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This page created 1999 last updated 12/11/03

It's About Time: Sabbat and Esbat Calendars

By Lady Sheherazahde Most Neopagans, including those of us in the Braided Wheel tradition, celebrate the Sabbats on a solar calendar and the Esbats on a lunar calendar.

In the Braided Wheel tradition we do not celebrate the Sabbats on a lunar schedule because the Sun does not bow to the whims of the Moon, neither does the Moon bow to the whims of the Sun, but both effect each other.

Celtic and Germanic days started at sundown so it is not surprising that holy days start at sundown and continue to the next sundown. For our modern understanding, these events can be celebrated as Eves and Days. For modern convenience, these festivals are often celebrated on the nearest weekend before or after the preserved folk date.

The Esbats

New Moon Rituals take place within three days after the calculated first visible lunation. We generally hold these rituals within three days of when we believe the first crescent will be visible.

Full Moon Rituals take place within three days of the calculated full moon. We generally hold these rituals the day before, the day of, or the day after we believe the moon to be full.

Dark Moon Rituals take place within three days of the calculated dark moon. We generally hold these rituals the day before, the day of, or the day after we believe the moon to be dark. Once you see the new crescent, you can not have a Dark Moon ritual

An Esbat ritual held when the moon is increasing in visibility is called a Waxing Moon Esbat. An Esbat ritual held when the moon is decreasing in visibility is called a Waning Moon Esbat.

It is always appropriate to consider the time of year and the relevant Sabbat when planing an Esbat.

Check the time of the lunar event as well as the date, if the event happens before sunset the holy day would historically have begun the previous evening.

The Sabbats

There are two types of Sabbats: Quarters and Cross Quarters.

The Quarters fall on the calculated dates of the solstices and the equinoxes. If possible, they should be celebrated on those dates. Check the time of the solar event as well as the date. If the event happens after sunset, the festival would historically have carried on to the next day. If the event happens before sunset, the holy day would historically have begun the previous evening.

Logically the Cross-Quarters should fall half way between these celestial events.

Given that the Gregorian civil calendar is solar but prone to slight yearly drift; and modern conventions of travel and work make weekends more convenient for large rituals; and the solar cross-quarters are up to a week after the preserved folk date of the festivals; it is reasonable to celebrate the cross-quarters anytime within the first week of the month they are associated with (November in the case of Samhain).

Some people disparage Wiccans for using information from Gerald Gardener, but he did not just make up these dates. He chose to perpetuate the dates preserved in folk tradition. Many of the traditions associated with Imbolc are still practiced in England and Ireland today, under no influence from the Neopagan movement.(Farrar,pp14,72)

Some notes on Calendars

Among the Celtic and Germanic people Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasad are described as fixed solar festivals occurring on November 1, February 1, May 1, and August 1. (Davidson, p37) There is good evidence that the Celts used a lunisolar calendar. The fact that the festivals became attached to the first days of the Julian months leads many Neo-pagans to conclude that they were originally celebrated on the first days of lunar months. To complicate things further some tribes counted the months from full to full instead of new to new.

Both the Celtic and Germanic people made use of a solar count half year (182 days per half year, 364 days per year.) With the first day being "Samain" and the half-year point being "Beltene". That would preclude Samain and Beltene from being celebrated on a lunar schedule. Imbolc and Lughnasad were quarterly festivals probably set by day counts to occur 91 days (one quarter of the solar year) after the previous fixed festival. In that case the fact that Imbolc and Lughnasad fall on the first days of the Julian and Gregorian calendar months is just a coincidence and not evidence that they were celebrated on a the first day of a lunar month. (Davidson, p38)

The Roman Calendar was originally lunar and subject to extreme drift corrected by occasional leap months, as is common of lunisolar calendars. In 46 b.c.e. Julius Caesar instituted a solar calendar with leap days every four years, while retaining the lunar month names and approximate lengths (corrected to prevent drift). He wanted to start the year on the solstice as well but the Senate overruled him. (Meyer)

That calendar lost one day every 128 years. By 1582 it had lost about 12 days and needed to be corrected again. So our calendar reached it's current form the Gregorian calendar. It is essentially the Julian calendar with minor corrections to prevent drift. (Meyer)

Many of the debates over the proper dates for festivals stem from disagreement about calendar systems. See these calendar links to get a better understanding of the issues.

Calendar links

Basic information about calendars. Take a look at some of these links before you even try to discus calendars

Lunar Calendars

What is the Pagan thing to do?

The problem is that everyone had their own calendar. Wiccans generally accept that the solar year began at Samhain but I have found no information on how the date for Samhain was determined. It was expected to be solar and amended by the Lawspeaker at the Althing when it drifted. So in the absence of a Lawspeaker what are we to do?

The first law of pagan practice is that you ask the Gods for guidance and then you do what you feel is right.

If you want to celebrate the Sabbats according to a lunar calendar, you must first determine if your calendar is strictly lunar or lunisolar. I recommend lunisolar calendars because strictly lunar calendars drift in relation to the seasons and the Sabbats are based on European seasonal festivals. Keep in mind that the Julian calendar is also paleo-pagan calendar.

If you want to use a lunisolar calendar, you must decide what your starting date is and how you are going to correct for drift.

Here are some Neopagan lunisolar calendars

If you decide to invent your own calendar, don't be surprised if people don't take you seriously.

One of the problems with cyclical occurrences is that starting and ending points are arbitrary. Our current calendar day starts at midnight and our calendar year starts over a week after the winter solstice. In addition, our months, although originally based on lunar months, are arbitrary day counts.

Here are some of the cycles that we use to measure time. They are arranged in correspondences. The first one is one I personally feel comfortable with, right now, living in upstate New York. On this table the solar cycle correlates to the seasons as we experience them. The lunar cycle matches the solar cycle and the diurnal cycle.

Solar cycle Seasonal cycle Lunar cycle Week cycle Diurnal cycle

Winter Solstice

Winter begins

Dark moon

Saturday

Midnight

Imbolc

Midwinter

First crescent

Sunday

Hour of the wolf. (3am)

Spring Equinox

Spring begins

First quarter

First day - Monday

Sunrise (6am)

Beltane

mid spring

Gibbous

Tuesday

Morning (9am)

Summer Solstice

Summer begins

Full moon

Midweek Wednesday

Midday-Noon

Lammas

Mid summer

Waning

Thursday

Afternoon (3pm)

Fall Equinox

Fall begins

Last quarter

Last day Friday

Sunset (6pm)

Samhain

Mid fall

Last crescent

Lost Week End

Evening (9pm)

This is the same only with the lunar cycle running counter to the solar cycle something I am also very comfortable with.

Solar cycle

Seasonal cycle

Lunar cycle

Week cycle

Diurnal cycle

Winter Solstice

Winter begins

Full moon

Lost Week End

Midnight

Imbolc

Midwinter

Waning

Saturday

Hour of the wolf. (3am)

Spring Equinox

Spring begins

Last quarter

Sunday

Sunrise (6am)

Beltane

mid spring

Last crescent

First day Monday

Morning (9am)

Summer Solstice

Summer begins

Dark moon

Tuesday

Midday-Noon

Lammas

Mid summer

First crescent

Midweek-Wednesday

Afternoon (3pm)

Fall Equinox

Fall begins

First quarter

Thursday

Sunset (6pm)

Samhain

Mid fall

Gibbous

Last day Friday

Evening (9pm)

Here is another way to organize them. The Solar cycle matches the British seasonal cycle, as I understand it (never having been to Britain). The Lunar cycle is linked to the solar cycle and the Diurnal cycle begins at sunset. These are probably the correspondences the Celtic and Germanic people would have resonated with. The Celtic and Germanic people started their days at sunset their months on the dark, first crescent or full of the month, and their years at Samhain. Traditionally Samhain is associated with sunset and Beltane with sunrise. There is no evidence that the festivals were placed on lunar cycles. The dates of both festivals were set by seasonal counts and began at sunset on the appropriate day of the solar calendar. (Davidson, p38)

Solar cycle

Seasonal cycle

Lunar cycle

Week cycle

Diurnal cycle

Samhain

Winter begins

Dark moon

Lost Week End

Sunset (6pm)

Winter Solstice

Midwinter

First crescent

Saturday

Evening (9pm)

Imbolc

Spring begins

First quarter

Sunday

Midnight

Spring Equinox

mid spring

Gibbous

First day-Monday

Hour of the wolf. (3am)

Beltane

Summer begins

Full moon

Tuesday

Sunrise (6am)

Summer Solstice

Mid summer

Waning

Wednesday-humpday

Morning (9am)

Lammas

Fall begins

Last quarter

Thursday

Midday-Noon

Fall Equinox

Mid fall

Last crescent

Last day -Friday

Afternoon (3pm)

This lunar cycle is linked to popular Americans opinions about the seasons, weekdays and time of day.

Solar cycle

Seasonal cycle

Lunar cycle

Week cycle

Diurnal cycle

Winter Solstice

Winter begins

First crescent

First day-Monday

Sunrise (6am)

Imbolc

Midwinter

First quarter

Tuesday

Morning (9am)

Spring Equinox

Spring begins

Gibbous

Wednesday-humpday

Midday-Noon

Beltane

mid spring

Full moon

Thursday

Afternoon (3pm)

Summer Solstice

Summer begins

Waning

Last day -Friday

Sunset (6pm)

Lammas

Mid summer

Last quarter

Lost Week End

Evening (9pm)

Fall Equinox

Fall begins

Last crescent

Saturday

Midnight

Samhain

Mid fall

Dark moon

Sunday

Hour of the wolf. (3am)

A Year and A Day

The tradition of apprenticeships lasting "a year and a day" comes to us from Germanic contract law. In it's original context it was understood that a year from January 1 was December 31 so January 1 this year to January 1 next year is "a year and a day". Many Neopagans have misunderstood the term and believe that a year and a day from January 1 is January 2.

Works Cited


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