Springing onto the Wheel

Today is the spring equinox here in the northern hemisphere, and my local weather is cooperating with clear skies, warm sun, pleasant temperatures, and the blooming of daffodil and crocus.

It’s a holy day in a number of ways and traditions. Astrologers count this day as their new year and welcome the Sun’s entry in Aries, the fiery Ram. Wiccans call it Ostara and honor the Goddess as Flower Maiden, accompanied by rabbits or hares, birds, and dyed eggs. Druids call it Alban Eilir, said to mean “the Light of the Earth”, and have much the same symbolism as Wiccans do. Some devotees of Antinous observe the apotheosis of the empress Sabina, Hadrian’s wife, on the 21st, when she becomes Diva Sabina, a goddess. And in the Church it’s Lent right now, but Easter must fall near the equinox, and March 25th is the feast of the Annunciation, of the wedding of God and humanity in Mary’s consent to be the Mother of God’s Son.

But what if you’re not Wiccan or Druid or any of those things? Should you still celebrate the Wheel of the Year? If so, why? And how?

I say yes, you should, if you want to. I still do although I also observe holy days for Antinous and many Roman gods. I think it’s worthwhile because the Wheel, while it was first cobbled together out of multiple folkloric traditions by Gerald Gardner, the father of Wicca, and Ross Nichols, the father of modern Druidry, corresponds usefully to real changes in the natural world, and observing it can help us with various sorts of mindfulness.

That said, I have to acknowledge that in a lot of latitudes, there’s not enough seasonal variation to make a cycle of eight seasons relevant. If the Wheel is not really observable in your climate and region, don’t worry about it. Find your own way of relating to your place in time and space.

Because that’s what the Wheel is, for me. It’s not so much a re-enactment of a mythical cycle, though it can be connected with Antinous and with Jesus; it’s a way of anchoring in your land, being open to the skies, relating to what’s around you.

So I’d like to suggest some steps for working with the Wheel of the Year.

Step one, uncouple it from mythology, for now. Don’t worry about what any god or goddess might be doing. Just stop and look around you.

Step two, don’t think of the Wheel as eight isolated festival days. Think of it instead as a way of breaking the year into eight seasons instead of four. In the U.S. today, we identify the solstices and equinoxes as the start of a season, e.g., spring begins today. But old European traditions identify the cross-quarter days as the starting dates, and the quarter days as the seasons’ peaks. Hence the old terms Midwinter and Midsummer; the winter solstice is the middle of winter because winter began on Samhain, at the start of November. I find this more sensible, but your mileage may vary.

Step three, now you have eight seasons. So, look around. Pay attention. What is happening during each season of the year? What’s happening on the earth is going to depend, of course, on where you live. For me Imbolc means longer days but also colder, a greater likelihood of snow than in November or December, the possibility of early flowers, and the first signs of mating season for local birds. The season of the spring equinox means more flowers, especially daffodils, budding trees, increased bird activity, rain instead of snow, and of course, longer days and warmer temperatures.

Look at your local weather patterns, what things are budding, blooming, or dying, what the birds are doing, how the air smells. Tune into the energy behind the activity. For me Imbolc feels like a beginning because I always feel a strong surge of energy in the world and in myself. Spring equinox is stabilizing, but then brings in more energy as the days get longer.

Step four, look up. Look at the sky. Whatever hemisphere you live in, you are sharing that sky with everyone else who lives there. The eight seasons correspond to the turning of the Zodiac and to other solar and stellar events, such as the movement of Orion and the Pleiades, which have been important in myth for farther back than we have written records. It had not occurred to until a friend mentioned it that people in the Southern Hemisphere are not only celebrating the stations of the Wheel in opposite seasons to the North, but under different signs of the Zodiac. For me the Spring Equinox belongs to Aries and the Fall to Libra, but down under, Aries hangs over the Fall Equinox and Libra over the Spring. What effect does that have? Look at your sky and watch the movements of the moon, the sun, and the stars. They’re an important part of the seasonal pattern.

Step five, do something with your observations. Construct a ritual, or don’t. Plant or tend or harvest or eat something. Read or watch or listen to works of art that express the seasonal energy. And write, sing, play, dance something for that expression, too. Add a mythology back in, if you wish. Just go for a walk and breathe.

Or don’t, because your seasonal patterns are totally unlike this. But your land and your sky are still important for you, spiritually, physically, psychologically and I recommend getting in touch with them.

There are of course many books on this topic, Wiccan, Druid, and generically pagan. I’ve just started to read Yoga through the Year by Jilly Shipway, which suggests yoga practices and meditations for each of the seasons. So go forth and spring onto the Wheel, and happy springtime!

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