Joseph Campbell described a myth as the collective dream of a culture. When you participate in a Sabbat celebration, you are experiencing the Universe’s dream of love as it comes to life in our re-enchanted world. The Sabbat cycle expresses the myth that is the collective dream of our Wiccan culture.
There are a variety of myths and approaches to the Wheel of the Year, and a variety of interpretations of the meaning of the Sabbats. Some people focus on the Egyptian cycle, or the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, or the Nordic or Celtic traditions, seeking to retrieve these ancient traditions and to practice them as closely as possible to their original forms. Or you can do what many modern practitioners do, and look to the deep pattern at play in the cycle of the seasons, while integrating aspects of these various traditions. Interestingly, though there is great variation depending on the geography and climate of a given culture, beneath all the versions of the Sabbat story is a similar archetypal theme. It is this theme that is emerging as the primary mythos now celebrated at the Sabbats: the courtship of the Goddess and God.
While many groups work only with the Goddess, and some feel strongly that both are necessary, we need to remember that the Goddess and God are our
anthropomorphic metaphors to express the universal dynamic of polarity. Gender is our human expression of polarity, although in reality male and female aren’t exclusive opposites. Each gender incorporates aspects of the other, and members of the same gender can also enact the dance of polarity. Thus, in my tradition we may refer to the relationship between the Lover and the Beloved instead of Goddess and God. And sometimes the cup symbolizes the Lover and the athame symbolizes the Beloved, and other times the cup is the Beloved, and the athame the Lover when consecrating the wine for libations.
The dance of Goddess and God, Lover and Beloved, is a dance of love, and that is the energy that spins the Wheel. Because polarities are irrevocably attracted to and require each other, their movement is a cycle of change and transformation. Something new always comes out of their interaction. Through the metaphors of Goddess and God, we can perceive, understand, and appreciate the rhythm of the dance of Earth and Sun. We can also see how it applies to our own lives, and how the energy we work with is love.
It is a dance that begins, interestingly enough, at Samhain (the Celtic New Year), when the Goddess or the God descends into the Underworld, the realm of death, and the world rests. This descent is also one of the most profound myths from the ancient Fertile Crescent, present in the stories of Innana, Persephone, and Isis, of Tammuz, Dionysus, and Osiris. At each stage of the journey, the two polarities interact, coming together in darkness (at the Winter Solstice) and in light (at the Summer Solstice) to create new life. The God and Goddess make love, and new life is conceived: the reborn Sun, the returning corn or grain, the flowers of spring, the God and Goddess as the force of new life emerging from death.
And at each stage during the turning of the Wheel of the Year, there is a bond or exchange between the Goddess and the God. Their roles in relationship to each other change – they are maiden and death, mother and son, lovers, crone and wise old man – but their love and their connection is constant as they move through the seasons of life. The Goddess is the womb of the Universe and the Earth, the God is the Sun and the seed. For most Witches, the Goddess is immortal, and the God is born, lives, dies, and is reborn through the Goddess. For others, both Goddess and God are immortal, and because divinity is also immanent, they also undergo transformations of time – being born, living, aging, dying, and being reborn. Whichever way you view the myth of the courtship of the Goddess and God and experience the Wheel, their relationship is the dance of life choreographed through the cycle of the seasons. Birth, growth, harvest, death, rest, and rebirth reveal the mystery of the spirit that ceaselessly changes forms, and is the mythological motif of the Sabbats.
As you work with this beautiful story, you must also attend to the wisdom of your part of the Earth, and you must learn from the spirits of place. The Wheel of the Year is rooted in the Earth’s relationship with the Sun, in the growing cycles, and so it is only natural that your Sabbats should reflect the reality of the Earth’s rhythms where you live. It makes no sense to celebrate the Summer Solstice and the richness of the Earth and the power of the Sun in June if you are living in Australia where it is winter, and the Winter Solstice is occurring. Wicca is not an abstract theology and its rituals are not abstract either. We are an Earth-based spirituality, so you should celebrate your seasons when they actually occur.
If you live in Florida, or southern California, or the outback of Australia, you may find the Sabbats you celebrate would be more meaningful if they were based not upon the Northern American or Northern European seasonal rhythm, but upon the Greek, Middle Eastern, Egyptian, or local Native American or indigenous seasonal holidays. It’s important to note here that Witches, in both America and Australia, seek to work with the spirits of place and their spiritual wisdom, but are also very respectful of the indigenous traditions. Given the terrible history of genocide and oppression, Witches are careful not to appropriate indigenous religious traditions, though they are also very willing to learn from their brothers and sisters.
Whether you celebrate alone or with others, the sacred mystery of this cycle and the ways in which it brings you closer to Goddess, God, and the divinity of the world is ultimately yours to experience and to interpret. What follows are my interpretations of these marvelous holidays drawing upon the core magical and celebratory practices that I’ve used with my community in rituals large and small, public and private, over the years. They are written for groups to work with, but are easily adapted by an individual. I encourage you to draw upon and modify the rituals as you create your own. The explanations for each Sabbat will be found in the ritual section called Declare the Purpose of Circle.
Celebrating the Sabbats is a moving and joyous experience that all Witches share, for it unites us with the Divine, with the Earth, the Sun, our community, our essential humanity, and with love. As you rejoice and learn from Nature, the meaning of the Sabbats will become clearer and as the Wheel turns, and turns again throughout your life, you’ll feel yourself growing, changing, learning to let go, and to begin again. You’ll see yourself reflected in the story of the Goddess and God, and so you have yet another way of finding the Sacred that dwells within you. Joining the dance of the Earth and Sun, you craft yourself as a Witch by living in harmony and in rhythm with the Divine. And that is how you reenchant your life, and the world.