Reform Pagan Practice 101: Ritual Observance

This post is the first of five installments in Baldr Frostflame’s “Reform Pagan Practice 101” series, giving his high-level overview of Reform Pagan practice.

Humans have always attributed spiritual significance to certain moments or periods in time, whether hours in a day, phases in a lunar month, seasons in a solar year, or stages in a human life. Accordingly, one of the Five Elements of Reform Pagan practice—represented by the alchemical element of fire—involves observance of common and special occasions through ritual.

Reform Paganism gives each individual the freedom to create a personal schedule or calendar of ritual observances, but like otheir Neopagans, we most typically celebrate the sabbats (eight per solar year) and esbats (two or four per lunar cycle).

Reform Pagan sabbats and esbats might appear at first glance simply to mirror the sabbats and esbats common among many Neopagans. But in Reform Paganism, the purpose of each ritual occasion and observance is to give us a targeted opportunity to concentrate our willpower and our efforts on positive transformation of the individual, the community, and the world in a particular area of focus.

Sabbats

Whole books can be (and have been) written about each of the sabbats, so here is just an outline of particular areas of focus that are sometimes associated with each sabbat:

  • Winter Eve (also called Winter/Hibernal Passage or Samhain) – circa Nov 5*: heritage, release or ending (including mortality), and transition
  • Mid Winter (also called Winter/Hibernal Solstice or Yule) – circa Dec 21*: solidarity, hope, and patience
  • Spring Eve (also called Spring/Vernal Passage or Imbolc) – circa Feb 3*: openness, purification, and resolve
  • Mid Spring (also called Spring/Vernal Equinox or Ostara) – circa Mar 21*: beginnings, breakthrough, and regeneration
  • Summer Eve (also called Summer/Estival Passage or Beltane) – circa May 5*: passion, union, and creativity
  • Mid Summer (also called Summer/Estival Solstice or Litha) – circa Jun 21*: joy, vitality, and power
  • Autumn Eve (also called Autumn/Autumnal Passage or Lughnasadh) – circa Aug 5*: fruitfulness, gratitude, and giving
  • Mid Autumn (also called Autumn/Autumnal Equinox or Mabon) – circa Sep 21*: sacrifice, balance, and reconciliation

* Dates are given for observances in the Northern Hemisphere, while observances in the Southern Hemisphere are shifted by six months. Each date is marked “circa” because different Reform Pagans may observe the same sabbats on slightly different days (often based on different systems of reckoning)—given dates for the Eves (or Passages) represent the approximate calendar midpoints between the sabbats immediately preceding and following each Passage. Reform Pagans need not observe any particular sabbat on any particular date.

Esbats

Again, whole books can be (and have been) written about each of the esbats, so here is just an outline of particular areas of focus that are sometimes associated with each esbat:

  • Dark Moon*: possibility inherent in emptiness
  • First Quarter Moon: energies of waxing and increase
  • Full Moon*: completion and wholeness
  • Third Quarter Moon: energies of waning and decrease

* The Full Moon is typically regarded as the greatest esbat in importance, and the Dark Moon is typically regarded as second in importance, so if only one esbat is celebrated, it is typically the Full Moon, while if only two esbats are celebrated, they are typically the Full Moon and Dark Moon.

Other Occasions

Some Reform Pagans also observe certain devotional “hours” of the day (also called “stations of the sun”), and many of us observe various rites of passage in the course of human life. Each of these devotional hours and rites of passage, like each of the sabbats and esbats, is associated with particular areas of focus for continuing transformation of self, community, and world.

Discuss the Element of Fire in Reform Pagan practice here on the Pagan Renewal Network.

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