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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology


The regular meeting of a Coven of Witches at which religious worship is conducted, business is discussed and Magical and healing work is done.   The frequency of esbats depends on the Coven.   Most covens meet at the full moon, which occurs 13 times a year.   They may also meet at the new moon.   Some meet weekly.

The term derives from the French s'esbattre, meaning to frolic.

According to Robert Graves in 'The White Goddess', the lunar months are associated with trees on the basis of the Beth-Luis-Nion alphabet.   Thus the first meeting, in December, is linked with birch, the second with rowan, the third with ash, the fourth with alder, the fifth with willow, the sixth with hawthorn, the seventh with oak, the eighth with holly, the ninth with hazel, the tenth with the vine, the eleventh with ivy, the twelfth with guelder rose and the thirteenth with elder.

These associations are derived from the tree alphabet contained in the 17th Century Ogygia by Roderick O'Flaherty.   Ogygia is named after the magical isle where Odysseus was cast ashore for eight years in the company of a beautiful Goddess, Calypso, when he offended the sea god Poseidon after taking part in the sack of Troy.

The theme of Ogygia is that the obscure poems of the Celtic bard, Taliesin, contained in the Red Book of Hergest, constitute the cover for an encrypted and highly secret alphabet known only to the ancient Druids and based on the names of trees.

Although many Neo-Pagans subscribe to Graves' arrangement, the associations between months and trees are variable.

The esbat may take place indoors or outdoors.   A Coven may have a regular meeting place or rotate it among the homes of coveners.  The coveners may wear loose clothing such as robes, or they may be Skyclad (nude), as is the practice in Gardnerian, Alexandrian and other Traditions of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft.

Animals belonging to coveners usually are allowed to be present at an esbat and to come and go as long as they do not disturb the energy flow of the rituals and magic work.   In Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, animals are not used or Sacrificed in the rituals themselves.

At the end of the esbat, coveners share food and drink (see CAKES AND WINE).

The term esbat has come into popular use in the 20th Century; it may have been coined by Margaret A. Murray, a British anthropologist who wrote about medieval witchcraft as an organized pagan religion.   Many modem Witches use the term 'circle' rather than 'esbat' for their regular meeting; esbat is used formally.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the gatherings of witches were referred to as Sabbats, a term that now refers only to the major festivals celebrated by Witches.

see also: SABBAT

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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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