Traditional Wicca - Class 7

Divination; Wheel of the Year; Sabbats; Esbats
(Rev. 7/26/03)

1. Divination:

Divination - "The art of foretelling future events or discovering hidden or obscure things." Divination was important to the ancient pagans. They needed to use all means within their power to foretell how much food to plant or gather, how much to store for the winter, a safe location for living during the winter, where animals for food could most easily be found, etc. Signs in nature would have been the earliest divinatory tools. Scrying in fire or smoke, possibly while using mind altering drugs was probably the next form of divination to come into use.

Modern pagans have many divinatory tools at their disposal. Some Wiccans use a variety of methods while specializing in one particular method. Divination is used to determine if, when and what type of magic to use, as well as to explore possible solutions to any problems or questions. Try as many as you can to see which works best for you. It can be helpful to burn the same type of incense each time you do a particular type of divination. Your sense of smell is a powerful trigger which can make it easier to slip into the proper state of consciousness.

a. Tarot:

Earliest known cards date from 1392 but they existed before then because they were forbidden in Florence, Ital in 1376; considered dangerous and heretical by the established Church, were repeatedly banned, condemned and even publicly burned.

The earliest, nearly full deck which has survived is the Visconti Deck painted by Italian artist Bonifacio Bembo in the beginning of the 15th century. They were commissioned by the Duke of Milan.

For suggestions on learning the tarot see our "How to learn the tarot" pages

b. Runes, Saxon Wands, Witta Wands.

Made of wood, stone, glass or ceramic materials, these divinatory tools are sturdier than Tarot cards and require more study and practice to use accurately. While the Tarot "speaks" to us through its pictures, the runes and divinatory wands have more cryptic marks which must be memorized and/or looked up in a reference guide. Here are some links about the runes: Here is a history of Runes:

c. Scrying: Descry: to observe from a distance

To scry, look into your chosen object and relax. You may want to try changing the focus of your eyes so that you are looking beyond rather than at the object. Open your mind to receive whatever images or messages are there for you.

Dark bowl filled with water-a few drops of oil can be added
Bowl of water with a few drops of ink added
Candle flame, smoke or other fire
Black mirror
Crystal ball
Tea leaf reading (Tasseography)

d. Signs in nature:

How to read signs in nature is one of the things that were regularly handed down through the generations in earlier times. Because the signs may be different in each location it is imperative to learn these signs from a local person who has lived in the area for a long time - ideally a person who's family has lived in the area for generations. If you are interested in learning to read the signs of nature and can not find a local mentor than start a nature-sign journal where you keep track of every change and sign you see, carefully noting such things as time of day, time of year, weather, temperature, etc. It can take years before you see a pattern emerge - which is why, ideally, we learn this form of divination from others.

Cries and behavior of animals
Color of caterpillars
Thickness of an animal's fur
Movement of leaves

e. Oracular work.

The most famous example of Oracles were found in Delphi, Greece. The word "Oracle" is used to describe both the message received and the messenger - in this case the Priestesses (or Pythia) or sat in the Temple at Delphi and received messages from the Goddess which they delivered, in cryptic form, to the Kings and other nobles who came from far and wide to hear them.

Oracular work requires special training and can not be performed alone. The Oracle (the person performing the work) goes into a deep trance and allows the god or goddess to take over their body and speak through them. Only a very close friend or relative can be trusted to be on hand to protect the Oracle and receive the message. This should not be attempted by untrained persons.

f. Other

Some other popular forms of divination are: Cheiromancy (Palm reading); Pendulum; Numerology; Astrology, I-Ching. For a more extensive list of divination methods click here.

2. Origin of the neo-pagan wheel of the year:

Wiccans celebrate eight "Sabbats" or holidays per year. These include the Solstices and Equinoxes, and four other celebrations spaced between the first four to round out the year. Gardner created this system to give Wiccans set days when they could celebrate and know that others following the same path would be celebrating in approximately the same way at the same time.

This calendar has been an endless source of confusion for the beginning Wiccan student. If you read several books on how to celebrate the Sabbats a lot of seeming "contradictions" seem to appear. What these books fail to point out is that few, if any, early pagan communities would have celebrated all eight of these Sabbats. Each village would have had its own celebrations which tied into events which were important to its inhabitants. The celebrations generally were centered around planting, harvesting and hunting events. Depending on the focus of the village they may also center on fishing, birth of domestic herd animals, or other events specific to that community. Thus, you will find variations in the neo-pagan calendar which arise from personal tastes or traditions of the book's author.

Each pantheon which can be followed will have its own set of Sabbat celebrations. If you decide to follow a single pantheon deciding who to celebrate your Sabbats will be less confusing. If you wish to work with a variety of pantheons it will make more sense to you if you match the Sabbat celebration to the god and goddess which you are working with at the time. For example, while you could celebrate the Summer Solstice as a hay harvest festival as is done in Wales, this wouldn't make much while working with gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon.

For the purpose of Sabbat and Esbat celebrations the Solar/Lunar cycles are more natural to follow than the "Gregorian" calendar we use in every day life for making appointments, marking birthdays, etc.

One cycle of the Earth around the is a pagan (Solar) "year". One cycle of the Moon around the Earth is a pagan "month" (Lunar month). These ways of measuring time worked fine for thousands of years - until man developed the need for more precision and timing for meetings, etc. There are 12 Lunar months in a Solar year. The concept of a "Blue Moon" (or the 13th Full Moon in a Gregorian calendar year) does not occur if the pagan Wheel of the (Solar) Year is being followed.

3. The Sabbats:

The eight Sabbats celebrated by Wiccans are based on ancient pagan celebrations of the seasonal and celestial events. Originally cultures celebrated according to local needs, climate and natural occurances It is not likely that any, single old culture had so many as eight celebrations per year, but Gerald Gardner chose eight occasions which were representative of the old celebrations and could be spaced evening around the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

Some traditions recognize the Sabbats as two groups, The Lesser Sabbats (the Solstices and Equinoxes) and the Greater Sabbats (the ones inbetween the Solstices and Equinoxes). Each tradition may celebrate its Sabbats differently from other traditions, but the celebrations within a tradition of Wicca will have some points which remain the same year after year.

Samhain - October 31:

Samhain is considered to mark the New Year in most, but not necessary all Wiccan traditions. It marks the end of the growing time and the beginning of the winter. Originally there would have been a significant event to mark the time for celebration rather than an calendar. The first killing frost, appearance or disappearance of a particular bird or animal could be signs of the end of one season and the beginning of the next. It is the time when deer go into rut. It has also been considered a turning point, actually between the two years, but belonging to neither.

We say that the, “Veil between the worlds is the thinnest” at Samhain, allowing spirits to slip from this world to the next and vice versa. Wiccans take time at Samhain to remember those who have passed on to the other world.

Samhain marked the end of the grazing season when the flocks and herds were slaughtered except for those animals required for breeding. Slaughter is more practical after the first killing frost since it becomes easier to preserve the meat.

Yule - Approximately December 20 - Winter Solstice:

Yule comes from the Norse word Iul meaning wheel. It marks the death and rebirth of the Sun God. In some traditions Yule marks the vanquishing of the Holly King, God of the Waning Year, by the Oak King, God of the Waxing Year. Alternatively, it is the death of the old God (an sunset) and the birth of the new, young God on the morning of the Solstice. Yule is marked by decorating with Spring like images - such as flowers and fruit on a Yule tree - to ward off the dark and gloom of the winter and remind us that Spring will come again.

Imbolc - February 2:

The time of first sign of thawing of streams or other very early signs that winter is waning. It marked the beginning of the lactation of pregnant ewes. The word Imbolg means “in the belly”, and is celebrated in the “quickening of the year” when life is first stirring in the belly of Mother Earth. It also marked the first thawing of streams. The goddess Brigit (in Ireland), who is important to hearth and smith fires and poetry, is important at this festival.

Ostara - Approximately March 20:

Spring or Vernal Equinox. Time of birth of animals and some gods. Day and night are equal, but day is overtaking night and the Spring Equinox marks the time for sprouting of vegetation and of sowing crops. Offerings of colored eggs were made to the Goddess Eostre, Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring and of the East. This is the time for blessing seeds.

Beltain - May Day - May 1:

Beltain (also spelled Beltane and Beltaine) is a fertility celebration. It is the time for dancing the May Pole (a phallic symbol). The more even the ribbons are wound around the pole, the more evenly the crops will grow. Beltain is the beginning of growing season in many areas. Beltain incorporates the Celtic word for fire, and is probably connected with the god name, Belenus. It marked the season when the cattle could be driven to open grazing.

Beltain was celebrated with the lighting of bonfires (bel fires), frequently in pairs, which the cattle were driven between to protect them from disease and insure their fertility.

Litha - Approximately June 20:

The Summer Solstice is a celebration of the longest day of the year Litha is a day to honor the Sun-God while he is at his highest and brightest. This is reflected in the theme of the Oak King and Holly King. At Midsummer the Oak King is defeated by the Holly King-God of the Waning year.
Litha is the time for celebrating the earliest harvests including early fruits and vegetables (such as English peas and strawberries) and hay.

Lammas - August 2:

Lammas is the time of the grain harvest. The actual date of the harvest will necessarily vary from one region to another. Most often in Wicca we celebrate a symbolic harvest of the bounty which we find in our lives. The story of John Barleycorn is told at this time and a loaf of bread in his image can be baked and eaten and/or offered to the gods. Lammas is a time of sacrifice and giving thanks to the gods.

Mabon - Approximately September 20:

Autumnal Equinox. The theme of the Autumn Equinox is that of rest after labor. At this time the bulk of the harvest has been completed. A large feast in thanksgiving for abundance is appropriate at this time.

4. Esbats:

Esbats are rituals usually held at the time of a Full Moon but may also be held during other phases of the Moon. They are less elaborate than Sabbats and tend to be more of a time for meditation and/or working magic. The focus of the work done at an Esbat will vary depending on the needs/desires of the Coven and the phase of the Moon.

a. Dark of the Moon:

This is the date indicated on most calendars as the "New Moon", but in Wicca the New Moon and Dark Moon are recognized as having different engeries. The Dark Moon is the time when the Moon stops waning and begins waxing so the energy is in a state of flux. This is the time for quiet and looking inward. We do not normally work magic at this time but may do healings. The Dark of the Moon is also a good time for scrying and other methods of divination.

b. New Moon:

The time of the New Moon (the first two or three days following the Dark Moon - when the crescent becomes visible) is a good time for celebrating new beginings or doing magic which involves growth (starting a diet, beginning a new course of study, etc.).

c. Waxing Moon:

As the Moon grows the energies of growth grow with Her. The day of the Full Moon and the day or two just before the calendar day of the Full Moon are good times for doing Magic for bringing something to you (a new job, prosperity, good luck, etc.).

d. Full Moon:

The Full Moon is the best time for consecrating tools, charging jewelry, working magic to bring something to you, raising energy, and Initiations.

e. Waning Moon:

The time of the Moon's waning (growing smaller) is best for doing magic for removing something from your life (bad habits, stress, etc.)