The word conjures many things for many people, most of them of sacrifices, witches performing dark rituals, mumbling over a bubling cauldron. This is far from the truth.
While non-pagan beliefs have their holidays, the Sabbats are the holidays that most Witches/Wiccans/Pagans celibrate. They have different meanings, though all hold importance. No one dies, no blood flows unless someone stubs a toe really really bad, and the cauldron is usually used for burning incense, charcoal or holding water.
Please feel free to explore the different Sabbats, a ritual is included for each.
Now is the time of year in which we pass from light into darkness, symbolized by the death of the God of the sun. At this time, the spirits may roam the Earth along with the living, and the Goddess is in her crone aspect.
Seasonal items should decorate the Altar. Grains, gourds, and dried flowers are appropriate. Some extras you might want to lay out are things like apples, tarot cards, runes, hazel nuts, divination wands, a plate of food to be left outside for wandering spirits, and corn bread or a pomegranate in place of crescent cakes. One thing I would suggest is a yellow candle with a sun painted on it. This represents the dying God. The Altar cloth is black, the Altar candles should be red and black.
Cast the sacred circle. Invoke the God and the Goddess. After this is done, light the God candle. Say:
"On this night when the dead once more walk freely among the living, we pass into darkness and do so willingly, for we know that it is simply the turning of the wheel. We give thanks to the God and the Goddess for the bounty that They have provided us over the summer.
On this night , the Lord of the Hunt, the Lord of the Sun passes away from us. We realize, however, that it is simply the cycle of life, and we wait for that time when the Sun will once more be born of the moon.
As this candle represents the Lord of the Sun, so does it's blowing out represent the passing of the Lord of the Sun."
Having said this, extinguish the God candle. This candle is not to be lit again until Yule. Now is the time to invoke the crone aspect of the Goddess by saying:
"Goddess of the stars and of the waning moon, Goddess of magic and wisdom, whisper in my ear whatever you may and trust that the knowledge will be wisely used. Lend your power to my spells and rituals and trust that they will result in no harm to any of your creatures, great or small."
Now is the time for any magic or seasonal activities which you had planned to perform this evening. Any magic, and things such as drumming and chanting, carving apples or pumpkins, divination with the Tarot, runes, wands, hazelnuts, or a pendulum, or scrying in fire, smoke or water. After any such business is done with, hold the simple feast. Then you may banish the sacred circle.. Take the offering dish outside, and bury the offerings in the earth. Remember to leave a plate of food outside for wandering spirits.
(Winter Solstice, around December 22nd)
This Sabbat celebrates rebirth and renewal, and the return of longer days as the Lord of the Sun is reborn from the womb of the Goddess. Wreaths and evergreen trees may decorate the home.
Set up the Altar with your usual tools. Extra tools will include a yule log, a small evergreen tree, a wreath representing both the wheel of the year and the goddess, and the God candle that you used in the Samhain ritual. The Yule ritual will be performed skyclad. The Altar will be decorated with a variety of evergreens, and the Altar candles shall be red and green. The color of the Altar cloth shall be green.
Cast the sacred circle. Then, invoke the God and the Goddess. Then bring the God candle used on Samhain to the front of the altar. Say:
"As this candle represents the Lord of the Sun, as did it's blowing out represent His passing, as will it's lighting represent His return."
Take an altar candle and light the God candle. Bringing the altar candle with you, move around the altar to the yule log at the rear. Light the first candle, saying:
"Blessed be the Goddess in her maiden form, fresh and young. May all the world be born young again with her."
Light the second candle, saying:
"Blessed be the Goddess in her motherly form, lovely and heavy with child. May all that springs from her womb be strong and fruitful."
Light the third candle, saying:
"Blessed be the Goddess in the form of the crone, powerful and wise. Guardian of magic and the wheel of life."
Now the yule log has been lit, put the altar candle in it's place. Return to the front of the altar and stand, facing East. Speak these words:
"On this night the Lord of the Sun is reborn and the Goddess and the God are reunited. As the sun returns and the wheel of the year turns once more, we honor the Goddess and the newly born God, our Mother and Father."
Now is the time for any seasonal activities that you had planned for this evening. Magic is not appropriate. Singing, decorating the yule tree, etc., are. After any such business has been taken care of, you may banish the sacred circle.
A festival of lights to herald the coming of spring. A popular Imbolc activity is to prepare seed for spring planting.
Lay out the altar with your regular altar tools and add these extras: a bowl of earth with a seed of some sort, as many white tapers on the altar as is safe, and seasonal decorations, such as evergreens, sun wheels, or a cup of melted snow. The altar cloth shall blue, and the altar candles shall be green and white.
Cast the sacred circle, and invoke the God and the Goddess. Then bring the seed and dish of earth or planting pot to the front of the altar. Hold the seed in your hand, knowing that it is the beginnings of life. Bless it in this manner:
"In my hands I hold the seed of beginnings, of life, wisdom, and of coming spring. I ask the God and the Goddess to place a blessing on it so that it may prosper in the coming season."
Then think of something you want. It could be a request of the God and the Goddess, or something you want from yourself. Concentrate on this as you hold the seed.
"With this seed I plant a request, and hope that with careful nurturing and daily care, my goals may come to fruition in time."
Having said this, place the seed in the soil and cover it. What is to be done with it after this is up to you. Since the action is, for the most part, symbolic, you may choose to throw it away(a waste of a perfectly good seed, if you ask me) but many find it useful to grow the seed and keep the plant around as a reminder.
Hold the simple feast, and then you may do any magic or seasonal activities that you had planned for this evening. One Imbolc tradition is to weave corn dollies. Banish the sacred circle.
(Spring Equinox, around March 21st)
This Sabbat recognizes the start of spring, and celebrates the Goddess, once again in her maiden aspect. This Sabbat is a time for fertility rituals, and the cutting of spring's first blossoms.
The altar and the circle should be decorated with a variety of fresh flowers, and you may don spring garlands for the ritual. Set up the altar with your usual tools, including a green potted plant, and the cauldron placed somewhere in the circle. The cauldron may be filled with fresh water and floating flowers. Light the altar candles and the incense, and cast the sacred circle. After this is completed, invoke the God and the Goddess.
Kneel before the altar, facing East, and gaze at the plant. Recognize it not only as a plant, but as a symbol of the awakening earth. Say:
"Blessed is the Goddess, our Mother, our provider. Now, the dark days of winter are past, and the world grows green once more. As life awakens from it's slumber, and is renewed by the power of the God and the Goddess, we thank them for all we have received from them."
Touch the plant. Connect with it's energies, and feel the life which dwells inside it. Say:
"This plant is representative of the awakening of life after it's long winter slumber. May I learn to be kind to all creatures, great and small, and may I bear in my heart a warmth and understanding of all living things. Mother Goddess, Father God, teach me to revere the earth and all it's treasures always."
Now is the time to take part in any magic or seasonal activities that you had planned. One tradition on Ostara, holding with the fertility theme, is the decoration of eggs. After any such business is through with, hold the simple feast and banish the sacred circle.
This Sabbat celebrates the joining of the God and the Goddess. She is now in her Mother aspect, and it is from Her womb that all life will spring. This is yet another fertility Sabbat.
The altar and circle should be decorated with flowers. Any white flowers are appropriate, especially those with five petals. The cauldron may be filled with flowers. The altar cloth and candles shall be white. Flower garlands may be worn by the participant. Set out your altar with your usual tools. Include a white ribbon and a red ribbon. Light your incense and the altar candles, and proceed to cast the sacred circle. Then invoke the God and the Goddess.
Kneel before the altar, facing East. Place the ribbons on the pentacle, the end of the white ribbon covering the end of the red one. Speak these words:
"Oh Father God, oh Mother Goddess, now is the time of your joining. Through your happiness, may all be happy, and through your fruitfulness, may all in nature be fruitful."
Begin plaiting the ribbons together. This is a simplified and solitary version of the traditional maypole. While you are doing this, say:
"All life in all the world springs from the union of the God and the Goddess. Blessed are they, the creators, the Ancient ones!
When this is finished, you may do with the ribbons whatever you wish. Any magic or other seasonal activities may follow. If you are outdoors in a fairly safe place, You may wish to light a small balefire. After such festivities are completed, you may hold the simple feast, and banish the magic circle.
(Summer Solstice, around June 21st)
This Sabbat celebrates the Goddess. She is now heavy with child, as is nature heavy with the bounty of the coming harvest. This is considered to be a time when energies abound, and is a good time for magic and purification rites.
The altar should be decorated with summer herbs, greenery, and flowers. Rather than wine, the cup should be filled with milk. If you have made a protective amulet previous to the ritual, you will want to place this on the altar. Before the ritual begins, make a small pouch out of white cloth and fill it with any combination of midsummer herbs that you wish. Be sure to add them in threes. Tie the pouch with a red string and place it on the altar. The altar cloth and candles should be white. Light the altar candles and the incense, and then proceed to cast the sacred circle. Then invoke the God and the Goddess.
Kneel before the altar, facing east, and say:
"With these mystic rites, I celebrate the summer time and the coming bounty of autumn. Now, the world is bathed in the warm glow of the sun, and the fields and seas and skies and forests are teeming with life."
Hold the cloth pouch in your hands. Concentrate on any problems, pain or illness that you wish to be rid of. Picture these things going into the bag. Stand up and walk round to the East side of the altar. Light the pouch with an altar candle. Drop the pouch into the cauldron to watch it burn. As you watch, know that those impurities are burning to ash. Say:
"Oh great Goddess and God, on this magical night I pray that you will help me to know and understand myself and the world around me. May you bring joy and happiness into my life, and may no harm come to anything by my hands."
After this is through, feel free to perform any magic you wish. Midsummer is a very magically powerful night, and is a classic time for works of magic. Hold the simple feast, and then banish the sacred circle.
Lughnasadh is the first of three harvest Sabbats. As it is a harvest, the God figures more prominently here than the Goddess, though she, too, is revered and thanked for bringing the fruits of harvest.
The altar and circle can be decorated with sheaves of grains such as barley, oats or wheat. Fruits are appropriate, as are breads. In fact, bread may take the place of crescent cakes and cider instead of wine in the simple feast. The corn dolly that was woven at Imbolc may take her place on the Lughnasadh altar as well. The altar cloth shall be red, and the Altar candles shall be orange. Lay out your altar with all your usual tools, light the altar candles and the incense, and cast the sacred circle. Then invoke the God and the Goddess.
Lift some of the grain in your hand as you stand before the altar, facing East. Say:
"Now is the first harvest of the year, the time when the fruits of nature give of themselves that we may survive. Now, as the God prepares for death, may his sacrifice help us to understand and accept the sacrifices we must make in our own lives. Now, as the Goddess enters cronehood, may she whisper her secrets and magic in our ears, that we may put them to good use, and not misuse."
Rub the heads of the grain with your fingers so that the grains fall onto the altar. This is a ritualized version of the threshing of grain, an act considered sacred in pre-Christian Ireland. Then lift a piece of fruit, and take a bite out of it, savoring it. Say:
"I partake of the fruits of the first harvest, that it's energies might aid mine in my search for wisdom, goodness, and perfection. Oh Goddess of the moon, Mother of all, oh Lord of the sun, Father to everything, I thank thee for the bounty you have given me. May I always remember to harm none, and may my actions please you always."
Eat the rest of the fruit. Works of magic may follow, as well as any seasonal activities you had planned. Feasting may follow the ritual, with appropriate foods such as breads, berries, crab apples, and any locally ripe produce. After any such activities are finished, you may hold the simple feast and banish the sacred circle.
(Autumn Equinox, around September 22nd)
This is the second harvest Sabbat. The Goddess is entering into cronehood, and the dark of the year is beginning, so this is a time often associated with mysterious lore and wisdom.
The altar and circle should be decorated with autumn leaves, gourds, berries, pine and cypress cones, acorns, oak sprigs and other fruits of the season. New willow staves and wands were traditionally consecrated or empowered on this day, so if you've just recently cut one, you might want to bring it into the circle with you. You should also have a small basket filled with a variety of autumn leaves. The altar cloth shall be brown, and the altar candles shall be red. Light the incense and the altar candles, and cast the sacred circle. Then invoke the God and the Goddess. Pick up the basket of leaves and hold it in both hands. Spill the leaves slowly so that they cascade down to the ground within the circle as you say these words:
"The days grow colder, and the leaves fall. Our Lord of the sun rides the winds westward, and the cool, misty night descends. Fruits ripen, and the seeds drop. This is a time of balance, when night equals day, and though all seems dead or dying, I know that life continues. Life is not possible without death, and the coming of winter is just another spoke in the great wheel."
Put the basket down, and say:
"Oh great Goddess of the waning moon, keeper of the cauldron, of secret magics and forgotten lore, teach me to be wise and peaceful in thought and deed. Grant me your wisdom, and do not fear that it may be used unwisely, or for purposes other than those which encourage peace and prosperity."
Works of magic or any seasonal activities may be performed now. After any such things have been taken care of, you may hold the simple feast, and then banish the sacred circle.