The Eight Sabbats
The eight Sabbats are the eight pagan holidays that mark the turn of the wheel. Some of them you may know and already celebrate while others you may have never heard of. Some of them share remarkable similarities with holidays in other cultures, but that is no coincidence. After all, wicca is a nature religion and most nature religions have holidays that track the seasons. Those of you who feel I dumbed this down, my apologies to you, but there are those who are at a more basic level. (Note: the italicized rhymes are taken from the full version of the Wiccan Rede.)
The eight Sabbats are divided in two: the major and minor Sabbats. The major Sabbats are:
Samhain :: Imbolc :: Beltane :: Lammas
Four times the Major Sabbats mark
In the light and in the dark.
The minor Sabbats are:
Yule :: Ostara :: Midsummer :: Mabon
Four times the Minor Sabbats fall
Use the Sun to mark them all.
Unlike the Gregorian Calendar (which has New Year January 1st the way you know it) or the Lunar Calendar (or Chinese Calendar with New Year mid-February) the Witches' Calendar starts with October 31st, a day most of you may know as Halloween. Many of the wiccan links I have linked to have further information on how to celebrate these holidays. This is meant to be a mere introduction to the eight Sabbats. If you search for deeper information, more is available at the Celtic Connection.
Samhain (a.k.a. Halloween, Third Harvest): October 31st
As the old year starts to wane
The new begins, it's now Samhain.
This is the holiday most of you already celebrate by trick-or-treating (or whatever you do). Sound familiar? Okay, so technically, it is the same holiday. It is a good time for scrying since the veil between the worlds are especially thin, so the veil between your conscious and unconsious mind are also thin. If there is a "best" time to contact spirits, this is it, and most Samhains are on full moons (at least as I've observed).
Yule (a.k.a. Solstice Night, Winter Solstice): December 21st
When the Wheel has turned to Yule,
Light the log and the Horned One rules.
You probably hear Winter Solstice in astronomy class but didn't know it was a holiday. Surprise, well it is. This is the day when there is the least amount of daytime and night is the longest. Yule is the symbolic rebirth of the God during the winter. (Ring a bell with Christian imagery?)
Imbolc (a.k.a. St.Brigit's Day, Candlemas): February 2nd (Groundhog's Day)
When the time for Imbolc shows
Watch for flowers through the snows.
Yippee! Groundhog's Day! All right, so it's not just Groundhog Day, but it is the prelude to the beginning of spring, as "watch for flowers through the snows" implies.
Ostara (a.k.a. Spring Equinox, Lady Day): March 21st
In the spring, when night equals day
Time for Ostara to come our way.
Spring Equinox, the beginning of spring. Did I mention this is one of my favorite times of the year? If you are familiar with Earth Science, this day is also the "official" first day of spring, though funky Chicago weather may tell you otherwise. (heh-heh)
Beltane (a.k.a. May Day, Roodmas): April 30th or May 1st or May 5th depending on tradition
When the Wheel begins to turn,
Let the Beltane fires burn.
Those of you who read sci-fi/fantasy would recognize this name immediately and automatically thing "Beltane festival." If you have read Mists of Avalong or The Chalice and the Blade, you would be familiar with what the festival is about. It is a celebration of fertility and if you know who Thomas Morton is, (think Puritan America), the May Pole that they danced around is reminiscent of the old Pagan celebration. (The May Pole is a large wooden pole, standing upright, that maidens dance around -- would you like to take a guess as to what that is symbolic of?:)
Midsummer (a.k.a. Litha, Summer Solstice): June 21st
When the Sun has reached its height
Time for Oak and Holly to fight.
So Winter Solstice was a holiday... that Summer Solstice is too should not come as a surprise. Actually, if you've read (or seen or performed in) Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream, you may already be familiar with this holiday. Yes, this is where the Queen of the Faeries comes onto the scene...etc., etc. All right, you know what it is. If you don't, go read the play. Yes, I mean it, go see it/read it/ whatever. It's a really good play.
Lammas (a.k.a. Lughnasadh): July 31st or August 5th
As the wheel turns to Lamas night
Power is brought to magick rite.
Again with Shakespeare... Remember that scene in Romeo and Juliet where the Madame Capulet asks the Nurse of Juliet's age? The Nurse replied that she would be fourteen by Lammas Eve. It is a reference to the same holiday.
Mabon (a.k.a. Autumn Equinox, Wine Harvest, Cornucopia, Feast of Avalon): September 21st
Harvesting comes to one and all
When the Autumn Equinox does fall.
Alrighty... who read Mists of Avalon, raise your hand... Now, the rest of you, who's read some Greek or Roman mythology? This is harvest time and a time of plenty for everyone...(time to party) These harvest-time feasts exist in many cultures (surprise?) mainly due to the fact that there is so much to feast on during that time. Back in the day without effective refrigeration in much of the world, it was probably a good idea to eat a lot of this stuff so you wouldn't have to store it for such a long time. You know, the stored energy on you probably won't go bad. Of course, eventually, when better refrigeration methods did come along (as in China around the same time), the harvest-time feasts still exists because they are embedded into the culture.