Witches, pagans, Wiccans, and other cultures celebrate eight important festivals throughout the year. These celebrations are known as the Sabbats, which follow a nature-based calendar.
The Greater Sabbats (Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule) are solar-based festivals to honor the spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox, and winter solstice respectively.
The Lesser Sabbats (Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain) are interspersed between the Greater Sabbats and trace their origins back to ancient Celtic traditions.
All together, these eight festivals are collectively referred to as the Wheel of the Year.
Because the solstices and equinoxes are tied to astronomical periods, the dates of the Sabbats vary slightly on the calendar year to year. Approximately six weeks fall between each Sabbat.
This article focuses on the broad spirit and meaning of each Sabbat without delving into the specific Wiccan and pagan gods and goddesses, as this website takes an atheistic approach and leaves all practices and celebrations open to interpretation and adaptation.
The Sabbats can be celebrated by anyone of any faith or belief, and the meanings of the Sabbats can easily be tailored to your religion if you choose to give thanks and pray to a particular deity as you honor the seasons and solar calendar.
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Imbolc | February 1-2
Imbolc is a midwinter celebration of the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. The days are lengthening, and light is returning to the world. Imbolc shares many aspects with the Christian celebration Candlemas. We light candles, focus on our intentions for the new year, and hope for an abundant spring. In many ways, lighting candles for Imbolc symbolizes focusing on the light in the dead of a dark winter.
Ostara | March 19-23
Ostara marks the spring equinox. The days and nights are now equal, symbolizing balance between the dark and the light as the scale is tipping toward the light half of the year. It’s a joyous time of renewal and abundance that is ideal for planting seeds, both figuratively and literally. We tend to our gardens and appreciate Nature springing back to life and bearing buds and flowers, and we also take this time to focus on manifesting the year’s intentions we concentrated on during Imbolc meditations. It’s a period of awakening from hibernation.
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Beltane | April 30 – May 1
Beltane, also referred to as May Day, is often celebrated as a time of love, romance, and fertility. This festival is midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Some cultures dance around a bonfire, others around a decorated maypole with men moving in one direction and women in the other as they sheathe the pole with ribbons. Weddings and ritual sex are also common during this time, although if you aren’t in a romantic time of your life, you can focus on friendships and strengthening familial ties.
Litha | June 19-23
Litha is the festival of the summer solstice. The days are at their longest, the sun is powerful at its highest point in the sky, and the growing season is well underway. This is a time to appreciate all the growth around us and hope for an abundant harvest. Like the Earth, we should also be working hard to grow and see our intentions coming to fruition.
Lammas (Lughnasadh) | August 1-2
Lammas, also widely known as Lughnasadh, is the midpoint between the summer solstice and fall equinox. It’s celebrated as the first of three harvest festivals. The grains are being harvested with the first of the fall crops. We give thanks for the growth that has occurred throughout the spring and summer, and we anticipate the harvests still to come this year. The days are still long but shortening, so we take this time to appreciate the warmth and the light while it still lingers.
Mabon | September 20-24
Mabon rings in the autumnal (fall) equinox. The days and nights are now equal, symbolizing balance between the light and the dark as the scale is tipping toward the dark half of the year. It’s the second harvest festival of the year and the official transition out of summer and into the colder, darker part of the year. We give thanks to all that the Earth has provided for us. Mabon is the reaping of all that has been planted and tended throughout the year. In addition to appreciating Nature’s harvest, we also reflect on our personal growth.
Samhain | October 31 – November 1
Samhain is the final harvest and shares common themes with Halloween, All Souls’ Day, and Día de Muertos. It’s said that the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the dead is at its thinnest, especially during a full moon. While we use this time to give thanks for the final harvest, it’s also a time to honor our ancestors and pay homage to the dead. A full moon falling on Samhain is the most powerful night of the year for magic, divination, ritual, and meditation.
Yule | December 19-23
Yule is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. We celebrate the lengthening of the days and the coming return of the sun and warmth. Christmas borrowed Yule traditions such as decorating a tree and hanging wreaths and mistletoe. It’s also customary to burn Yule logs in the fireplace to bring good luck and protect the home. Although we anticipate the approaching light part of the annual cycle, we recognize that this is a time for rest, not only for the Earth, but also for ourselves. We reflect on our past accomplishments and begin to turn our thoughts to new intentions and goals for the upcoming year.
Which Sabbat is your favorite to celebrate? What unique traditions do you have?