Prayers for the Eight Sabbats
Everyone knows that witches have sabbats. These are the sacred days, or festivals, that witches celebrate. Those who work in covens meet up with their fellow witches on these days, and enact the rites that are appropriate to the time. These may take place out of doors at a sacred site, especially in the summer. For hedge witches, also, the festivals may be an occasion for pilgrimage, either alone or with a magical partner or friends. We may visit a well or a particular tree. We may climb a hill or walk by a river or by the sea. These excursions are a personal celebration of any sacred day, and a chance to be at one with the tides of magic, which flow strongly in nature at the festivals. Rites may be enacted while at the site of pilgrimage, consisting of prayers and consecrated acts, like drinking water from a well or dancing around in a circle of standing stones. The witch will return home renewed, sometimes to work further magic, on a formal or informal basis, at her or his altar.
On the eve of a sabbat, it is right that the altar should be prepared. Dust it, remove caked-on candle wax and wash or dust all the ritual objects that you keep there. Then fill a small vase with flowers and also decorate the altar with anything that is seasonal e.g. holly, ivy and mistletoe at Yule, eggs at the spring equinox etc.
The word ’sabbat’, as used by witches, refers to any one of the eight annual festivals celebrated in Britain by our Celtic and Saxon ancestors, and also by the pre-Celtic people who built our stone circles. Each of the sabbats celebrates either a beginning or a midpoint of one of the four seasons. They do this by marking phases in the relationship between the Sun and the Earth — from which the seasons, of course, originate. Two of the sabbats are the winter and summer solstices. There are also the equinoxes, which occur in spring and autumn. The solstices and equinoxes are called the lesser sabbats. The midpoints, between each equinox and the next solstice, known as Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolg, are called the greater sabbats. In fact, each of the greater sabbats begins a season: Beltane, on May Eve, marks the start of summer; Lughnasadh, 1 August, begins autumn; Samhain, 31 October, is winter’s beginning; and Imbolg, 2 February, is the start of spring. The solstices and equinoxes are culminations — and also changing points. Midsummer is celebrated at the summer solstice, whilst the winter solstice marks the turning point of midwinter. Likewise, equinoxes show changing tides within spring and autumn.
In brief, each sabbat is a day on which a particular type of seasonal energy runs high. That tide can be ridden by a witch for a magical purpose. Besides, the earth tides and the seasons change us, our spirits and bodies respond to them. Knowing this, we can use the sabbats to come into an increasing harmony with what is actually happening in nature. For instance, we can use the winter season as a time of contemplation and inwardness, making plans, dreaming the future, and summer, when nature is active and creative, for more intense making, doing and adventuring.
Most of the festivals are marked in public ways, by people other than witches. They are an ancestral matter for everyone, and are of our Native European tradition, predating Christianity. The Church has arranged many of its own holy days to coincide with these ancient festivals, and in Britain there are secular holidays (bank holidays) around or near Beltane and Lughnasadh. Also, there are many folk customs, known to everybody, which derive from Pagan concepts connected with the sabbats — for example, the maypole dances at Beltane and ’ducking for apples’ at Hallowe’en (Samhain).
The entire set of eight sabbats do not seem to have had equal importance to all our ancestors. The Celts favoured the greater sabbats, while the Saxons seem to have liked the celebrations of solstices and equinoxes. The builders of the megaliths laid much emphasis upon the solstices, but also, on the evidence of folk belief, upon the greater sabbats. Modern Pagans, liking the symmetry of the eight-spoked ’wheel of the year’, tend to give equal importance to all of them.
Sometimes, the Moon’s phases are linked with the celebration of sabbats, so that the festival will be marked on the nearest full moon to the usual date. However, the solstices and equinoxes happen precisely in accordance with the Sun’s position. As most people know, the winter solstice is the occasion of the year’s longest night (in the northern hemisphere). The summer solstice is the longest day. And, at each equinox, day and night are equal in length. None of these events has anything to do with the Sun’s entry into particular zodiacal signs. It is a common fallacy that, for instance, the winter solstice occurs when the Sun enters Capricorn. Sometimes it may, but not necessarily. The lesser sabbats are actually caused by the Sun’s declination, to the north or south of the equator.
All the eight festivals (together as a set) express the annual cycle of the Earth in relation to the Sun. Paganism teaches that we can go with these great natural cycles, and enjoy increasing inner harmony, good health and fruitful magic, or ignore them, and so live in alienation from natural rhythms, to our own undoing. In a culture that is moving towards twenty-four-hour shops, at all times of the year, and has come to rely on imported, unseasonal fruits and vegetables, this is not a popular message. However, the truth remains that attempting to live in accord with natural cycles is a major spiritual practice, acknowledged by Pagans all over the globe, from Druids to Taoists to American Indians.
Each one of the sabbats has a link with all three realms of the world tree. The upperworld, obviously, is in focus because of the Sun. (Since many people celebrate sabbats at night, it is often visually evident to us that, in fact, the Moon’s phase and the entire astrological picture, and even the rising or setting of some constellations, are also factors within any specific festival.) Even more obvious is the middle Earth aspect, since nature spirits live with and by seasons. As for the underworld, that is felt strongly. All the sabbats are known to be times when the faerie presences do come among us. It is clear that they are all portals to the underworld (some sabbats more strongly than others, but all to some extent). However, the emphasis at any festival is very much upon what is happening in nature, in middle Earth. All our rites and spells arise from and are shaped by that, which is good, because Earth is where we are. What it all comes back down to, in the end, is how we live on the Earth.
Some suggested prayers for the sabbats are as follows.
Imbolg — February
Themes — Purification and inspiration. In nature, we see spring floods in water meadows. Rivers and brooks run high. The remains of last year’s vegetation are rotted down, to prepare the ground for new growth. The land, sodden and muddy, is literally being washed and made fresh again. The first spring leaves and flowers appear — snowdrops, dog’s mercury and winter aconite. Alder and hazel may come into blossom. There are new-born lambs. Beginning. Freshening. The growth of light and the lengthening of the days. A new start.
Great Lady and Lord of the year’s dawn, the new light that washes us, first stirrings of the light, I call upon you. Bless this land, bless streams and rivers, bless hills and valleys, bless fields and forests. As all is pure and clear, stripped down for new growth, so may our lives be made ready for new creativity. Inspire us to celebrate the land’s beauty and mystery — and all of life.
The above prayer may seem much easier to say if you live in the country. However, wildwood mysticism is rooted in nature, and we witches must take our cue from signs in parks or gardens, or from the sight of our rivers that roll through the cities, when living far from open country.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, you will, of course be saying this prayer in early August. In fact, all the rites for the sabbats will be held on opposite times of the year to those of the northern hemisphere. Wherever you live, please adapt this prayer to your own local climate and conditions, still concentrating on the idea of freshness, beginnings.
Middle Earth — Traditionally, this is the time of the year for spring cleaning. Any clearing of cupboards or giving of unwanted clothes to charity shops, or bottles to the bottle dump, may be done with ritual significance. It may be consecrated to ’clearing the ground’ in preparation for a new life for yourself. But also, it may be dedicated to the principle of recycling, as a spell for the environment.
Underworld — Visit a holy well or spring. If possible, bathe your eyes with the water and make a request to the faeries to show you the way forward in the coming year.
Upperworld — Light three candles, as is traditional at Imbolg. With the first, make a wish that humanity receive fresh inspiration about how to live at peace with all other species. With the second, make a wish that new, environmentally-sound technology become widespread, replacing what is destructive. With the third, wish for the healing of the human spirit.
Eostre/Spring Equinox — 21 March
Themes — A new fertility. Emerging. A different balance (day and night are equal at the spring equinox but from now on the light will increase over darkness). Named for the Saxon Goddess Eostre, this is the time for resurgence in every way, but especially of fertility. Chicks hatch out, coming from darkness (inside the egg) into light. Rabbits (or, more traditionally, hares or nowadays, ’Easter bunnies’) are the symbol of new fertility, a renewed self, an emerging into the light, like a daffodil from the earth.
Spring Equinox Prayer
Great Lady and Lord of all fecund life, renewed strength and joyful, young creatures, I now invoke you. Bless the young of all wild animals, struggling to survive. Grant them protection. Bless all the people and renew our spirits, in love. Renew our true understanding of our native spiritual heritage. And make our souls fertile, that we become rich with new tales to live by, new poems and songs, that interpret the ancient wisdom, for now and always.
Middle Earth — Bring daffodils or any bright spring flowers into your home. Dedicate them with the following words: As these flowers fill this place with scent and colour, so may vibrant, joyful strength increase in all who live here. This is a good spell to do following any late winter illness, like a bout of flu.
Underworld — Paint an egg with symbols that denote the kind of fertility you would like to see. For example, for an increase in woodland, paint a miniature tree, or leaves. If you would like to see an increase in kindness between people, paint a stylized heart. An increase in witchcraft? Paint pentagrams. When the design is dry, place the egg upon your altar for a day and a night. Then lay it on the earth, with a prayer to the faeries.
Upperworld — Light a fire to the Sun, with an invocation that as the Sun grows in strength through the summer, so shall the human spirit be renewed in love.
Beltane (May Eve) — 30 April
Themes — Blossoming. Desire. Love. Union. This is the festival of love. Our ancestors danced around maypoles at this time, which represented the male (the pole: phallus) entwined with the female (the ribbons: vulva). Symbolically, and actually, this sabbat is about the dance of love. People used to go out into the greenwood on May Eve to make love — and still do — in remote places. This celebrates the union between the Goddess and God, who create all life. The theme is the union of opposites. One gender or project or element marrying with another, for a more creative result.
Great Lady and Lord of the greenwood marriage-bed, you who bless joyful desire, I call upon you. Bless lovers everywhere with true fulfilment. Bless wild love and romance and passion. Let us all blossom out in our lives, and dare to love without reserve, and yet with wisdom. But heal all those who have loved unrequitedly. Let none be left without a partner within the spiral dance. Whether in the spirit or the body, let all be at one with a true beloved, from now on.
This prayer does not seem to leave much room for the choice of celibacy. However, as the last sentence implies, a relationship that is of the spirit alone may be the real romance, for those whose soul mates are not now incarnate. Traditionally, this festival really does celebrate joyful sex — but the concept may be taken poetically to mean any loving union, on any level.
Middle Earth — Make a small maypole, about the size of a wand (that is, approximately the length of your elbow to your finger tips). The best wood to use is birch. Consecrate the maypole-wand to represent your creative will. Take three ribbons of a colour that symbolizes what you most desire. For instance, pink for love, green for a country life, red for renewed health and vigour etc. Attach them to the top of the wand. Then ’marry’ the ribbons and wand, by twisting the ribbons around the wand and around each other. Say, So may my dream of—[e.g. love] come true, and my will serve that—[love, health, or whatever you want] and my life be made new. So may it be. Leave the ribbons bound around the wand. Put the whole thing in a safe place.
Underworld — Beltane’s greenwood marriage theme has a subtext. It says that sometimes we must go beyond safe boundaries (out into the greenwood, beyond the village or town) for the sake of what is sacred or for love. We may have to flout convention, in order to uphold a principle or a relationship. Like the outlaws of old, we may need, symbolically, to take to the forest. Beltane is therefore a good time to walk in the woods and, after finding a suitable quiet glade, to swear fidelity to the craft of the witch, with your hand on a tree. Or to vow allegiance with all those who uphold the principles that you hold most dear, whether these are environmental, social, political or spiritual. Ask the faeries to bear witness and to keep you to this oath. (If you are going to the greenwood for the sake of a relationship, then, of course, the two of you should go together and make vows to each other.)
Upperworld — Write a poem describing the sacred nature of sexual and romantic love. Tie it to a tree and leave it there overnight, with a prayer to the deities to change all human minds about love — from ideas of shame, abuse, guilt, exploitation and degradation to knowledge of holiness, magic, the life force and tenderness. The night breeze will waft your words upwards.
Litha/Summer Solstice — 21 June
Themes — Beauty, fulfilment. The power of happiness to change our lives. Also, dedication, commitment. The Sun is now radiant! In the whole year, this is the time of the greatest light in the northern hemisphere. There is great celebration, for life is good. People play music. Some stay out in the fields all night, with friends or lovers. The time has come to live fully. At the summer solstice (as at any high point of life, any peak of fulfilment) we can be changed by the experience of joyfulness, by the land’s loveliness or by a healing vision of how harmony could be restored to all beings — and decide to serve that vision. As with any climax, this is a turning point. Things will be different now. What we distil from the year’s culmination will enrich our spirits and affect our future creative direction.
Summer Solstice Prayer
Great Lady and Lord of the golden Sun and golden days on Earth and the heart’s fulfilment, I call upon you. Let all be blessed with a sense of the beauty of this Earth and all her creatures. Help us to celebrate love for one another and for all life. And help us also to put to flight forces that oppress love and deny justice. Make us strong in magic. Make us like summer trees. Make us like summer stars. Make us like summer seas. In dedication to the vision of untamed peace, set us free.
Middle Earth — Throw a party and dedicate it to increased fun, celebration and enjoyment for yourself and all your friends — a party dedicated to the spirit of joyful freedom. Or perhaps a small dinner party for two, consecrated to future happiness.
Underworld — If your life lacks happiness or you feel alone, anoint yourself with rose oil and ask the faeries to bring you the fulfilment that you need, whether this be a new romance, more friends or just a better relationship with life generally.
Upperworld, middle Earth and underworld (all at once) — This festival has been linked with the Pagan Grail, that heals the wasteland — the Celtic cauldron of regeneration which restores life to a deadened heart or a damaged environment. Take a chalice of wine. Any ordinary wine glass or chalice-shaped container will do for this, whether of glass or pottery or wood or metal. Breathe into it a long description of the Earth in her beauty. This need not be difficult. You can say things like, Trees that are strong and green and healthy, wildflowers everywhere, foxes, hares, badgers, deer, skylarks and thrushes and clear, clean rivers and strong fishes, and so on. You can alter this, if necessary, to describe the beauty of your area or land. When you have poured your words into the wine, so that it is imbued with all those images, say,
Let this be the way on Earth.
Let this be.
Wild creatures and plants and places
Wild and free and strong and everywhere!
Take three sips, then pour the rest out on the ground, saying, I give this vision to life. May we all share it and live by it.
Lughnasadh/Lammas — 1 August
Themes — The first fruits of Harvest. The promise of what is to come, when all is gathered in, is evident in the hedgerows and fields now. Bread from wheat — thus, transformation. Mourning within the thanksgiving (the Sun declines in strength and days will get shorter now). To gather in all the crops, we must work. Giving of ourselves our own time and energy. This is true in our lives as well as in the fields, so there is a theme of sacrifice at Lughhasadh. What would we give to make sure that our lives bear fruit and that all mouths are fed, in a just, harmonious world?
Great Lady and Lord of the first fruits of Harvest — blackberry, strawberry, crabapple — I call to you. Goddess and God of the good wheat, oats and barley, and all the ripening orchards, I now invoke you. Thank you for all blessings. Thank you for all harvests, throughout the realms, everywhere. May all be gathered in safely. Bless every farmer who treats the land with respect. May such be granted good fortune. We offer care for the Earth and her creatures. Let this increase in us.
Middle Earth — Take a loaf or roll of organic bread. Place one hand upon it. Say, I bless, consecrate and set apart this bread, in the names of the Great Mother Goddess and the Father God. May it serve as a symbol of all nourishment. As I eat it, may all be fed with good food of all kinds. Let none go hungry. And, as I give it back to Earth, our mother, may she and all creatures thrive.
Eat some of the bread and then crumble the rest on the garden or in the fields. The use of organic bread is, of course, an invocation for the people to be fed with natural foods of good quality, and for organic goods to be produced widely. Visualize that this is occurring. See the Earth Mother relaxing, in consequence, song birds returning to the farmland, the people healthier.
Underworld — Take a piece of fruit. Consecrate it to represent some aspect of yourself e.g. your creativity, strength or magical power. Bury it in the earth, with a prayer to the deities that it be accepted, in the service of life. You can be quite specific and say, for example, May my artistic ability serve nature conservation, or May my magical strength serve the cause of healing. Whatever you wish. From now on, that aspect of yourself will change, becoming what it needs to be, to serve your chosen cause. Burial always implies a resurrection, in magical terms. The spell will result in a reborn version of your gift.
Upperworld — Take a cloth and cover a clear glass bowl containing water. Position it out in the open fields or in the garden, beneath the full moon that is nearest to Lughnasadh. Say, As the Moon shines on the water, so may the people of this land be blessed with a vision of how we may live in real harmony, with the Earth and one another. Remove the cloth. Tilt the bowl, if necessary, so that the moonlight can be seen, reflected. Then pour out the water upon the ground.
Mabon/Autumn Equinox — 21 September
Themes — Harvest festival. Thanksgiving for the complete harvest, now all is gathered in. The scales of balance. Day and night are of equal length, as at the spring equinox, but from now on, the dark will be gaining. We weigh up the gains of our year, or of our lives, as against the losses. We celebrate the gains, for these are not only our sustenance for the future, but also hold the seeds which will be planted for the next cycle of growth. With the losses, we take time to come to terms and learn by our mistakes. The autumn equinox helps us to understand how we may cope with ’a moment of reckoning’.
Autumn Equinox Prayer
Great Lady and Lord of abundance and of the scales of justice, I now invoke you. Food, clothing, shelter, love and creativity are your gifts to us, and we give thanks. Now the harvest of grain is all gathered. In our lives, too, the year’s gifts have been received. Help us to clearly distinguish between chaff and seed in our personal harvest. To recognize what we’ve really got or have not. And, as we turn inwards, towards the dark season of winter, may all be blessed. May all receive, each according to their need, in fairness.
Middle Earth — Make or buy a corn dolly. Hang it up indoors, with a prayer to the Goddess and God to bless your home with continuing health and prosperity, throughout the winter.
Underworld — Drink blackberry wine, or eat blackberries, with a prayer to the underworld deities to strengthen your contact with the faeries. Blackberries were once believed to be the faeries’ fruit. If you ate them, especially outside, by a blackberry bush, you could be carried off to the otherworld. You’ve been warned!
Upperworld — Make a commitment to feed the wild birds, all through the winter. Many once common birds, like song thrushes, are now endangered species. The numbers of most types of garden birds have dropped enormously. To feed them is an offering, a giving back to the powers of nature, from our own harvest.
Samhain/Hallowe’en — 31 October
Themes — Death and rebirth. Sap has sunk down to the roots of the trees and the year’s growth is at an end in this land. It is the start of winter. In Europe, this is the Festival of the Dead. At this time, our forebears communed with the ancestors, and received guidance, as do modern Pagans. We may also sense the unborn, those who will enter our lives as children or grandchildren. This is traditionally a time for divination, about future lovers or partners. The major theme of this day is that death is a beginning. It is the first stage in the transition towards a new cycle of life. Accordingly, the Celts named Samhain as the first day of the New Year. It is also a time when the ’veils’ are said to be at their most thin, between the spirit realm and the mortal world.
Great Goddess and God of the spirit realms, I call upon you. Now, at this time of mist and bonfires and spirit presences, we celebrate the dead. Help us all remember loved friends and relatives who have died, and sense their love for us. Help us all to hear their advice and guidance, and that of the more distant ancestors, who are the guardians of ancient wisdom. We know that you preside within an otherworld of boundless beauty, where the dead rest between lives. May we find that place within us, the land of the summer stars. For it is from there that we may be reborn, more wise and free, in strength and beauty.
Middle Earth — Since this is the time of death and transformation, write in red ink on a piece of paper whatever you wish to banish from your own life, or from your community. For instance, bad health or greed. Burn the paper in a candle flame, with the words, As this paper burns, so may what is written upon it be gone from the world, with harm to none. May the spirit of it be transformed. So may it be reborn as harmony, in wisdom.
This spell is commonly known and widely used among witches because it works. It is vital to use it only to banish bad qualities or unpleasant attitudes. The use of it to banish a person from a particular situation, for example, could be manipulative and would undoubtedly invoke the law of threefold return, which would mean the spellcaster, her or himself, would get banished, eventually.
Underworld — Light a candle. Say, In the name of the Lady and Lord of the spirit realms, I welcome the beloved dead around this flame.
Spend time remembering dead relatives or friends. Name each one, calling them in (if they wish to come). Speak to them in your mind, thanking them for all the good times you shared, or for anything that they taught you, when they were alive. Say anything that you want to say, especially if there is any issue that you didn’t get the chance to explain about before their death. Ask if they have any messages or advice for you, or anything at all that they want you to hear. Sit quietly now. You may see images with your inner sight, or hear something, with your ’mind’s ear’. When you are ready, say to them, Hail and farewell, with my blessing. If you wish, you may add the traditional witches’ valediction, Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again.
Upperworld — Sit or lie in complete darkness. If necessary, cover your head with a shawl or a blanket, to block out any light from your candles. If outdoors in the country, simply sit under the stars and close your eyes. Visualize (or describe to yourself) a black void, as at the beginning of the world. A black empty firmament. Nothingness. Now see stars beginning to shine, one by one — and then whole galaxies — and then the planets — the Earth, brand new. Visualize the whole passage of aeons, the mud and ferns and dinosaurs, the new appearance of flowers, trees, animals, continents arising, changing. Now see the people — the most complex animal — learning and making mistakes and relearning, and in the end, achieving wisdom. A world of harmony, people at one with Earth, adventurous and yet peaceful. Technology that is based on renewable resources. No more wars, because we have developed magical and psychological and legal strategies to avert them. Tolerance for every religion, race and type. In fact, a great celebration of our diversity. Treasuring of the Earth’s beauty and wildness and all her most sacred places. An honouring of all people who have special magical or psychic skills. A new relationship between the human and faerie realms.
Say, So may this be, and open your eyes again, knowing you have dreamt the world awake.
Yule/Winter Solstice — 21 December
Themes — Birth. The turning of the wheel of the seasons, from dark to light. The Sun’s rebirth. Trees hung with lights. Peace and goodwill (the Celts ordained a twelve-day cessation of all conflicts, at Midwinter Festival — it was a time when all fighting was forbidden). A new cycle of life and a new dispensation, symbolized as a newborn child. A time to honour the Mother Goddess and the fact of motherhood — traditionally, most people return to their mother’s home at some time during the twelve days of the Yule celebration. The Goddess’s gift of a new start, that promise fulfilled.
Winter Solstice Prayer
Great Lady and Lord of the turning wheel of the year’s seasons, by whom the light returns, I call to you. Now, at the darkest time, when all of nature is still and cold, the change is made. There is a pause, as though between breaths, all nature waits, and then — the dawn comes early! There is rebirth of light and we begin again. Let hope and joyfulness be reborn, therefore, in all hearts. And let none be lonely. Let all see, as new light grows, how we may live peacefully and in shared happiness. Let war cease. Let us make a world fit for children.
Middle Earth — Make a Yule wreath. As you do so, visualize the evergreen plants you are using as symbolic of the thread of life, continuing even in the darkest times. Weave into the wreath your hopes for the future and for the survival of threatened species.
Underworld — Invoke the faerie goddessmothers, who bless and protect all newborn hopes and gifts, as well as all newborn babies. Place offerings of food and drink for them upon your dinner table. Open the door wide to welcome them to your home, with a request that they bless any good new idea or project, as well as the children of the house (in fact anything that is new or young) for the coming year.
Upperworld — Light a candle to the rebirth of the Sun, with the words, As this flame burns, may the light of—[e.g. renewed Pagan worship or religious tolerance] burn brightly, illuminating the world for all children. And may the great Sun, to whom this flame is dedicated, ensure that the spell shines on, increasing.
Well, those are the eight sabbats, the spokes of the wheel of the witch’s year. The prayers I have given are suggestions only, as are the spells. In time, you will want to create your own, based upon the themes of the festivals. With the help of your familiars, and with a clear observation of nature’s patterns, you can soon develop new ways of using the old knowledge, that are in keeping with today’s world.
Remember, a wildwood mystic is a kind of explorer, as well as a priestess or priest of the ancient deities. We look back to the oldest traditions and — surprise! — they are new, awaiting discovery. Our awareness of mystery, in stone and flower, sea and star and in all the creatures, is always a new experience, inviting us to find fresh ways of fate-weaving. To discover magic. So — wise and blessed be, because a hedge witch’s prayer book is not a fixed, final document. Instead, it is something all witches create, remake and add to, continuously. It is stored in the spirit realm, in memory. It is found inside hazelnuts or underneath the sea or spelled out by flights of birds, to name a few ways of reading it. It is scanned easily by moonlight, but can be heard, anytime, carried on the wind. Thus, wildwood mystics, the hedge witches, are both bound (by laws of nature and of life) and free, within the old traditions.