In standard practice, while the Sabbats follow the movement of the seasons and the sun in the skies, Esbats follow the moon. Though any ritual outside of the High Holydays is actually an Esbat.
The Sun, the center of our solar system, giver of light, life, and warmth is not the only luminary in our skies. The Moon reflects the light of the sun gently down to earth as she waxes and wanes in our night sky. The Moon can be looked at without damaging the eyes; she brings us sunlight on a human scale. The disc of both the Sun and Moon appear to be the same size from our earthly perspective, suggesting a role of equal importance to life on earth.
While the Sabbats are celebrated on a Solar calendar; Esbats are celebrated on a Lunar calendar, the days or nights during which the Gods and Goddesses are honored. Mostly they are celebrations that follow the cycle of the Full and New Moon. However an Esbat needn’t follow a schedule, there are many days during the middle of the lunar month that holds personal significance to the practitioner. By all means, share this time with the Ancients.
The Moon is the most important heavenly body to witches. We draw on her power for lunar magic. We cast our spells in accord with her cycles. She inspires and illuminates us. There are moon gods, but the Moon has always been perceived as female. The Moon is cyclical, like women. We menstruate with her. She mirrors the stages of our lives: “Maiden”, “Mother” and “Crone”. She is Changing Woman, as are we.
Often, an Esbat is celebrated by getting together with a coven or a few friends and honoring the Gods then having cakes and wine afterward. Of course, for solitary people, that’s not what happens at all. Esbats are a good time to create a ritual to honor the Ancients. Simply remember that the God and Goddess are just the whole of creation, and if your world is growing colder as winter approaches, you will celebrate slightly differently than you would in the heat of summer.
We seem to have forgotten the importance of the Moons dance through our sky, rising and setting, waxing and waning in a pattern that marks time in a different but no less important way. An earth year can be divided into twelve solar months; the Sun can be seen against the backdrop of all twelve signs of the zodiac in one year. However there are thirteen lunar cycles per year, and marking time between one Dark Moon and the next can be an enlightening experience.
In our culture, we worship The Solar Deities. During the day, under the light of the Sun, we direct our energies outwards, into achieving goals, enjoying leisure activities, and getting things done. We define ourselves by the results of our actions and our identity becomes bound to our relative success or failure. This has become how our society measures us, finds us a place and a role that is productive and useful. We mark time with the passing of the seasons as the Sun’s light diminishes over winter and increases towards Summer. Our months are solar months, our government/bank holidays are solar festivals.
Commonly the Esbats are used to work magick. Some people consider the Esbats the best time for magick. And this makes quite a lot of sense because when magick is worked, the Moon’s cycle must be taken into account. When the Moon is full, many people consider this the strongest, best time to do all forms of magick. The “Full Moon” influence is said to be happening on the day the Moon is full and the days before and after. If the Moon is dark, many people prefer not to do magick at all but to concentrate on darker aspects of themselves through shadow work and engage in meditation and things like scrying, which are practices done by the wise and require lots of experience to do well.