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We believe that early man derived his first "religion" from observing nature. He was fascinated to find that there are cycles in nature: day, then night, then day again; the change of the seasons in a regular, predictable pattern. Early man had no idea what caused this, but he assumed that there could be no design without a Designer - someone or something that set nature in motion and kept it going. He didn't know what to call this "Designer," but he knew that he wanted to connect with the Designer and participate in what was happening in nature. Thus were born the celebrations of the eight Sabbats. They are based on the cycles of nature.

By the way, don't confuse the word "sabbat" with "sabbath." The two words aren't etymologically related. "Sabbat" comes from a French word meaning "celebration;" "sabbath" is based on a Hebrew word which refers to a day of rest.

Early man noticed that each year, there was one day that was the "longest" (it had the longest period between sunrise and sunset); we call this day the SUMMER SOLSTICE. It occurs around June 21; it's not always the exact same date each year. Six months (half a year) later, the shortest day is the WINTER SOLSTICE, around December 21.

"Solstice" is a word that means "the sun stands [still]." If you were to make a record of the exact position on the horizon where the sun "rose" each morning, you would find that it "moves" a tiny bit each day; and then, on a certain day, it begins moving in the other direction; like a very slow pendulum. The day when the sunrise starts "moving" back in the other direction is a SOLSTICE day (ca. June 21 or December 21).

Sun shadow diagram Let's suppose that you live in Dallas, Texas. One day you walk out into the middle of your yard and drive a stake into the ground, perpendicular to the surface of the earth. At sunrise, the stick will cast a shadow on the ground in a certain place. The next morning, the shadow will be in a slightly different place; it will appear that the shadow "moves" a tiny bit each day. And one morning, the shadow will begin to "move" in the opposite direction. The diagram to the left shows where your sunrise and sunset shadows will fall on the two solstice days if you live in Dallas.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, in the winter, the sun rises in the southeast, and sets in the southwest; in the summer, it rises in the northeastern sky, and sets in the northwest.

Obviously, as the days are growing longer (or shorter), there comes a special day when the day is exactly as long as the night is (this happens twice each year). Your almanac will say, on those days, something along the lines of "Sunrise: 6:28 am. Sunset: 6:28 pm." These are the two EQUINOX days ("equi" means equal; "nox" means night), and these two equinoxes are also six months (exactly one-half of the year) apart.

Well ... actually, on the dates of the official/actual/astronomical vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sunrise and sunset are not exactly twelve hours apart; that occurs a few days earlier (spring) or later (fall).   This is because our atmosphere refracts the light from the sun, so that we can see the light just before actual sunrise and just after actual sunset.   This means that the apparent equinoxes are different from the actual ones.

The two equinoxes and the two solstices divide the year rather neatly into (approximate) fourths. If you divide each fourth in half, you have eight divisions.   The beginning day of each "eighth" is a Sabbat.

But that's not the end of the story, and that "exact scientific" method (relying solely on astronomy) won't tell you the dates of the Sabbats. The QUARTER days (solstices and equinoxes - i.e., Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule), which mark the changing of the seasons, are absolutely fixed by astronomy; an almanac can tell you not only the exact dates, but the exact TIME that the earth moves from one season to the next. Supposedly the CROSS-QUARTER days should fall exactly halfway between the QUARTER (season-change) days. The reason that they don't is that ancient peoples weren't quite as scientific as we are, and their calculations were off. Thus we always use the TRADITIONAL dates for the cross-quarter days (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassadh).

Samhain (traditionally pronounced SOWEN) is the "new year's day." It is believed to be the day when the "veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is the thinnest." People would "celebrate" Samhain by dressing up as ghosts so that when the dead DID walk among the living, the dead would leave the living alone, and not harass or bother them. In other words, the living people would "blend in."

Sounds a lot like Halloween, doesn't it?

The TRADITIONAL sabbat dates are:

October 31
December 22
February 1
March 22
April 30
June 22
August 1
September 23

The number of days separating the eight sabbats:

Imbolc: 1 Feb >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "cross-quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 47 days
Ostara: 20 Mar >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 41 days
Beltane: 30 Apr >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "cross-quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 52 days
Litha: 21 Jun >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 41 days
Lughnassad: 1 Aug >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "cross-quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 53 days
Mabon: 23 Sep >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 38 days
Samhain: 31 Oct >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "cross-quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 52 days
Yule: 22 Dec >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A "quarter day"
            ------------------------------ 41 days
Total             .............................. 365 days

As you can see, there is a great deal of variation in the number(s) of days between the Sabbats; there SHOULD be about an equal number of days from any one Sabbat to the next. But we're witches; tradition is always more powerful than astronomy.

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