Wiccans do have an extremely clear ethical and moral system with very distinct boundaries, despite certain Christian clergy claims to the contrary. We believe that the determination of what is right and wrong is made by the Goddess and the God and communicated clearly to us through personal contact with the divine. Ethical responsibility is a very important part of our religion.
But you may wonder - since we don't have a formal written book of spiritual and religious laws, how can we be ethical and moral people? Well, since we are an oral tradition, we do have some very important laws that are followed. They may seem simple and basic, but when you think about it, these rules cover all the arenas of ethical responsibility:
And it harm none, do what thou wilt.
At first glance, this seems pretty easy. But it can be a little more complicated than just making sure that when you put your car in reverse, you check to make sure someone isn't standing there. "And it harm none" refers not only to other people, but also to yourself, animals and the Earth Herself. We're connected to each other at a variety of levels - spiritually, ecologically and physically - and we must carefully weigh our actions with their consequences. This is not to mean that we never take action because we're too busy weighing out the consequence of stepping out the door in the morning, only that our actions should be guided by an awareness of the impact of our deeds.
There are eight major seasonal festivals in Wicca, and they are called Sabbats. There are four minor and four major Sabbats, each with its own special name and meaning. The minor Sabbats are the solstices and equinoxes, while the major Sabbats, or "fire festivals" or "cross-quarter days" fall roughly between them, as follows:
Yule (Winter Solstice--minor--about December 21)
Imbolc (cross-quarter--major--February 2)
Ostara (Spring Equinox--minor--about March 22)
Beltane (cross-quarter--major--May 1)
Midsummer (Summer Solstice--minor--about June 22)
Lammas (cross-quarter--major--August 1)
Mabon (Fall Equinox--minor--about September 22)
Samhain (cross-quarter--major--October 31)
The reason that the cross-quarters are "major" and the Equinoxes and Solstices are "minor" is that this is part of the Celtic influence in Wicca. The cross-quarter days were the seasonal festivals of the Celts, according to their harvest and herding cycle. The Equinoxes and Solstices were more important to the Greeks, Romans, and later the Norse; the Celts eventually picked up these days from their neighbors (and invaders), but they never became as important as the fire festivals.
The Sabbats have several levels of meaning; what we will deal with here are the seasonal and folkloric elements, to start to get a sense of how the Sabbats are usually observed.
YULE is important mainly as the birthday of the Sun. It was called the day of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) in Rome, and its popularity was the reason why the Christian church moved Christs birthday to its current date. The exchange of gifts also comes from a Roman tradition, because the last days of the year were once the Saturnalia, a celebration of the lost Golden Age ruled over by Saturn; homes were decorated with gilded boughs, slaves and servants were temporarily freed, and gifts of fruit and gold were exchanged. Yule is the longest and darkest night of the year; from now on, the sun, day, and light become stronger.
IMBOLC started out as the season when the sheeps' milk came in for their lambs, so dairy foods figure heavily into the ritual feasts for this date. It was also a day for the Celtic goddess Brigid, whose arrival was celebrated with hearth-lighting ceremonies. (She was a fire-goddess, among other things, so her "return" was really the return of Spring. The Greeks had a similar festival in the Lesser Eleusinian rites, also in early February, during which Persephone returned to Earth.) Today it is considered the best time for initiations, and a festival honoring the Maiden Goddess.
OSTARA is the predecessor of the Christian Easter, and continues the theme of the return of Spring. The Easter bunny was originally a hare, a symbol of fertility and of the Earth Goddess. The Earth is starting to bloom forth by now in most Northern climates, and many animals are starting to court. In Eastern Europe, the Earth Mother "gave birth" to the Spring at this time: it was forbidden to plow until this date, because it was wrong to strike a pregnant woman. Light and dark are equal on this day, with light ascending.
BELTANE is one of the most beloved Sabbats, Samhain being the other. The Celtic year was divided into two seasons, Summer and Winter, and Beltane was the beginning of Summer. The most important symbol of Beltane is the Maypole, a fertility dance that has survived to this day in the British Isles. In modern terms, Beltane is usually considered to be the wedding day of the Goddess and God. It is also a day when the veil between this world and the next is thin, and the faeries may come to join in celebration.
MIDSUMMER is the day of the Sun's greatest strength. In some traditions, there are two aspects of the God who rule the waxing and waning halves of the year, and they fight on this day. In other traditions, this is another day favored by the faeries.
LAMMAS, also called Lughnasa, began as a Celtic festival for the god Lugh and his mother Taillte; games and contests were held in their honor. Lammas is considered the first of Three Harvests, this one being the harvest of the grain. The Grain Mother (Demeter, for example) and/or the Harvest God are honored at this time. The Harvests generally are a time for turning inward, reaping what we have done in the spring and summer.
MABON is the second harvest, the harvest of the fruits. In Greece, this was the time of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, when Persephone departed for the Underworld and her mother searched the world for her. Mabon is also the witches' Thanksgiving, a time when we look back over the year and give thanks for what we have gained or learned. Day and night are equal again, but now day is fading.
SAMHAIN, or "Summer's end," is the Wiccan New Year. The focus is on the Underworld and the Crone Goddess; this is a night to honor the dead and, if wished, to try to communicate with them. It is also considered to be a perfect time for performing divinations about the coming year. The third harvest is that of the livestock, contributing further to the darker tone of this Sabbat. (Note that the harvest is given for historical interest--no Wiccan group performs animal sacrifice on this or any other night!)**
Share Your Story
Magick and Ritual