The Solar Holidays
Sabbats & The Wheel of the Year
The worship of an Earth or Moon Goddess and Her cyclical relationship to a Sky or Sun God has echoes throughout history. Modern day Wicca reflects these ancient roots through the Wheel of the Year, a solar cycle often represented with the God dying each Autumn and being reborn each Spring, only to die again at the coming winter, echoing the natural cycles of flora and fauna. Sabbats are the holidays based on this solar calendar, celebrated at the quarters (the solstices and equinoxes) and the cross-quarters (the half way points between these astronomical dates).
The Solar Wheel begins at Yule, when the Horned God is born. Imbolc marks the Maiden’s festival, as the God grows out of infancy. He and the Maiden grow into their power at Ostara with the return of both the sun and the earth’s fertility. The festival of Beltaine marks when the God courts and impregnates the Goddess.
Along with the sun, the God reaches his peak at Litha, and the Mother Goddess is now pregnant. His power begins to wane at Lughnasadh (Lammas), and as the Mother’s harvest and bounty grows at Mabon‘s second harvest, along with her pregnancy, the sun – and with it the God’s power – fades. He passes into the underworld at Samhain, taking with him the fertility and youth of the earth Goddess, who now steps into her crone aspect, awaiting his rebirth at Yule.
Some Wiccans prefer the narrative of an endless battle between the Holly King and the Oak King, where the Oak King and His brother the Holly King represent the light and dark halves of the year. They battle, and one is defeated, then reborn to battle and defeat His brother who in turn is defeated, reborn and triumphs in battle. The specifics of the narrative may vary, but the gist of the story also echoes the natural cycle.
The eight Sabbats are the four solar holidays: the two equinoxes – Ostara and Mabon – and the two solstices – Litha and Yule – and the four earth holidays, called the cross-quarters: Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh (or Lammas) and Samhain. These holidays celebrate the start, end and apex of each season. Sabbats are generally celebrated with a ritual focusing on some element of the God and Goddess relationship, nature and/or the time of year, and of course a meal.
Solstices & Equinoxes
An equinox is one of the two times of the year when the amount of daylight and nighttime hours are equal length. During the equinox, the sun crosses the plane of Earth’s equator, making nighttime and daytime (roughly) equal length all over the world. A solstice is one of the two times of the year when the positioning and tilt of Earth relative to the sun results in the most or least amount of daylight time in a single day.
The Cross Quarters
The cross quarter sabbats are often called “Fire Festivals.” They earned this name from the bonfires associated with the celebrations that often last all night.
These days mark the midpoint between each solstice and equinox. For the ancient Celts, these signaled the beginning, not middle, of a season. The major two divisions are Samhain, starting the dark half of the year, and Beltane, starting the light half of the year.