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Wicca for Beginners: What is an Esbat Ritual?
Esbats in Wicca are a regular time for ritual. It’s not a sabbat or holiday, and it’s not a special occasion in particular, but there’s more to it than just casting a spell.
The best way I can describe it is to say an esbat to a Wiccan is similar to what a Sunday is to most Christians, or what Friday nights are to observant Jews. It is the time in your life that you set aside for communal (if in a coven or group) or formal worship.
If you’re new to practicing Wicca, one way you may wish to begin bringing the religion into your life is to begin having esbats. Here is a guide created in question-and-answer style to tell you everything you need to know to begin doing that.
Recommended Wicca Book:
This book may have a facetious name, but it really does cover all the Wicca basics well.
What Does NOT Go On at Esbats
Don't let the rumor mill fool you. Despite what some stubborn rumors say, you will not find the following at an esbat:
- devil worship
- calling up demons or evil spirits
- 'black mass'
- drinking blood
- killing animals/babies/virgins
People will talk and talk about things they 'hear' but these things are simply not part of Wicca.
What Goes On at an Esbat?
An esbat is a ritual observance that a Wiccan would have on a regular (or at least semi-regular) schedule. The ritual can be as simple or as elaborate as the Wiccan desires.
The ritual would usually involve creating sacred space, casting a circle, invoking Gods and/or Goddesses, prayers/rites, meditations, a ‘simple feast’ and then a ritual closing. Also many Wiccans like to plan their magical workings to take place during an esbat, but there’s generally more to an esbat than just casting spells (which you don’t need a full-blown ritual to do).
If you’re not familiar with Wiccan ritual, you can learn more about it here, and you can find a standard ritual opening and closing of my own design here that is suited for beginners.
What Say You?
Do you hold esbats?
When Do Wiccans Hold Esbats?
While sabbats (holiday celebrations) are planned around the cycles of the sun, and usually focus on the rise and fall of the God, esbats are planned around the phases of the moon and usually focused on Goddess. The most common moon phase for esbats is the full moon—when the moon is at its height of power. This is also a very powerful time for many magical goals, so it’s a good choice.
Esbats do not have to be on full moons, though. If you worship a dark Goddess or crone, you may wish to worship at the dark moon—a time when She is in power. Dark moons are also a powerful time for certain types of magic as well, such as banishing or ending phases in your life.
If you worship a maiden Goddess, you might wish to hold your esbats at the new moon, when the waxing crescent is in the sky, to tap into that particular energy.
Usually Wiccans will hold one esbat per month—though some hold more.
Moon Phase Guide:
Approx. Rising Time
Slim crescent (right side)
half full (right side)
around noon around midnight
3/4 full (right side)
3/4 full (left side)
half full (left side)
A special incense can help immediately set the mood for your rituals. This ground incense needs to be sprinkled over incense charcoal in a censer.
Do Esbats Have to be at Night? At Midnight?
No. Most Wiccans do hold them at night, mainly because the moon is usually out and visible. Nighttime makes people feel closer to the moon, so it’s more conducive to the mood of the occasion. Also it’s practical for people who work during the day to plan gatherings or rituals at night.
Midnight is a fine time, and it’s when the full moon is at its highest point so some Wiccans who do full moon esbats prefer to wait for midnight. If you’re holding an esbat at a phase other than a full moon, feel free to adjust your ritual to hold it when the moon would be at its high point. For example, the new moon rises at sunrise and is at its high point at mid-afternoon. A crescent moon is at its high point late afternoon. The waning gibbous moon rides the skies at its highest point in the wee early hours of the morning, around 3 or 4 AM. You should adjust your ritual time accordingly.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with planning your ritual for a time that’s convenient, such as in the daytime when kids are in bed, or after dinner so you can get to bed early for work the next day. It’s better to change your time than to miss it entirely.
Where Do Wiccans Hold Esbats?
There are no requirements for location. If you’re a solitary, you’d hold it where ever it’s convenient to set up your altar in your home. If you’re in a coven, you may take turns going to each other’s homes. Some groups go to public parks, beaches or rent out space.
When the Earth is your church, there’s no place that can’t be made sacred.
I am Not Dedicated or Initiated – Am I Allowed to Have Esbats?
Sure—you can begin holding esbats before your dedication (if you’re a solitary) or initiation (if you’re joining a group). While these rites of passage are a great part of your conversion, the process of transitioning actually takes much longer. You don’t have to wait for any formal ritual declaring you a Wiccan before you honor the Gods.
Standard Esbat Altar
I Don’t Have Tools – How Can I Have an Esbat?
Tools—they are great for ritual presentation. They can certainly aid focus and hold a great deal of meaning in ritual. Tools such as candles, athames, incense, pentacles, etc. are certainly useful—however, they’re not necessary.
When it comes to spirituality, all you really need is you and your Gods. You can use as many or as few tools as necessary—even if it’s as few as none. Use your hand to cast a circle, sit in it, and perform your prayers and meditations. Your Gods will still come even if you don’t invoke them with a wand or a candle. The elements are still present in every square inch of space, even if you don’t have physical representations of them.
If you really wish you had tools, you can improvise. A couple of plain white candles and perhaps a stick of incense in an ashtray. Perhaps you’ll go on a nature hike and collect some shells, rocks and twigs—come home and put them on the altar. They’re just as good.
There is no urgent need to run out and drop a load of money on tools just to hold esbats. Tools are something you can accumulate in time—but always consider them a desire, not a need.
Don't Misunderstand Wiccan Beliefs...
Or Wiccan Symbols...
What If I Do It Wrong? Will Something Bad Happen?
One concern a lot of new Wiccans have is that they might do a ritual ‘wrong’. They might not cast a circle well, the candles they used for invoking the Gods might blow out in a breeze, and they might accidentally offend something— and any number of other concerns.
Wicca is just not a religion that teaches there are spiritual boogiemen out and about waiting to pounce on people. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. The Gods are not going to get vindictive and wrathful. The forces of hell aren’t going to be unleashed to descend upon you (we don’t believe in hell, or its forces).
The circle is sacred space in Wicca, not a force field. It’s meant more to be a container and preserver than a shield. Though it does help in shielding out any negativity while you are holding your ritual, you are no more in danger in a Wiccan ritual without a circle than you are standing in any room going about your business without a circle.
If you feel you are summoning something you’re scared of that you need such great protection from, I’d ask why are messing with such a thing in the first place? Are you sure it’s Wicca you’re learning about? Are you sure you understand our religion? If you don’t trust your Gods or nature’s spiritual energies, which in Wicca we see as benign, you might reconsider whether or not Wicca is really for you.
If you make a mistake, fix it, or move on. Nothing bad is going to happen. There’s nothing dangerous about worshiping your Gods or celebrating the sacred in Wicca.
Can I Go to a Coven for an Esbat to See What It’s Like?
Covens are not open organizations like churches or temples. They’re small, intimate groups of people who meet in each other’s home. They require a training period and initiation to join. Most will not advertise esbats, and will not invite those who’ve not been initiated. If you know someone in a coven, and if they invite you to an open ritual, consider yourself lucky.
There are Pagan groups in many places that hold open monthly rituals. You can usually find these at Witchvox.com listings. However you should always keep in mind that this is the internet—anyone can claim to be anything and post a message. Always be wary when meeting strangers through the internet, and if something doesn’t seem ‘kosher’, high-tail it out of there. Better safe than sorry.
If your local Unitarian Universalist group has a Covenant of the Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) group, they might have regular or occasional rituals that are open to the public.
Traditional Esbat Chant Set to Music (with a Beautiful Voice)
Own This Wiccan Song:
Do Wiccans HAVE to Have Esbats?
There are no mandates by the Gods for us to have esbats. They’re not going to get angry at you or desert you. If your schedule doesn’t always work out, if you’re going through difficult times and your energy and time is short, don’t feel guilty. Do something small, or put esbats on the back burner for a time.
Esbats should be something you look forward to and enjoy, not something thought of as a chore that you dread. They’re an opportunity for us, as Wiccans, to connect to the divine energy on a regular basis. This can not only be spiritually fulfilling, but immensely beneficial in our personal spiritual growth-- but it's not the only way to be spiritual, so don't ever feel pressured to have an esbat.