The Eight Sabbats


The world around us changes; you don’t need me to tell you that. The sun rises, the day grows warm, the winds blow, the sunsets, the moon hangs high, the stars twinkle, the night settles and a chill runs down your spine. The world slumbers and the cycle begins anew the next day. In a manner then, each day bears shadows of that which follows and that which precedes, and yet, each day, each hour, is unique. Each moment of life is an opportunity to explore the depth of the surrounding holy.


Though the world changes, the changes of the seasons are predictable, just like the twenty-eight day cycle of the moon. Seeds slumber beneath the ground giving life to buds in spring. Vegetation matures, animals give birth. The world ripens. Harvest comes, the leaves wither and fall from the trees, and the days grow steadily shorter. Darkness prevails, cold descends, plants die, and animals hibernate. The ground thaws, the buds bloom and the cycle begins again. The cycling of the seasons is sacred; many of our myths are deeply rooted in these changing seasons. The eight Sabbats of Wicca are turning points; days mark the coming of together of two periods of time, two different paradigms. The day itself is not important as the concept conveys: union, coming together, fusion and the resulting creation of something different. Another way to look at the Sabbats is as time of transition, when we look back on our journey thus far, notice the seeds that we have sown, and begin to plan for their harvest.


The approach to the Wheel of the Year presented here is a mythic approach exploring themes and archetypes that appear in mythologies worldwide. There is plenty of information on the web and in books about the traditional Wiccan Sabbats, and we will be exploring those concepts in class. Here, we will endeavour to go one further, and explore the cross-religious significance of the changing seasons.


The eight Sabbats as related by Donna Darkwolf.


Samhain – 30 April


Pronounced “Sowen” is the old Celtic word for Summer’s End. In ancient times it was a period of great anxiety. Known as the late harvest, and it was a harvest of blood. All livestock that could not be sheltered during the long winter months were slaughtered and salted. The first months of the cold time of great feasting and love making in simple terms, the months were lusty and full of life. The kings called council and decreed new laws. Travelling bards were taken into the nearest village for safety. It was also a time of primordial chaos. How long it would the winter hold, when would the sun begin to ascend again? It was a time to appease the Gods, a time of divination, of Magick and predictions. It was also a time of fear, a time of dying and crossing over. The popular name “Halloween” arrived when the church tried to rationalize these issues by introducing the idea of All Hallows Eve or All Saint’s Day, so Samhain became All Hallows Eve and then eventually Halloween. In our modern time Samhain is no longer a time of appeasing the Gods. It is a time to reflect on death and the regeneration that must follow. It is a time to pass on old things and let go. It is the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new. In popular myth it is the time when Goddess mourns the death of her husband/lover/King (the Sun King), struck by a fatal blow by the Dark Lord of the Underworld (The Winter King) at the midsummer solstice, and finally killed him by the first harvest. She has mourned and is now willing to give up her sovereignty and the Motherhood to become the Crone and enter the underworld. She will face her fear, the Dark Lord, in order to meet with her consort again, and to bring him back. She faces the Dark Lord, who reveals the mystery, that he is her husband. They meet, make love and the seed of their union grows beneath the dead. We invite their presence into our homes and circles. We lay a place for them at our tables. The veil is thin. In other words, we move between worlds of darkness and light, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. We will meet with our departed and be born again.  As is the case all over the world, in South Africa popular belief celebrates party fashion on 31st of October. Pagans honour Samhain on the 30th of April. Halloween is the one-day of the year on which it is really great to be a witch. You get to be as stereotypical as you like. You can have an array of skulls on your altar for your ritual and the police won’t bat an eyelid.




Yule – 21 June


This is the Anglo-Saxon word for mid-summer solstice. Originally it was the Norse word for “Wheel”. The Yule log represents the wheel of the life or the turning of seasons. The 21st of June is the longest night and the shortest day of the year. The sun begins its ascent and the waxing of the year begins. It also marks the end of the waning year. The time of the Holly King is over and the time of the Oak King begins. The Crone who descended into the Underworld has now regenerated and is now Mother and Goddess once again and now gives birth to the Sun King. Festivals to honour the ascended sun at the Winter Solstice were so widely spread in ancient times that the Church had no choice but to get on it the act. The Christmas Nativity story is very similar to the Pagan’s tale of the Sun’s rebirth. Since no one really knew when Jesus was born it was fixed only in AD 273, at midwinter in the northern hemisphere, bringing him in line with other Sun Gods. Normal business stopped and homes were garlanded with evergreens such as holly, ivy and mistletoe. Gift were given to all. Decorating trees with fruits, nuts and berries was an act of sympathetic magick designed to cheer on spring. The signal for winter, though cold and icy, was over. The signing of Pagan Solstice carols was very popular, long before Christmas was celebrated. These carols have been borrowed and adopted by the new religion, and examples include “Deck the Halls”, “Joy to the World”, “God rest ye merry Pagan Folk” and “O’ come all ye faithful”. We celebrate the departure of the Dark Lord (known as the Holly King); welcome the new child of hope and promise – manifest in the Sun (know as the Oak King). Although the sun has reached its weakest point, the first ray after the longest night reflect its returning powers in our lives. So this is our “Christmas”. How can we celebrate this on the 21st of December at Midsummer? It is all about the first rays of the ascending sun after a long winter, and in South Africa is occurs on the 21st of June. In the Northern hemisphere is occurs on the 21st of December. The mystery, the initiation, the attunement with this cycle of Nature lies in this time. Since Yule is a turning point, the end of the solar year and the beginning of the new one, many Pagans choose to begin their New Year her. Some young Pagans and Wiccans enjoy being dogmatic and dramatic in their stance against the popular Christmas festivities in December, but it is nevertheless a time for family and friends.


Imbolc – 2 August


Imbolc means “In the Belly” and refers to the first stirrings of spring, deep inside Mother Earth. It is also known as Candlemas because of the tradition of lighting a myriad of candles to symbolize the growing warmth of the waxing sun. It was also once known as Oimelc, as this was the time when ewes began lactating and the translation of “Oimelc” is ewe’s milk. This is the time midway between the Winter Solstice, when light ascends in the form of the birth of the Sun God and the Spring Equinox, when the Goddess returns from here journey to the Underworld. She returns as the waiting bride of the Sun God. It is time for initiation into the female mysteries and the first flow of blood, i.e. menstruation. The Sun God still a babe and growing, only beginning to show his horns, is unaware of these changes, until his time comes at the Spring Equinox. Winters hold on the Earth is breaking, and the Spring Equinox arrives in September, you will already see trees and flowers in full bloom. Now one notices tiny green buds everywhere and the birds are building their nests. Already there is a flutter in one’s being, and a promise of something to come. In Gauteng, Imbolc manifests a very clear shift between Yule and the Equinox. (This is not the case in KZN where the temperature is moderate all year round). This festival indicates a time of new beginnings, a renewal of old commitments. It is generally a time to spring clean; traditional practices at Imbolc are the weaving of the candle studded crowns by women, the making of a grain dolly, who represents a virgin, and burning any Yule greens that are left over.


Ostara – 21 September


Overt signs of life are present. Here, day and night are equal and the sun is at it ascendant. This represents balance. The word “Easter” comes from the word “Eostre”, a Nordic Goddess whose symbols are the egg and the rabbit, representing new life and rebirth. Everything is flourishing and the young God is clad in his finest greenery. All around us fertility is evident. Crops are planted. Animals are active. We are active. Beneath the soil, after a long winter, activity is evident all around us. The Goddess is in full bloom. Both the young lord of the Forest and the Lady watch each other and are aware of their potential and virility. Wherever the young Lord on the Hunt goes, the forest beasts follow; turning all vegetation he touches green. She follows like a shadow, feeling a stirring in her soul. Their feelings for each other become more serious as the wheel turns to Beltaine. Easter eggs, symbols of a new life, were used to welcome prosperity, while hot cross buns and amulets, with their solar crosses, were used for protection.


Beltane – 1 November


In Celtic tradition the beginning of winter and the Beginning of Summer (i.e. Samhain and Beltaine) are the most important celebrations. This is the sacred union of the God and Goddess, the traditional fertility festival. Almost every tradition at this time symbolizes the union. Customs include filling baskets with symbols of fertility (such as eggs or nuts) and the weaving of the maypole (the pole representing the phallus, and the strands of the red and white coloured ribbons symbolizes the birth canal of the Goddess). The weaving enacts the sperm heading towards their destination. It is traditionally the time of year when hand fasting (marriages) is pledged. Large bale fires were made from the dross or waste of the winter fields. It was a form of purification. Animals were herded through the fires to cleanse them of parasites. This is where the leaping of the bonfire comes from. It was an act of cleansing (remember that bathing was a rarity). A couple as a sign that they would marry before the next Beltaine, or if already married also took leaping the bonfire that a child would be on its way. To the urban Pagan, the idea of fertility is conceptualized as a time of planting thoughts, ideas and plans, but it is also the celebration of all the fertility within Nature. It is a time to rejoice the new growth around us and to focus on bright new beginnings.


Litha – 21 December


It is the height of Summer. It is the longest day of the year. The God and Goddess have joined as one. They reign as sovereigns. A great feast has been prepared for them. The Goddess/Queen is pregnant, a reflection of the blossoming and ripening land around her. The sun is at its peak. But this festival marks another turning point in the solar year. Until Yule, the year will be on its wane, it is customary to re-enact the battle between the Deities to represent both the dark and the light halves of the year. The Oak King, God of the waxing year, falls to the Holly King, God of the waning year. In one of the myths, a dark shadow falls over the merrymaking, and the Sun King is challenged to a duel. He cannot see the face of his challenger, and is struck the fatal blow in his thigh, which does not heal, until his sacrificial death at Lammas. The Earth is now a place of great beauty, filled with flowers that will soon become fruit and vegetables. For Pagans, it is a time of great joy and plenty, a time to bask in the splendour of the Earths bounty and to think of no tomorrow. It is not a time to take stock or reflect, but to dance and be merry.


Lammas – 2 February


Lughnasadh (Lammas) marks the beginning of the harvest. It is essentially a Druidic festival dedicated to the Celtic Sun God. Lugh, however, there were also Goddess associated with corn such as Ceres and Demeter. The harvest was seen as the fruit of the Mother. Lughnasadh was eventually christened as Lammas. This festival is known as the first harvest festival, because of the harvest of first fruits, particularly grain products. Making corn dollies is traditional at this time. The first sign of autumn are evident at Lammas, just as the first signs of spring are evident at Imbolc. After the Summer Solstice, the sun’s power begins to decline, and the Sun King dies symbolically. The God sacrifices himself to the land. As the grain is cut down, he is symbolically sacrificed so that his people may live. He will be born again at Yule. This is the time to pause, reflect and open yourself to the change of the season so that you may accomplish what is intended.


Mabon – 20 March


Mabon is the name of a Welsh God, known as the “great son”. In Welsh mythology Mabon was stolen from his mother at the age of three, and taken to the Underworld, only to return in the spring. Like Demeter and Persphone, this is a time where dark lauds over the light. So it shall be until the spring equinox. Once again day and night are equal, in perfect balance. This is the second harvest festival. She acknowledges that her King and Husband have been taken to the Underworld and that the only way she will reunite with him will be to traverse the path he has gone. And so she tears the veil apart and faces the Dark Lord of the Underworld, her own fear, and her-self and enters the cycle of Samhain. Mabon is a time of preparation; it is a time of taking stock and summing up, a time to find balance again.





Magical Tools


Now let us look into magical tools that are commonly used in the creation of an Altar for Ritual or other uses.


The Altar


An Altar could be anything from a common table to a special piece of wood that you have set aside for this purpose or even on a more permanent note a piece of flat rock. Obviously a piece of flat rock would be more permanent and not easily moved around. For myself I have a dedicated piece of wood for this purpose, easily stored when not in use, as well as easily transported. There is a difference, in a manner of speaking. Altar and that one set up permanently at your private place of serving. Some folks have a permanent Altar for devotional purposes at home, in their lounge or a more private place, different only in the sense that this is your permanent Altar. What is an Altar for? To put it simply it is a dedicated place used to place your Tools and items utilized in ritual or magical workings.


The Broom


Some use a broom for all circles, for myself I very seldom use a broom. A broom is used to clear a space. Witches use brooms in magic and ritual, it is a tool sacred to both the Goddess and God. This is nothing new, pre-Colombian Mexico saw the worship of a type of witch Deity “Tlazelteotl”, who was pictured riding naked on a broom. The Chinese worship a broom Goddess who is invoked to bring clear weather in times of rain. Probably because of its phallic spahe, the broom became a powerful tool against curses and practitioners of evil magic, laid across the threshold, the broom halted all spells sent to the house of those residents within. A broom under the pillow brought pleasant dreams and guarded the sleeper. (Hopefully it was a small and unused broom). European witches became identified with the broom because both were infused with magic in religious and popular thought. Witches were accused of flying on broomsticks and this was considered proof of their alliance with “dark powers”. Such an act, if it could indeed be performed, would indeed be supernatural. Today the broom is still used in Wicca. A Wiccan ritual may begin by sweeping the area (in or outdoors) lightly with a magic broom, afterwards the Altar is set up, the tools carried out, and the ritual is ready to begin. While brushing the Wiccan visualizes the broom sweeping out the astral build-up that occurs were humans live, this purifies the area to allow smoother ritual workings. Being a purifier, the broom is linked with the element of water. Should you wish to make your own broom, try the old magic formula of an ash staff, birch twigs and a willow binding. The ash is purifying and the willow sacred to the Goddess. Of course any branch or bush can be used in place of the broom, while cutting it thank the tree or bush for its sacrifice. A tiny broom of pine needles can also be used. The broom is also used for Pagan Handfasting (Marriage) where the couple jumped the broomstick to symbolize their union. The broom used for magic must be reserved for this purpose only. (A round broom and not the flat type should you wish to buy one for this purpose).


The Wand


The wand is a prime magical tool, utilized for thousands of years in magical and religious rites. It is an instrument of invocation. For instance, the Goddess and God can be called to watch over a ritual with words and an uplifted wand. It is also sometimes used to direct energy, to draw magical symbols or a circle on the ground, pointed towards the danger while perfectly balanced on the witches palm or arm or even to stir a cauldron. The wand represents the element of Air and is sacred to the Gods. Traditional woods used are Willow, Elder, Oak, Apple, Peach, Hazel and Cherry. Wands are available now for purchase, should you wish to buy one do not just look at the beauty of the wand, rather hold the wand and feel the power emanating from within, the wand that is correct for you will feel just like that, correct. Don’t worry too much that you won’t find the correct wand; the correct one will eventually come to you, any stick you use will be infused with energy and power.







The censer is an incense burner that holds smouldering incense during Wiccan rites. Many are available for purchase or you can even make your own. Incense used is ritual and magic is an art on and of itself. If no specific incense is called for in a ritual use your own initiation and creativity in which to use. The ceremonial magic “spirits” are sometimes commended to appear in visible form in the smoke of the rising censer. The Censer represents the element of Air and is often placed before the images of the Deities on the Altar.

The Cauldron


A Witches tool of excellence, an ancient vessel of cooking and brew making, steeped in magical tradition and mystery. It is the container in which the magical transformation occurs, the sacred grail, the holy spring and the sea of primeval creation. It is seen as the symbol of the Goddess, the manifested essence of femininity and fertility. The Cauldron represents the element of Water, reincarnation, immortality and inspiration. Often the focal point of ritual, during spring rites, it can be filled with fresh water and flowers and during winter a fire may be kindled within representing the returning heat and light from the Sun (God) from the cauldron (Goddess) linking with the God being born in Winter, reaching maturity in Summer and dies after the late harvest. Ideally the Cauldron should be of iron, in other words like the traditional “Potjie” pot is the correct one to use.


Magic Knife


This magic knife or Athame has an ancient history. It is not used for cutting purposes but to direct energy raised during rites and spells. Seldom used to invoke or call upon the Deities, as it is an instrument of commanding and power manipulation.  The knife is often dull, usually double edged with a black or dark handle. Black absorbs power. When the knife is used in ritual the black absorbs the power (into the handle), only a tiny amount, which can then later be recalled. Some Wiccans engrave their knives with magical symbols. As with most magical tools the knife becomes powerful by your touch and usage. The knife is linked with the element of Fire and its phallic nature links it to the God.


White Handled Knife


The white handled knife is simply a practical working knife as opposed to the ritualistic nature of the Athame, used to cut Wands or sacred herbs, inscribe symbols into candles, etc. The handle is white so as to distinguish it from the Athame.




The crystal ball has long since been used for divination. A crystal ball is placed is placed on the Altar to represent the Goddess symbolic of the depths of the sea, the Goddess domain. The crystal may also be used to receive messages from the Gods, or to store energy raised in ritual. It is a magical object touched with the divine, guard it carefully. Periodic exposure to moonlight or the rubbing of the crystal with fresh Mugwort will increase its ability to spark our psychic powers. It can be the centre of full moon rituals.


The Cup/Chalice


This is simply a cauldron on a stem and symbolises the Goddess and fertility, and is related to the element of Water. It is used to hold water or the ritual beverage embodied during the rite.


The Pentacle


This is usually a flat piece of brass, gold, silver, wood, wax or clay inscribed with the pentagram. The pentacle was “borrowed” from ceremonial magic. In this ancient art it was often used as an instrument of protection, or a tool used to invoke spirits, in Wicca the pentacle represents the element of Earth and is convenient on which to place amulets, charms or other objects to be ritualistically consecrated. Some times used to summon the Gods and Goddess. Pentacles are hung over doors and windows as protection devices or are manipulated to draw money owing to the Earth’s associations.


The Book of Shadows


A Wicca handbook containing invocations, ritual patterns, spells, rules governing magic, etc. Each individual Wiccan composes the vast majority. There is now a single Book of Shadow now claiming to be the original, it is original only in the sense of the owner having created it.

The Bell


This is a ritual instrument of incredible antiquity. A ringing bell has power effects, according to volume, tone and material of construction. The bell is a feminine symbol and is often used to invoke the Goddess in ritual. Also used to ward off evil spells and spirits, halt storms and to evoke good energies. Bells are sometime hung on a door to protect the home and used in ritual to mark various sections and to signal a spells beginning or end. Any type can be used.


The Robe


Most traditions have robes of different colour to signify different levels of degrees. Most are hooded and made of natural fibre. The act of donning a robe readies the practitioner to change from the ordinary environment to that of ritual dedication.


The Cord


This symbolises the witch’s bond to the Goddess, made of natural fibre, also used in signifying rank and also used in binding rituals and knot magic.




Probably true to say that all practitioners have consecrated jewellery of some sort. It might reflect the tradition or it may be something inspired or created by the wearer.


These are some of the tools used in Wicca, sometimes difficult to obtain. Pour your own energy into them. Each tool must be cleansed and consecrated before use in ritual. Cleansing can be the normal washing of say the knife (not your wand, as water may damage it), burry the item for a few days allowing the energies present to disperse, then retrieve the instrument and consecrate each one in ritual.


Remember that Wicca allows the individual to express their individuality and as such create your own altar to suit your individual identity, obviously stick to the basic outline but by all means make and create your own, expressing yourself in a religion that promotes individuality.


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