One of the first things you are introduced to in most Neo-Wiccan material (especially 101) is information regarding the Sabbats. Four of them (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh), are often called "Greater Sabbats" while the other four (Yule, Ostara, Litha and Mabon) are called "Lesser Sabbats".
I have noticed a few strange things regarding them.
First of all, you don't really see any material dealing with them beyond the 101 scope. Also, there is rarely any deeper information concerning them and their history - be it in modern practice or ancient lore. It almost makes one think that Neo-Wicca has no use for deeper levels of practice or understanding. Why is that?
Additionally, I couldn't help but notice, over the years, that certain Sabbats are "trendy": most books and websites usually have ritual examples or suggestions solely for the "cool" Sabbats, while not dealing much or even ignoring the rest. For instance, I can't recall any case when Imbolc or Mabon were given extra attention. Heck, I even have trouble remembering what they are all about because they are ignored most of the time! Most people talk about Samhain or Beltaine or even Lughnasadh or Yule. Where are the rest of the Sabbats? Are they not as important?
Any thoughts? (I'm hoping to rejuvenate the site's activity!)
Ah, this topic! Given how much discussion occurs on this among our circle of friends, you'd think we'd have found an answer, but, alas, you'd be mistaken!
The reasoning we've found is that a lot of Neo-Wicca 101 info is misleading. It delves into the "Wiccan mythology" for the Sabbats...which doesn't make sense when you look at it logically. One of the fun things we did in our study circle a few months ago was have everyone sit down and follow what actually is "supposed" to happen at each Sabbat. No one could finish the Wheel because there was so much confusion based on what these books say "happens" at each point!
It is also about what's trendy. Yule and Samhain are probably the most popular, followed by Beltane. The summer ones are only popular, I've found, among those that go to festivals.
If it makes you feel better, some day in the near future, there will be at least one source *cough* that will delve into the history of them, the modern observation, and take them beyond 101.
Been crazy busy, and still trying to get my head above work, but wanted to toss in a nickel real quick. The idea of the eight sabbats, with those specific names, on those specific dates, with those specific attributes is a modern concept. Yes, some cultures in some countries may have had some sort of celebration near some of those dates and some cultures used some of the names (although the name for Mabon was made up in the 1970s and Litha was just a trendy name to slap on the sabbat because the older names for holidays about that time are all Christian-based).
In one of his book, Fred Lamond (one of Gardner's initiates) mentions that they started out with only the four "greater" sabbats, but then were really bummed about the lack of reasons to get together to party. As a result, Gardner came up with this great backstory about the other ancient sabbats, and the social calendar for the coven now had more excuses to party. Because the solstices and equinoxes were just good reasons to party, there didn't have to be a lot of lore associated with them. Even in well-established groups, it's rare to see the solstices and equinoxes have tremendous amount of "deeper meaning". You can do meaningful things in connection with them, but the party energy always seems to sneak in.
As far as the idea of nothing beyond the 101, if you believe the fakelore about why sabbats were done, these were the festivals of the common people, where druids might preside over some religious rite in conjunction with the festival or witches might sneak off in the evening to do "the real stuff" after the people had gone to bed. Because we don't have any of the stuff that the druids did during the festival, it has been written up by different modern druid organizations, and many of them do have some pretty heavy liturgical rites to pull out when needed. For the witches sneaking off at night to do "the real stuff"--there really isn't any "real stuff" that isn't modern that gets pulled out for the sabbats.
For me, sabbats are celebrations of the world around you with the people around you. I personally have very little need for "religion" at the sabbats, and at this point have little desire for formal ritual in conjunction with them. In our home, Lammas was spent making insane amounts of pasta to dry for winter and canning salsa. (And, of course, feasting....there is no room for a food-less sabbat, IMO!)
Ages ago, I came up with a mythological cycle that made sense within the meanings of the sabbats...I'll have to see if I can dig it up or if I have posted it anywhere. In most cases, the mythology in most 101 books can be challenging, as let's face it...the Neo-Wiccan wheel of the year includes murder, incest, and pedophilia (and, in some versions, necrophilia) wrapped up within it. It can be challenging to recognize that those are the things you're honoring. As a result, you may have to gloss over the details and just enjoy the sabbats in a loose format.
A couple of other thoughts (though I agree very much with both commenters above...)
- Once you get beyond a 101 level, a lot of it is dependent on situation. In my tradition (which is initiatory religious witchcraft, not trad Wicca), we don't talk about the specific of the Sabbats much outside the group (or people who've been invited to them).
A portion of the material's oathbound, but far more often, the issue is that either it's specific to the group, or detailed enough there's nothing between the 101 version (short, simple) and the really complicated version that takes a lot of background. For example, our summer solstice has turned into a time to revision the group work for the next year, with some specific repeated practices, which is great for us, but not really useful to other people without a couple of hours of discussion to lay out the reasoning.
- And second, which Sabbats get attention depends a lot on context. In Minneapolis, where I just moved from, Imbolc was a pretty big deal, in part because a number of people interested in doing open ritual work are particularly fond of Brigid or have strong connections to her. (And it's a festival traditionally associated with her.) Not as huge as Samhain, but plenty of stuff going on. Some places, Lughnassadh and the local Pagan camping festival closely overlap. Things like that.
My own personal cycle (which is based on my trad's cycle) is pretty balanced (though I admit, it helps that my birthday is around Mabon, so it's easy for me to do that as a "time with friends and loved ones, celebrating the harvest" thing.) But it's not always simple to explain externally without some time and effort, and it's largely anchored in a cycle of ongoing self-transformation, as much as a myth cycle.
Aw, Ron. I'll have you know that I read that on my phone while out with friends, and they had to stop the conversation to ask why I was blushing. So, thank you!
And it's really nothing.
This is one of the versions that we use.
Mystery and Mythological Cycle of the Wheel of the Year
The Wiccan Wheel of the Year is just that, a Wheel. It is cyclical in nature and as such has no beginning and no end. There are points that mark renewals of phases but all of the mythology flows back into itself.
This can cause confusion as there can seem to be conflicting issues or Sabbats that have similar themes. Most events in the wheel are paired but the focus tends to shift to one main occurrence and one lesser occurrence. Again, this can cause some confusion. There is also the blending of different stories, mythologies and mysteries to cope with.
I am going to outline one mythological cycle. This may not highlight some of the more well known themes of the Sabbats but will serve to show the cyclical nature of the Sabbats as reflected by what is happening around us. Remember, this is only one of many mythological cycles and does not really tie in to a specific pantheon. It is more an eclectic and generic blending of many ideas into a cohesive whole.
The Sun is seen as representing the male aspect of the God / Horned One / King / Lord of Death and Resurrection. The potential fertility of all things is represented by the Earth who is also the Goddess of many faces. She is eternal no matter what aspect she shows to us. Her aspects can also be seen to change as the seasons change. She is also the Moon who controls the tides. She may hide her face in darkness but she is always there.
As we began with Yule in the overview, so we will start our mythic journey there as well.
At the time of greatest darkness, the light is reborn into the world in the form of the Child of Promise. This child is born from the union of Goddess and God in the otherworld. The Child brings the promise of Light returning with his birth.
At Imbolc we see the face of the Maiden, of spring and the renewing of life energies within the Land. The Child born at Yule is also effected by the coming spring. He is growing into the Young Stag and starts to feel the tides of Moon, Sun and Season running in his blood. This is highlighted when he sees the maiden for the first time. His mate and his other half. Yet now is not the time for union with the Maiden as he has not yet reached his maturity.
The frisky Young Stag will have to wait a little longer for his rite of passage into manhood. It is time for the Maiden to undergo her own initiation and become a woman. The Young Stag is attracted to the Maiden and the chase is on. The footsteps of the Young Stag and the Maiden wake the energies of life within the Land.
Time passes and we come to the Spring Equinox - a time of balanced day and night. Now is the time for the Young Stag to become the Horned One, his time of initiation to bring his power into balance with that of the Maiden. She who carries within herself the potential of the Mother / Queen as the Horned One now carries the potential of the Father / King. The chase continues.
We arrive now at Beltane - Spring’s turning and the chase is now over. The Horned One chases the Maiden to find that she has caught him instead. They lay down amongst the trees and with their union the Land is made fertile once more. They are as King and Queen in the Green Wood.
By the time of the Midsummer Solstice the Horned One has come into his Sovereign power. He is stronger than he has ever been and the long hot days of summer are upon us. But suddenly a shadow appears on the longest day. A dark stranger who claims the Land and the Queen both. The King is strong and battles the Challenger for his right to rule. He will not accept the loss of his love, his Queen and their unborn child.
During the battle the King takes a wound in the thigh. He is still strong though and the wound does not kill him. The Dark Stranger is defeated but the shadow still remains in the Land and the days become shorter as the King’s power wanes.
At the first harvest the child conceived at Beltane is born, child of the sacred union. But what of the King Stag when the Young Stag is grown? The King is now aging and he has never fully recovered from his wound taken in battle with the Dark Stranger. Will his power hold? Will he be cut down like the grain?
The child is growing into a Youth and when Day and Night are equal once more the Youth challenges his Father for the right to rule. They encounter each other in the forest and once again the King is forced to defend himself - this time against the Child of his own seed.
But day and night are equal so the King and his Son are equally matched. During the battle the King realises that he is fighting an aspect of himself, both deal fatal blows at the same time. With their deaths, Father and Son descend to the Otherworld where they are transformed into the Lord of Death and Resurrection.
The Queen witnesses the fatal moment and the Goddess keens for her lost Husband / Lover / Son.
The time of equal day and night passes - darkness descends upon the Land. The Queen in her grief has become the Crone, yet she is still powerful and she has the knowledge of ages behind her. She sees her Husband / Lover / Son lead the Wild Hunt and she seeks to follow him on his return to the Otherworld. At the time when the veil between the Worlds is thinnest she descends to the Otherworld to be with her Lord. She enacts the mysteries of Death and is joined with Him once more.
From this union the Child of Promise is born from darkness, and light again returns to the world on the longest night.
We celebrate the sabbats equally. Midsummer does tend to get short shrift a bit though, as in Australia that is the silly season / Christmas time and lots of people are on holidays. It also gets too hot to move and forget ever having a fire a midsummer as it is usually a total fire ban.
Our group explore the sabbats pretty deeply too. We see the dancing of the wheel as being layered. You find much more of the mystery of each sabbat each time you work the wheel fully through. Our curriculum is geared towards expanding each person's experience of the sabbats each year.
Below are some links to the Applegrove website where there are lots of Sabbat rituals as well as Sabbat specific invokations and charges, songs and stories.
The hosting seems a bit weird tonight, so try again if the site appears to be down.
I too have noticed that people don't go into great detail about the Sabbats. Even I don't really know what to talk about other than suggest a list of activities that are commonly seen at Sabbats.
I think a VLog of a Sabbat would be a great way to teach some details.