The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Calendar of Revelry and Sacred Days
The word “esbat” is believed to derive from the Old French s’esbattre, which means “to frolic and amuse oneself” or “to celebrate joyfully.” Esbats are among the sacred, celebratory days of Wicca.
At present, there is only one known pretwentieth-century reference to an “esbat.” It derives from the memoirs of the witch-hunter Pierre de Lancre, published in 1613. The word is used in a quotation from a witch. Margaret Murray picked up the reference and used it in her writings, which were to have tremendous influence on Gerald Gardner. Esbats are now an integral part of Gardnerian Wicca and the word has entered the general witchcraft lexicon, although it is not used in a consistent fashion.
The modern definition of “esbat” is somewhat loose and one cannot assume that everyone defines the word identically. At its least rigid definition, esbats refer to any scheduled ritual. It is most often intended to indicate the meeting of a coven, however independent practitioners also celebrate esbats, and will do so in solitary fashion if they choose.
How and when esbats are celebrated depends upon how each tradition, coven or individual defines the word:
Some use “esbat” as a synonym for “sabbat” or to refer to one of the four lesser Wiccan sabbats (see Sabbat, page 214).
Esbats may be specifically identified with lunar devotions. In this case, esbats are celebrated in conjunction with either the new or full moon, so that there are 13 annual esbats (or if the full moon is observed, the occasional additional blue moon, too). When esbats are associated with the full moon, some prefer celebrating sky-clad (without clothes) so that moonlight is better able to charge the body with its magical energy, however this depends upon coven and individual.
Some covens use the term “esbat” to refer to any regularly scheduled meeting.
See HALL OF FAME: Gerald Gardner; Margaret Murray.