The Wiccan festivals (also known as the Sabbats) have a connection to nature and the changes of the seasons. Let’s take a closer look at each of the eight Sabbats in Wicca and gain an understanding of their importance in the Wiccan craft.
(Before we begin, it’s important to note that the Sabbats change depending on which hemisphere you reside in. I've noted the approximate dates in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres).
Lughnasadh: The Harvest Festival
Southern: 1st/2nd of February
Northern: 1st/2nd of August
Lughnasadh is one of the Celtic fire festivals in Wicca. It marks the gathering of grains and the harvest that feeds and sustains us.
Lughnasadh celebrates the growth, fall and rebirth of the grain that represents the cycle of life: birth, living and death. Lughnasadh is a very social festival that honours the spirit of plenty and celebrates feasting and giving back to the earth.
Historically, people celebrated Lughnasadh in a variety of ways which involved the harvest. To honour the spirit of plenty couples would make love a field which was freshly shorn of its corn to honour and place regenerative energy within the crop.
Another method that was used to celebrate Lughnasadh was the creation and blessings of corn dolls made from the harvest. These would then be buried or placed in a shorn field to capture the corn-spirit, ensuring the rebirth and regeneration of the crop next time.
Nowadays it is difficult for us to fully comprehend the importance of the harvest as most of us live in a society where food is abundant and never in short supply. This does not mean that we should overlook the importance of what the earth gives to sustain us. Lughnasadh is a time to show gratitude towards the earth that feeds us and to be thankful for everything positive in our lives. It is also a time to consider what else you would like in life and what you’d like to discard.
Mabon/ Modron: The Autumn Equinox
Southern: 21st/22nd of March
Northern: 21st/ 22nd September
Mabon (also known as Modron) marks the autumn equinox, where daytime and night-time are of equal length. Mabon is a time to prepare for the darker days ahead by harvesting the fruits of the Earth Mother and preparing for hibernation.
A key symbol of Mabon celebrations is the apple which represents the five elements of life coming together. When an apple is sliced open we can see the star of life representing earth, air, fire, water and the spirit world. People often gift baskets of apples during Mabon and share in the ritual of cutting and eating apples together.
The celebration of Mabon is an important aspect of Wiccan rituals. It allows one to prepare to embrace the stillness and quiet of the winter months which will help to bring about creativity through growth and regeneration of the soul. As a person can only truly grow when they have the chance to be still and take a break, Mabon reminds us to prepare for this important phase of the year.
Mabon can be thought of as a type of thanksgiving, as we thank the Earth Mother for providing for us. It is a ritual practice of Mabon to share the fruits that we have acquired from the harvest with others to ensure that we receive blessings and good energy from the Gods and Goddesses. We can also take part in this practice in modern times by being thankful for other blessings in our lives and sharing these about as well.
Samhain: The Festival of The Dead
Southern: 1st of May
Northern: 31st October
Samhain is commonly known as Halloween. Halloween is commercially celebrated on the 31st of October, which follows the northern hemisphere’s timing of Samhain. In the southern hemisphere, Samhain falls on the 1st of May.
Samhain celebrates those who have come before us and is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of our ancestors. It is a time of high spirit activity as the veil between the physical plane and spiritual plane becomes thinner, making it easier for our two worlds to connect and communicate.
Typical Samhain celebrations involve the naming, honouring and remembrance of the dead. It starts with the remembrance of those who have passed away over the last year and then all other ancestors in succession. This is usually a custom carried out in a group as each individual embraces their ancestors and then shares in the embracement of the ancestors of others.
Samhain celebrates the cycle of birth, life and death and is a time when newborn babies are named. It also recognises those who walk in the spirit world as well as those who are still left in the physical world.
Pumpkins are a part of Samhain celebrations to create lanterns that depict the faces of the dead and to show the connection between the physical world and the spiritual world.
Yule: The Winter Solstice
Southern: 21st/ 22nd of June
Northern: 21st/ 22nd December
Yule is celebrated on the shortest day of the year and is known as the Winter Solstice. Yule marks the end of the sun’s power and the middle of winter, yet it also marks the rebirth of the sun’s power as the days from hereon in become lighter and we get to see the sun reign supreme once again.
Mistletoe is one of the key symbols of Yule celebrations, as we bring evergreens into our home. Because Yule is celebrated just before Christmas in the northern hemisphere, the symbol of mistletoe has carried over into commercial Christmas celebrations in the southern hemisphere as well.
Mistletoe still plays a role in mid-year Yule celebrations in the southern hemisphere as mistletoe is brought into the home for fertility along with holly for protection, and ivy for vitality and life. These three evergreens are a reminder that brighter days are to come and that the earth will brighten with the colour of green growth soon.
Typical southern hemisphere Yule celebrations are much like northern hemisphere Yule celebrations and can be thought of as a mid-winter Christmas. Traditionally people gather together and ample amounts of good food are prepared and eaten together.
Yule celebrations allow us to surround ourselves with the joys of food provided by the earth and people who warm our hearts even when it looks bleak outside. Yule reminds us to keep growing our spiritual selves while the world is still quiet and while we still have enough time to be on our own.
Imbolc: The Feast of Brighid
Southern: 1st/ 2nd of August
Northern: 1st/ 2nd of February
Imbolc reminds us that springtime on its way and that only a few weeks of winter are left. The seedlings which were germinating under the soil during winter are pushing through the soil and the first of plant life is starting to show. Snowdrops are a common symbol of Imbolc and are some of the first plants to start growing around this time.
Imbolc honours the Celtic goddess Brighid and is seen as her festival. Brighid is known in Wicca as a fire goddess who breathes warmth and life into the earth and helps to nurture and grow everything during her time.
Imbolc is a time of growth and new projects. Often people will plant new seeds and bulbs to represent areas of their lives which they wish to nurture and grow. Some people make ‘Brighid Crosses’ to honour the goddess and to encourage her to do her work on the earth. Imbolc festivals include the eating or bread, grains and left-over food which were stored and leftover from the autumn season.
Imbolc celebrations are quite often proceeded by thorough spring cleaning of the home. Uncluttering cupboards and throwing out junk that was accumulated during the winter helps to clear the space for the warmer months ahead. Using smudge wands to clear out lower vibrational energies is also done during the Imbolc spring clean.
Ostara: The Vernal Equinox
Southern: 21st/22nd of September
Northern: 21st/ 22nd of March
Ostara marks a time of balance between light and dark when the daytime starts to become longer than the night-time. In the northern hemisphere, Ostara coincides with the Christian celebration of Lent and the coming of Easter time.
Ostara is not only the time when daylight starts growing but also a time for growth in general. This is the time when animals are giving birth to their young. The rabbit is a symbol of Ostara because of its association with fertility and growth.
Eggs are also a symbol of Ostara, with eggs representing fertility and renewal. In Wicca celebrations, people paint and decorate hollowed out eggs and place them on a tree branch. This ritual symbolises the renewal phase of life, whereby we have gone through the long winter months and are now ready to come into the much more productive warmer months.
The daffodil flower is the official flower of Ostara. Its bright, yellow hue reminds us of the longer days to come and it grows in abundance during the springtime.
Some Wiccans also celebrate Ostara by walking in between a black candle and a white candle, which symbolises renewal and gives us a chance to ask the Goddesses for balance as we come into the summer.
Beltane: The Time of The Green Man
Southern: 31st of October
Northern: 1st of May
Beltane celebrates the coming of summer and coincides with Halloween in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, Beltane is celebrated as the May-Day festival, which sits in between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Beltane originally celebrated the coming of cattle into the summer pastures.
Beltane is the season of the Green Man who is the protector of the forest and a symbol of fertility, growth and change. Many Wiccan’s hold weddings or handfasting celebrations around Beltane as it is considered an auspicious time and one which brings the best luck and longevity to these types of commitments.
Beltane sits at the opposite end of Samhain. During Samhain, the veil between our world and the spiritual world thins, whereas during Beltane the veil between our world and the Fairy world thins.
Celtic ancestors lit bonfires to bring good luck and blessings from the goddess named Bel, which is where the name Beltane originates. In the old Celtic language Bel meant bright, which gives this goddess a fiery nature and connects her to the sun of summertime. Usually, the indoor hearth would be doused and then re-lit from the village’s Beltane bonfire. The bonfires of Beltane also bring good luck and protect the cattle, crops and people, as well as encouraging the growth of all life.
Litha: The Summer Solstice
Southern: 21st/22nd of December
Northern: 21st/ 22nd of June
Litha is the midsummer sabbath. It marks the height of the sun’s power and the longest day of the year. Litha honours the sun and gives praise to the strength and life that it brings to earth. Litha sits opposite Yule. In opposition to Yule, it celebrates the sun’s maximum power and what will subsequently be the waning of this power.
Litha is usually celebrated outdoors and starts from dawn, whereby people will watch the sunrise in the morning. Many sacred and spiritual sites such as Stonehenge are used as places of gathering to watch the sun break the dawn during Litha.
Usually, a Wiccan group will stay awake the night before the Litha sunrise and celebrate with stories, songs and drumming. The drumming is also used when the sun rises to enhance the sun’s power and encourage it to shine long and bright upon the Earth on the longest day.
Many people also light bonfires on the eve of Litha to celebrate and honour the sun’s fire energy in all its glory. The Litha eve bonfire not only provides light and warmth throughout the evening but also wards off lower vibrational energies and protects the sun’s strength.
Jumping over a Litha bonfire is considered to bring good luck for the rest of the year. Just be careful if you choose to do this though!