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HomeIrreverand Hugh, Witch Neo-Pagan Witchcraft / Wicca 101 Glossary Part 2


Neo-Pagan Witchcraft / Wicca 101 Glossary Part 2

Irreverend Hugh

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High and Low Magic
High magic refers to much of what the Ceremonial Magic traditions and orders, such as the Golden Dawn or the O.T.O., were doing at the time Gerald Gardner founded Wicca in the 1950’s.
Practices and traditions associated with high magic include the Kabbalah, Alchemy, some of Astrology, Enochian Magic, and the various practices of illuminism. Much of what Aleister Crowley did could be considered
high magic.
Today, Ceremonial Magic is alive and well. It is worth one’s while to at least read up on some of the various groups practicing it.
The terms “Left Hand Path” and “Right Hand Path” incidentally come from Ceremonial Magicians who borrowed the concepts from Indian Tantra. It is commonly thought that the
Left Hand Path refers to selfish or worldly magical practices whereas the Right Hand Path refers to enlightened or healing magical practices. Neither of these descriptions are correct, however.
Left and Right Hand refer simply to one’s focus in practice. Left is more inner-focused and self-oriented whereas Right is more world-oriented and other-focused. The practices of the movement known as Chaos Magic
utilizes elements of both.

Low Magic includes much that exists in folk, or sympathetic, magic such as spellcasting, incantations, herbalism, tarot-readings and scrying.
Many people assume that these practices make up the sum of Wicca, but it usually merges some high magic practices with low magic. Wicca itself is its own system of religious practice that utilizes certain magical techniques. Unless you plan on getting into serious occult magical studies and practices,
it is not necessary for you to use these terms, though it helps to know what they mean since Neo-Pagan writers still use them. Note that neither high or low versions of magic should be considered better than the other.

The Horned/Antlered God
The Horned God (or Antlered God) has ancient precedents such as the Hellenic Pan, or the Celtic Cernunnos, or even the English Herne the Hunter. However, the modern notion of
the Horned God being a supreme god of surviving pagan witch religions is purely the work of Margaret Murray. For starters there were no survivals of pagan witch religions from ancient times. Wicca and Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, or Neo-Pagan anything,
are modern religions. Secondly, among pre-Christian Pagans, some Gods were more revered than others but that was up to the individual adherent of that God’s local or particular cult. The synthesis of nature/woodland Gods into the modern Wiccan concept
of the Horned God took its final form in the latter 1950’s. But remember that the Horned God can also be seen as a Sun God, or as a Vegetation God. He is also seen as the ‘wild man.’

“The hunter and the hunted” best describes Him. Not only does He slay for others’ nourishment but He is slain Himself to provide that nourishment. In this is a stunning metaphor for the natural interrelationship of everything alive. He rules winter and the dark part of the year – when our ancestors had to hunt to survive.
He represents natural male sexuality, virility, and spontaneity. Sometimes He is thought of as the Lord of the Forest or Lord of the Wild. He is all that is untamed by humanity. In His Sun God aspect He is seen as a magician, or a wise man, with the powers of healing and intellect. This also makes Him an artist and, together with His
Horned aspects, a great shapeshifter with trickster elements. Interestingly, a very potent portrayal of His Lord of the Forest aspects occurs in the Japanese film “Princess Mononoke.”

It is still commonly asserted that because of the commonalities among horned gods across certain cultures, the Christians took the symbolism and perverted it to their idea of Satan. There is some merit to this line of reasoning, but
let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves at this point in time. The Horned God as Wiccans see Him today contains elements of some of the earlier pre-Christian ideas, but it is still a modern concept. This mostly modern provenance does not invalidate
the reverence and experience any Wiccans have with Him however. (It is perfectly fine to adhere to new or recent religious ideas. All ideas that are now considered old/ancient were new at some point.) Something’s newness or ancientness says nothing about its profundity.

Initiation
This is the formal acceptance into a group/coven or tradition of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Many covens will not allow a person to participate or even attend rituals until initiation. Other groups may allow
a limited participation during a person’s dedicant phase (a type of ‘novice’ or ‘candidate’ phase). Upon initiation, one is usually given the title of Witch and Priest/ess. Initiation is thought of as a point of no return in terms of
commitment. Though in practice, at all times in one’s life, one is free to stop or to move on to other things. Because of this freedom and because many covens or groups usually look to find more steadfast people (when they are open to looking),
covens will have the candidate pass through the dedicant phase (“a year and one day”) first before initiating them.

Some traditions accept and recognize self-initiation as valid. Others, such as Reclaiming, place no emphasis on any sort of initiation at all, allowing new members to fully participate. (In the latter case, initiation can still take place, but it is usually at the request of the person wanting the ritual and subsequently it is highly personalized.) Writers will get hung up trying to argue over the validity of self-initiation or initiation itself.
The only hard and fast rule here is to do research, find, and study various traditions and/or whatever groups/covens you may get in touch with and see if you can practice with them. The point of initiation is that one has gone through, or is going through, profound spiritual change…a re-orientation of one’s life.

Invocation/Invoking
Invocation is the opposite of ‘banishing’ or, as some prefer, ‘devoking.’ Many people use ‘invoking’ as a noun. It usually means calling upon and inviting powers and elementals to the circle and/or inviting gods and goddesses to come within the circle.
Quarter calls are considered the most common form of invoking. But there are other forms such as the “Drawing Down the Moon” ritual.
Some Neo-Pagans tend to think of invoking as “calling from within” or “inviting to come in” with the idea that the god or goddess being invoked can then come inside
the one who invokes. But this is by no means the only way of approaching it.

Magic
All I have to say on this is that if you honestly believe that you should spell this word with a “k” and you are not referring to Crowley’s Thelema, you need to kick your own ass 23 times.
It should be very clear to anyone who reads whatever it is you have to write that your “magic” isn’t referring to the stage variety. I don’t know where the myth came from that misspelling
the word could differentiate it from the common stage illusion-craft. Perhaps it came from the fact the modern occult writers sometimes like to misspell English words to give their writings
an ancient feel. (You know “ancient” as in back in the days when no one knew how to spell English correctly).
See other entries for various aspects of magic related to, or intersecting with, Neo-Pagan Witchcraft such as spellcasting, sorcery, high and low magic, etc.

The Maiden, Mother, and Crone
Also known as the Triple Goddess or the Triple Aspected Goddess, as I like to call Her. The idea of the Goddess, or of any Goddess for that matter, having the three aspects of Maiden, Mother and Crone is a Wiccan concept. It was first hinted at by Margaret Murray and further developed by Robert Graves in his poetic fiction, The White Goddess.
But the idea has come into its fullest expression in Wicca. Some writers still make the mistake of assuming that because this Goddess is Triple-Aspected and many pre-Christian Pagan cultures had certain triple aspected goddesses then this means that the Wiccan Triple Goddess is really an ancient concept. A cursory study of any pre-Christian Pagan mythology
will dispel that notion however. There were triple aspected Goddesses, such as in Irish Celtic tradition, but nowhere is there anything comparable to the Maiden, Mother and Crone. That this fact of the concept’s modernity doesn’t detract in any way from its beauty or potency is clear to anyone familiar with Wicca.

Probably the most popular Goddess in Wicca is Diana, who is often seen through the Triple Aspects of Maiden, Protector, and Destroyer. Some people see Diana as the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess, with Selene (the moon Goddess) as the Mother and Hecate (old Goddess of Witchcraft) as the Crone. Some people say that these Goddesses are each aspects
of one another. Although ancient myths are inconclusive on this, there is nothing wrong with modern adaptations and outlooks. Both religious ideas and conceptions of deities do change throughout history with newer developments eventually becoming established as valid, no matter what some purists like to claim. Some people have criticized the mixing of Hellenic and Roman deities such as Wiccans do when thinking of
Diana, Selene, and Hecate together, but such things were normal in Classical Pagan times. Many polytheists in those times were avid followers of more than one deity-cult originating from more than one ethnic group. It was only natural that various mixings and mergers occurred. Such is the history of religions and spirituality, despite what some people would wish. On the other hand, I am NOT saying that blindly
mixing and matching from ANY pantheon is a good practice. Those ancient people and many modern Wiccans have actually bothered to get to know their deities and such. Some of us (collectively, but not me personally) see various deities as aspects of a greater whole, but each aspect must still be related to and dealt with on its own terms. So tread carefully.

The Maiden, Mother and Crone are said to correspond to the moon phases of waxing, full, and waning – with some Wiccans positing a fourth aspect “the Dark Goddess” for the dark (new) moon. Other Wiccans simply include the dark moon as part of the Crone aspect. This way of conceiving the Goddess is simply an approach and should never be dogmatically
insisted upon as being the ultimate truth. No Goddess can ever be quite fully stuffed into the conceptual categories of human beings. Many Wiccans will match up certain Goddesses with each aspect of the Triple Goddess, others will simply approach divinity simply from the basic Wiccan framework. Both of these are fine, so long as we remain aware.
The Triple Goddess is often represented by the three moon phases next to each other – waxing crescent as white, full as red, and waning crescent as black. Though some people may not use this fuller representation. The colors of white, red, and black together are mostly a modern convention, though they do exist together in some ancient Irish stories.

The Maiden corresponds to further aspects, some of which include: beginnings, innocence, childhood, virginity, youthful courage, spring, independence, invoking, gaiety and laughter. The Mother likewise includes: protection, fertility, sexuality, fruition, realization, growth and motherhood. The Crone includes: change, death, wisdom, letting go, rebirth, banishing, and old age.
One important thing to realize is that in this Triple Goddess concept, the full life cycle of women is viewed as worthy of respect. The Crone/Old Lady is seen as just as valid as the Maiden/Young Girl. Perhaps this underlies some of the reasons why Wicca became so popular among women.

Neo-Paganism, Neopaganism, Paganism, etc.
Neo-Paganism refers to the rise of revived or created modern Pagan religions, especially since the 1960’s, which mostly take inspiration from what are seen as the positive aspects
of pre-Christian Pagan practices and ideas. Neo-Pagan religions cannot be shown to have any direct descendents from the older pre-Christian religions but many of them do contain fragments of pagan-influenced practices that survived through the Christian period.
The most visible and popular Neo-Pagan tendency is Wicca and its derivatives. There are many other Neo-Pagan religions such as Heathenry, Druidism, Asatru (Norse Paganism), Hellenism, the Church of All Worlds, and Discordianism. Neo-Paganism can be said to have some broad commonalities throughout all of its religious denominations: experiential knowledge; openness to magical/occult practices; polytheism often
with some form of pantheism or “divine immanence”; blessed birth as opposed to original sin; sexuality and physical life being seen as sacred; no hard and fast separation between the spiritual and the material; tolerance for the co-existence of differing opinions and approaches to
the divine.

Neo-Paganism is the more precise term for what many Pagans call “Paganism.” Among ourselves we know what we are talking about. The problem is that outside of the Pagan community the word “Pagan,” like the word “Witch,” tends to mean different things to different people, and there is often a negative connotation.
Isaac Bonewits has solved this problem by coming up with prefixes so that writers and speakers can be precise if they choose. In addition to “Neo-Paganism,” we have “Meso-Paganism, which can refer to early Wicca and many of the magical orders from before. Meso-Paganism is simply ‘revived’ or created Paganism that was yet not
fully extricated from Judeo-Christian conceptions. “Paleo-Paganism” refers to the pre-Christian religions, and also those polytheistic faiths that survived among some peoples until the modern times. In light of these, Wicca can be considered Neo-Pagan.

Neo-Pagan Witchcraft
A more precise term covering Wicca and all of its derivative branches.
Isaac Bonewits is the one who coined this term, at least as far as I know.
See the definition of “Wicca” below for more. But you would really do well to read Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca.
Included in this term are traditions such as Feri, Reclaiming, some Feminist Goddess-worship groupings and other paths which can be shown to have either Wiccan antecedents or influences but yet could be considered
independent of Wicca in terms of practices and religious outlook. Despite this independence, some could argue that it would not be totally inaccurate to call such paths Wiccan. Obviously I disagree unless one is talking about origins, as paths like Feri are nowadays quite different from Wicca and could be accurately described
as their own religions entirely.

The New Age

Strictly or even generally speaking, this term is not a Wiccan or Neo-Pagan term at all. I only include it to clear up some misconceptions that newcomers and others may have.
Contrary to popular assumptions, Neo-Paganism – this includes various Wicca and Witchcraft strands – is not a New Age phenomena. Rather the proponents of the New Age ‘movement’ have merely tried
to appropriate Neo-Pagans as their own. Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, the first major tendency of Neo-Paganism, emerged fully fledged in the 1950’s. The New Age emerged in the latter 1970’s. So to say that Neo-Pagans are part of the New Age movement is wildly ignorant. Anyone familiar with Neo-Pagan religions and practices
can clearly see the marked differences between those and any of the New Age paths. The most fundamental difference is the Neo-Pagan emphasis on personal responsibility and individual sovereignty. Also, the New Age tends to abstract teachings from all religions and fit them into a universalist framework; whereas Neo-Pagans
respect the various differences among religions and tend to avoid making universal statements about any of them. All paths may be equally valid, but we aren’t rude enough to suggest that all religious practices are simply pointing to what we want them to be.

Another difference is in the guru-hood status accorded to some of the New Age teachers. Neo-Pagans tend not to abdicate their own spiritual lives to the will of another person, no matter how wise that person is. Then there is the Neo-Pagan joke which goes “What’s the difference between a New Age seminar and a Pagan class?”
The answer is “About two decimal places,” referring to the cost. I am opening up a huge can of worms here that would be too large for the scope of this present work. If you want to pursue this idea further, refer to the plethora of writings by Neo-Pagans about this very subject.

The Occult
The word occult simply means ‘hidden.’ It is a blanket term referring to all manner of magical knowledge, lore, and techniques that are largely
hidden from the society at large. Everything from astrology to tarot to kabbalah to the I Ching to spellcasting is included under the term.
Contrary to what many authors of popular Wicca books claim, not everyone who calls themselves a Witch – meaning a practitioner of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft – is interested in practicing
occult systems. A good majority of them do so however. Neo-Pagan religions are more open towards occult systems than most other religious groupings, and Witches are free to pursue any
system they are attracted to. A good many of them are encouraged to do so. But never assume that all other Neo-Pagans are interested in pursuing any occult systems. Some are just happy to
worship their gods and delve into the mysteries.

Some confusion comes from the fact that much of Wicca and its subsequent Neo-Pagan Witchcraft derivatives blend what could only be called magical practices with religious practices into a unique synthesis.
Given this, a more strict definition of ‘occult’ could very well include Wicca and some other Neo-Pagan religions. But not every practitioner sees
magic in the same way. Some would rather just raise energy and feel connected to the divine. Others explore magical knowledge and practice more deeply.
So make sure you know what you are referring to when you use this word. And never assume when you meet other ‘occultists’ that they are doing the same thing you are, or that they have the same system of ethics
you have. There are magical practitioners who have no allegiance to any religion. Likewise, there are people who do tarot readings or are psychics and call themselves witches. You should not assume that they
are Neo-Pagan Witches unless they tell you so.

The ‘Old Religion’ / The Murray Thesis
Gerald Gardner and his co-conspirators like Doreen Valiente believed in the idea that ‘revived’ Wicca or Pagan Witchcraft was simply a fragmented survival of a Europe-wide pre-Christian religion. Thus they and others called Wicca “the Old Religion.” This idea of a surviving paganism in the form of witchcraft came largely from the
work of Margaret Murray (most notably her work The Witch-Cult In Western Europe published in 1921). Writers before Murray such as Sir James Frazer, J.J. Bachofen, Karl Pearson and Charles Leland, did much to contribute to the idea, so that by the time Murray came on the scene her thesis seemed to be an accurate distillation of
what many were thinking. According to Murray’s thesis and most other versions of the “Old Religion” myth there was an organized Pagan religion that survived widespread throughout Europe, despite hundreds of years of Christianity. Once the Church got wind of this threat,
there was a vast persecution which wiped out most of these Pagans, driving the rest into hiding. Murray wrote about the Horned God of this witch cult being wrongly seen by the Christian Church as the Devil.
She also claimed that the witchcraft cult was a joyous fertility religion in which members met for the eight great festivals (sabbats) and during special times every month (esbats). Much of the Wiccan foundation of the Horned God has roots in Murray’s writings.

Many writers went further, claiming that modern Pagan Witchcraft was the direct lineal descendent of a religion, or set of spiritual practices, that stretched back to before Paleolithic times (some 9000 to 14,000 years ago). This religion was almost universal and had a god of the hunt and a goddess of fertility. Christianity’s advent did little to change anything for people in rural and wild areas and
for a long time Christianity as an institution was all too happy to simply and slowly co-opt the traditions and holidays of the “Old Religion.” Then, during a period of upheaval and threat to the Church, vast persecutions were launched against this surviving Old Religion, turning its god of the hunt into the Devil. Small groups and families hid the Old Religion and kept its practices
going in secret until 1951 when the Witchcraft Laws were repealed in England and people like Gerald Gardner announced its existence to the world.

The problem with the above myth is that it is not only wrong but it hopelessly simplifies pre-Christian Paganism, the processes of Christian expansion, and any local survivals of Pagan practices. Anyone familiar with either Classical Europe or the North Western Europe of the Celts and the Nordics knows that pre-Christian Paganism was a riot of complex and diverse religions, deity-cults, and practices. To say there was any massive organized Pagan religion anywhere is simply lying. Even the Celts, who can be shown to have had
a culture-wide commonality of religious practices, had a myriad of gods and goddesses worshipped nowhere else outside of their individual localities. The myth also gives no credit to the creative geniuses who founded Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Many people today, both inside and outside of the Neo-Pagan subculture, are to some degree influenced by this myth, or something similar to it. Some people still believe that there
was an actual Pagan survival being destroyed by the Church. Today, thankfully most Neo-Pagan Witches no longer adhere to the “Old Religion” idea. As a metaphor describing
the ‘rebirth’ of Pagan religions in the West for the first time in hundreds of years, it can be an evocative term. But let’s leave it at that. Regardless of Neo-Paganism’s recent rebirth or creation, its inspiration is partly based on ancient ideas and practices. And even if some strain of pre-Christian Paganism had survived up till now, it would not be the same thing it was in the past. No religion ever is.

That Wicca originally came with such a myth as its history is unsurprising as any student or expert in the field of Comparative Religion knows. Most religions contain such pseudo-histories and myths of continuity from ancient or pre-historical times. There is not one religion around today that does not also contain fragments and ideas adapted from earlier times. Such things are common in the evolution and development of religion itself. It is a credit to the majority of Wiccans that they recognize this
and have contributed to more accurate accounts of the very (relatively speaking) short and modern history of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft.

Otherkin / Therians
Contrary to many people’s assumptions, otherkin and therians don’t necessarily have anything to do with Wicca. Wiccans are free to pursue otherkin studies and astral creatures to their heart’s content, but such a pursuit has nothing to do
with the practice of Wicca. A Wiccan, or any other Neo-Pagan, who pursues the otherkin idea is simply that. Someone who claims to be an otherkin, even if their claims turn out to be verifiable, is not necessarily a better or more authentic Wiccan. How many other ways would you have me state this?

Now the idea of otherkin is that certain humans feel themselves for whatever reason to be astrally different creatures of non-human origin. The vast majority of those claiming to be otherkin are, of course, lying to themselves and others. This lying is easy enough for magical adepts to spot. But it isn’t hard for
non-occultists to catch the lies either. Like everything else in this life, use your head when dealing with people’s claims. Just because you are Wiccan does not mean you have to put up with other people’s fantasizing.

Pantheism
Pantheism is the perspective on the divine that sees Divinity as the totality of existence. Thus we are not only all divine, but we are all part of Divinity.
This perspective can be finely interwoven with polytheism. Some monotheists are also pantheists in that they see everything as being God. Some older writings tend to conflate or confuse pantheism with
polytheism since the two concepts were often present among (Paleo)Pagan cultures. Some Neo-Pagans make a further distinction between pantheism and panentheism, since pantheism tends toward an immanent description of the divine, whereas panentheism
sees the divine as both immanent and transcendent simultaneously. Distinctions like these are only clear in writing however. In the practice and actual thoughts of Neo-Pagans, there is not much distinction.

Pentacle

This is really just a disk with a pentagram inscribed on it. Usually people have one of these on their altar. It is associated with the element of earth. I have heard some people also say that “pentacle” is
the correct term for the five-pointed star that Wiccans and other Pagans wear as amulets. I only tend to agree with this since I am used to thinking of pentagrams as what I draw in the air during rituals and other
operations. But when I hear others calling pentacle-amulets pentagrams, I really can’t say I care enough to point out the distinction. What matters to me is that they know what to do.

Pentagram
The five pointed star as traced or drawn. It represents the four elements plus spirit or ether. Balance among and between them is implied. Depending on the starting point, when drawn for ritual, the pentagram is either banishing or invoking. (In Alexandrian Wicca, which is more influenced by Ceremonial Magic than other traditions, all of the eight different pentagrams for banishing and invoking elementals are used.)
As a symbol to represent Wicca, it is most often drawn inside of a circle, which is commonly explained as the unity of all four elements plus spirit. Though in what I learned, the circle referred to our divinity within and without which unites us with our world. The circle can also refer to our
common ritual space. Just saying.

Polytheism
This term refers to a theological conception of divinity which sees multiple gods and goddesses. Neo-Pagan religions could be considered polytheistic, Wicca and its derivatives are no exception.
Some Neo-Pagans could be personally monotheists, worshipping or revering only one god or goddess. And this is fine, since polytheism can include monotheism, though the reverse can’t be said to be true.
Some Neo-Pagans are monotheist at times. Others are largely henotheistic, meaning that they focus on one of the gods or goddesses, but not excluding the existence of others.
Certain historical pagan cultures had distinct pantheons specific to them, though Roman culture also focused on Greek deities. The most popular pantheons or culture groupings of deities among Neo-Pagans are Greek, Roman, and Celtic, with some
Egyptian and Norse. Some Neo-Pagans are also exploring deities from Hindu mythology.

Since there really is no set or determined “pantheon” in Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, it really is up to each individual or coven to decide which gods and goddesses
to revere. Despite this freedom, one should never see any deity as interchangeable with any other. The mix and match approach is really a shallow way to approach one’s religion and could very well be insulting to many gods and goddesses.
Some gods and goddesses had or have religions or cults based on their reverence and worship. Choosing to align with and revere one of these deities does not necessarily mean you are an adherent of their particular cult or religion.
Likewise with cultural pantheons, if you feel you must revere deities from differing cultures, take extreme care. Each deity should be approached like you would anyone else you may love – that is with respect and care.
Deities are not simply accoutrements for you to use to mix and match and spice up your practice.

Some Wiccans choose deities from Classical (Greco-Roman) and Celtic ‘pantheons’ simultaneously, and though this can work, keep in mind that many Celtic deities are nothing like their Classical cousins.
Some Celtic deities may in fact be quite hostile towards Roman deities in particular. Though there is evidence that Roman and Celtic pantheons were mixed up a bit among the Gauls and the British Celts.
When in doubt, do some research. Fitting in Cernunnos with Diana seems a little better than, say, fitting in Macha with Jupiter. As pointed out above, you actually have to get to know your gods and goddesses.
It is okay to not call each one in every act of worship you do. And when you do invoke, try to keep it simple. There is no more power in invoking several gods then there is in invoking one of them.
It is always a good idea to meditate on your gods and seek ways to know them better. So sometimes be still and get to know your gods.

The Rede
The Rede is simply a phrase of advice/admonishment. It is a challenge and an injunction to act wisely. There are many ways it is expressed, usually in pseudo-archaic language, but it boils down to “Do what you want so long as it harms no one.” This does not mean one cannot defend oneself, or that one cannot ever harm if one is to be a good Wiccan.
What it does mean is that we should take responsibility for our actions and take care to see that we are not adding to the suffering in this world. For more of my spiel on this topic, see the article I wrote.

Many other Neo-Pagans, whether Witches or of other religions such as Druidism or Asatru, have made disparaging comments about Wicca based on a simple misunderstanding of what the Rede is supposed to mean. I should also add that many occultists, such as Chaos Magic practitioners, have likewise made similar statements. It would help those people to actually do some research into what Wicca really is
before they make such assumptions. Reading the works of the more fluffy authors or speaking with confused newbies or fluffies who call themselves Wiccan does not constitute accurate research.

Sabbats and Esbats
The word sabbat refers to the major festivals of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. In the beginning (the early 1950’s), the original sabbats were the old Celtic ‘cross quarter’ days of Halloween, February Eve, May Eve, and August Eve. As time passed and Gardner’s original system was refined and developed into its various branches, the solstices and equinoxes were added. Eventually other names for the cross quarter days were adopted so that today we have the basic
‘eight sabbats’ of what is now called the Wheel of the Year: Samhain (Halloween), Yule (Winter Solstice), Imbolc (Feb. Eve), Eostara (Spring Equinox), Beltane (May Eve), Litha (Midsummer, Summer Solstice), Lughnasadh/Lammas (August Eve), and Mabon (Autumn Equinox). The Celtic days are referred to as the major sabbats, the other four being minor sabbats.

The word esbat usually refers to the monthly meetings of small groups (covens) usually either on full moon nights, dark (new) moon nights, or both. Sometimes esbats are held at other times.
Because of the fact that the word sabbat comes from the writings of the Inquisition as an invention of hysteria, many Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans are discontinuing the use of both the word sabbat and its sister word esbat. I can understand the logic behind that, but then why do some of them still insist on calling themselves ‘Witches’?

There is a lot of false etymology about both terms. My two cents are: esbat was originally a misreading or a dialect version of sabbat. The latter probably comes from
the common English term “sabbath,” as in the seventh day for rest. Perhaps there is some truth that witch-hunters calling witch gatherings ‘sabbats’ reflected the general anti-semitism that has marked European cultures for centuries.

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