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Alternative Sabbats


by Estelle Daniels

The eight Sabbats all have fairly traditional celebrations. But each Sabbat also has some possibilities for alternative celebrations which do not necessarily involve magic or a group.

The Sabbats are based upon an agrarian model. And nature worship is inherent in the dance of the seasons. But the modern world is an indoor world, for the most part. That's why I like to celebrate most Sabbats in an alternative way which usually has to do with being outdoors and working with the season. These suggestions are based upon a four season year. Some localities have years which have three or even two seasons, and growing and planting occurs at different times. Adapt your outdoor Sabbats to the climate of your locality.

Samhain is the season of the root harvest, and also the hunting season. You can actually go hunting, with a gun or just with a camera. Just getting out into the woods in the fall and observing how nature is getting ready to bed down for the winter can give you a good Samhain feeling. Watch the birds migrating. Which leave and which stay? Making a thick stew with veggies and meat is warming and a way to celebrate the root crops.

Yule is the dark time of the year. Sitting vigil on the longest night with a Yule fire is one way to celebrate this Sabbat. Fire is a sacred thing, necessary for life. Modern society has tamed fire, and it's no longer the big deal it once was. Some people get up before dawn after the longest night, and gather at a place with a good eastern view and greet the sun as it comes up. Some ancient societies felt if this greeting of the sun was not done it would not come up. Or just wander in a wild place and see how the land looks when it is asleep. Maybe you will see how it's not totally asleep. Go ice skating, skiing or sledding outdoors, and enjoy what the season has to offer. The come in and drink warm cider, and appreciate the comforts of central heating.

Imbolc is the traditional time for working on the tools for the coming year. Clean out your chests and closets and go over your Books of Shadows and tools. Review and reorganize your magickal stuff. It is also usually the coldest time of the year in northern climes. Go outside and watch snow melt on a day when the temperature is below freezing. If the sun is out, it's now strong enough to melt ice and snow even if the temperature is below freezing. How does the old snow look, compared to when it was new? If you get one of those rare warm days, a winter thaw, go outside and enjoy the sun and warmth. Feel the sun growing stronger, and realize that spring and summer aren't far behind. Cook a meal using dried ingredients. This is the time people ate from their stores and reserves.

Oestarra is Spring equinox. Supposedly you can balance a raw egg on end because of the gravitational balance of the Earth and Sun. Try it. If spring is coming, go outside and see how things are changing. Are the buds swelling on the trees? Are there flowers poking out of the snow? Watch the animals, that are getting more active and are leaner after the winter. Are they mating? Building nests? Are fish running in your area? Watch the birds migrating. Make a soup from whatever you have to hand. The spring meant warmer weather, but crops aren’t up yet, so people were still eating from their stores.

Beltane is when spring has arrived. What plants and trees are in flower? Go out and look at the new plants, how the old plants are putting on new growth. What survived and did not survive the winter? Have a picnic outside, if it's warm enough. Go to a farmers market and get some first fruits, asparagus, strawberries whatever grows first in your area. Eating foods that are in season at the different times of the year in your locality is one way to keep your body in tune with nature. Make yourself a spring salad or tonic. Has fishing season started? Try going fishing. You can cook up what you catch, or just catch and release.

Midsummer is when the crops are in and the fruits are getting more abundant. The first hay is usually ready. An outdoor picnic and walk is always fun. By then the swimming season has arrived most everywhere. On the longest day, put a stick in the ground and see how short the shadow is at noon. Where is the sun? It is most closely overhead in the northern hemisphere. You can stay up for the shortest night, having a party or just enjoying the warm weather. Go berry picking at a pick-your-own place. Eat some as you pick, and try to store some for the coming winter.

Lughnasadh/Lammas is the first harvest. More berries and crops are becoming ripe. Go again to a pick-your-own place. What crops are ready now which weren't before? What crops are still not ready yet? This is the hottest time of the year. Camping is always fun. Swimming cools your body naturally. This is the time for picnics and games. Ancient peoples celebrated these times with games and contests, to test the people for the coming hard months.

Mabon is the main harvest. Go apple picking. Visit the farmers market and see the bounty available in your area. Make a meal with only fresh foods harvested around where you live. Give thanks for the bounty that is all around. Go outside and see how life is adapting and storing up resources for the winter to come. This is the main canning and preserving season. Try putting up something that is grown in your local area.

So that’s the full wheel. If you think about it, you can probably come up with more possibilities. What festivals/fairs/happenings are in your area throughout the year? Have you ever noticed how many municipal celebrations seem to occur near the Sabbats? That’s not a coincidence, but a mirroring of the natural understanding of the wheel of the year. Just going to a farmer’s market throughout the year can give you insight to what the crop season is for your area, and you can enjoy some new and different things you might not encounter in the average grocery store. And if you are a gardener, well you already know about the wheel of the year and the seasons. Happy celebrations!

© 2000, 2004 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.