Australian Esoterica/Seasonal Festivals

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eopagans and Wiccans observe eight festivals each year, known as Sabbats, which commemorate the annual cycle of seasons or phases of the sun and moon. This cycle is referred to as the Wheel of the Year, with festivities spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the calendar. Traditionally the festivals mark the solstices and equinoxes, and the times for planting and harvest of crops.

The Wheel of the Year is a modern development of Wicca and Neopaganism originating from traditional holidays observed by Pagan cultures of ancient Europe. No pre-Christian European cultures celebrated all eight Sabbats of the calendar, so the Wheel of the Year comprises a modern merging of traditional festivals from all over ancient Europe, with similarities to the ancient rituals often ending at their shared names alone.

Modern interpretations of ancient practices vary widely, therefore different groups may conceptualize and celebrate the Sabbats in very different ways, but the themes and meanings are generally similar. For some, the Wheel of the Year not only describes the continuous cycles of nature and time, but also the human progression through birth, life, decline and death. For many Wiccans, it represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth of the Horned God and fertility of the Goddess.

Inspired by Gaelic fire festivals, the Cross-Quater Days (or Greater Sabbats) mark the beginning of each traditional season (as opposed to astronomical seasons) and fall approximately half-way between a solstice and an equinox. Generally, and mostly for convenience, the Greater Sabbats are celebrated on the first day of the season.

In British and Irish traditions of the Middle Ages, Quarter Days (or Lesser Sabbats) fell close to the two solstice and two equinox holidays. These were dates on which servants were hired, rents or rates were due, and magistrates would determine debts and resolve conflicts in outlying rural regions. In England today, leasehold payments and rents for business premises are often still due on the old English Quarter Days. The timing of these Lesser Sabbats are determined by the relationship of the Sun to the Earth so their dates deviate slightly each year.

Interestingly, the Sabbats fall closely to, or on the same dates, as eight points of the 24 Solar Terms in traditional lunisolar calendars that were developed independently in East Asia.

As seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are reversed to those of the North, so too is the Wheel of the Year. In Australia and New Zealand the long familiar "Christmas in July", though not an official holiday, is fitting evidence of efforts to suitably inverse Pagan festivals for the Southern regions.

The Celtics recognised that a new day began in the darkness, so too the start of a new year. Thus Samhain, the Celtic Feast of the Dead and beginning of Winter, is generally recognised as the first Sabbat of the year. Below, are the eight festivals and their dates, conveniently inversed for Southern Hemisphere practitioners of the craft.


Samhain[edit]

  • 1st May (alt. 4-10 May)
  • First day of ancient Winter.
  • Greater Sabbat. Lunar Festival.
  • A Cross Quarter celebration.
  • Also known as Halloween.


Yule[edit]

  • 21st or 22nd June
  • Winter solstice. Shortest day of the year.
  • Lesser Sabbat. Solar Festival.
  • A Quarter Day celebration.
  • Also known as Yuletide.


Imbolc[edit]

  • 1st August (alt. 3-10 August)
  • First day of ancient Spring.
  • Greater Sabbat. Lunar Festival.
  • A Cross Quarter celebration.
  • Also known as Imbolg or Candlemas.


Ostara[edit]

  • 22nd or 23rd September
  • Spring (Vernal) equinox. Equal day and night.
  • Lesser Sabbat. Solar Festival.
  • A Quarter Day celebration.
  • Also known as Easter.


Beltane[edit]

  • 1st November (alt. 5-10 Nov)
  • First day of ancient Summer.
  • Greater Sabbat. Lunar Festival.
  • A Cross Quarter celebration.
  • Also known as Beltaine or May Day.


Litha[edit]

  • 21st or 22nd December
  • Summer solstice. Longest day of the year.
  • Lesser Sabbat. Solar Festival.
  • A Quarter Day celebration.
  • Also known as Midsummer.


Lughnasadh[edit]

  • 1st February (alt. 2-7 Feb)
  • First day of ancient Autumn.
  • Greater Sabbat. Lunar Festival.
  • A Cross Quarter celebration.
  • Also known as Lammas.


Mabon[edit]

  • 21st or 22nd March
  • Autumn equinox. Equal day and night.
  • Lesser Sabbat. Solar Festival.
  • A Quarter Day celebration.
  • Also known as the Autumnal Equinox.