The merging of Christianity and Paganism is a relatively new concept, one rarely talked about and one that stirs much controversy. As more and more people speak out about their love of both Christ and of the Goddess, it becomes apparent that the practice of Christian Witchcraft is no myth. It is real and it makes sense most in the celebrations that both Christians and Wiccans share. The feast days of the Christian and Wiccan calendars are closely linked both in date and meaning, which gives the Christian Witch the greatest of gifts: a way to honor her Christian tradition in the light of a Pagan practice. I offer you here a little bit of history on the development of the feasts that Pagans and Christians both share and how these celebrations can become the focal point of a beautiful and loving spiritual practice.
The interaction between Pagan and Christian philosophies really began following the "conversion" of the Emperor Constantine. As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and of its elite, the legislation and the religious practices began to reflect this change. The establishment of Christianity as the official religion brought on the need to organize and regulate its doctrine into a coherent monotheistic philosophy that contrasted quite drastically with the eclectic reality of the pagan practices of the time. The unregimented pagan cults, multiple gods, rites, and celebrations came to be considered unfounded from an intellectual point of view, criticized as superstitious, and open to constant re-interpretation. By the fourth century, it had become common practice to re-interpret pagan shrines and festivals from a Christian perspective. The Romans had done the same thing to the religious practices of the Celts and Germanic tribes it had conquered. The practice of assimilation of the religion of the conquered is as old as the history of war, conquest, and submission.
The conversion of Europe to Christianity followed two opposing philosophies. Boniface (c.675-754) abolished the religions he encountered on his missionary journeys and destroyed pagan holy sites in order to build new Christian ones. Pope Gregory the Great (c.540-604), on the other hand, instructed missionaries to sprinkle holy water and build altars containing holy relics on the site of pagan temples. Whichever method was used, it is clear that most pagan religious practices were transformed in order to teach the Christian message in a way that was culturally relevant and easy to understand. In fact, "modern Christianity is in many ways as much the heir of European paganism as it is of first-century Judaism1." Such a statement clearly demonstrates the important role of paganism in the development of Christian practices.
This pagan heritage is most obvious in the feasts and celebrations we both share. The eight Wiccan Sabbats are closely linked both in date and intent to the feasts of the Christian calendar. This makes merging the two faiths extremely easy for someone who wishes to practice Christian Witchcraft. Practicing Christian Witchcraft does not mean you have to merge all celebrations; you can choose to focus on the Pagan aspects or on the Christian ones, or you can choose to celebrate both! Let’s take a look at each one and discover the Christian Witch Wheel of the Year. You'll find here each Sabbat listed with its Christian equivalent, along with the common themes they share. I've also included a ritual practice or tradition that can be used to build a celebration that truly honors both the Christian and Pagan aspect of the feast day.
Samhain: October 31
All Saints and All Souls Days: November 1st and 2nd, respectively
The Christian celebration dates to the fourth century. It commemorates the lives of the saints and the people who have passed on. It was moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory III to coincide with Pagan celebrations.
Common theme: Remembrance of our ancestors
Ritual practice: The dumb supper is one way to acknowledge the presence of our ancestors on the night of Samhain. It is believed that on this night, the veil between the realm of the living and of the dead is extremely thin and that our ancestors can come back to visit. The dumb supper consists of setting an extra place at the dinner table to welcome them back and to share in their company as we used to when they were living amongst us. It is a great family ritual that teaches that death is a passage and that the ones who have passed on are never really forgotten.
Yule: December 21
Christmas: December 25
Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The date for Christmas was chosen by the roman Emperor Aurelian in the third century, to coincide with the feast of the Unconquered Sun. So, for both these feasts, we see a strong association with the power of the sun. Many pagan traditions were incorporated in the Christmas feast. Boniface introduced the Christmas tree, which was a Germanic tradition. Also, Santa Claus is an amalgamation of St. Nikolas and the god Odin.
Common theme: Encouraging light in times of darkness. This light is represented in various ways: the unconquered sun, the star of Bethlehem, Jesus as the light of the world, or simply by the ritual use of candles.
Ritual practice: Burning candles throughout the night is a practice of both Pagans and Christians. Christians still perform a midnight mass on this night, a symbol of keeping the light burning in the darkest of the night. Pagans let candles burn all night long to give strength to the sun on the longest night of the year.
Imbolc: February 2nd
Candlemas: February 2nd
Imbolc celebrates the efforts of the God to woo the Goddess out of her wintry sleep. For Christians, this date also honors the sacred feminine in the person of the Virgin Mary. It is called Candlemas because it is customary to burn candles in a procession on this date.
Common theme: Devotion to the Goddess
Ritual practice: Imbolc or Candlemas is a great day to honor the Sacred Feminine. It can be done in a traditional way, like burning candles and offering flowers at a shrine in Her honor. This date also coincides with the feast of St. Brigid, a Druid whose life work was to tend to women's health, particularly in childbirth. What better way, then, to honor this special day by volunteering or making a donation to your local women's shelter.
Ostara: March 21st
Easter: First Sunday after the full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox
Common theme: Rebirth
Ostara celebrates the coming of spring and return of life after the dead of winter. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ after his descent into the realm of the dead.
Ritual practice: There are so many ways to celebrate life. One way that I find links both the Pagan and the Christian philosophy is by the blessing of the elements. This is done at the Easter vigil service every year, and I find that there is no better connection between Pagan and Christian rites than this. There is the blessing of the fire and of the water, and the burning of incense to sanctify the altar. Flowers are all around the altar. It really is a great representation of all the elements Wiccans work with regularly. You can perform the blessing of the elements in your own home with your own personalized ritual. You can then take this holy water to bless yourself and your home in a commitment to bringing forth life everywhere you go.
Beltane: May 1st
May Day: May 1st
May Day is a festival that has been somewhat lost. It used to feature young girls walking in procession behind the statue of the Virgin Mary. It seemed to indicate that these girls were of age to get married. Beltane is a fertility festival with the May Pole dance an obvious symbol of the Great Rite.
Common theme: Fertility
Ritual practice: A way to commemorate fertility is through a symbolic Great Rite, representing the copulation of the God and Goddess to bring life back on earth. You can use any two items that represent feminine receptivity and male virility and unite them into a state of completeness. It is a day to be a little frivolous and let you hair down, go out on the town with a significant other or go on the prowl for that special someone…
Litha: June 21st
St. John the Baptist: June 24th
These feasts commemorate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and the beginning of the harvest season.
Common theme: The link between the two feasts is thin, but the importance of St. John's day in many parts of the world is a testimony to the importance of this day. It is a time where the solar energy is at its highest. It is a time to commemorate that strength by soaking up this great gift.
Ritual practice: A common practice is the lighting of bonfires. It brings back this theme of energy and strength that this day is all about.
Lammas: August 1st Loaf Mass: August 1st
Loaf mass is not celebrated anymore in the regular Church calendar. It dates back to the early Church, when it was common to make an offering of the first fruits of the harvest as a sign of thanksgiving. Particularly, on August 1st, people brought bread that was baked with the new wheat to be blessed during the church service. Lammas celebrates the wheat harvest and the blessing of livestock.
Common theme: Giving thanks for the wheat harvest
Ritual practice: Baking and sharing bread is a ritual both Pagans and Christians can relate to. It is especially relevant to Christians as a commemoration of the Eucharist.
Mabon: September 21st
Thanksgiving: Variable date (Canadian Thanksgiving coincides more closely in date with Mabon)
Common theme: Giving thanks for the harvest
Ritual practice: There is no greater ritual than preparing a meal with the fruits of the harvest and giving thanks for all our blessings. That is communing with nature and the divine in the most fundamentally human way!
I hope that this quick turn of the Wheel of the Year has given you a new way of looking at the celebrations Pagans and Christians share. If you are looking towards a practice in Christian Witchcraft, I hope this has inspired you to find new ways of expressing your own special tradition. For those of you who are strictly Pagan, I hope that this overview also helps in linking with family members and friends who may be of Christian upbringing. Seeing the elements that unite rather than divide is a great way to continue to participate in celebrations and to educate others on the fact that we are not that different.
Now, what of the Esbats, the full moon rituals?
I am happy to say that the night still belongs to the Goddess. By night, one way, by day, another. It is the beauty of our spiritual path that we find such balance within it and around us. The days belong to the sun, the virile God in his countless manifestations. The nights belong to the Goddess, under the nightly orb, reminding us of the cyclical nature of our lives in her manifestation as maiden, mother, and crone. What beauty in this balance! By honoring both manifestations of the divine, we have come full circle in our celebration of life!
May your year be filled with the sounds of celebration and merriment!
1Bowden, Hugh. Christianity: A Complete Guide. Novalis. 2005.
Cantrell, Gary. Wiccan Beliefs and Practices. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2001.
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2002.
St. Clair, Adelina. The Path of a Christian Witch. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010.