are the days
(or rather, nights
) on which many Pagan
traditions, including many forms of Wicca
and other Earth
religions, honor the female
aspect of deity
, or the Goddess
. Mostly they are celebrations of the Full Moon
as a symbol
of the fertile pregnant Mother Earth
, and some like to celebrate the New Moon
too. There are twelve to thirteen Esbats in a year, one every 28 or so days.
Often, an Esbat is celebrated by getting together with a coven or a few friends and honoring the Goddess with dancing, singing, and magickal workings, and then having crescent cakes and wine afterwards. Of course, for solitary people that's not what happens at all. Esbats are often honored with special rituals. A ritual to honor the Goddess can be created, looking at Her in the context of the wheel of the year. For instance, if it is near Mabon (the Autumn Equinox), the Goddess is a bit more somber because Her lover is dying and She is also pregnant. This is quite a bit different from the Maiden Goddess at Imbolc, when She is young and innocent, and quite different from the fertile, robust, energetic and sexual Goddess that represents Beltane and Litha (the Summer Solstice); one would not confuse these other aspects of the Goddess with Her dark Crone face at Samhain either. Some people prefer not to celebrate Esbats as if they are in context with the Sabbats, because they think that the way you think of the Goddess should not be directed by what the God is doing; many Earth religions focus more heavily on the female aspect than the male and would resent having the Goddess thought of in terms of the God's life cycle. However, many see the God and Goddess as just the whole of creation, and if the world is growing colder as winter approaches, many will celebrate in a slightly different way than if it is in the heat of summer.
A VERY common thing to do on Esbats is 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 and engage in meditation and things like scrying, which are practices done by the wise and require lots of experience to do well. As the Moon becomes a crescent and grows toward being full again (waxing), this is a good time for catalystic spells. These are spells with a "positive" (not as in "good" but "positive") influence. After the Full Moon, waning begins and the spells that are cast can be "negative" spells, such as stopping bad energy, any banishing, getting rid of bad habits, and so on. This has to do with Esbats because so many people like to use these holidays to work as well as to honor the Goddess.
Good ways to honor the Goddess involve giving Her offerings or celebrating/honoring the female side of nature. The Goddess can be invoked and read poems and tributes; dances and/or music can be made for Her; a special altar can be set up for Her with a candle burning in the cauldron; a specifically named Goddess from mythology can be chosen. The important point is that the Goddess is honored on Her turning points as well as the God is honored on His!
Some nice Esbat recipes: