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Sabbats & Esbats
the Wheel of the Year
Individual Sabbats Below
The Pagan and Wiccan New Year Begins on November 1, the day after Samhain (ponounced 'so-wen'), or Halloween, as it's called. There are eight high festivals during the Pafan year; four Major Sabbats and four Minor Sabbats. No one Sabbat is more inmortant than the other; the 'Major' and 'Minor' tags distinguish one type of Sabbat from the other.
The Major Sabbats mark the 'Quarters' of the year, with each occurring one-quarter of the year from one another. Major Sabbats are rooted in the four main agricultural festivals: Samhain, on October 31, which marks the end of the growing season and the beginning of fallow winter; Imbolc, on February 2, which marks the first signs of fertiltiy returning to the animals ('Imbolc' is translated 'Ewe's Milk,' a reference to the early lambs); Bealtane, on may 1, marking the height of summer fertility of animals & crops; and Lughnasadh (pronounced 'Loo-nah-sah'), and August 1, Which celebrates the beginning of the harvest season. Wiccan tradition has given these holidays other meanings, but almost all traditions use the agricultural spirit of these days.
The Minor Sabbats are rooted in solar festivals; each one is set a point in the year in which the Sun is behaving unusually- the Solstices and Equinoxes. The first Minor Sabbat of the year is the Winter Solstice, usually around December 21, and usually called 'Yule." This is the shortest day of the year; many traditions state that the Sun God is born on this day, and grows as the days begin to lengthen. The next is the Vernal Equinox, or Spring Equinox, or Ostara, usually falling near March 20; the word 'Ostara' has the same root as words such as 'estrus,' which gives a clear picture of this holiday. The day and night are of equal length on Ostara, and the Sun God enters fertile late puberty. The Summer Solstice is next,near June 21 and called Litha, and is the longest day of the year. In many traditions, the Sun God is at his peak today, and begins declining in power, until his death at Lughnasadh or Mabon. Mabon is the fourth Minor Sabbat, falling on the Autumnul Equinox near Setember 22; the day and night are again of equal length, and the harvest is in full swing. These four Sabbats are called 'Cross-Quarter Days.'
While Sabbats are all considered solar festivals, Esbats are celebrated according to the Moon. The most common time to celebrate an Esbat is on each Full Moon, of which there are 13 in on year, but some witches celebrate the New Moon instead. Technically, an Esbat is any celebration which is not a Sabbat, but most pagans intend a Lunar celebration when mentioning Esbats.