16.5.13

Esbats

Since the full moon appears every month, I thought it would be nice to write about something that is so normal to us but often take for granted precisely because of this. This is my way of drawing your attention to this important "character" in Wicca who is celebrated in a ritual we call the Esbat. People often forget about the little things in life and I am no exception. I often find myself forgetting to prepare for a Sabbat/Esbat ritual in time because of profane obligations and then end up doing everything in a hurry in order to get it all ready in time. 

The word "Esbat" itself (read /'ezbəθ/) is a name for the celebration of the full moon even though this terms is beginning to be used more and more often for basically any coven gathering. Etymologically, this word comes from the French phrase s'esbattre, which means "to have fun". The term itself is quite new (it is thought to have been introduced by Margaret Murray) and it is often used in a formal context. You will often hear the term "circle" being used in stead because it is a slightly less formal name for this celebration. While the word "circle" can refer to any coven gathering (and is a more appropriate term than the word "Esbat" in this context), an Esbat, in a narrower sense, refers only to the celebrations of the full moon. 

Namely, in addition to the eight Sabbats, there are also twelve to thirteen full moons per year which are celebrated. Even though we usually think of a full moon celebration, in modern times, the Esbat has become an appropriate name for any coven gathering be it for a full moon or not. Some people will use this term even for celebrations of the new moon (which is also known among Pagans as the dark moon). If you are a Solitary, then you can practice whatever you want and when you want since you don't depend on anyone else whereas working in a coven restricts you in this sense. For any celebration to work in a coven, the members have to be in sync, be able to understand each other and know how other members work. It is important for all of them to be in harmony! It is for this reason that regular meetings are recommended so that this bond doesn't break, but rather restore itself, or even better, strengthen! Think of a coven as a band; the more often a band has practices, the more synchronous they will be. A coven can be connected to a band on many levels but mainly because both of them produce magickal effects of their own kind :)

Why during the full moon?

Artemis/Diana,
the Greco-Roman
 goddess of hunting,
birth, the moon etc. and
the protector of young
girls. Notice the crown
of the moon on her head
This is a very logical question that you may be asking yourself at this moment. Why not meet on any other night of the month or one a specific day of the week? This has simply become a tradition now, but just like any every other tradition, this one also has its roots.

The first reason why the full moon was chosen was because of its connection to the Goddess and her symbols. You are familiar with the fact that the moon is the symbol of the Goddess and that the sun symbolizes the God. The moon is a symbol of female energy which has its phases just like every woman passes through her phases in regard to the menstrual cycle. It is also connected to water (the way it affects the tides) and water is again connected to emotions which fall under the category of "womanlike". The moon is at its energetic peak when it is full, when it shines the brightest. Have you ever taken a walk and stared at the full moon? Maybe you felt its power and protection in those moments. If you haven't, then you should try it :) this can be a ritual by itself. Try to meditate while looking at the moon or think up an exercise of your own. But undoubtedly, this energy is the reason why magickal works are most often done during a full moon or at least as close to it as possible (note: it's better to do a ritual before a full moon than after i.e. during the waxing moon when the energy is rising).

Chang'e, the Chinese
goddess of the moon
The second reason is of a practical nature. In the past (and especially during the Burning Times) when Witches had to gather in some secret place, they usually did this in the shelter of the night and its darkness, which is logical if you don't want to be seen, right? And if they had to search for other people and their way to the meeting place, they needed some light to guide them. Remember that there were no electric lights or street lamps back then, so they took advantage of the full moon as the brightest source of light they had. The moon led them and lit their path! Now just try to imagine yourself walking through a cornfield with the full moon shining just above you. You may feel lonely and afraid in the dark but as soon as you see at least a spark of light, you feel much safer. This is what it's like for most people. Light is what gives us security and there is no better consolation in the night than the full moon!

What is done on an Esbat?

The Esbat can basically look however you want it to look. Even though celebrations of any kind are done on the Sabbats, no one can really stop you from celebrating on the Esbats. You can celebrate an accomplishment, the future, the past or simply something that makes you happy! Then again, you don't even have to celebrate at all. You can decide to ask for something and try to energize that wish through magickal works. A lot of people will do some divination work on the Esbats because of the amount of energy that is present. You can also use this large quantity of energy for consecration, initiations, self-initiations, healing and much more. And if you are working in a group, these gatherings can be used for teaching, sharing experiences, arranging something or discussing certain problems and dilemmas.

I already mentioned that the word "Esbat" comes from a French word which means "to have fun", but these meetings primarily serve the religious purpose of celebrating the gods and giving thanks for what we have and also an opportunity for asking for something that we would like to have/do, or even better - something that we actually need (we do have to be careful what we wish for, after all). Though, we cannot leave out the celebration part. Even though a celebration of the gods should be a festivity on its own, people often sing, dance and play various instruments to get the mood up even more. Some will even choose to play games in the circle, which is a great way for coven members to strengthen their relationships and learn some new customs.

The Esbat Ritual 

This ritual begins and ends just like any other. It begins with the Opening Ritual and the Great Rite and then ends with the Closing Ritual. In these links, you can see that I mention the traditional order in which the Sabbat/Esbat ritual is performed, but I came to the conclusion that it would be nice to elaborate a bit more on this :)

I won't give examples of invocations and greetings because I will leave that to you. As I have said about a hundred times up to now, the ritual is more personal when you write it yourself. I tend to improvise my Esbat rituals because I believe that improvised words come from the heart and because you can be more relaxed (you don't have to look at papers/books all the time and be worried if you got something wrong).

So, as you can see, according to the classical ritual form, things go in this order:
  1. Preparing the ritual space and altar
  2. Cleansing the water with salt
  3. Opening the circle
  4. Marking the circle with your athamé and the Elements as well as visualizing its protection
  5. Invoking the Elements
  6. Invoking the Goddess and God (Drawing down the Moon, the Fivefold Kiss, the Charge of the Goddess, the God invocation) and the Great Rite
  7. Dancing the Witches' Rune
  8. The Sabbat/Esbat Ritual
  9. Cakes and wine (if you didn't already eat and drink during the Great Rite)
  10. Thanking the Goddess and God
  11. Dismissing the Elements
  12. Visualizing the decreasing protection of the circle
  13. Closing the circle with your athamé
This celebration marks the center point of the ritual, the part towards which all the energy is directed. The Witches' Rune is there to get the energy up as much as possible before any work that will follow in the Sabbat and/or Esbat ritual.

I usually choose to drink milk during my Esbat ritual because of its connection to mother's milk and therefore with fertility and the Goddess. My quarter candles are always silver since silver and white are the colors of the full moon.

So, after you have done the above steps, you are ready to do the actual Esbat ritual. This is the right time to show gratitude for what you have and express any wishes. You can talk to yourself, out loud or even write what you want to say on a piece of paper and burn it (some believe that your message is than carried to the gods with the smoke that floats to the heavens, but others will choose to do this only when they want to get rid of something bad). By the way, if you wish for something, don't expect a miracle. For example, if you want a new TV, first really think about whether you really need it or not. If you really don't, then consider it to be a luxury. Be aware of your wishes and your reasons for having them and don't forget to think rationally. Your old TV won't suddenly turn into a fifty-inch TV with an LCD screen. It is more likely that you will get a new business opportunity which will enable you to earn more and afford this kind of TV. All you have to do is know how to make the best out of a situation.

After you have meditated on your wishes and given thanks, it is time for the cakes and wine. If you have done the Great Rite, both should already be consecrated but no necessarily consumed. In case you prefer to eat after you have finished the Sabbat/Esbat ritual like me, then you should first consecrate the drinks and food with your athamé or wand while saying appropriate words of blessing (don't be afraid to make them up yourselves). Before consuming anything, don't forget to give a toast to the gods :) after all, they are present in this whole story! Leave a bit of food and drink aside in the libation dish so you can later empty its contents on the earth from which all of your food and drink came from in the first place.

While you eat and drink, you can think about any magickal work or divination that may follow. I can't say much here because it really does all depend on you. I will write separate posts about magick and divination techniques, but until then, keep in mind that this part isn't obligatory. If you have nothing to ask for, feel free to rest a bit longer and then simply start closing the circle. :)

What to do on a new moon?

When the moon isn't visible at all in the sky, then it is called a new moon or perhaps even better as a dark moon if you are using Pagan terminology. This is the ideal time of the month to get rid of things that you don't need. Simply throw physical things away, write something down that you want to get rid of (not a physical object but rather some sort of illness, bad habit etc.) and burn this paper as a part of your Esbat ritual (remember that Esbats nowadays include new moon rituals). Magick that includes getting rid of something, solving certain things etc. is done at this time. Decide for yourselves what you want to achieve (do you want to gain something or remove it?) and see which moon phase is more appropriate for doing this. Also, the same rule applies as to the full moon ritual. It is better to do the ritual slightly before the full moon or on the night of a full moon and if you want to do a new moon ritual then it's best to do it before the new moon (i.e. during the waning moon) or ideally on the night of a new moon. Simple :)

Of course, you mustn't forget that the new moon is energetically the same as the full moon. Change the invocation slightly and pay attention to the words you use. Adapt the ritual to the darkness that prevails in nature at that time. Also, be aware that day always follows night and so this new moon will pass, and with it the darkness. In its place the full moon will come and light our paths.

I wish you the best of luck with your Esbat ritual :) in case you don't have anything special to celebrate, I sincerely hope that many wonderful things will happen and give you something to celebrate and to smile about :D

Yours truly,
Witch's Cat

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