Warlocks and witches in a dance: no cotillion, brand new from France, but hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels, put life and mettle in their heels. In a window alcove in the East, there sat Old Nick, in shape of beast; a shaggy dog, black, grim, and large, to give them music was his charge: he screwed the pipes and made them squeal, 'till roof and rafters all did ring. Coffins stood round, like open presses, that showed the dead in their last dresses; and, by some devilish magic sleight, each in its cold hand held a light: by which heroic Tom was able to note upon the holy table, a murderer’s bones, in gibbet-irons; two span-long, small, unchristened babies; a thief just cut from his hanging rope - with his last gasp his mouth did gape; five tomahawks with blood red-rusted; five scimitars with murder crusted; a garter with which a baby had strangled; a knife a father’s throat had mangled - whom his own son of life bereft - the grey-hairs yet stack to the shaft; with more o' horrible and awful, which even to name would be unlawful. Three Lawyers’ tongues, turned inside out, sown with lies like a beggar’s cloth - three Priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck lay stinking, vile, in every nook.
(from) Tam o'Shanter R. Burns (trans)
The word sabbat (cognate to Sabbath) is generally used to refer to a religious festival of witches without regard to occasion. Traditionally witches would assemble for these affairs atop a mountain or in some clearing deep in the forest1 - often they were said to fly to the venue, whether using a magical ointment or riding on broomsticks, goats, enslaved humans or other things (although other, more mundane methods of travel might be used as well).
Tradition usually suggested that, once the witches assembled one or more demons - or even The Devil himself would also attend to revel and fornicate with them - often in his guise of The Black Man but sometimes in the form of an animal or, more covertly, disguised as an ordinary participant. Besides bacchanalia and orgies, human sacrifice - often of stolen infants and sometimes involving cannibalism would be expected as part of the revels, and this was often a time for new members of a coven to be initiated, pledging their allegiance to an unholy patron2 and receiving their familiar and granted powers.
Game and Story Use
- Sabbats, naturally, provide an excellent opportunity to strike hard against a witch cult and inflict heavy casualties - and even, if possible - to ambush their demonic masters whilst they are relatively vulnerable.
- The Darklands cRPG has a significant mission that involves attacking a Sabbat, including preliminary sabotage by things like consecrating their altar and baptising the sacrificial babies.
- Spying on sabbats has also, according to legend, been a source of useful intelligence coups.
- Presumably this is a frequent venue for the conception of cambions - mostly amongst witches, but those enslaved as mounts or otherwise brought to the revels might also be at risk.