High Days and Sabbats

“Spiritual ritual is a process by which traditional symbols are linked with spiritual powers and with archetypes in the mind. By combining these symbols in traditional and innovative (modern) ways we can open our souls to contact with the transpersonal and the divine.” 1

High Days, Holy Days, Holidays

ADF observes the calendar of the eight holy days created early in the Neopagan movement, as a merging of Celtic and other Indo-European customs, symbols, practices and mythologies. These are known as Sabbats (Esbats are the observances of the moon). The Eight High Days (Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Spring Equinox–Ostara, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, and Mabon– Autumn Equinox) calendar was adopted by Our Druidry (ADF) to stay within the mainstream of today’s Pagan work. It is primarily of Celtic observance (due to the early Celtic dominance within ADF), but as ADF expanded and members of other Indo-European influence joined, Groves and individuals may adjust the High day to their particular custom. ADF Groves are required to keep public ritual sometime close to the eight calendar dates.

Observance of the feasts and customs of the High Days is encouraged in our Druidic practice as a religious duty. It leads to basic wisdom, harmony and rhythms with the land, create magic, and opportunity to connect with the worship of the ancestors, know the customs they shared and learn about and interact with the gods and goddesses about us. The eight high days are our primary obligation, however other opportunities for worship exist and are encouraged. Full Moons, New Moons, other cultural rituals and festivals, boundaries to the realms, when special occurrences in nature happen. Whenever you can create a ritual experience, as formal or as simple as a cup of water, a candle and a stick, take it and go with it. The important thing is not the staging, but the intent and the work of the person(s) involved.


Sabbat comes from the old Greek ‘sabatu’ which means, “to rest”. As a time to rest, most magic and spells were considered rest and to be performed prior to the Sabbat to take advantage of the waxing energies (unless an extreme emergency). Sabbats were for relaxing, connecting with clans and other allies, experiencing the season, and celebrating the kindred.

Modern neopaganism is a diverse gathering of traditions, ideas, and interpretations that have been woven into the fabric of our practices today from the many cultures and religions that influence us. The Sabbat customs that most pagans observe are not all part of a single tradition, as mentioned earlier, nor all part of a pre Christian culture (such as Norse, Celtic, Teutonic, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, etc). Some cultures had many festivals and high days (like the Hellenic and Athenian Greeks, Romans, Egyptians) and others may have had very few (the Celts). All cultures, however, seem to have had some form of Solar festivals that contributed to the lore and practice that we share now.

Fire festivals are estimated to have been practiced in some form for over 12,000 years. As these ancient cultures were agricultural in nature, the fire festivals marked the times for planting, tending, harvesting and winter preparations. When civilization grew around cities and became less nomadic, the festivals also changed becoming more religious and ceremonial. They were often associated with certain deities and the strength of their influence and power.

As the Christian movement, empowered by the armies of Rome, advanced and converted the populace, pagans went into hiding, some within the church itself. Even with this transition, the old ways were not to be completely abandoned and eventually the church relented and created festivals to coincide with the old festivals (creating Christmas, Easter, etc).

The Sabbats are the four Solstices and Equinox’ and the 4 cross quarter days. There are 2 Solstices per year, the winter and the summer when the earth’s axis is oriented directly towards or away from the sun. At the solstice the sun appears to stand still and appear in its northern or southernmost position. It comes from the Latin Sol (Sun) or sistere (stand still). The Two Equinox is when the sun is directly above the equator around March 30 and Sept 23. It comes from the Latin equus (equal) and nox (night). There is an equinox or solstice approximately the 21st of the last month of each quarter of our calendar year.

The Cross Quarter Days are approximately half way between the solstice and the equinox. Many cultures mark the beginning of the seasons and they occur astronomically at 15* of the signs Scorpio (Samhain), Aquarius (Imbolc), Taurus (Beltane), and Leo (Lughnasadh).

This is a basic introduction to the High Days. On the following pages, we basically scratch the surface of what the holidays are, some of the customs, who observed them, important deities etc. We encourage you to deeper study and particularly the lore and practice of your hearth pantheon or ancestry. While doing so, see how the observances can be applied and restructured to your lives today.


1 The Dedicant Program, Ar nDraiocht Fein, c 2005
2 The Sabbats, Edain Mc Coy, c 1999
3 Celebrate the Earth, Laurie Cabot, c 1994
4 Wikipedia