As with most aspects of Witchcraft the Sabbats, or assemblies at which Witches meet on certain days of the year, have been distorted by Christianity. Most of these distortions evolved out of the Witch Hunts which occurred during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The sabbats were depicted as meetings where obscene behavior occurred such as worshiping and copulating with the Devil after a session of dancing, merry making and feasting on a fowl, animal or unbaptized babies, a Witch's Initiation.
However, the origins of the sabbats seem to be a mixture of rites that still exist, such as the great Druidic festivals of Beltane (observed April 30) and Samhain (observed October 31), and the entrenched idea that heretics held obscene rituals. Possibly the sabbats also are related to the Bacchanalian, of Bacchus and Saturnalian Rites, of Saturn observed by the Greeks and Romans. The term sabbat is from the Old French and is partially derived from the Hebrew Shabbath, "to rest," which pertains to the seventh day of the week as designated by the Ten Commandments in the Bible as a day devoted to rest and worship.
Some historians theorized that the derogatory connotation of sabbat as it was applied to heretics and witches was possibly Anti-Semitic since Jews also were classified as heretics. Another term which was synonymously used with sabbat was the synagogues in which heretics and sometimes witches supposedly met. Sabbat was more prominently used in continental Europe where the witch-hunts were more fierce than it was in England. There is no record of a witch sabbat in England prior to 1620, except for the mention of the term in the Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612.
The term was first introduced in an Inquisition trial at Toulouse, France in 1335. It along with Sabbath did not appear regularly until the mid-15th century. Once it made its appearance in trials it quickly assumed common usage. The times and locations that the sabbats were held were quickly and definitely fixed too. They were said to be held at night in remote locations such as mountains, caves, and deep forest areas. The Brocken in the Harz Mountains of Germany was the best known place for holding sabbats. There, one of the greatest feasts was said to occur on Walpurgisnacht (Beltane), April 30.
The witches’ modes of transportation to the sabbats were quite imaginary. Witches were said to have flew through the night either on the backs of Demons that had Metempsychosed into animals, or astride of Broomsticks. The witches themselves sometimes changed into animals and were accompanied by their Familiars. They were said to fly home before daybreak.
The sabbat nights varied. Some witches said to have attended weekly sabbats while others said the only went once or twice a year.
Sabbats in Modern Witchcraft
Sabbats observed by Witches in traditions and solitary Witches of modern. Witchcraft and Neopaganism are not diabolical and have nothing to do with the Devil or demoniacal worship. Usually they are considered to be eight seasonal holy days of the year which correspond to the former pagan seasonal festivals.
The rites celebrated at the sabbats are centered in nature. They contain the ancient pagan customs of Europe and the British Isles, especially the Celtic traditions, and newer elements of the modern Craft and neo-Paganism. The central worship is of the Goddess, the Horned God, and Nature which give the participants amble opportunity to give thanks for the bounties of the Earth.
Not all traditions, however, celebrate the eight sabbats, but only observe those important to their history and customs. They observe the sabbats in their own way, some skyclad, or nude, while others in traditional or ceremonial dress, while others create new practices. The sabbats of Beltane and Samhain are the most universally observed.
Greater Sabbats and Dates:
- Oimelc (also Imbolc, Imbolg), February 2
- Beltane (also Beltaine, Walpurgisnacht ), April 30
- Lughnasadh (also Lammas), July 31
- Samhain, October 31
Lesser Sabbats and Dates:
- Winter Solstice, December 22
- Spring Equinox (Ostara), March 21
- Summer Solstice, June 21
- Autumn Equinox, September 21