Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Wheel of the Year

Most religions mark the year in some way. In Wiccan thought, the different stages of the year are marked by what are called ‘Sabbats.’ These are the holy days of Wicca, the festivals which mark the cycle of the sun as it progresses throughout the year.

The Sabbats and Their Dates

There are eight Sabbats throughout the year, approximately six weeks apart (though this varies slightly). They are often divided into two categories, Greater Sabbats and Lesser Sabbats.

Greater Sabbats reflect the natural cycles of the earth, the seasonal changes which we cannot escape. Since these are not specifically solar holidays (unlike the Lesser Sabbats), the God and the Goddess are honored equally. For the northern hemisphere, the Greater Sabbats are:
  • Sahmain, on October 31st
  • Imbolc, on February 1st (sometimes celebrated on February 2nd)
  • Beltane, on May 1st
  • Lughnasadh, on August 1st
The Lesser Sabbats are the solstices and equinoxes, the exact dates for which can be found on most modern calendars. The solstices mark either the longest or the shortest day of the year. The equinoxes are those dates when night and day are exactly equal. Since these are based on the movement of the sun, the God is honored. The Goddess is acknowledged also, but the God should be given more deference at these times. The approximate dates for the Lesser Sabbats, in the northern hemisphere, are:
  • Winter Solstice, December 19th-25th, sometimes called Yule
  • Spring Equinox, March 19th-25th, sometimes called Ostara
  • Summer Solstice, June 19th-25th, sometimes called Litha
  • Fall Equinox, September 19th-25th, sometimes called Mabon or Harvest
The Importance of the Sabbats

In ancient times, these Sabbats were vitally important. Each marked a certain point in the year that was significant to the people. The Greater Sabbats marked the agricultural cycle. At Imbolc, even though winter was at its coldest, the people celebrated the coming of spring. This was a time of purification, of cleansing and preparing for the upcoming planting.

Beltane marked the beginning of the planting season. At this point, any crops that hadn’t been planted had to be, to ensure a decent harvest. The coming of Lughnasadh, often called the First Harvest, was the time when the first plants begin to drop their fruit. Samhain, coming right before the cold of winter, was traditionally the time when the animals that would provide food through the winter were slaughtered.

The Lesser Sabbats were also important. The Winter Solstice was the time of rest, while the Spring Equinox marked the true beginning of warmth, of the approach of summer. The Summer Solstice was the end of the planting season, and the Fall Equinox was the time of the Final Harvest, of ensuring that all crops were harvested and prepared for the long winter months.

The Role of the Goddess and the God in Wiccan Sabbats

The Goddess and the God were present and important during this cycle. Simply put, the Goddess rules the summer months, as She represents fertility and growth, and the summer is the time of crops and planting. The God rules the long winter months, for He generally is the God of the Hunt, and the hunt was vital to the survival of ancient man during the months when crops did not grow.

Though one may rule a specific time of year, both the Goddess and the God are present, and always equal. It is only that one is more visible than the other at certain times of the year.

Wiccan Sabbat Rituals and Traditions

Modern Wiccans usually mark the Sabbats with rituals. These rituals are designed for celebration, for merriment and feasting. No magick is performed unless deemed an emergency, such as healing. In times of old, many would gather to mark these occasions. Today, whether you are one or one hundred, the goal is celebration.

The altar and chamber should be decorated to reflect the ritual. Often, the decorating of the ritual space can become an important part of the ritual, if done immediately beforehand.

The rituals themselves vary greatly depending on the Sabbat to be celebrated. Generally, the core of the ritual, after the ritual space is cleansed, purified, and prepared, usually include:
  • Enactment – This can take a great many forms, from a skit, to a dance, to a song; anything that truly reflects the season and the reason for gathering.
  • Declaration – This is simply a statement of the meaning of the particular Sabbat, and this is sometimes combined with the enactment.
The Sabbats, both Greater and Lesser, are a highly important part of modern Wiccan practice. They are holy days, celebrations, and an opportunity to reflect, all in one.

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