Many people following a Wiccan-based or religious witchcraft path celebrate both the Sabbats in some form (the solar holidays), as well as the Esbats, or lunar holidays.
In many paths, the Sabbats are seen more as a celebratory time (a chance to pause and reflect on the seasonal change, while the Esbats are seen as a more practical time: a time to do magic, divination, and other workings. You don’t have to follow this (lots of people include some divination, magic, or other workings in their Sabbat work, for example), but it can be a good way to start figuring out what you’re doing.
Likewise, in pantheons (Greek, Roman, Celtic) where the sun is associated with a particular God, and the moon with a Goddess, the Sabbats may be seen as a more God-focused ritual (external, active, about the pattern of the God’s life and sacrifice), while Esbats may focus more on a Goddess, or on the cycles of a woman’s life.
(That said, there are quite a few pantheons and cultures where the Moon is associated with a particular God, and the Sun with a Goddess. Decide what makes sense for you and your larger practice.)
Esbats commonly are celebrated at the full moon, the new moon, or both. Each have some traditional things that fit that time well, but there are also some larger patterns that you might find useful.
The moon travels through four main points during each 28 day cycle. (It’s actually a few hours more than 28 days, but you get the idea.) Depending on where we live, and the time of year, the moon will be visible at different times (and at different places in the sky.
You can find out the current moon phase from any number of places. Many calendars now include not only the full and new moons, but the quarter moons. (Along with the precise times the moon reaches those points). Almanacs list them too. Various resources I list later on the page will give you some ideas as well.
For the technology-fond out there, there are all sorts of calendars you can get for Google Calendar, iCal, and most things (phones, iPads, iPod Touches, etc) that will tell you the current and future moon phases. (I’m fond of an iPhone app called Perpertuum, personally.)
Many people consider the full moon to be three days (the actual day of the full moon, and the day on either side), and the same with the new moon. This helps with planning.
The moon has eight major phrases, but some of them are called different things depending on who you talk to.
- New moon: You can’t see the moon at all, any time during the day or night.
- (Some people celebrate Diana’s Bow, which is about 3 days after the new moon, when you can first see a crescent of moon in the sky.)
- Crescent moon or waxing crescent: the moon grows from new to first quarter.
- First quarter: the moon is half full, and about to get more and more full.
- Gibbous or waxing gibbous : the moon is between half-full and full.
- Full moon: the moon is full and round in the sky.
- Disseminating or waning gibbous moon: The moon is passing from full to third quarter (half-full)
- Third quarter: the moon is half-full, but about to get smaller.
- Basalmic or waning crescent moon: the moon is returning to new.
In other words, if the moon is between new and half-full, it’s a crescent moon. If it’s between half-full and full, it’s a gibbous moon. If it’s in the process of getting larger, it’s waxing. If it’s getting smaller, it’s waning.
New moon ideas:
The new moon is often seen as a time of rest and introspection, a time of silence, integrating what we’ve learned over the previous cycle, and much more. It’s often associated with the crone, and with other wise women.
It’s a great time for:
- spells or magical workings to release things we no longer need or want (poverty, illness, relationships that aren’t good for us, habits we’re done with, attachments to things we don’t need anymore.)
- facing difficult issues in our lives (perhaps with the guidance of a divination tool, a long discussion with a friend or circlemate.)
- just taking time to rest and nest and be.
For those who celebrate Diana’s Bow, the period when we first see the moon can be a great time to put new ideas into action. In these rituals, you might bless yourself, do magical workings for fertility (for a baby or for a new project), bless anything new, or the beginning of work toward a goal related to healing, self-transformation, or other change.
Full moon ideas:
The energies of the full moon are those of abundance, fufillment, healing, and using the energy of the moon to refill and rejuvenate our work and goals. It’s also a time to honor what we’ve done in the last cycle. You might:
- Raise and focus energy to empower a particular goal or magical working.
- Use oils, incenses, or other ritual tools that you’ve made in earlier rituals (such as during the new moon or Diana’s Bow) to bring those things into being.
- Meditate on the moon, or on a particular Goddess.
You will also see people referring to Drawing Down the Moon, something some groups do at this time. Some people use the term to a very general sense of drawing energy from the moon (usually into a bowl of water) to empower them and their work in the coming month.
However, the term originally refers to something much more complicated: inviting a particular Goddess into the body of a priestess to interact with and guide the people in a group. (This is also often referred to as ‘aspecting’. It can be done at other times, you can invite a God into a willing priest. Some groups also do cross-gender draws, depending on the specific people and deities involved.)
Drawing Down in this sense is an amazing experience – but it’s not a simple process to do well. I believe it’s something that priestesses (and priests) do in service to a particular community (so it’s not appropriate for solitary work) and that it has some risks (so I want to make sure that I have solid support before, during, and after.) I don’t suggest that anyone try it until they have a very solid grasp of energy work (centering, grounding, working with a group, and much more), and until they can have (a knowledgeable) someone present to guide the process and help out if needed.
If you’d like to connect with a Goddess while working on your own, meditation work is a lot more reliable, effective, and reduces almost all of those possible risks.
Other ways to honor the cycles:
You can also do a series of linked moon rituals, that focus on a range of topics or ideas over time.
Connect with deity: Some groups and individuals take time each moon to honor and connect with a different Goddess (usually one more associated with the moon, magic, healing, or other related things.)
Elemental rituals: Another idea is to focus on each element for a moon (air, fire, water, earth.) This can be a good way to get started with linked esbat rituals, or a wonderful thing to return to each year as you learn more.
Astrological work:Each full moon and new moon falls in a particular astrological sign, and each of these signs puts their own stamp on the energies of that particular moon. I particularly like the ideas at the MoonCircles site for inspiration on the astrological front. (They don’t require you know a lot of astrology, though it’ll be helpful to recognise the basic ideas of the signs.)
Cultural and seasonal focus: Many places have a cultural cycle of each moon, often closely linked to the seasons. You see this in names like “Corn Moon” or “Salmon Moon” or “Wolf Moon”. While you want to avoid appropriating a particular native culture, it can be good to look at the food traditions of people who lived in your area (both indigenous tribes, and settlers) and see what foods come into season where you are. Come up with your own names and connections!
- MoonCircles site (great info on astrology behind each new and full moon)
- Check out Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast for information on whole and natural foods for every season. (If her seasons don’t quite fit yours, the information is still great and easy to adapt.)
- AstroMagickal has a lengthy section on the eight moon phases.
- Many many books have more ideas for specific moon rituals (keep an eye on my book blog, as I’ll talk about them there over time.)
You might also want to read the articles below:
- What is ritual?
- How do we do ritual?
- What’s a circle for, anyway?
- Ritual food and drink and seasonal food options
- An example of planning a ritual
[last edit on January 3, 2011]