Please note that the dates are only estimates and some Sabbats may fall on surrounding days rather than those specified.

Samhain: 31st October

Samhain (pronounced SOW-wen) is one of the Greater Sabbats, and always falls on the 31st October in the Northern Hemisphere (NH), and on May 1st in the Southern Hemisphere (SH). Samhain is known as the Witches’ New Year, or Festival of the Dead, and is a profound and spiritually moving event, marking the death of the Lord and the start of the New Year.
Wiccans hold celebrations to honor the dead on Samhain, having silent suppers, reliving the moments of life with a friend or loved one who has passed on during the year. If someone has not lost anyone during the year, it can be a time to support those who have, or give reverence to all the people who have passed on, and reflect on how their lives touched others around them. A place at the supper table is often set for those who’ve passed on.
On Samhain, the veil between the living and dead is said to be at its thinnest, which makes this a fantastic time for communicating with the Dead and the best night for divination and scrying. The closer to midnight, the thinner the veil. This is also a time for reassessment (like the Julian Calendar’s New Year), and for looking to the future. Using the energies at this time to seek guidance for new directions or reviewing life plans is best, and is also a fantastic time for defence/protection spells.

Yule: ~ 21st December

Trees? Decorations? Mistletoe? Sounds familiar, right? Well, you’re wrong, because we’re talking about Yule, not Christmas. Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, has its roots in Paganism. Ancient Romans decorated their homes with boughs of green trees; the Druids honored trees and collected and hung mistletoe.
Yule (pronounced YOOL) is one of the Lesser Sabbats, and generally falls around the 21st December (give or take a couple of days) in the NH, and around the 21st June in the SH. It marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day (and longest night) of the year. It is celebrated as the time where the God is reborn and light starts returning to the Earth. Wiccans will celebrate by exchanging gifts, decorating a tree, hanging wreaths, singing, feasting and by burning a Yule log. The exchange of gifts symbolises hope, and of the gift the Lady has bestowed on the Easrth by giving life to the Lord (the Sun) once again.

Imbolc: 2nd February

Imbolc (pronounced IM-bolk), also called Candlemas, is the time of year where Wiccans celebrate the renewing fertility of the Earth. It falls on the 2nd of February in the NH, or 1st August in the SH. The Goddess is seen as recovering from childbirth (see Yule), and the God is a small child. Sometimes a sort of ‘cabin-fever’ might set in at this time, with the feeling of Spring on its way. Imbolc is a Greater Sabbat, and a time to celebrate with seeds, or with a newly germinating idea. Some covens like to initiate their members at this time of year. A holiday of purification and of renewed fertility of the Earth, Imbolc is a great time for some early spring-cleaning and getting rid of things you don’t need. Also a good time for conception and fertility spells.

Ostara: ~ 21st March

Ostara (pronounced OH-strah or OH-star-ah), also known as the Spring Equinox or Eastara, is the time of year when day and night are of equal length. It falls on the 21st March in the NH, or on 21st September in the SH.
It is the Festival of the Goddess Eostar, a form of Astarte, whose emblems are the hare and the egg of rebirth. The egg is a symbol of ‘life-in-potential’, so we imbue them with wishes we hope will manifest during the coming summer. The balance of night and day makes this time perfect to seek balance in our own lives; and it is a time of casting off the old and taking on the new (hence the term ‘Spring Cleaning’). Traditionally, the energies of this time are used to clear out on the mental and emotional levels, and take on new ways of thought and new aspirations.
In Wicca, the Lord and the Lady are seen as young and innocent, and as the days grow longer, they being to wonder about each other. In ritual, we might bless seeds for planting.

Beltane: 1st May

Beltane (pronounced a variety of ways such as BELL-tayn, BELL-tay-nyah, or BEE-yell-tayn), also spelt Beltaine and also known as May Day, is where signs of summer start to show. It is celebrated on the 1st May in the NH, or the 1st November in the SH.
This festival is where the Goddess takes on her role as ‘Mother’, and the God and Goddess are wed. Therefore, Beltane is often a time that Wiccans might choose to marry or have a handfasting (a Wiccan marriage ceremony), and it is also a time for renewal and strengthening of relationships.
Wiccans will often celebrate by leaping over a fire, or dancing around a maypole (a phallic symbol representing the Lord). This Sabbat’s energies should be used to enhance all ties with loved ones (romantic or otherwise).

Litha: ~21st June

Litha (pronounced li-THA or LEE-tha), also known as the Summer Solstice, marks the longest day of the year. It is celebrated around the 21st June in the NH, or 21st Dec in the SH.
The height of the Sun’s energy can be used in spells for energy, vitality and renewal, as well as reinforcing spells for health and prosperity. It is also a good time to communicate with fairies and forest sprites. The Lord and Lady are at their peak. As Litha is a Lesser Sabbat, Wiccans will give reverence at this time of year, but don’t usually hold large celebrations. Whilst a joyous holiday, it can also be tinged with sadness due to the days growing shorter after Litha.

Lughnassadh: 1st August

Lughnassadh (pronounced LOO-nus-uh), also spelt Lughnasadh or also known as Lammas, marks the beginning of the fall harvest, the day on which the first grain is cut, and the festival of the Celtic God Lugh. It is celebrated on the 1st August in the NH, or the 1st February in the SH.
The God starts to lose his strength as daylight hours start to shrink, but the Goddess is already pregnant with God, to be reborn again at Yule. Traditionally, this is a festival of sacrifice, with blood and wine being given back to the land in payment for the coming of the harvest. However, nowadays it is perfectly fine to sacrifice anything you see fit, such as bread and wine.
Your house and altar can be decorated with a wreath, fruits and vegetables.

Mabon: 21st September

Mabon (pronounced MAH-bon or MAY-bon), also known as Madron or the Autumn Equinox, is (like Ostara) the second time of the year where both day and night are of equal length. It is celebrated on the 21st September in the NH, or the 21st March in the SH. The Lord is preparing for death at Samhain, whilst the Lady is beginning to mourn his loss.
Being that the day and night are in equal length once again, it is again a good time for focusing on balance; however this time the focus should be on repayment and thanks, rather than on cleaning out and starting over. The energies of this season can be used for magick working on inner balance, and it’s a time to ensure all debts, both literal and spiritual, are paid off.

Magickal Ethics

When we begin to talk about magickal ethics, quite often the first thing that will come to a Pagan’s mind is “An it harm none, do what you will”. The Wiccan Rede has been, at least for Wiccans, the measuring stick for magickal ethics – as long as you don’t intentionally harm someone, do whatever you want. And I think that this interpretation of the Rede is solid; it would be impossible to go through life without harming something or someone at all, so it is the intention that matters.

Now for someone who might identify as a Witch, and not necessarily a Wiccan, they are not bound by any specific ethical or moral doctrine, unless they choose to be. And I must stress that just because a Witch might not be bound to Wiccan ethics or beliefs doesn’t mean that they lack ethics and/or religion – they simply (usually) lack the religious and ethical construct of Wicca.

It is my understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, that Witches may or may not concern themselves with the potential outcome of a spell or ritual, whilst Wiccans are bound by a karmic law of some description. Basically, the way that Wiccans and Witches view the cause and effect of their magick is different. Again, this is not to imply that Witches lack respect for magickal power, nor does it imply that they are unethical.

As for the similarities between Witches and Wiccans – well, we’re all human, for a start. We all hold our own personal beliefs, values, ethics and morals aside from our religious views (or lack thereof, depending on the person). In turn, we all approach our magick in very personal ways, and these ways can be either very simple or very complex, or anywhere in between. Examples of this ‘personalisation’ of magick is evident in where we seek our guidance from and our ways of practice: kitchen witches rely heavily on uncomplicated magick, much of which originates from superstition and folklore; hedge witches (traditionally) and solitary practitioners (as a rule) do not belong to covens. Solitaries depend on self-study, insight, creativity and intuition as ‘guideposts’. Members of a coven rely on each other for this learning and guidance.

So do ‘bad’ magickal practitioners exist, and do they use their knowledge and power for personal gain and/or ill will?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes – but it’s just the same as the existence of bad Christians, bad Muslims, bad Hindus, etc. They all exist. People are people, and there are going to be bad people no matter what. This is part of human nature, and nothing to do with religious beliefs. The good news is that these ‘bad’ people are the exception, not the rule.

Like all people, Pagans face issues on a daily basis that require ethical and moral choices – followers of the Wiccan Rede, for example, face the ultimate responsibility. This Rede states that I cannot harm anything through my actions as a Wiccan, and indeed as a human being. As Pagan, I have the absolute responsibility for myself and all the people around me, and the entire planet.

Most Pagans view magick as ethically neutral; magick is gathered from the life energy of all things and is not black, white or grey. The energy is turned and directed by the practitioner towards his/her goal. Thus, it’s the practitioner’s usage of the energy that makes it black, white or grey magick. Additionally, individual views of what white, black and grey are can differ from person to person; a frustration of personalised faiths such as Wicca – defining anything in even near-concrete terms is almost impossible. Generally, to work ‘good’, ‘white’ magick, there are some general guidelines Wiccans must follow (and let me know if you are of a different Pagan path but agree with some or all of these):

  • Wiccans will often follow a three-fold or karmic law – meaning that anything sent out will come back to you; what goes around, comes around. This alone is a very good reason to make sure that your motivations are positive.
  • Following on from the above point, Wiccans believe it to be highly unethical to attempt to manipulate another person’s freewill – it cannot be done, and can only end badly if you are successful. This is especially true and most common in love magick. It often poses more questions than answers, like if that object of affection is truly in love or if it’s just the magick. In any case, this type of spell is selfish and is certainly not cast for the good of all. Many Wiccans use the Wiccan Rede (‘And it harm none, do what you will’) in spellcraft, prayer and ritual to assist in guiding energy towards the cause that it is for, and any misdirected energy can be dispelled.
  • Wiccans realise that although the human mind and spirit hold unlimited potential, the ability to recognise all possible outcomes of magick is not so unlimited. Humans are not, unlike the divine, omniscient, and sometimes our good intentions do go astray and wield negative or unwanted results. Therefore, it is generally accepted to request the higher, and wiser, powers to help direct the magick towards the best possible outcome.

Now we’ve all seen the man on the corner with his Bible, asking people to come with him and be saved by Jesus Christ. It must be said that Pagans believe in religious tolerance and respect every Path as having potential for human enlightenment. Since everyone is different, it is understandable that the Paths that each individual chooses will be equally unique. In keeping with this outlook and understanding, you’ll never find a Pagan standing on the street preaching about magick or faith (and if you do, give them a good slap for me, would you?!). Pagans believe that people must discover and choose their own Path. In actual fact, by coming from other religious backgrounds, many Pagans have done exactly this.

In closing, do not forget that there is always room for spontaneity and ingenuity in the Craft. Your Craft is just that – YOUR Craft. It’s all about YOU and what you want to do. Do not, no matter what your religious or spiritual belief(s), allow the thoughts and ideals of others override your own sense of judgment, or your beliefs or values. Your traits are what make you you, and no-one should be able to take that away from you.