Festival Cycles, Christian Feasts and the Sabbats
A Miscellany of Festivals : Christian Equivalents for the "Sabbats"
There's a number of reasons why the "Wiccan" wheel of the year and the
Christian Calendar don't match. The most important is all too often overlooked.
The Christian Calendar is derived from both the solar Roman year and the lunar Jewish
This leads to "movable" feasts, whose dating depends on Easter which in the
Latin Rite falls on the Sunday after the first full moon after Equinox. In other
words, Ostara will always precede "Easter" which is more properly called "Pasch".
Pasch often falls closer to Beltane than Ostara anyway. In fact, many of the older
Anglican sources often put the two festivals together.
Many other Christian festivals are derived from the dating of Pasch. Shrove
Tuesday and Ash Wednesday will fall six weeks before it. Pentecost was a first
fruits festival, and falls fifty days after Pasch (The Passover-Pentecost period is
known as "the Great Easter" or Greater Pasch and among some Jewish sects is a time
for special study of the paths on the tree of life.). Indeed, the Christian Easter
Season doesn't close until Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost.
One particular special cycle which I did not find adequate data upon in time
for this article are the Rogation Days. These days are a week long fast and prayer
cycle seeking good harvest, fertility, and so on. They are also especially concerned
with weather. They were always "moveable" feasts, as they occurred in the course of
a week rather than on specific days in a month. The radicals who dominated Church
offices briefly during the early days of Pope Paul VI eliminated them as no longer
significant to the Modern Urban Christian. I'm sure the millions of Catholic
peasants in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere appreciated this elevation in status
(and corresponding implied denigration of their powerful and magical faith).
There's been some repairs made in the decades since, but this wound is still
While it is common for modern practitioners to celebrate the Full Moon
festivals, the old Jewish custom was to celebrate the New Moon. Indeed, in early
Christianity, there was a deliberate shift away from the New Moon celebrations in
order to emphasize the Lord's Day activities instead. It was felt that this shift in
the timing of the Sabbath and abandonment of the monthly observance would establish a
clear shift in the focus of worship practice. In modern times, I personally feel
that a voluntary return to such practices would be more evocative of the kinds of
Divine dynamic that we want to celebrate.
As far as the Sabbats of the Wiccan Solar year are concerned, they tend to
follow the modern timing of these events, rather than the more ancient calendars
which have suffered a tad of drift over the years. Besides, mythology to the
contrary, I'm not aware of any culture which in fact celebrated all eight events
prior the appearance of the Christian effort to sanctify all events as symbolic of
the activity of the Deity. In addition, the Christian tendency to celebrate a
saint's feast on the day of their death (which is, after all, the day of their
initiation into the heavenly courts) has created a number of cross over feasts which
do match with Wiccan practice loosely.
For a working list, let's label the eight solar festivals as follows: Yule,
which celebrates the Winter Solstice; Imbolc, which is mid-winter; Ostara or Eoster,
for the Vernal Equinox; Beltane for mid-spring; Litha, the Summer Solstice is often
called Mid-Summer's day, but this is a misnomer as in fact this is the first day of
summer; Lamasstide is a more accurate mid-summer festival, some folks celebrate this
as Lughdanash, or Lugh's Feast yet others celebrate Lugh's feast as a fall festival
for crafts; Mabon for the Autumnal Equinox; and finally Samhain for the mid-autumn
There are a number of significant Christian festivals which match these
events with some relevance and which would serve as fine equivalences for ritual
When the date for Christmas was picked (to compete with Mithra) it was the
Solstice, but that's drifted over the centuries a tad. Summer Solstice is supposed
to be St. John the Baptist's feast (June 24th). As the real birthday of both these
luminaries are unknown, I guess these dates are fitting.
New Year's Day traditionally was The Presentation of Lord in the Temple,
or the Feast of the Circumcision, has become the feast of the Purification of Mary
and I don't know what all these last couple of years.
Twelfth Night, which closed the Yule festival is Epiphany, or the
Manifestation of the Lord to the Nations, and is the feast of the Magi (patrons of
all astrologers) on Jan 6.
Candlemass, however, falls just before the Feast of St. Blaise -- on
whose feast day the candles blessed on Candlemass are used to bless throats of the
faithful against choking or other throat/lung disease. Imbolc / Feb 2 ? Candlemass
is also the feast of St. Brigid (various spellings) who was the druidess/nun who
consecrated the goddess energies of Brigid for Christian access.
St. Valentine's day was the focal day for a lover's festival in Ancient Rome.
St. Valentine became the patron of it because of an interesting custom. In old
Rome, the singles would put their names in a lottery. The names were matched and
those folks were "lovers" for the day. Given the prevailing norms of that society,
this led to behaviors which the Christians found rather shocking. So they would
throw in the names of martyrs, who were single after all. St. Valentine was popular
as the festival often matched his martyrdom date.
In spite of the English "Easter", Ostara is more close to the Feast of St.
Joseph the Worker. Not only does this link with the Lughdanash celebration for
craftsmen, (and thus with a number of worker's days), but also St. Joseph is most
important as a home maker. Father, builder, and provider as well as guardian are all
focused on this individual on March 19th. Near equivalents in behavior to
Ostara's party mood would obviously be Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Also don't
overlook St. Patrick's day, on March 17th, with its equivalent celebration of
various faery elements such as the Leprechaun! However, the key event for this
Springtide event is the feast of the Annunciation, on March 25th. As a consequence,
as with many other festivals of the Christian calendar, we have a focus on the
epiphany of the feminine aspect of Deity here. This probably equates with the
maidenly attributes of the Saxon goddess for this festival anyway.
Beltane, on May 1, is the traditional day for crowning Mary "Queen of
Heaven" too. August 15th is the feast of the Assumption of the BVM. The flower
focus of this event is retained in numerous hymns, including the "O Mary, We Crown
thee" and "Flowers of the Fairest."
June 21 was often celebrated as "Midsummer" (though in fact it is
just the start of Summer), and is also mated with St. John the Baptist -- which like
Christmas falls a tad late on the 24th. This forms a fairly solid link with Litha.
August 1 is "Lamasstide," in which bread from the summer wheat was
baked, broken, and half eaten, half saved (while last year's bread half was given to
the birds). This was a feast by showing proper gratitude would evade a famine to
punish hubris. A lot of folks celebrate "Lughdanash" (Lugh's Feast) then, but other
traditions make this a fall festival of crafts around the end of September and the
start of October. Later, on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary is
another Queen of Heaven event.
Mabon matches fairly well with Michelmass . Sept 29 (feast of the
Archangels, St. Michael and St. Gabriel -- there's also other feasts honoring the
angels, especially among the Greek Orthodox). Even though St. Matthew's feast
falls on Sept 21, the feast of Michlemass was always considered a turning point in
the year and is a more likely candidate for the harmonies of the event. Again, in
some traditions, this is considered the time for Lugh's Feast.
A key event that we ought to observe is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on
Oct 4th. This gentle mystics love of the revelation of the Divine in Nature should
be a shining example of the kind of experience we all desire to emulate. An
interesting side note is that he was also one of the authentic stigmatics.
Samhain, coming at the end of October now matches with All Hallow's
Eve, Nov 1 being the Feat of All Saints and Nov 2 being the Feast of All Souls.
The Purification of Mary, which actually is a celebration of her initiation
into matronly status, has been moved in recent years to November 21st. Mary, as the
supreme avatar of the Deity (as opposed to the Incarnation of the Deity, which is a
very different dynamic), reveals the popular vision of the Maid, Matron, and Crone
aspects in this festival.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception, on Dec 8th, has some special
significance to Americans, as American Catholics see this aspect of St. Mary as the
Patron of our country. This would equate her to the Genius and Lares deities as
celebrated in Ancient Rome. This feast exists in part due to the revelations of
Lourdes confirming the ancient belief. Again, this feast also celebrates the status
of Mary as the supreme avatar of the Deity. Yet here is not even a maiden, but the
Then finally, the wheel returns to Yule.
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Suggested Web Resources
- Wheel of the Year - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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