When you ask most Witches about the Esbat, what it is and what one does to celebrate it, the answer will usually centre around the Full Moon. There is nothing wrong with this interpretation though it is a little limiting. The word Esbat is derived from the Old French word s’esbattre (Modern French ébat) meaning frolic, to amuse oneself or diversion. An Esbat is any gathering of Witches which occurs at a time other than a Sabbat and it was Margaret Murray who first borrowed the term for her book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.
It’s usual for writers referring to Esbats to talk primarily about the moon cycle and the role of the moon in Witchcraft and as I am not one to overly defy convention I will do the same. I do so with the clear acknowledgement that the celebration of the Esbat is not wholly dependant on the phase of the moon and is merely a time when Witches come together to celebrate their craft.
The Importance of the Moon
The moon features prominently in modern day Witchcraft because of it’s associations with the soft polytheistic Goddess, aka the Divine Feminine. Many modern practitioners come to Paganism in an attempt to find a male/female balance in a mainly patriarchal society and orthodox religion and so turn to the moon, with its many and intimate connections with womanhood.
The moon is the brightest light in the night sky, bringing light to even the darkest of nights. The full moon brightens the nighttime world but it’s light is very unlike that of the sun. Familuar shape and objects appear almost distorted, somehow other, in comparison to how we perceive them in the light of the Sun.
We sometimes fail to comprehend the impact that the moon can have on a landscape as we have become so used to the light pollution of our cities and streets. The twisting of perception and deepening of shadow in the landscape in comparison to the wash of moonlight is one of the reasons the moon is so deeply associated with the Witches cabal.
The Moon is used to aid and empower the Craft of the Witch in a number of different ways. Most Witches are familiar with the concept of performing different types of spells according to the phase of the moon but the passage of the Moon through the Zodiac can also lend influences to the work done at these times. The calendar months can also lend structure and focus to the Craft of the Witch should they choose to blend solar and lunar calendars. QLet me take you through these three categories of lunar influence on Witchcraft.
The New Moon is those initial first three days where the crescent moon first becomes visible and as such is focused on beginnings. This is the best time for starting new ventures, new beginnings. Spells to bring about a period of renewal are best performed at this time regardless of what the focus is.
The waxing moon is for magic in which you wish to encourage a particular aspect or quality to grow. This may include workings of self development to encourage friendship, love, courage and romance. It may also relate to materialistic concerns such as wealth, success and luck and health. This is a time to begin new projects as the swelling energy of the moon will help build the energy of the project.
The Full Moon is a time for rituals focused on prophecy and divination. It is also an important time for honouring feminine powers and requesting their protection in the cycle ahead. Any working that needs extra umph is best performed at this time but rituals for new healing and guidance through the form of dreams are also appropriate.
If the waxing moon is for growth then the waning moon is a time of lessening and reduction. The waning moon is the best time to perform workings designed to undermine the powers of others such as banishing and hex breaking. It is also the time for tackling addiction, illness or negativity. This is also a good time in which projects can be brought to an end as this is a time for harvest.
The Dark Moon is a time associated with the Crone and all the supposed darker aspects of the divine feminine. This is a time in which we can explore our shadowself; our angers and passions are laid bare for us to examine and understand and maybe even change. Magically this is the prime time to perform banishing and binding spells as well as spells for justice and curses.
Moon by Zodiac
As the full moon occurs in any given starsign it enhances the particular qualities of that sign and further empower workings and spells which are focused on those qualities.
Moon in Aries: authority, willpower and rebirth.
Moon in Taurus: romance, real estate, and money.
Moon in Gemini: communication, public relations and travel.
Moon in Cancer: home and family. Moon in Leo: courage, strength and empowerment.
Moon in Virgo: employment, health and intellectual matters.
Moon in Libra: Justice, business plans and artistic matters.
Moon in Scorpio: secrets, mystery traditions and psychic growth.
Moon in Sagittarius: publications, writing and the truth.
Moon in Capricorn: career, political matters and ambition.
Moon in Aquarius: problem solving, personal freedom and expression, and friendship.
Moon in Pisces: telepathy and clairvoyance.
Moon By Month
Many choose to use the energy of the full moon in conjunction with the turning of the solar calendar to undertake a process of personal spiritual development or undertake a task or research project. A goal is set at the start of the year and followed through step by step according to the turning of the seasons with magical workings being aligned with the theme of that month.
This is the time of year when we set ourselvs goals for the year ahead. January is a good time to think about what we really want out of life and how we want to be perceived by the people around us. The long nights are a good time for introspection and looking at the inner self through meditation and spirit work. Use this moon to work on protective magics, both personal protection (spiritual and physical) and of your house and home in the coming months to safeguard both your household and any projects you will be undertaking
Whilst January focuses on what we wish to achieve in our lives February is about understanding the ways in which we are going to be able to achieve them. This is the month in which the seeds germinate unseen below the surface, not quite ready to manifest themselves into being. Now is the time to consider what changes you need in order to allow your goals to come to pass, are you carrying unnecessary baggage or do you need a bit more focus and direction? Take time to meditate not only what you hope to achieve but on the way in which you can achieve it.
Now is the time to put your plans and ideas into motion. The world around is waking with all the energy of spring so this is the time for workings related to rebirth and regrowth. Focus on visualising your endeavours in their completed form and magical efforts which will bring them into reality. More generally operations to bring about prosperity and fertility are appropriate at this time.
This moon is a good time to work on magic related to new beginnings in your own life rather than in your endeavour for the year. Now is the time to concentrate on your relationships both romantic and otherwise. You may wish to bring a new connection into your life or work on an existing one. If you havent been able to put all your plans into motion nows the time for that last big push to get everything going and beginning to manifest into reality.
May is a time of Fire within many Pagan calendars and this energy and drive can be channeled into workings related to careers and jobs. If you’ve been thinking about promotion, a career move or even trying a new field of work or study altogether now is the time to perform workings to bring this about. If you are studying, or even wanting to study, draw on the energy of the month to boost your efforts. Nourish all those seeds and plans planted in the last few months, things will be beginning to emerge in your favor but it is still the growing season.
As we reach the high point of the year now is a time for consolidation and maintaining the progress made so far. By taking the time to tend to what we have we can enhance it to its fullest level. Focus on workings which allow your personal life to blossom, nurture your existing career or help cement existing family relationships.
As we begin to enter the dog days of summer the (hopefully) sultry weather encourages us to step back, relax and cast our awareness inwards. Meditation, dreamwork and divination focused on your own personal development and understanding of oneself are appropriate at this time. You may also wish to seek guidance on the development of your plans in the months ahead, seeking to divine whether or not you may encounter any blockages and their possible solution.
August is a time of harvest and it may be that some of your plans have reached the point where they are ready to be gathered in. View your crop with a critical eye and only reach for those things that have reached full maturity least you cut something down before its time. This is a good time to focus on your spiritual and physical health in order to ensure you are ready for the months ahead.
This is the point of the year when the year begins to wind down towards the colder months and so this is a good time to focus on the hearth and home. This it a time of kitchen magic, making preserves and storing food for the winter ahead. This is a time for autumn fixing and cleaning, getting your house in order for the coming winter and the same is true in your spiritual and emotional life. Now is the time for settling those lingering issues so they are resolved long before winter arrives.
The nights are lengthening and the season of the final harvest is upon us. Now is the time to see your plans to fulfilment and fruition and magical workings to bring this about are appropriate at this time. It is also the time of year when the veil between our world and the spirit world is thinnest. Activities like divination and séances and ancestor worship are also appropriate at this time. You may also want to review your spiritual growth in the preceding months and consider whereyou can grow from this point.
The year is winding down and now is a time of review. Looking back consider all that was good and positive and should be remembered in the dark months ahead. Where there are memories that are painful or holding you back work to let them go so they do not linger into winter. End toxic relationships, seek to break bad habits and focus on the joys of the past and future.
We have reached the end of the year. We have planted, nurtured and harvested our plans over the year and have celebrated them as well. This darkest month is the time and is the time to review all that has passed, all that you have weathered and realise that this is a time that you have survived. As well as looking inwards remember family and friends and think about how you can support them in this time of darkness.
The Blue Moon has no firm associations a many people like to focus on communication with Deity, long term planning and goals for the future. Sitting outside of the solar calendar the energy of this moon is uniquely Luna. Now is a good time to reaffirm your connection with your Gods, reconsecrate tools and wards. Plan your spellwork according to the zodiac sign which the moon is passing through at that time.
A Note on Names and Timing the Blue Moon
The astute reader will have noted that I have not ‘named’ any of the moons. The common names cited such as Snow, Wolf, Chaste etc are not native to Britain, in fact they have more to do with Native Americans than anything else. I could have gone down the route of associating the months with the Celtic Ogham script but chose not to, sticking to generic information. Neither particularly fit within my own practice, or indeed heritage, and so I have chosen to step over them.
As for the timing of the Blue Moon I will leave this to the individual. Traditionally the Blue Moon is the fourth full moon in a season whereas the modern understanding it is a second full moon occurring within a given month. There are arguments for and against both methods but I am personally inclined towards keeping things simple and counting by month.
Esbat Ritual Ideas
So what can we get up to during an Esbat? From my perspective, as a Devotee of Hekate, a lot of my rituals focus very much on my work with my Goddess. I will honour Her during the full moon and I will observe days particularly associated with Her.
More generally deity worship features strongly in Esbat rituals. Whenever a group of Witches gets together it is a perfect opportunity to honour and maintain relationships with a shared deity or pantheon, and the same can be said about solitary rituals. Similarly it is a time for honouring spirits and ancestors, be they shared or individual.
Esbats are also a time to perform spells and divination. As mentioned elsewhere the full moon is a good time for these activities but they can be performed at any gathering. If you are a Witch alone and working at home it’s never a bad time to refresh and renew your household and personal wards and as a group you can work on all sorts of different workings.
One activity that is associated with the Esbat is the drawing down of the divine for communication with us mortal beings. The most famous expression of this can be found in the ritual of Drawing Down The Moon. Although historical the Drawing Down of the Moon was an expression of the command ancient Witches held over the powers of nature it is now a method through which we as Witches can communicate with the feminine divine found within the Moon itself.
Regardless of whether or not you work in a group or as a Witch alone communication with the Divine is equally possible. The process of Drawing Down The Moon for solitaires is obviously different, and the oracular element is not applicable, but it is a rewarding and energising process often incorporated into Esbats.
As said at the beginning of this post, Esbats are not only identified with the full moon. Gatherings during the dark of the moon and daylight hours. These timings do not mean it is not possible to communicate with deities through the process of Drawing Down, only that these times are better suited to working with other deities. Drawing Down The Dark Moon will help explore the darker aspects of the Feminine Divine, regardless of whether you draw down Hekate or some other Goddess associated with the shadowself. Equally this operation does no not need to be limited to the feminine and there is a companion ritual to the Drawing Down of the Moon known as the Drawing Down of the Sun. Like anything the ritual for the group can be altered to be performed as a solitary, there’s are plenty of clues around here to give an idea how to go about it.
This Heketean’s Esbats
There are looooads of websites out there with excellent resouces and rituals for celebrating a devotion to Hekate during both the full and dark moon. I’ve linked one in this post already and Goggle will throw out many more.
From a personal perspective (which is really the focus of the Defining My Craft project) Esbat is not a term I would personally use. Devotion/al, Celebration and Ritual are just a couple I would use in conversation but for no real reason than convenience of explanation. What I do in my devotions really sits outside of the conventional formula of the “wiccan” Esbat (calling the quarters, cake and ale etc) or rituals such as the Drawing Down of the Moon. My ritual elements often perform the same function and I still celebrate and reaffirm my connection and devotion to Hekate, making offerings and communicating with Her energies, but they are things I have developed over time drawing on my early years of study of Craft and more recent studies in Helenic traditions and Mystery Cults.
Links For Further Information
As I said above there is a lot of information available on the WWW on Esbats and the Moon. Here are three that I came across in my research which you may find useful if you are wanting to actually construct an Esbat ritual but are not familiar with the structure or are looking for more information on a particular aspect.
Magic by Moon Phase
Full Moon and Zodiac
Full Moon by Month
You can also check out my own ‘guide to writing rituals‘ which will help you lay out a ritual format according to my methods.