Ranking the Eight Pagan Sabbats – the Story in the Numbers

Ranking the Eight Pagan Sabbats – the Story in the Numbers September 22, 2019

Last week Jason Mankey posted Your Favorite Sabbats (Or Sabbats By the Numbers). It’s a ranking of the eight high days on the Wheel of the Year, as measured by pageviews on Patheos Pagan. Intuitively, Jason’s rankings made sense to me. But as a math geek, I wondered if a different methodology might yield different results.

Jason compared the traffic on the three days around each sabbat to the average traffic for the 30 days preceding it, for the past three years. For the whole Patheos Pagan site, that’s probably as good as you’re going to get without doing some intense data analysis. But that methodology lumps sabbat-driven traffic together with traffic driven by ordinary posts on ordinary topics.

Here on Under the Ancient Oaks, there’s a way to get around that. I have two series of sabbat-specific posts: the Solitary Ritual series (which began in 2014) and the 8 Things To Do series (which began in 2018). Both series have been very popular and the Solitary Rituals turn up in Google searches year after year. Looking at just these posts lets me separate sabbat-related traffic from ordinary traffic. It also accounts for the small but significant number of Southern Hemisphere readers, whose Wheel of the Year is shifted 180 degrees from those of us in the North.

Denton CUUPS Beltane 2019
Denton CUUPS Beltane 2019

Since I can’t share raw numbers either, I needed something to compare them to. I used the average readership per blog post since October 2014 (when the first Solitary Ritual post went up) multiplied by 7 (since sabbat-related traffic tends to last about a week).

So my formula is:

((Solitary Ritual + 8 Things to Do) ÷ (Total Traffic ÷ Number of Posts * 7)) – 1

In an absolute sense, I’m not sure how significant these numbers are. My sample size is small and my methodology is arbitrary. But in relation to each other, they’re completely valid: Samhain-related blog traffic on Under the Ancient Oaks is roughly four times greater than the Lughnasadh-related traffic.

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain says “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Can we say that Samhain is four times more popular than Lughnasadh throughout the Big Tent of Paganism? No. But there’s a story in these numbers, and I think that’s worth thinking about.

Our Highest High Day

Samhain (413%) is far and away the most popular sabbat. As Jason points out, the connection to Halloween is strong. Even without the secular crossover, Samhain is a witchy, Otherworldly holiday, and we Pagans tend to gravitate toward witchy and Otherworldly stuff. October is our month, and the numbers back that up.

The Spiral Labyrinth - Samhain 2015
The Spiral Labyrinth – Denton CUUPS Samhain 2015. We will be doing the Spiral Labyrinth again this year.

The Oldest Holy Day

The Winter Solstice (338%) may very well be humanity’s oldest holy day. It didn’t mean anything to our earliest ancestors, who lived very close to the equator. But once they began moving north and the changing of the seasons became evident, the return of the light became an important day to observe. Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in Britain are both aligned to the Winter Solstice, and it was a common birthday of Gods and heroes.

Our mainstream culture makes it impossible to avoid Christmas, and the Jewish Hanukkah is also celebrated at this time. But we were here first.

Newgrange - Ireland
Newgrange – Ireland

The Middle Four

The first four high days of the calendar year are the “middle four” sabbats in blog traffic.

Imbolc (274%)
Ostara (251%)
Beltane (227%)
Summer Solstice (214%)

This is the awakening of the year. It’s also the time when most people are deep into school or work and are glad to grab onto any break they can get.

This is where we find the only two significant differences between Jason’s analysis and mine. I have Imbolc 3rd, while he has it a weak 5th. And I have Summer Solstice a strong 5th, while he has it dead last.

I think the Imbolc numbers point to the problem of using two posts as a proxy for the whole sabbat. My Imbolc solitary ritual features a guided meditation with the Goddess Brighid and that tends to be popular throughout the year. For Summer Solstice, though, I have no idea.

Beltane shows up 5th on my list and 4th on Jason’s – I think most of us intuitively expect it to be 2nd. It’s the other time of the year when the Veil thins, and it’s the sexy holiday (which presents its own set of problems). Looking back over 16 years of Beltane with Denton CUUPS, I think Beltane is very popular among those who identify as Pagans. Seekers and others who are “Pagan curious” don’t know enough about it to go looking for it.

But that’s a guess – I have no data for it.

The Forgotten Two

It’s not entirely fair to call Mabon (118%) and Lughnasadh (110%) “forgotten.” My blog traffic for their posts is still more than double (i.e. – over a 100% increase) the ordinary average. Still, there’s a big drop from 6th place to 7th place.

People are busy with summer things in early August and with returning to school in mid-September. As Jason points out, there are no mainstream holidays to piggyback onto. It doesn’t help that we can’t decide what to call the Fall Equinox or that there are two names for Lughnasadh / Lammas.

Though I do not have an oathed relationship with Lugh, I will be forever grateful to Him for His inspiration and guidance in my early days. In 2017 I tried to generate some interest in the day that bears His name by re-telling His stories – it barely moved the needle.


The story in the data: connections matter

So, what does all this mean, besides Patheos Pagan has two geeks who are probably subconsciously inspired by college football polls and NFL power rankings?

Data is simply a numerical representation of isolated facts. Anyone who’s ever tried to win a political argument by using data knows how hard it is (climate change, anyone?). People don’t respond to facts. They respond to stories.

The story in this data is one of connections. People have a connection to Samhain because they’re used to celebrating Halloween, and because they relate to its themes of ancestors and death. People have a connection with the Winter Solstice because they’re used to celebrating Christmas. Readers of this blog have a connection to Imbolc because of its connection with Brighid.

Our high days and holy days are the days we come together to renew and strengthen our connections with our Gods, with our traditions, and with each other. But if there’s no existing connection, there’s nothing to strengthen.

Just because the calendar says it’s a holy day doesn’t make it important to us. The core of a holy day is what we celebrate, what we commemorate, and what we do. If that core is important to us – if its story is meaningful to us – then people will come to our rituals and read our blogs.

And if they’re not, then they won’t, no matter what we call it.

May all your holy days be truly holy.

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