Happy Cross-Quarter Day – Rethinking the date of the Sabbat

Sergeant Howie: But they are … are naked.
Lord Summerisle: Naturally!  It’s much too dangerous to jump through fire with your clothes on!
~ The Wicker Man

ImbolcThe date of the upcoming Sabbat has always been confusing to me.  Why is it that cross-quarter days fall on fixed days while quarter days follow the non-fixed days of the solstices and equinoxes? And why is it that I see so many different dates for the Sabbat on the internet?

Date of the Cross Quarter

By definition, the next cross-quarter will be at the midpoint between two quarter days which for this upcoming cross-quarter is the day that falls at the midpoint between the winter solstice (Dec 21st) and the vernal equinox (Mar 20th).  You can calculate this date by counting the days between these two points and dividing by two.  Another method of determining this date is to find the midpoint between the three signs of the zodiac, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces, that fall between these two points .  Since each sign extends 30 degree, the center is when the center sign, Aquarius, is at 15 degrees. Both of these days fall on February 4th this year.  Some Wiccan traditions celebrate the Sabbat on this date, though it has become known as the  “Old Style.”

The Celts

The ancient Celts were known to have celebrated fire festivals near the cross-quarter days to celebrate the change of seasons.  Though the meteorological calendar considers winter in the northern hemisphere as December through February, the Gaelic calendar regards winter as beginning in November (Samhain) and ending at the end of January (Imbolc). This is because the weather in the British Isles is tempered by the Gulf Stream so it acts differently than it does in central Europe or here in the United States.  Therefore , Gaelic Ireland celebrated the first cross-quarter as a feis or festival marking the beginning of Spring “Earrach” which falls on February 1st .

Festival of Brighid

The evening of July 31st through February 1st is also the Óiche Fheil Bhrighide which is the modern Gaelic name for the “Eve of the festival of Bridget.” Bridget, also known as Brigit, Brigid or Brighid, is known in Ireland as both an ancient Celtic goddess and a Christian saint.  The mythologies of each has been so fused that they are hard to tell apart.  In both Ireland and West Scotland the Eve of Bridget is a time for much celebration and ritual.

Imbolc

Another celebration for the celebrations on February 1st is Imbolc or Imbolg.  There are several etymologies of the name which might suggest the primary object of celebration.

First, the date could be derived from the Old Irish i mbolc (Modern Irish i mbolg) meaning “in the belly” and refers to the pregnancy of ewes.  Another is oimelc or “ewe milk”.  Sheep grazing is an important industry in the hilly and mountainous landscape of Ireland.  Ewes only begin to visibly show a pregnancy about six weeks before giving birth so they became a visible sign of the impending Spring.

Another possible origin is the Old Irish imb-fholc, “to wash/cleanse oneself”, referring to a ritual cleansing.  Several traditions have celebrations revolving around cleansing and purification with sacred wells, fire, or milk.  This idea can be seen today in our tradition of the “Spring cleaning.”

February 2nd ?

The day following February 2nd is known in the Roman Catholic Church as “Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.”  This holiday occurs exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus (December 25th) when Mary is said to have submitted herself to the Temple for the ritual purification by Mosaic Law.  By the 11th Century, this day also became known as Candlemas where Christians performed blessings of their ritual candles.  Since Imbolc immediately precedes Candlemas, Irish Imbolc is sometimes translated into English as “Candlemas”; e.g. iar n-imbulc, ba garb a ngeilt translated as “after Candlemas, rough was their herding” though each were on different days.

Today some Pagans, especially those self-described at Christo-pagans choose to celebrate Candlemas as their Sabbat.

Full/New Moon?

As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ancient Celtic calendar was soli-lunar with the months aligned with the moon.  Most likely, February 1st was actually on a new moon or the full moon, or per Pliny and Tacitus perhaps even the First Quarter.  In either case, this would have either placed February 1st on the new moon which was on January 20th or February 13th, or the full moon on February 3rd.

Conclusion

The calculated cross-quarter day is February 4th, but Wiccans today tend to actually celebrate the upcoming Sabbat when it is convenient to do so around the beginning of February.  I guess the exact date should not really matter, or should it?

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About Sam Shryock

I am a resident of Kansas City metro area and have practiced Pagan Spirituality since 2007. I am a third-degree Wiccan with the Correllian-Nativist tradition, the local coordinator for Kansas City Pagan Pride Day, and the host of the monthly Kansas Coffee Coven. I currently work full-time in the Computer Industry. I am a retired Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel and have a Masters Degree in Computer Resource and Information Management. Most importantly I am a proud husband, father, and grandfather.
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