Witches’ Sabbath (1797) by Francisco Goya
After my initial conversion experience in August 1997, I felt compelled to set aside a special time each week for interacting with the Red Lord. For some reason that I can’t explain, I felt like I had to do this on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. On Friday night, I’d settle down in my bedroom with the lights off and listen to an old audio cassette recording of Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon (1983). While the Ozzy tape would play, I would close my eyes and visualize Typhon interacting with me or acting out parts of His divine life story. If I wasn’t too sleepy by the time the music ended, I’d end the evening by watching a horror movie of some kind. Then on Saturday morning, I’d go for a walk to my local park – which just so happened to be the site of the infamous Paoli Massacre of 1777 – and talk to Seth there for hours on end. To this day, I have no way of explaining where the idea for doing all of this came from; it all just seemed to come from nowhere. (Or to put it another way, I think it was planted in my brain by Seth Himself.)
I more or less followed this private tradition of mine by myself for several years, feeling especially close to Typhon on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Then, in 2003, I co-founded LV-426 with my spirit brother, Tony. When the time came for us to start practicing rituals together, Tony and I decided that meeting for worship on Friday nights was the most logical choice. This was during our experimental period, when we still didn’t know just what we were doing exactly (and we were dabbling in some things that are probably best left un-dabbled with). Over the following years, we gradually developed what has since become our standard group ritual procedure. It involves lighting some red candles, turning off the lights and talking to Big Red together in the dark. When we’ve all finished saying whatever it is we feel like saying to Him, we engage in what I call “conversational prayer.” This means we talk to each other about whatever pops up in our brains. The idea is that Typhon, having been invoked into the ritual space with us, will guide our conversation to reveal certain things He might want us to know through each other.
For the past few years, we’ve referred to Friday nights and Saturday mornings as our “Sabbath.” This word is possibly derived from Shappatu, which was the name of an ancient Babylonian festival. The Babylonians believed that every seventh day of the lunar cycle was both sacred and unlucky, and that it was a bad idea to engage in certain activities on those days (e.g., eating meat that’s been cooked on hot coals, riding in a chariot, etc.). It was thought that doing so might incur the wrath of the Gods or attract the attention of demons. Shappatu, the night of the full moon, was the most important of these holy days. It’s never been proven that the word Sabbath is actually related to Shappatu, but I personally think they’re connected. In any case, the Hebrews later came up with a similar idea of every seventh day (i.e., Saturday) being a sacred “day of rest” on which their God, Yahweh, also prohibits certain activities. This concept, in fact, was the origin of “the weekend” as we know it. The idea of not having to work on a certain day each week was alien to virtually every other culture (including the Egyptians). Jewish people call this day Shabbat, which actually begins at sundown on Friday night, and it has become known as the Sabbath in English.
When Christians came along, they moved their version of the Sabbath to Sundays (in rememberance of Christ’s resurrection on that day of the week). During the medieval era, Christians came to think that Jews, heretics and folk magicians were all servants of the devil. This, in turn, caused Jewish traditions, unorthodox Christian beliefs and folk magic to become linked in the popular imagination. Such is how the imaginary “witchcraft” of the Malleus Maleficarum (in which accused “witches” allegedly worship Satan, cannibalize infants and work malefic magic on their neighbors) was brought into “existence.” Practitioners of this imaginary cult were thought to attend a weekly nocturnal gathering called “the Witches’ Sabbath.” (In some cases, the Latin version of Sabbath – Sabbat – was used for this nocturnal gathering instead.) There are several different ideas of what the witches were supposed to do at their Sabbath, but accusations usually included flying on brooms or animal familiars, cooking and eating unbaptized babies and kissing the devil’s anus (the so-called “Kiss of Shame,” from whence the concept of “kissing ass” is derived).
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some anthropologists supported what is now called the “Witch-Cult Hypothesis,” which theorized that so-called “witches” were actually members of an organized indigenous polytheistic cult that had survived throughout Europe from the Neolithic era. This hypothesis has never been proven, and it has long since fallen out of vogue in scholarly circles; yet it did have a pronounced effect on many Western polytheists (especially Wiccans). One of its greatest influences was the idea of identifying “witches’ sabbats” not with a weekly event but with the annual solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days. Even today, many Western polytheists continue to refer to these annual holidays as sabbats. (It naturally causes some confusion when those of us in LV-426 discuss our Sabbath with other polytheists, who’re generally more accustomed to using the Latin version of the term in a very different context.)
To make things even more interesting, Jewish folklore often personifies the Sabbath as a kind of Goddess (or a feminine aspect of Yahweh) named Shabbat Hamalka (“Queen of the Sabbath”). The idea here is that the Sabbath is more than just an event; She’s a living entity created by Yahweh to be the “bride” of the entire community of Israel. Some Jewish men went outside at sunset on Friday evenings to “receive” Shabbat Hamalka, greeting Her with Kabbalic prayers and bringing Her back home to their families. The women and girls of the household were then honored as personifications of the Goddess. In some cases, it was even considered a sacred duty for Jewish husbands and wives to have sex on the Sabbath night around midnight. What’s curious about this to me is the fact that there’s such a strong emphasis on the feminine principle in these old Jewish traditions. In some ways, they resemble the Goddess-centered sabbat traditions of “Neopagan” witches. In fact, Shabbat Hamalka appears to be partially based on the Semitic Goddess Asherah, who’s very similar to the “catch-all” Mother Goddess worshiped by Wiccans today. Asherah was even worshiped by the Israelites at one point (i.e., when they were still polytheists).
Learning about this stuff gave me goosebumps. It all seemed to verify the feeling I had that we in LV-426 are supposed to regard Friday nights and Saturday mornings as our special time for focusing on our spiritual pursuits. Since then, it’s been a tradition in LV-426 for us to meet and have Sabbath together on Fridays as often as possible. This isn’t always feasible, and it’s occasionally been known to cause tension between us and friends or family members (who sometimes don’t understand why we might prefer to stay home and pray on Friday nights instead of going out and partying). But if we can’t get together for any reason, we’ll at least talk to each other on the phone and have Sabbath by ourselves in our own unique ways. To this very day, I still have to listen to some Ozzy and watch a good horror flick or two after chatting with Big Red every Friday night. (If I don’t, it feels like my weekend is “off” somehow and I get pretty cranky for the rest of the week.)
The word Sabbath itself means “to rest,” and the idea is to refrain from engaging in anything that distracts you from your higher spiritual goals. During the work week, most people don’t have time to think about spirituality; we’re too tied up in our jobs, our classes and our various social responsibilities to pay much mind to our souls. Just look at the way most people introduce themselves today: “Hi, I’m Dick, and I’m a mechanic” or “Hi, I’m Jane, and I work in advertising.” Society wants to define us in terms of what we do, and we’re lulled into going along with this because we all have to work to survive. Then we start confusing our entire sense of self-worth with things that are external to ourselves (e.g., how much money we make, whether we get that holiday bonus or not, etc.). But the fact of the matter is that we aren’t what we do. We are who we are and we do what we do, but these are two separate matters entirely. Your innermost self is not your job or your social status; it’s your soul. And the Sabbath is a precious gift from the Gods that serves to remind us of these facts; She’s there to say, “Whoa, wait a minute there guys! Stop doing things for a little bit and just let yourselves be.”
Sitting down and focusing on your personal faith at the same time every week is actually a very good idea (regardless of whether you’re a monotheist or a polytheist). It’s good to recharge your spiritual batteries on a regular basis at a regular time and place. Keeping the Sabbath has proven to be very therapeutic for me and my spirit brothers; it gives us an opportunity to work through the things that bother us or frighten us together. It also makes us say to ourselves, “Wow, we’ve survived one more week upon this Earth! Now we just have to get through the next one.” So if you practice any kind of spirituality at all, I highly recommend that you do something similar. Choose a certain time of the week to be your “spiritual time” and commit yourself to using that time to work on your spiritual goals. One of the biggest problems I see in America today is the fact that for so many people, faith is something they believe in but not something they actually do. You have to practice your faith at specific times on a regular basis to keep your spirit going.