Wheel of the Year
THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR
The Wheel of the year represents a series of eight festivals that were, at times and in different places, celebrated among ancient peoples such as the Celts, the Anglo Saxons and the Norse.
The four solar festivals comprise of the two equinoxes and two solstices and mark four quarter days where the sun is at its highest or lowest point and the two half way marks in between. These are astronomically significant times indicating that a particularly energy is at its peak, at its rest or growing/waning.
The four lunar agricultural festivals, set in between the solar festivals and were considered holy days where sacred traditions were kept that observed the seasons and the customs that took place to ensure fertility of the land, celebration of the harvest, gratitude and protection from harmful spirits, calling upon the ancestors and gathering together for strength in adversity.
The two cycles of festivals were probably placed together by Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols in the 1950′s to form the wheel of the year and this wheel represents the structure of the annual cycle celebrated by modern pagans. These festivals embody the way in which our ancestors chose to honour plant and animal life cycles, as well as demonstrating their connection with celestial movements of the sun, moon and stars. Each festival marks a potent conjunction of time and place that is quite significant and when marked, can align us with both the natural energy of the earth and the movement of the stars. The ancients believed that if people aligned themselves to such energies, we would live in harmony with the earth and sky and this is something many pagans seek to do.
My ongoing Wiccan workshops at Treadwells explore the Wheel of the Year; See Wiccan Workshops to find when the next one is taking place.
This is the eve of Halloween day and is celebrated on 31st October. The lunar festivals are celebrated on the eve of the day of the festival, representing the birth of the energy in darkness in the same way the moon draws the tides, plants and animals in darkness.
This festival focuses on the end of summer and the beginning of the dark months of winter. This time was known as an Ysbrydnos, a time where the veil between the worlds was thin and spirits and ancestors could move between the worlds and communicate with us. The dead are honoured; our ancestral spirits are celebrated and we look at endings and the value and necessity of them in order to give way to new life.
Dark Gods and Goddesses rule this time representing death, endings and the darker, more hidden and mysterious side of life; the Cailleach, the Morrigan, Gwyn Ap Nudd are some of the Celtic deities that rule this season. Ancient Gods such as the Egyptian God Osiris and the Greek Goddess Persephone, where once they ruled spring and growth, now become King and Queen of the Underworld.
The WINTER SOLSTICE: YULE
The winter solstice marks the time where the shortest day and the longest night of the year. From this time, the sun is reborn and returns in strength, one day at a time. Thus we celebrate its return, rebirth and renewal.
There are many traditions from ancient times; the roman saturnalia, the Norse yule celebrations, the Italian witch Befana and the winter horned goddess Beiwe riding in a sleigh across the sky.
Modern pagans celebrate the return of light and the importance of seeing our own inner light at the darkest time of the year. Some focus on the time that the Goddess brings forth the son of light, others see it as the beginning of the reign of the Oak King from the winter Holly King but in all traditions, it is the inner light of wisdom and understanding we seek.
Imbolc is the Celtic festival belonging to the Goddess Brigid. Her ancient traditions come down to us through Christianity and Saint Brigit, but are clearly pagan in origin. Brigid is a triple Goddess; a muse, poetess and seeress, a healer and the energy of the hearth fire and fire of the forge.
In this festival we bless and purify our tools and consider what spiritual seeds we wish to sow for the coming year; we purify ourselves and re-align our spiritual purpose. We focus on our inner sacred fire and enflame our passion and determination to see through our highest purpose in the coming year.
Imbolc represents the life in the belly of the earth quickening and thus we see the first signs of spring through the frozen earth. This reminds us that when we think all hope is lost and there is no way forward, to life ahead; we must remain strong and delve deep into ourselves for strength and nourishment.
SPRING EQUINOX; OSTARA
The quarter solar festival between the solstices represents the rebirth of spring. Symbols of rebirth such as eggs are painted, the goddess of Spring Eostre is revered, as is her totem animal, the hare.
The forces of day and night are equal and light is on the increase. Here we align ourselves to growth, to action, to determination and enthusiasm and throw ourselves into our projects to manifest our highest intentions with all the power of the Roman God Mars whose festival is also celebrated at this time.
The Spring Goddess Persephone returns to grace our land and we celebrate the renewing power of life.
May Eve, also known as Walpurgis night, is an ancient festival celebrating the abundance of the season. Fruits and flowers are blossoming, birds are mating and all promises well for the harvest ahead. The fertility of the earth, of our bodies and of our spirits is celebrated with the ancient symbol of fertility – the maypole! And the union of male and female within us is acknowledged.
Spring flower Goddesses such as Flora and Blodeuwedd are revered as is the Jack in the Green and Pan, those Gods of the wild lifeforce and powerful energy of life in nature.
A fire festival, many beacon fires would be traditionally lit at this time with much dancing and celebration and our modern celebrations include our delight at the life returning
SUMMER SOLSTICE; LITHA
The summer solstice is the celebration of the life force at its height; its most potent. Here the sun rises in sign of the waters of life and thus blends a magical meeting of moon and sun.
Herbs are gathered, at their most powerful at this time, bonfires are jumped over and we celebrate our ability to shine, to become that which we wish to be, for the highest good of all. A good time for a ritual by the sea as the sun rises to celebrate the power of the sun and moon together and the different energies they both invoke.
A popular festival around the world; Envoyden in Bulgaria, Sankt Hans in Denmark, Janipaev in Estonia and Ivan Kupala in Russia. Connected to St Johns Eve by Christians.
We also recognise that from this point on, the sun begins to wane and thus the seeds of darkness are found when the light is at its greatest and vice versa. There is a profound lesson in this for us all.
The festival of Lugh, the sun god and his mother, the earth goddess Tailtiu. This is the corn harvest with many traditions around the cutting of the corn, the creating of the kern baby and the legends surrounding John Barleycorn and the embodiment of the corn spirit.
We give thanks for our harvest, for our abundance and for all in our lives that we need to express gratitude for. This has traditionally also been a time of sacrifice; of giving something of ourselves and a time of making vows, agreements and connections that we hope, will serve us well in the months ahead. A time of gathering, of solemn contemplation, of shared stories and companionship and of the awareness of the waning of the energy within the earth.
Another time where day and night are equal and in the sign of Libra, a time of balance and harmony. This is the second of the harvest festivals, the grape or fruit harvest where we give thanks and celebrate the power of transformation that can be seen in the transforming of fruit into wine. We see this as a metaphor for the transformation of our own lives into something greater than the sum of our parts. Celebrations may also include the myths of Dionysus, Cerridwen or Demeter and Kore and the Eleusinian mysteries.