According to many sources, the word Esbat meant “to dance or frolic.” This, of course, still happens at some Esbat rituals to this day.
But what is an Esbat in witchcraft today centered on? There seems to be some confusion of the frequency of Esbats, and also what it means in Wicca today. For some witches, it is any ritual or meeting at coven that aligns with the moon phase or a particular phase, some, it just means “the full moon ritual.” (Some older covens, like ours, did not have specific lore surrounding the word “Esbat” or even the word “Esbat” in our earliest materials. Instead, the oldest material just said things like “Full Moon Ritual” and the later concepts of certain frequencies developed later when Wicca was further fleshed out as people expanded their occult knowledge.)
Regardless of tradition and differences of practice and frequency, I think most of us can agree that when it comes to coven work, that an Esbat would be any standard meeting of the coven that consists of just the private, initiated members of the coven that is not a Sabbat and those witches who were deemed sufficient enough in knowledge to be able to perform well with group coven magics. Sometimes, a period of time may even be built in for a newly initiated witch to hone their skills at spell-making, sorcery and talismanic magics before they are permitted to attend the important Esbats. While the Seasonals are much more communal, the Esbats are a bit more intimate as they express the inner-workings.
This article is not written just to outline what might be possible when you initiate into a coven, but can also provide you with some options if you already have your own coven.
The prime importance of an Esbat, as our group has come to know it, concerns itself with the workings of spell-making and talismanic magic, as opposed to the Seasonal festivals which is more focused on a celebration of the Seasonal progressions and alignment with that particular time of year. During the Seasonals, our incantations might still petition the Deity for what is needed in our lives and we might focus on those in need through group thought-transference, long-distance hypnotism, telepathy and directing the elementals, but at those times we also focus on prayers of gratitude and Thanksgiving for what we have received as well as requesting wisdom from our gods. This is different than the Esbats where very specific spell-making is performed and done so in a very specialized manner. (Also, typically the Seasonals or Sabbats occur only four times a year, or more commonly today, eight times per year – whereas Esbats tend to occur more in frequency.)
So what is the frequency that a coven might meet for Esbat Rituals? There is no set-in-stone answer to this question! The coven would meet as frequently as they wish too!
Here is a potential list of common types of frequencies found across various branches of witchcraft practice:
1. Full Moon Ritual – originally, there seemed to have been only one type of Esbat which meant that witches met at coven at the full moon. In most cases that meant that when it came to Esbats, there was only one ritual you might have in your coven workbook for this. Magic might be performed as needed at this time. Many books on Wicca discuss a practice known as ‘Drawing Down the Moon‘ that might even be a common practice at this time. This could allow for a potential of 13 Esbats per year.
2. New Moon Ritual – Later on, some witches decided it may be important to meet at the time of the New Moon. When this became the case, some witches and coven decided they would divide what type of magic that is appropriate for New Moon rituals and what type of magic would be appropriate for Full Moon Rituals.
3. Full & New Moon Rituals – Typically, if New Moons were instituted as a meeting time, then it seems that most covens who perform New Moon Rituals also perform Full Moon Rituals. It is important to realize that some covens only perform Full Moon Rituals when it comes to Esbats and other frequencies of meeting might not be found. In this instance, some covens might say that during the New Moon Rituals they might work magic to draw in new things, whereas at the Full Moon Rituals they might work on banishment and release or various other divisions of work.
4. Weekly Esbat – Some covens might decide to meet once each week for an Esbat. When this is the case, it is typically on a Friday night into Saturday (night of Venus) or a Wednesday night (the night of Mercury) to perform magic together. The coven might have a feast before or after the ritual is conducted and meeting would not depend on when it was Full or New Moon. Covens might pay attention to a fuller scale of various Moon phases and will work magic depending on which phase that the moon is in.
5. Closest Saturday to Full and/or New Moon – Because occasionally some groups of witches live further away from the place of meeting (coven), some groups may choose to meet at the closest Saturday or another set regimented time. Typically, Esbats are not compulsory Rites of witchcraft like the four Seasonals are, so most groups would be okay if you can’t make every single Esbat Ritual.
6. Astrologically Timed Esbats – Some covens may time their Esbat rituals by astrological timing as well as the moon phases. This is two-fold: First, depending on what sign the moon is in at the time set for meeting, such as if the Moon is waxing in Aries or Libra or any other of the 12 astrological signs. They might say that a particular moon in sign may have a different effect on the outcome of the spells themselves, or even slightly different rituals for a Cancer Moon or a Virgo Moon. Some covens may not necessarily plan that far ahead, and decide on the proper wording of the invocations and incantations that will be in line with one of the particular 12 signs the moon is in for that ritual. Some covens may not perform a different ritual at this time, but the meditation part of the Esbat may slightly change depending on the sign the moon is in.
The second method is by using the planetary/angelic days and hours which is a system where each hour of daylight and night is ruled by one of the seven classical planets or one of the seven archangels and aligning this with the correct day of the week. For planetary and angelic hours, this is where the hours of daylight and the hours of night are converted into minutes and then into hourly divisions. This means that at certain times of the year the hours of the day may be longer or shorter than 60 minutes and vice-versa depending on the time of the year it is scheduled. In this system, the only time the hours will line up with perfect even minutes is during the Equinoxes. This method is for serious coven work. Most of the time, the planetary/angelic hours will be used when performing solitary spell-making. It is quite simple, but effective. Figuring out the hours and observing the sign the moon is in seems to add to the spell and goes with the old maxim of, “you get out of it what you put in it.” A greater emphasis might be placed on this when performing talismanic magics, which some groups may call ‘binding the sigils’ or the crafting of Charms.
7. Full Moon Rituals based on the Lunar Folk Names – As we know, there will be 13 full moons in the course of one calendar year. One month will typically have two full moons since the lunar calendar and the Roman calendar don’t line up. Some groups, lines or traditions might even create separate rituals based around these colloquial folk names that might be different from location to location. One example of this may be a list of 13 Esbats such as: Wolf Moon, Storm Moon, Sap Moon, Seed Moon, Hare Moon, Flower Moon, Rose Moon, Wort Moon, Barley Moon, Harvest Moon, Blood Moon, Snow Moon & Oak Moon.
Of course, as you can guess, each group may have a different set of practices they follow when it comes to when and how they perform Esbat Rituals – even within the same line or tradition! Some groups of witches may even try different things on different years as the coven interest dictates. Even eclectic groups might develop their own system and style. Some groups may even schedule times for Esbats they perform these solitary, but will do so at the same time using astrological timing, all bringing their will to bear on a situation at the same time remotely.
One important thing to mention that I have personally found: It is NOT the quantity of witches working the same spell together at the same time that dictates great success. A mass number of witches working on an issue does not necessarily equal success in any way. Instead, it is the quality of work, skill and training that dictates success. A small group of three serious occultists can out-Power a large mass of sloppy occult work. The emphasis should be on quality, rather than quantity. With so many large groupings of people divided over the things that don’t seem to matter much, this is a word of caution for those that don’t have like-minded focus. When it comes to witchcraft, it is rarely politics and opinions that matter – actual results are the only measure of success. Everyone can have their own outlook on many issues, but if these things get in the way and become more important than quality work, rarely will large dysfunctional groups be able to muster the necessary collective power needed for results. This is probably one of the real reasons for the last part of the Four-Sided ‘Pyramid of the Sphinx’ found in classical occultism which tells us ‘To Be Silent.’ This means group acts of spell-making should be performed by a chosen selection of witches that you can get in-synch with, hence, why spell-making tends to always be a ‘small group activity’ amongst those that can get-on with each other.
This above listing of seven options you may find might be far from a complete list and some may have developed cycles that are very different than any that I have come to know.
Maybe your grouping of witches doesn’t meet at coven during chosen Esbats at all? That is fine too, but doesn’t mean that you can’t use the opportunity of the Esbats to perform your own private spell-making. Even when you are an initiate that is part of a group of witches, much of your practice will still be solitary. A group of witches can bolster each other, but that can’t become a distraction from the needed solitary work that we still have to do.
Those that have been in witchcraft for a long time who have found their place in this world may perform spells less often that those who first come into it. That doesn’t mean that you stop all your solitary work that you also do, but means more time is spent in meditation and contemplation – allowing the Deity and the guides to guide you, and when needed, to bring you the information. This still occurs no matter what successes you have achieved, and no matter what trials or travails you may experience…. never forget to stop and listen…. and be.