Wiccans, the new year is nearly upon us, which means it’s time to start planning our festivities for the Wheel of the Year!
But as every Wiccan worth their salt knows, it can be hard to figure out what events matter during the year. Even more confusing is figuring out how to properly celebrate them! So many traditions have their own rituals, and with eight Sabbats to keep track of, it can be difficult to know what works.
I follow the Wheel too, but I’m not here to scold you about tradition. Instead, I’m going to walk you through each Sabbat and its significance. We’ll chat about some common traditions and maybe even show you what solitary Wiccans like myself do during these events.
A Note About Sabbats
Before we begin, I want to explain the Wheel of the Year. A lot of confusion begins just by looking at the Wheel, which you can see below in these two example:
It’s a little daunting, isn’t it?
Well, it doesn’t have to be, so let’s break it down very quickly.
The wheel shows the events on the outer rim; you can tell because the Sabbats are listed below. They start in the winter, moving through the seasons as the Gregorian Calendar does. The inner rim indicates the astrological signs, or months, that are present before, during, and after the sabbat.
Not all wheels will showcase the year like this, but it’s probably the one you’re most used to. The only thing that truly matters is the sabbats, so let’s take a look at them.
Greater and Lesser Sabbats
You may have come across this article on Witchipedia that discusses greater and lesser sabbats, but it doesn’t tell you the true difference. It just tells you that greater sabbats are holidays and lesser sabbats occur during the equinoxes and solstices.
The true difference is that greater sabbats are the events that Wiccans never miss during the year. These are the powerful days during the calendar year, which BodyMindSpiritOnline shows to be days of high energy. That means it’s perfect for doing ritual magic.
The lesser sabbats usher in the seasons. You’ll find that the actual sabbat may vary depending on where you’re located in the world, and we’ll get to that in a second. Just know that these sabbats are special, but don’t necessarily need a lot of pomp and circumstance.
SpiritOfOld tells us that Yule lands on the Winter Solstice. It is generally celebrated between the 20th to the 23rd in December, but most people celebrate it on December 21st. It is the shortest day of the year and is celebrated as a lesser sabbat.
The White Goddess has a great article going in-depth about Yule. She speaks mostly about Anglo-Saxon and Norse magick, however, so if this isn’t your tradition, just stick the aspects of her words that matter to you.
Imbolc, also known as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day, depending on your tradition, takes place on either February 1st or 2nd. It is a greater sabbat that Wicca.com tells us indicates the beginning of spring. It is considered one of the high holidays for all Wiccans.
As Witchology puts it, Imbolc represents the shedding of the Crone aspect of the goddess and transforms her into a maiden yet again. It is during this time that predictions are made for the year based on the Wheel as well. 2018 predictions will show up around this time to coincide with the festival.
There are a great many rituals that you can do during Imbolc; ThoughtCo has a pretty extensive list. You’ll find that most of these rituals focus on either fostering long-term spells, giving thanks for the turn in the season, and honoring St. Brigid, a goddess revered by those in the Celtic tradition.
Ostara, known as the Spring Equinox, is a lesser sabbat that is celebrated on March 21st. Named after the Germanic Goddess of Spring and Dawn, as Northern Paganism writes, this Sabbat celebrates the height of the season with an eye towards summer.
Patheos notes that Ostara is an often misunderstood and overlooked holiday in the Wheel. This might have to do with the fact that its namesake has just one mention in ancient historical records and seems to be a 19th-century addition to the Sabbats.
However, Ostara is still an important holiday, especially for Druidic Wiccans. It is a day when both night and day are equally long; in some traditions, it also celebrates the conception of the maiden goddess and a time for fertility.
In that vein, Witchvox suggests that Wiccans celebrate Ostara by partaking in the earth. This can mean everything from creating a sacred offering filled with wild-harvested plants to planting a new garden. Some people also choose to do a fast during this time, breaking for food after the equinox to stimulate their health.
Beltane, known as May Eve and Valpurgis, is a greater sabbat that takes place on May 1st. The White Goddess tells us that the sabbat celebrates the union of the God and Goddess; it is a very popular time for Handfastings, as you can imagine!
Just like Ostara, Beltane is based on fertility and maternity. It is a time to foster love between couples, both new and maturing. ThoughtCo has a brilliant article outlining this very subject.
It’s also important to remember fertility also includes the land; many festivals and rituals are performed outdoors, after moonrise on the eve of the sabbat. CircleSanctuary goes to great lengths about events you can do on your own or with your coven.
Litha is a lesser sabbat that takes place on the Summer Solstice, or on June 21st. It is one of the largest celebrations of the Wheel, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland; this is the sabbat where droves of people go to Stonehenge for the annual festival. One look at this Huffington Post article can show you that!
Litha is known to begin the season of summer, of expansion. With Litha comes long, languid days and the promise of agricultural wealth. Whispering Words tells us as well that this is the height of the union between the God and Goddess, indicating a maturing of life, both in Wiccans and in the earth.
Inter indicates that Litha was the time that farmers would ask their deities to bless their crops and farm animals. It’s traditional, then, to light large bonfires, cook sacred meals, and invoke your patron and matron deities to come forward and continue to bless you as you move through the year.
Lammas is also known Lughnasadh and is a greater sabbat that takes place on or around July 31st every year. Most Wiccans know this sabbat as the “harvest sabbat,” because ThoughtCo reminds us that the event falls during the harvest in ancient times.
To be more specific, Goddess and Green Man remind Wiccans that Lammas is the first harvest, also known as the Grain Harvest. The next two sabbats are also harvests, but this marks the beginning of reaping the rewards of hard work throughout the end of summer and into autumn.
So how do we celebrate Lammas? You could do something simple like bake bread, as School of The Seasons suggests, always remembering to honor the grain from which the bread is born. You could also create a corn dolly, bake a feast, or honor your deities for the rewards they have blessed you with.
Mabon, which is most often just known as the Autumnal Equinox, is a lesser sabbat that Patheos reports didn’t exist until the 1970s. The word itself doesn’t seem to have any meaning and in fact, ancient Wiccans didn’t celebrate Autumnal Equinox, so this is one of the newest sabbats to the Wheel.
This sabbat takes place on or around September 21st and, like Ostara, indicates the only other day in the year when day and night are the same length. Wicca.com also says that this is known as the Second Harvest of the year and focuses on fruits and wine.
ThoughtCo states that this mid-harvest festival is a time to make crafts, wine, and begin cleansing yourself and your home. This is a good time for reflection upon the year and getting ready to honor your ancestors; shadow work also begins around Mabon, if not before, and continues through until Yule.
Samhain, which is known as Halloween by non-Wiccans, was first celebrated as the festival that ushered in autumn and fall. New Grange explains this perfectly and also makes note that this greater sabbat, which is the most celebrated event of the Wheel, is the time where Wiccans honor their ancestors.
Articles on this subject, such as this one from Druidry, also mentions what the sabbat is best known for: the time where the veil is thinnest between this world and the next. In ancient times, the winter season was thought to be the time of ghosts, and Samhain acted as the gateway for the spirits to pass through.
While dressing up is part of the ritual for some Wiccans, especially on Samhain, you needn’t go that far. ThoughtCo has prepared a list of rituals and celebrations for you to partake in. It is a time during the year that spirit communication tends to be the strongest, so you might want to give that a try next year!
I love celebrating the Wheel of the Year. As a Wiccan, each Sabbat is the highlight of my year. And while 2017 was a year governed by the Wheel, 2018 predictions have yet to be made. I just can’t wait for the new year to see what my favorite Wiccans have to say about the Wheel and the year!
I hope you found this article helpful, but as always, I have to ask: did I miss something? Was there something you wanted to read about that I didn’t cover? Whatever your comments are, leave them down below and I’ll get back to you. If you liked the article, please, share it with your friends so you can all be ready when the Wheel turns again.