THE DAYS OF POWER
In the past, when people lived with Nature, the turning of the seasons and the monthly cycle of the Moon had a profound impact on religious ceremonies. Because the Moon was seen as a symbol of the Goddess, ceremonies as adoration and magick took place in its light. The coming of Winter, the first stirrings of Spring, the warm Summer and the advent of Fall were also marked with rituals.
The Witches, heirs of the pre-Christian folk religions of Europe, still celebrate the Full Moon and observe the changing of the seasons. The Pagan religious calandar contains 13 Full Moon celebrations and eight Sabbats or days of power.
Four of these days (or, more properly, nights) are determined by the Solstices and Equinoxes, the astronomical beginnings of the seasons. The other four ritual occations are based on old folk festivals. The rituals give structure and order to the Pagan year, and also remind us of the endless cycle that will continue long after we're gone.
Four of the Sabbats - perhaps those that have been observed for the longest time - were probably associated with the agriculture and the bearing cycles of animals. These are Imbolc (February 2), Beltane (April 30), Lughnasadh (August 1) and Samhain (October 31). These names are Celtic and are quite common among Witches, though many others exist.
When careful observation of the skies led to common knowledge of the astronomical year, the Solstices and Equinoxes (circa March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21; the actual dates vary from year to year) were brought into this religious structure.
Who first began worshipping and raising energy at these times? That question cannot be answered. However, these sacred days and nights are the origins of the 21 Craft ritual occasions.
Many of these survive today in both secular and religious forms. May Day celebrations, Hallowe'en, Ground-hog Day and even Thanksgiving, to name some popular North American holidays, are all connected with ancient Pagan worship. Heavily Christianized versions of the Sabbats have also been preserved within the Catholic Church.
The Sabbats are Solar rituals, marking the points of the Sun's yearly cycle, and are but half of the Pagan ritual year. The Esbats are the Pagan Full Moon celebrations. At this time we gather to worship She Who Is. Not that Witches omit the God at Esbats - both are usually revered on all ritual occations.
There are 13 Full Moons yearly, or one every 28 1/4 days. The Moon is a symbol of the Goddess as well as a sourse of energy. Thus, after the religious aspects of the Esbats, Witches often practice magick, tapping into the larger amounts of energy which are thought to exist at these times.
Some of the old Craft festivals, stripped of their once sacred qualities by the dominance of Christianity, have degenerated. Samhain seems to have been taken over by candy manufacturers in North America, while Yule has been transformed from one of the most holy Pagan days to a time of gross commercialism. Even the later echoes of a Christian savior's birth are hardly audible above the electronic hum of cash registers.
But the old magick remains on these days and nights, and the Craft celebrate them. Rituals vary greatly, but all relate to the Goddess and God and to our home, the Earth. Most rites are held at night for practical purposes as well as to lend a sence of mystery. The Sabbats, being Solar-oriented, are more naturally celebrated at noon or at dawn, but this is rare today.
The Sabbats tell os one of the stories of the Goddess and God, of their relationship and the effects this has on the fruitfulness of the Earth. There are many variations on these myths, but here's a faily common one, woven into the basic descriptions of the Sabbats.
The Goddess gives birth to a son, the God, at Yule (circa December 21). This is in no way an adaptation of Christianity. The Winter Solstice has long been viewed as a time of divine births. Mithras was said to have been born at this time. The Christians simply adopted it for their use in 273 C.E. (Common Era).
Yule is a time of the greatest darkness and is the shortest day of the year. Earlier peoples noticed such phenomena and supplicated the forces of nature to lengthen the days and shorten the nights. Witches sometimes celebrate Yule just before dawn, then watch the Sun rise as a fitting finale to their efforts.
Since the God is also the Sun, this marks the point of the year when the Sun is reborn as well. Thus, the Witches light fires or candles to welcome the Sun's returning light. The Goddess, slumbering through the Winter of Her labour, rests after Her delivery.
Yule is remnant of early rituals celebrated to hurry the end of Winter and the bounty of Spring, when food was once again readily available. To contemporary Witches it is a reminder that the ultimate product of death is rebirth, a comforting thought in these days of unrest
Imbolc (February 2) marks the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the God. The lengthening periods of light awaken Her. The God is a young, lusty boy, but His power is felt in the longer days. The warmth fertilizes the Earth (the Goddess), and causes seeds to germinate and sprout. And so the earliest beginnings of Spring occur.
This is a Sabbat of purification after the shut-in life of Winter, through the renewing power of the Sun. It is also a festival of light and of fertility, once marked in Europe with huge blazes, torches and fire in every form. Fire here represents our own illumination and ispiration as much as light and warmth.
Imbolc is also known as Feast of Torches, Oimelc, Lupercalia, Feast of Pan, Snowdrop Festival, Feast of the Waxing Light, Brighid's Day, and probably by many other names. Some female Witches follow the old Scandinavian custom of wearing crowns of lit candles, but many more carry tapers during their invocations.
This is one of the traditional times for initiations into covens, and so self-dedication rituals, such as the one outlined in this Book of Shadows, can be performed or renewed at this time.
Ostara (circa March 21), the Spring Equinox, also known as Spring, Rites of Spring and Eostra's Day, marks the first day of true Spring. The energies of Nature subtly shift from the sluggishness of Winter to the exhuberant expansion of Spring. The Goddess blankets the Earth with fertility, bursting forth from Her sleep, as the God stretches and grows to maturity. He walkes the greening fields and delights in the abundance of nature.
On Ostara the hours of day and night are equal. Light is overtaking darkness; the Goddess and God impel the wild creatures of the Earth to reproduce.
This is a time of beginnings, of action, of planting spells for future gains, and of tending the ritual gardens.
Beltane (April 30) marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in Nature, He desires the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms, and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant of the God. Witches celebrate the symbol of Her fertility in ritual.
Beltane (also known as May Day) has long been marked with feasts and rituals. May poles, supremely phallic symbols, were the focal point of Old English village rituals. Many persons rose at dawn to gather flowers and green branches from the fields and gardens, using them to decorate the May pole, their homes and themselves.
The flowers and greenery symbolize the Goddess; the May pole the God. Beltane marks the return of vitality, of passion and hopes consummated.
May poles are sometimes used by Witches today during Beltane rituals, but the cauldron is a more common focal point of ceremony. It represents, of course, the Goddess - the essence of womanhood, the end of all desire, the equal but opposite of the May pole, symbolic of the God.
Midsummer, the Summer Solstice (circa June 21), also known as Litha, arrives when the powers of Nature reach their highest point. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God.
In the past, bonfires were leapt to encourage fertility, purification, health and love. The fire once again represents the Sun, feted on this time of the longest daylight hours.
Midsummer is a classic time for magick of all kinds.
Lughnasadh (August 1) is the time of the first harvest, when the plants of Spring wither and drop their fruits or seeds for our use as well as to ensure future crops. Mystically, so too does the God lose His strength as the Sun rises farther in the South each day and the nights grow longer. The Goddess watches in sorrow and joy as She realizes that the God is dying, and yet lives on inside Her as Her child.
Lughnasadh, also known as August Eve, Feast of Bread, Harvest Home and Lammas, wasn't necessarily observed on this day. It originally coinsided with the first reapings.
As Summer passes, Witches remember its warmth and bounty in the food we eat. Every meal is an act of attunement with Nature, and we are reminded that nothing in the universe is constant.
Mabon (circa September 21), the Autumn Equinox, is the completion of the harvest begun as Lughnasadh. Once again day and night are equal, poised as the God prepares to leave His physical body and begin the great adventure into the unseen, toward renewal and rebirth of the Goddess.
Nature declines, draws back its bounty, readying for Winter and its time of rest. The Goddess nods in the weakening Sun, though fire burns within Her womb. She feels the presence of the God even as He wanes.
At Samhain (October 31), the Craft say farewell to the God. This is a temporary farewell. He isn't wrapped in eternal darkness, but readies to be reborn of the Goddess at Yule.
Samhain, also known as November Eve, Feast of the Dead, Feast of Apples, Hallows, All Hallows and Hallowe'en, once marked the time of sacrifice. In some places this was the time when animals were slaughtered to ensure food throughout the depths of Winter. The God - identified with the animals - fell as well to ensure our continuing existence.
Samhain is a time of reflection, of looking back over the last year, of coming to terms with the one phenomenon of life over which we have no control - death.
The Craft feel that on this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realities is thin. Witches remember their ancestors and all those who have gone before.
After Samhain, Witches celebrate Yule, and so the Wheel of the Year is complete.
Surely there are mysteries buried here. Why is the God the son and then the lover of the Goddess? This isn't incest, this is symbolism. In this agricultural story (one of many Craft myths) the everchanging fertility of the Earth is represented by the Goddess and God. This myth speaks of the mysteries of birth, death and rebirth. It celebrates the wondrous aspects and beautiful effects of love, and honours women who perpetuate our species. It also points out the very real dependence that humans have on the Earth, the Sun and the Moon and of the effects of the seasons on our daily lives.
To agricultural peoples, the major thrust of this myth cycle is the production of food through the interplay between the Goddess and God. Food - without which we would all die - is intimately connected with the deities. Indeed, Witches see food as yet another manifestation of divine energy.
And so, by observing the Sabbats, Witches attune themselves to the Earth and to the deities. They reaffirm their Earth roots. Performing rituals on the nights of the Full Moon also strengthens their connections with the Goddess in particular.
It is the wise Witch who celebrates on the Sabbats and Esbats, for these are times of real as well as symbolic power. Honouring them in some fashion is an integral part of Witchcraft.
When our earliest ancestors first painted images of their religious rituals on the walls of sacred caves and understood all of Nature to be inhabited by Spirit, there can be little doubt that they first reconed time by the waxing and waning of the Moon. The primary reason for this is that the monthly cycles of the Moon are far more visible than the slow and subtle changes in the position of the Sun, even to someone who is not especially looking for repeated cycles. One of the earliest calandars known (although its use is still a controversy that may never be settled) is a 30,000 year-old piece of bone from Europe. It is pierced with variously shaped holes in a series of sevens, suggesting the quarters of the Moon, in a loop design, which represents the Lunar cycle from New Moon to Full and back to the New or Dark of the Moon. The artifact, just a few inches across, desribes three such Lunar cycles - three months or one season.
Because there are 13 Lunar months in a year, and because the first New Moon does not necessarily coincide with the first day of the first Solar month, the Full Moon, midpoint of the lunar month, may not always fall in the Solar month that is given here. And because there are 13 Full Moons in a Solar year, one month will have two. The second Full Moon to occur in a Solar month is popularly called the Blue Moon.
To each Lunar month the ancients assigned a name in accordance with the nature of the activity that took place at that time. The Moon of deepest Winter is the Wolf Moon, and its name recalls a time when our ancestors gathered close around the hearth fire as the silence of the falling snow was pierced by the howling of wolves. Driven by hunger, wolves came closer to villages than at any other time of the year, and may have occasionally killed a human being in order to survive.
The wolf in northern countries was at one time so feared that it became the image of Fenris, the creature of destruction that supposedly will devour the world at the end of time. The Christian version of the myth would leave it at that, but the myth continues. Like the wolf in the fairy tale of Little Red Ridinghood, which preserves the full idea of the myth but is used only to frighten children, the wolf is slain; and the grandmother, like the world, is brought forth once more.
As the light of the new-born year slowly increases and the Wolf Moon waxes full, it is a good time to look back upon that which has just ended and learn from our experiences. Bid the past farewell and let it go in order to receive the year that has just been born. Learning to let go of that which we would cling to is one of the greatest secrets of magick.
The Moon following the Wolf Moon is the Storm Moon. Whether you meet with a coven on the night of the Full Moon, salute Her in a solitary ritual, or simply blow Her a kiss, bear in mind the magick of this night and the nature of the storms of February. Unlike the boisterous storms of the light half of the year, which are accompanied by the clashing of thunder and the flining of lightning bolts, the storms of February come in silence. They blanket the world in coldness in keeping with the nature of the dark half of the Wheel of the Year. But beneath the blanket of cold and silent snow, Nature rests, as we do when in the realm of the Spirit that is called death; and like those in the world of Spirit, Nature prepares for life anew.
The Moon following the Storm Moon is the Chaste Moon. Like Diana, chaste Goddess of the Moon, all of Nature at this moment is pure potential waiting to be fullfilled. The Goddess has many forms: The maiden pure and lovely as the snow of February, the seductive enchantress of the night, or the Crone ancient and wise. As the Goddess can change Her form according to the Moon or according to Her will, ever renewing Herself, ever beginning again, se can we, Her children, always begin again by discovering new potencial within ourselves. When you cast the Circle of the Chaste Moon, when the candles have been lit and the incense burned, look deep within yourself to discover what potential lies there waiting, like the Maiden, to be fulfilled.
As it is the time for the planting of seeds on the material plane, so may it be time to do so on the psychic planes as well. On the night that the Seed Moon (another name for the Chaste Moon) of March is full, cast your magick Circle. Then before the rite has ended, select the spiritual seeds you would like to plant. They may be seeds of wisdom, seeds of understanding, or seeds of certain magickal skills. Then by an act of will, plant these seeds in the fertile soil of your subconscious mind with the firm commitment that they will be nurtured and cultivated in the months that lie ahead, so that they will grow and flower and bear fruit.
As the Hare Moon of April waxes full, observe the rabbits leaping and playing, carefree in their mating and joyful in their games, and as you cast your Esbat Circle and joyfully dance the round, feel within your heart the carefree nature of the wild creatures that are also children of the Old Gods.
This time of the Sacred Marriage of the God and Goddess is the Dyad Moon, the time when the two become one, when all things meet their opposites in perfect balance and in perfect harmony. As you cast your Circle this night of the Dyad Moon, adorn it with apple blossoms, and light candles of white. When the sacred round has been danced, sit a moment and reflect. Seek harmony in all things. As the dark half of the Wheel of the Year balances the light, as heat balances cold, recall the words of the Goddess, "Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence, within you." And then before the rite is ended, if it is appropriate, become one with your working partner, physically as well as spiritually.
After the spectacular flowers of May have passed and the bees have gathered their pollen and nectar, the hives are filled with honey that is waiting to be gathered. In ancient times much of this honey was made into a drink called mead by a fermentation process similar to that of making wine. The "Moon in June" is the Mead Moon. Mead has been considered to have magickal and even life-restoring properties in many of the countries of ancient Europe, and it was the drink of many of the great heroes of legend.
The legendary figure Robin Hood, who is accepted historically as being a composite of several peasant leaders during the reign of King Richard I, is also generally accepted by Pagans as being one of us. One reason is that Robin was a popular Witch name, and also because he was always described as being dressed in green, symbolic of the Green Man of Sherwood Forest. Lincoln green, which is made from woad, the dyestuff used by the Picts of ancient Britain and the Druid priestesses, is also a colour that symbolizes, historically, the Pagan peasantry. Among the articles robbed from the rich by Robin Hood are "met and met." This probably means "meat and mead." In the myth of Odin, one of His quests is for the Poetic Mead of Inspiration, which He returns to the realm of the Gods where it belongs, but a few drops fall to Earth, and this may be had by anyone who can find them.
On the night that the Mead Moon waxes full, after the Circle has been cast and dancing done, fill the cup with mead (if it is available), sweet wine, or an herb tea sweetened with honey. Sip the sweet drink and sit quietly and make yourself a vessel ready to receive the inspiration of the higher realms. Become a mead cup ready to be filled, not with the brew of everyday life but with the clear, bright liquid of illumination. Every time this ritual is performed, even if there are no immediate results, you are becoming a more perfect vessel for divine inspiration.
If the night of the Mead Moon is very close to the Summer Solstice, the results of this exercise can be very powerful. If the Mead Moon is full on Midsummer Night, then the priestess into whom the Moon is Drawn should be prepared.
As the Wort Moon of July waxes full, this is the time for gathering of herbs. The word wort is old Anglo-Saxon for "herb." When the magickal herbs have been gathered and hung to dry, the time of the Wort Moon is the time to give thanks to the spirits who dwell in the herb garden, and to leave them an offering. Perhaps as you place an offering in the moonlit garden, they will whisper to you other secrets of herbal magick.
One day at mid-month we realize that the robins and wrens that were nesting nearby have simply vanished. Their lovely songs have been replaced by the shrill calls of the bluejays, who were so silent during the nesting season.
As August progresses the days are still hot but nighttime temperatures are beginning to cool, and the late afternoon thunderstorms that bring the cooler air also bring about the ripening of tomatoes.
In the fields and meadows and along roadsides now there are wild herbs to be gathered. There are goldenrod, Queen Anne's lace, and milkweed - all awaiting the natuaral dyer who can extract from them tan, green, and bright yellow respectively, for dyes and for natural inks for talismans. Among the medicinal herbs to be collected at this time is boneset, which does not help broken bones to heal but is a febrifuge that was used as a remedy for "Breakbone Fever" in the 1840s. Milkweed pods with their silken fluff, goldenrod, and wild grasses and grains gathered now will be dried in time to adorn the altar at the Autumnal Equinox.
As the aromic herbs begin to fill the rafters in the dry heat of the attic, and the braids of onions and garlic fill the cool darkness of the root cellar, the golden grain and yellow corn ripen in the fields under the waning August Sun.
To the Ancients this was the Barley Moon, a time to contemplate the eternalness of life. Just as we are descended from the first woman and the first man, who descended from the Gods, so is the grain of the bread that we eat descended from the first grain ever gathered. By ritually eating the Lammas bread we are participating in a chain of events that stretches back through time to the Gods themselves. And here before us in the ripening fields is the promise of the future.
Everywhere there is abundance - in herb garden, the vegetable garden, the field, and the orchard. The pantry shelves are lined with glistening glass jars that are filled with colourful fruits and vegetables preserved for Winter days; quarts of red tomatoes, cucumbers in slices or spears, dark red beets with cloves and cinnamon sticks, the yellow of corn, the orange of carrots - a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. The house is filled with delightful aromas as pickling spices are added to crocks of brine and exotic chutneys simmer on the stove.
But the time of abundance is drawing to a close. The fireflies of June and July have given way to katydids, whose scratchy calls to one another fill the evening air of August with the promise of frost in six weeks.
Since wine was, and is, such a sacred fluid, the Pagans of old naturally named this Lunar month the Wine Moon. As you celebrate the night of the Full Wine Moon and dance the magickal round in the moonlit Circle, pour some white wine in a silver cup. Before the rite is ended, if possible, catch Her reflection in the liquid, then take a sip. As the Moon-blessed wine casts its inner glow, sit quietly and feel your own spirit, of which the wine is a symbol. As the body is stilled and the spirit soars, feel on this night of magick a sence of the kind of transformation that takes place during true spiritual initiation.
Today the term Harvest Moon is applied to the Full Moon nearest to the Autumnal Equinox. This is because, it is said, in other times when harvesting was done by hand, as the days grew shorter farmers were able to work into the night in the brightness of Her light.
At this time of year the abundance of fruit and vegetables begins to slow. It is a time when our ancient ancestors gathered what they could store and then supplemented their Winter diets either by hunting wild animals or by slaughtering domestic ones. So this Lunar month is called the Blood Moon. As you cast the Esbat Circle on this moonlit Autumn night and fill the cup with blood-red wine, know that you will be joined in the sacred dance not only by the unseen presence of departed friends and family so close at this time of year, but also by the spirits of animals as well, perhaps of those that have died so that we may have food. In this age of assembly line slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, it is especially appropriate that on this night of the Blood Moon we who are on the Pagan path ritually ask the understanding of our animal sisters and brothers, bless them, and bid them merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.
As the Winter Sun wanes and the Snow Moon waxes full, cast your Circle in the warm glow of candlelight. Salute the Moon in Her snowy whiteness and breathe in the coolness of Her light. Become as still as this Winter night, and know that the activity of the warm light months is behind us. Ahead are the dark months of the year. The Spirit is most active when the body is most still.
The Full Moon nearest the Winter Solstice is the Oak Moon, the Moon of the newborn year, the Divine Child. Like the Divine Child who is born to die and dies to be reborn anew, the ancient Oak has its trunk and branches in the material world of the living, while its roots, the branches in reverse, reach deep into the Underworld, symbolic land of the Spirit. As the roots probe downward into the gravelike darkness of the Earth, its branches grow ever upward toward the light, to be crowned by sacred Mistletoe. At this most magickal time of the year, as the light of the old dying year wanes and the Oak Moon waxes to full, cast your Circle wearing Mistletoe in your hair. Let this token remind you that like the Oak, we too dwell simultaneously in two worlds - the world of physical matter and the world of Spirit. As you invoke the Goddess of the Moon, ask that you become ever more aware of the other side of reality and the unseen forces and beings that are always among us.