General Blog Description: Exploring Southern Hemisphere neo-pagan practice and culture from the point of view of a progressive witch living south of Perth, Western Australia.
6 Reasons Why The Wheel of the Year is Still Valid
The longer I spend online browsing blogs, lurking in discussion forums and generally talking to other witches and pagans, the more often I see the comment that many people do not celebrate the Wheel of the Year as they have decided the dates as they are traditionally understood in contemporary practice as simply not being a fit any more for their own practice.
This is a perfectly reasonable sentiment. The fact that someone is able to evaluate an idea that is arguably part of the privileged ‘Wiccanate’ set of practices and put it to one side is applaudable. It shows reflection, adaptation and growth.
Of course, as paganism diversifies, more and more individuals and groups will be on the scene who do not celebrate seasonal practices at all, in favour of devotional observations and other practices that may be fixed on a calendar, or may not be. For these pagans, the Wheel of the Year never entered the equation to begin with. This has led to a lot of interesting debate but also a refreshing variety of celebration and ritual throughout the pagan year that goes beyond eight dates more or less evenly spread across a year.
I myself have undergone my own series of upheavals and dismissals of the Wheel of the Year. Living in the Southern Hemisphere brings its own set of challenges and anyone living in a climate that does not comfortably squish into the Western notions of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter will struggle with the Wheel in some form or another if they celebrate it, no matter what hemisphere they live in.
After a year off here and there I’ve re-embraced the Wheel wholeheartedly, and it’s looking a little different, especially in terms of how it ‘feels’ compared to how I first approached it. I feel the Wheel has its merits in many ways so here I’d like to plead for the case of sticking with the Wheel – you can take it or leave it!
1.) It can be changed or adapted to suit.
One of the biggest arguments against using the neo-pagan Wheel of the Year is the names of the various sabbats. I’ve never quite liked the names Mabon, Imbolc and Lughnassad / Lammas and have happily done away with them in my own practice as the resonation with the terminology just hasn’t been there. It is easier to connect with some of the ‘bigger’ sabbat names such as Samhain and Yule as their egregore is vast and transcends many cultural paradigms. It is simple enough to turf these names and create your own or adapt others to fit better.
Another element that chafes people about the Wheel is the oh-so-very binary God/Goddess mythology underpinning the Wheel. The underlying narrative that is sometimes used employing the God as both Son and Consort is somewhat icky for some people, and others simply just don’t want a fertility based sentiment woven throughout their practice - especially if they are not Wiccan.
The number of sabbats – eight – is also not a fixed amount. There are many degrees in a circle and there is not a need to stick to this number. If you use six or ten, twenty four or four, you can still populate the nodes of a circular symbol. Fit your own markers to your Wheel, if the need is there.
2.) The symbolism of the sphere, the circle and the wheel makes for powerful meditation.
The Wheel itself and the ideas the symbolism of the wheel can unlock a lot of interesting wisdom that is suitable for meditation both within the frame of regular ritual, and within pagan practice in general. The Wheel of Fortune, one of the more enigmatic cards in the Tarot, invites the querent or the reader to reflect on the notions of cyclic engagement with the universe and gives rise to questions of destiny, fate and power of the individual in the great spokes of life. It also evokes meanings of the woven web as reflected in nature, the orbs of the sun, moon and planets, as well as the planet we live in. The notion of a wheel being an invention that was pivotal for civilisation and its ability to enable motion and progress is also interesting. The presence of the Wheel in astrology and alchemy also makes for in depth and fascinating study.
3.) As within, so without. The Wheel can be a powerful paradigm.
If you work within a circle construct within your practice at all, the Wheel has strong microcosmic/macrocosmic resonations within this context. The larger Wheel of the Year reflects the quarters and cross quarters within a magical circle, giving a beautiful resonance to ‘As Above, So Below, As Within, So Without’.
4.) We live on a planet that has equinoxes and solstices.
The Quarters of the Wheel – the two equinoxes and two solstices – are fixed points on the calendar that no matter what is happening in your local climate, the simple fact that the sun and the Earth are both doing their thing can not be changed. The shortest night, and the longest day, the feeling of equilibrium that an equinox brings – this is something that can be palpably observed by all.
To add cross points in between these four make for eight evenly spaced rituals throughout a year, whether you believe the veil is at its thinnest at two of them, or not.
5.) If you identify with earth-based spirituality, it just makes sense.
If your practice is Earth-based, or if it is firmly embedded in nature, using the seasonal changes throughout the year is of course a valid, relevant and important element to be included in ritual. Not all paganism is earth-based - but if it is, and you're not incorporating seasonal reflection, what are you doing?
Of course observation and connection with nature can be done via other means, but the Wheel of the Year is most certainly a useful one. It gives you an opportunity to reflect on the changes, both small and large, that can be observed within nature on a cylical basis, and gives us an opportunity to observe any impact climate change is having on our planet and the patterns of weather.
What’s more, I’ve always felt that humankind is not outside of the definition of what constitutes as ‘nature’. As a culture we add our own events to the calendar which can have a correlation to celebrations marked within the Wheel of the Year; some are seasonally borne, and others are not.
‘Earth based’ does not simply mean based in the idealised notion of ‘Mother Nature’, it can mean any sort of practice that is concerned with material world, the here and now, the stuff that we are made from and day to day living.
6.)It's an easy way to get a group together to practice ritual.
If you choose to practice in a group, with a coven, or if you decide to hold regular public rituals of any kind, the eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year are a practical basis for herding cats. Sometimes lunar esbats come around too quickly, whereas the eight seasonal festivals are spaced just right for regular gatherings from an organisational perspective. It gives you a chance to breathe, to reset, to live your own life, and get ready to organise the next shindig.
So, those are six valid reasons... do you have some of your own? Do you celebrate the Wheel of the Year, and if you do, how have you changed it so suit your own beliefs and ideas?
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