By in Spirituality

Fun With Words: Esbat

Most Pagans today associate the word “esbat” with a ritual gathering held at the full moon or new moon. In fact, the word has become so closely associated with the lunar cycle that many books on contemporary Pagan religion define esbat as a full- or new-moon circle.

Etymology of the Word 'Esbat'

But the origin of esbat is the French word, “ ébattre ,” meaning “to frolic.” That acute accent on the initial e tells us a letter has been taken out of the word over time: the original word, esbattre , was even closer to our English word.

Contrast with a Witches Sabbat

An esbat is a gathering of Witches or other Pagans that takes place at a time other than one of the eight sabbats of the year. While it often does happen in conjunction with the new or full moon, it could be at any other time as well.

In contrast with the more public celebrations held for the sabbats, an esbat is considered much more of a business meeting. That business might be to teach, to discuss coven business or plan an upcoming ritual, or to do magick or healing. Or it could simply be to enjoy the fellowship of like-minded people, and to have a little fun!

Margaret Murray

The use of the word esbat to describe these gatherings is credited to anthropologist Margaret Murray, who used it in her 1921 book, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe . She takes in on the authority of a 16th century witch called Estebène de Cambrue, whom she quotes as saying these esbats were a time for frolicking playfully and jumping around. Murray's works on Witchcraft were widely read in the 60s and afterwards by those who felt called to the Craft, and so esbat came into current usage in the English-speaking Pagan culture.

The Esbat as a Frolic

Some think it ironic that the word whose meaning implies fun would be used to designate the smaller meetings, rather than the grand public festivals that took place during the sabbats. But I always told my students that it was important to focus on the relaxed atmosphere of the esbat, when those in attendance can enjoy both fellowship and merriment. There might be a serious element to an esbat ritual, especially when spellcraft or healing are involved. But always the esbat is a time for one's intimates, a time to focus on building stronger relationships and to take care of individual and group needs. The esbat is a time for focusing inward, rather than outward.

When used as a noun, the word frolic also refers to a gathering convened to get a large job done. It is a term used among the Amish, and can refer to a building project like a barn raising. Sometimes it can also be a gathering of women who come together to do a lot of baking, cleaning, or sewing. The idea is always that many hands make light work, and that a community that helps its members is a happy place to be. So Pagans aren't the only ones who understand this need to meet with one's community, to work together, and to care for one another's needs.

The esbat or frolic is a concept that folks from any path can relate to and appreciate. Each person helping the others along is what makes a strong community, and knowing that our requests for help will be answered can be a very liberating experience!

| | | |#FullMoon | | | |

Image credit: Basket of Amanita muscaria by William Rubel/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Note: This content was originally published on Bubblews and has been migrated here by the author.


Esbat ,” (Random House Dictionary)

Lovina Eisher and Kevin Williams, The Amish Cook's Baking Book (Google Books)

Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (Sacred Texts)

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LoudMan wrote on December 20, 2014, 12:25 AM

Interesting. All the news we never knew we never needed to know. :)

I'm playing.

marialy18 wrote on December 20, 2014, 1:49 AM

I am learning more about it.
This is my first time to hear Esbat

bestwriter wrote on December 20, 2014, 2:56 AM

Something inside you must have triggered you to talk about this word. Why this word when there are millions with similar or worse weird backgrounds. (lol

scheng1 wrote on December 20, 2014, 3:39 AM

It is really weird that the current meaning deviates so much from the original meaning.

acrogodess914 wrote on December 20, 2014, 8:49 AM

We should all frolic and revel in a sense of community. :)

Ellis wrote on December 20, 2014, 2:26 PM

I always thought a lunar cycle was a moon bike...

celticeagle wrote on December 21, 2014, 9:05 AM

I think we should take after these frolickers more. Gatherings and frolicks and sabbats oh my.