstice and last until the Vernal Equinox, but its peak is on Imbolc.
Solar holidays or Fire festivals are lesser Sabbats: two solstices and two equinoxes. The greater sabbats or cross-quarter days are the peaks of the season.
At the end of this text that serves as an introduction to Wheel of the Year and the Pagan sabbats, you will see a list of links that will take you to each of the sabbats individually. There you will find specific details about every festival and how it is celebrated in different pagan cultures.
Fire festivals – Solar cycles
- Winter Solstice (Yule)
- Vernal Equinox (Ostara)
- Summer Solstice (Litha)
- Autumn Equinox (Mabon)
Earth festivals – agricultural cycles
We know that the solar year is the period during which the Earth completely orbits the Sun. It is approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds long. The four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter) are parts of that year. Therefore, every year has four quarters. Every annual cycle of those changes in nature is celebrated in paganism. Sabbats look at two things, actually. They look at what happens in nature around us and what happens in the cyclical shifts of life and death of our deities. We believe that energy moves around us and in us, and we act accordingly. Additionally, some pagan groups celebrate only two sabbats as “Major” ones – Samhain and Yule – while everything else on the Wheel of the Year falls under the “in between” category. When it comes to when the cycle begins, it depends on who you ask. Some pagans start their year on Samhain, some on Yule, and some on Imbolc. It varies from tradition to tradition and depends on whether a person is starting the spiritual year with death on Samhain or the birth of the Sun on Yule and so on. You will find out more about each specific sabbat later on. For now, the first thing you need to know about sabbats is that they celebrate the changes in nature around us and that those changes are recognized inside us.
“The birth and rebirth of all nature,
The passing of winter and spring,
We share with the life universal,
Rejoice in the magical ring.”
‒ Doreen Valiente
Traditional and astrological dates
Remember how I wrote that a solar year is approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds long? When it comes to actual dates of sabbats, they change because of it. Some pagans want to be accurate and celebrate only on the actual accurate astrological dates, while others are perfectly fine and happy with celebrating the sabbats on traditional dates. Below is the table with traditional and astrological dates of sabbats.
|Sabbat||Traditionally celebrated||Astrological date when the Sun is at:|
|Imbolc||February 2nd||15° Aquarius|
|Ostara||March 21th||0° Aries|
|Beltane||May 1st||15° Taurus|
|Litha||June 21th||0° Cancer|
|Lammas||August 1st||15° Leo|
|Mabon||September 23rd||0° Libra|
|Samhain||October 31st||15° Scorpio|
|Yule||December 21th||0° Capricorn|
Now, it doesn’t take much thinking to come to the conclusion how Sun does not come out at the same time and on the same date in different parts of the world. Does that mean that different places on the Earth celebrate their sabbats on completely different days? Yes. Yes, it does. You are free to consult various charts online to calculate the accurate date and time when a specific sabbat starts at your town, or you can follow the dates for the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. The image of the Wheel of the Year that I created is for the Northern Hemisphere. The dates for the Southern Hemisphere are reversed, so they will celebrate Mabon when we will celebrate Ostara, and so on. Of course, there are people in the Southern Hemisphere that prefer to follow the dates of celebrations for the Northern Hemisphere.
Watch how the seasons are changing.
Feel how the seasons are changing.
Celebrate how the seasons are changing.
In cyclical shifts we live and co-create the Universe while enjoying the beauty that is all around us.
What and why is celebrated?
There is an intimate link between the life forces of nature and humans. Even though modern time seems like the connection has been lost, it is very much alive and kicking. Pagans keep that connection lit like a torch and shine their lives over with its light. Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year are a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. They teach us about the constant flow of energy through everything. So you can look at nature and how things change. They grow, reproduce, die, and then they are born again. You can also look at the relationship between God and Goddess. There are some pagan traditions that rely heavily on that relationship, and there are also those who are more concentrated on connecting with nature and not so much concerned with the life of Sun God, faces of the Goddess, and their relationship.
Keep in mind that the Wheel of the Year is not an authentic ancient Pagan practice. How we do things today is not necessarily how people did things before. That is what paganism is actually about, growth and change. It is not only normal but expected that practices change over time. They evolve and adapt to the times people are living in. Today’s Wheel of the Year was probably created by two men, Gerard Gardner for Wicca and Ross Nichols for Druidism some sixty or so years ago, so it is pretty young when you look at it. It was then adopted by many other paths as well. This doesn’t mean that our ancestors didn’t celebrate what we celebrate today. They did. They probably didn’t have the same names for the sabbats as we do today nor did their celebrations look the same, but they did celebrate the life cycles, and that is what we continue to do today. Our ancestors celebrated Equinoxes and Solstices. That is without a question. And they also celebrated agricultural festivals. When you combine all of those into one calendar and adapt it a bit, you get what we today know as the Wheel of the Year.
As I mentioned before, the Wheel of the Year is mainly used by Wiccans, Druids, and those who in one way or another rely on those paths in their own eclectic individual practice. This is because Wicca and Druidism have their roots in Celtic and Germanic heritage. Nordic and Slavic pagans have a slightly different version. This doesn’t mean the basic nature of their sabbats is different. It is just closer to what their ancestors did in their lands and the Gods and Goddesses that were celebrated there.
Nordic pagan holidays:
YULE (JOL) 20th December – January 1st
DISTING (Disablot) 31st January
OSTARA (Ostara) 21st March
MAY EVE (Valpurgis) 30th April
MIDSUMMER (Midsumarblot) 21st June
FREYFEST (Freysblot) 31st July
FALLFEAST (Haustblot) 23rd September
WINTER NIGHTS (Vetrnaetr) 31st October
LESSER FEASTS: Days of Remembrance (around 18 of them)
East Slavic pagan holidays:
KOLIADA (Winter Solstice)
KOMOEDITSA (Spring Exuinox)
DAY OF YOUNG SHOOTS (May 2nd)
SEMIK (June 4th)
RUSALNAYA WEEK (June 17–23)
KUPALA NIGHT (Summer Solstice)
FESTIVAL OF PERUN (July 20th)
HARVEST FESTIVALS (Autumn equinox)
FESTIVAL OF MOKOSH (October 28th)
Now, do keep in mind that Slavic holidays change slightly from one Slavic country to the next. For example, in my country, the Slavic Native Faith has around 30 holidays listed on their calendar. Similarly, not all pagans who follow the Nordic path (Asatru or various others) celebrate the holidays listed above.
Solstice, equinox, or something else?
Solstice is a celestial event when the Sun is at its highest or lowest position in relation to Earth. On the Winter Solstice (Yule), the Sun is in its lowest position and goes up from there while on Summer Solstice (Litha) the Sun is at its highest position and then goes down. Equinoxes are times when day and night have the same length. We have the Spring Equinox (Ostara) when the Sun is going towards the Summer Solstice and when we are focused on agriculture and planting, and then we have Autumnal Equinox (Mabon) when the Sun is going towards the Winter Solstice. This is a time of harvesting what was planted on the Spring Equinox.
When it comes to the movement of energy, the life of God and Goddess, and their representation in nature, let me take you on a brief journey and tell you a story of what actually happens during the turning of the Wheel of the year…
Samhain is about death. Gods are dead, but they speak to us from the other side. This is a time when we work with our ancestors, our past, and move through the layer that separates the world of the living from the world of the spirit. Yule or Winter Solstice represents the rebirth of the Sun God while Imbolc is a promise of His return. We celebrate both Yule and Imbolc as festivals of light, but they have different energies. On Yule, God is a baby, so the sabbat, while festive, also carries a silent tone of respect and nurture of life. On Imbolc, God is no longer a baby but a child, so the energy moves to a more playful state. It is a time of growth. Now we come to Ostara that is a time when life returns to Earth. Both God and Goddess are alive and full of energy. When Beltane comes, God and Goddess are sexual adults. It is a sabbat that celebrates sex and fertility. Litha represents strength, and the Sun God is at the peak of power. Ambudance is celebrated on Lammas. The God anticipates His death and gives much of His energy to plants in order to ensure the first harvest and the abundance of food. In the end, we have Mabon that represents gratitude. It is the second harvest. The God is weak, the plants dry, leaves fall from trees, and everything slowly moves to the energy of Samhain. On Samhain, the God is dead, the wheel turns, and the story starts again.
When it comes to Goddess, She is in Her Crone aspect on Samhain. This is when we celebrate Her dark mysteries. On Yule She gives birth to God and is tired and weak from labor but still nurturing to Her child. On Imbolc, She takes care of her young child as a Mother but transforms to Maiden. In Her Maiden form She is on Ostara too when She is full of life. On Beltane, She is the Goddess of fertility and at her sexual peak that lasts until Litha when she transforms to Earth Mother. This last all through Lammas until Mabon. On Mabon, She transitions to her Crone aspect again. As you can see, the pagan God dies and then lives again while the Goddess is always alive, just changing her forms. Some would argue that She dies as well, but her death is short and the transition to the next form very quick. Others believe how there is no such thing as the death of Goddess, only transitions to other aspects of Her being.
Now we have some idea of what happens with God, Goddess, and the overall energy throughout sabbats. Our emotions, physical and spiritual vibe of sabbats move in cycles. Here is an overview of the general “meaning” of sabbats and their core vibration:
Complexities of sabbats
Of course, each sabbat has its correspondences to different deities in many different pagan cultures. It also has correspondences when it comes to symbols, colors, activities, herbs, crystals, and much more. To conclude this text about pagan sabbats, below is a list of links that will take you to each sabbat to learn more about them.
For Wiccans, Druids, and many others, this sabbat is called Imbolc. For Asatru folks, it is Disting, the Assembly of the Goddesses and the Charming of the Plow. For Slavic Native Faith or Rodnovery, it is Gromnica. There are some distinctions between…
For Wiccans, Druids, Norse and Germanic pagans, this sabbat is called Ostara, although some Druids prefer the name Alban Eilir, while Slavic Rodnovery celebrates Komoeditsa and Mara. There are some distinctions between…
Texts about other sabbats are coming. Thank you for being patient. Check back soon. In the meantime, feel free to read about other topics on this site.