May 1st is sometimes called “MayDay.” Many Pagans and Witches in the Northern Hemisphere also celebrate their rites of spring on May 1st, which we call Beltane. Beltane is honored as the mid-point of the season, and the highest point of the seasonal tide, which is why we call it a “Grand Sabbat.” It is grand because it is the most potent peak of outward flowing energies, and therefore an ideal time to work magick.
Beltane is a whole 6.5-week waxing season, and you can celebrate it any time you like up until its peak, but I do not agree that May 1st is it’s peak. It typically falls later in the first week of May. To find the astrological date this year: https://www.archaeoastronomy.com/
To use a sexual metaphor (which is apt for Beltane), celebrating on May 1st and then packing it in, as though the moment is over, is like premature ejaculation and rolling over to fall asleep while your partner is still all hot and bothered. Don’t stop now! We are just getting to the good part! Let’s squeeze every delicious drop out of this most succulent season!
Allow me to make my case…
The Wheel of the Year
The modern system of solar festivals, known as Sabbats, developed slowly since the 1950’s, and since then has been adapted and adopted by many traditions of P-word and W-word (1) people. The “Wheel of the Year” cycle is a MODERN construct. [For more info, see Aiden Kelly’s post: here] We can just stop debating whether or not any one ancient civilization celebrated all eight equidistant solar holidays, because we know for a damn fact that wasn’t true.
Neo-paganism offers us a syncretic (2) combination of traditions from all over the world. With our 20/20 hind-site, on-going anthropological findings, an awakened awareness as humanity evolves, and the ease of the information age, we now recognize an over-arching pattern to the flow of power here on Earth, and the many consistent ways that humans have felt and utilized that flow over time. There is a power that is very real, and rather predictable, underlying all of these seemingly man-made systems.
Sabbats and The Question of Magickal Timing
Far be it from me to tell anyone else when they should get their witch on. Do as ye will, as they say. We know that nothing is standing still, we are all just riding the wave of cycles within cycles. However, I do think that all witches owe it to themselves to seek their own internal consistency.
So here is the rub:
- Spells are done according to lunar and planetary magick using astrology
- Esbats of the moon are celebrated according to the astronomical timing of its phases
- the lesser sabbats of equinoxes and solstices are celebrated according the precise astrological moment we enter a cardinal zodiac sign – and even astronomy names the same moment for science
Why, pray tell, would we celebrate the GRAND Sabbats – the witch’s most high holy days – when the Vatican arbitrarily assigned their Catholic holiday, on a man-made calendar, created and imposed on us by Pope Gregory the XIII back in 1582? Oh, and it was created so that their Easter would fall where they liked it better.
For me, the Gregorian calendar is more a reflection of the outrageous hubris of the church, than any energetic tide I’ve ever felt. Why would I muddle up my magickal practice on something so artificial? (Wikipedia) I would also argue that saying “Because Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente did it that way” is also not an adequate reason. Gerald didn’t even celebrate all 8 sabbats, so the point is moot.
I submit to you, dear community, that using the Gregorian Calendar to assign dates for the Grand Sabbats is inconsistent, and less effective.
Yet, on this, and every other blessèd topic in pagandom, there are many points of view. Culture, history, tradition, weather, geography, biome? These are all “compass needles” that point in the direction of individual answers for how the Wheel should be implemented. I choose the compass needle of the occult sciences that describe the repeating patterns throughout existence that I spoke of in this post, Hail Mercury…in Retrograde.
The Wheel of the Year: Calendar vs. Astrological System
Sabbat Celebration Calendar Date Astrological Date Yule Winter Solstice 0° Capricorn 0° Capricorn Imbolc High Winter Feb 1 or 2 15° Aquarius Ostara Spring Equinox 0° Aries 0°Aries Beltane High Spring May 1
15° Taurus Litha Summer Solstice 0° Cancer 0° Cancer Lammas High Summer August 1
15° Leo Mabon Autumnal Equinox 0° Libra 0° Libra Samhain High Autumn Oct 31,
or Nov. 1
- Note the inconsistent insertion of calendar dates in the Calendar column, despite the lesser sabbats being held on astrological dates.
- Equinoxes and Solstices vary on the calendar by 2-3 days each year, but “February 1” is static, so this forces the sabbats to fall at irregular lengths apart. That bothers me.
A Case for Consistency
Among all the possible group-identifiers within pagandom, I consider myself first and foremost a Witch. When I say “witch” I mean in the magus, occultist, European-inspired, modern-American job description. Witches like myself strive to perceive every moment in its flow of natural magick; every thought and action I take can either engage effectively with that flow, or fruitlessly against it.
The trick to witchcraft is in knowing which actions to take, and when they will be most effective–and then actually do the effective things, effectively. Before you can fully engage in the power of that natural magick you have to both acknowledge the energetic system in which we live, then understand its inherent principles and mechanics, then put those mechanics to good use in your life.
Live by that pattern long enough and it ceases to be academic, it becomes a reflex as easy as breathing. You FEEEEEL the power move through you, your life ebbs and flows in sync to the largest patterns of the cosmos. As an instinct, you begin to project and receive by these tides, just as surely as all the sailboats in the harbor rise with the water. The “Wheel of the Year” becomes the undeniable IS-ness; it just IS.
Here is the secret; its all relative–relative to your perspective. I don’t know anything about the magick they’re doing on the planets orbiting other stars, but I’m a big fan of the mechanics of THIS planetary system, around THIS star, as THIS human species, on THIS Earth, at THIS time. Here, we call that discipline Astrology.
If you ignore the mechanics, you fall prey to empty religiosity. I have no time, and less tolerance, for the empty religiosity I see in the over-culture, and so I refuse to allow it into my witchcraft. I don’t do a damned thing just because “Gerald Gardner did it that way.” I choose to dive deep into the WHY of the things I do. I’ve been studying this stuff for 2 decades now, and I’ve torn it all down for myself, researched it, then built something new out of the parts that have an internal consistency–much like Gerald did for himself. This system works for me, from the macrocosm down to the microcosm, above and below, within and without.
Grand Sabbat Consistency:
The seasons peak in their waxing power at the astrological midpoint of their season. Each season has 3 zodiac signs: Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable. Four season, 12 signs. Divide the 360 degree circle into 12 equal parts, and each sign is measured by 30 degrees each. So the peak of that power occurs at 15 degrees (midpoint) of the Fixed Sign in their Season–THAT is the apogee of the cycle.
That is the academic explanation, but it is just like the National Weather Service predicting the exact moments of dawn and dusk, or high and low tide. They are scientifically predictable, if you understand how the cycle works.
To use another Sailing analogy: If your boat is in a harbor, but the water is only deep enough to sail out near the highest tide, you better figure out when that happens and then make your move while the water is flowing WITH your intentions. Ignorantly rowing away while your rudder is jammed in a sandbank and cursing the water for not being deep enough, will only frustrate you. That is NOT EFFECTIVE witchcraft.
Or to go back to the sexual metaphor: Syncing your Witching practice to the astrological cycles of nature is like making love to your partner so intuitively, that you can just sense when they are about to climax, and that is so thrilling that you both climax at the same time, screaming out the same magickal goals. I promise you that there is no more effective Witchcraft (or love-making) than that!
Take that metaphor one step further: Attempting to work magick of a Grand Sabbat AFTER the peak of the season is past, after we are astrologically WANING to close the season, is kind of like missing it when your partner (nature) has already climaxed, you missed it, they are totally over it now, but you keep arrogantly grinding away until you are just chafed and frustrated. No bueno!
Build your Own “Temple”
If I were to describe my “temple” I now call “modern witchcraft,” its foundation stones are both the ancient occult sciences and modern sciences. Like a rotunda of ancient Greece, there are 8 structural columns I call the Sabbats that set the space. There are details carved into the plinths, friezes and shrines of folk witchery, new age metaphysics, burgeoning neo-paganism, and old-school British Wicca and any other flavor of Witchcraft that has something of value to share.
But the dome of my “roof” remains the starry heavens–the cosmos itself. In this temple of my own making there are no walls to limit me, nor to trap me into mindless fundamentalism. In this temple built of consistent, objective and mythological truths, all my subjective, squishy, relative, ineffable spiritual exploration and PMGs (Personal Moments of Gnosis) have all the room I need to spread out and ramble around.
Regardless of how you construct your temple, or when you choose to celebrate, I implore you to seek that internal consistency and understanding that transcends any empty religiosity. Do as ye will, my lovelies, and do it as beneficially and effectively as you can muster!
May your celebration of high spring, no matter when or how you celebrate it, be a joyous one!
- I’ll credit “P-word” to Laura Tempest Zakroff over at her Modern Traditional Witch blog, for the coining of this term, which tries to encompass pagans and polytheists and other P-identifiers so they won’t get their precious knickers in a twist when folks like us try to be inclusive. I’ll add to the fray the “W-word” to try and include all the Wiccans and Witches. I realize I’m in dangerous territory here by trying to address the wholeness of this community, but witchcraft is inherently treacherous…
- Syncretism [sing-kri-tiz-uh m, sin-]