Season and Spirit: Magickal Adventures Around the Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is the engine that drives NeoPagan practice. Explore thw magick of the season beyond the Eight Great Sabbats.

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Leni Hester

Leni Hester

Leni Hester is a Witch and writer from Denver, Colorado. Her work appears in the Immanion anthologies "Pop Culture Grimoire," "Women's Voices in Magick" and "Manifesting Prosperity". She is a frequent contributor to Witches and Pagans and Sagewoman Magazines.

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Mabon and the Search for Balance

As the Summer winds down towards the Autumnal Equinox, we are in between two seasons. In this time of transition, we stand at a crossroads, one foot in the Waxing Year, one in the Waning. Hot sunny days give way to cooler nights. The rains are more frequent and last all night, and out in the garden I am bringing in a harvest as well as getting ready to 'winterize.' Most trees are still vibrant and green, but here and there you can see a tinge of rusty red or a shock of yellow leaves. The light thickens like honey, and even as we are enjoy the last days of Summer's warmth and light, we already sense the slow steady pull downward, towards the Descent and the darkening days of the Waning Year. Right now we stand suspended between these two seasons, and for a brief moment we feel balance.

Balance is the law that governs all of nature, but it rarely shows itself as a static, tranquil point. The balance I'm talking about is a dance, a commotion of interconnected and interdependent parts that make up the living systems of our planet. The plants, animals, land and weather all interact and act upon each other, effecting the very shape of the landscape. Any change or disruption to one part of the web will be felt throughout it. Those changes can be for good or ill, but they are unpredictable and may take a long time to reveal themselves. At Mabon, we stand in a place of balance where many possibilities are open to us. We strive to come to a still point of balance, amidst change and potential, where we can take a moment and see where we are, in our lives and the Year, and the webs of connection that make up our own lives.

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August!

My apples turned red this week. One day they went from egg-sized and green to apple-sized and rosy-cheeked. This has coincided with the maples starting to look a little bit “rusty” and dried out. It is still hot, with bright blue skies and intense Sun, but the evenings are cooler, the rain is colder and the crickets rule the night. We moved into August, when Summer distills its last, sweetest moments of growth and beauty. It's still Summer, it even feels like Summer, but the season is winding down, and we are deep in the transition towards Autumn. August is when the slow but steady turning of the Wheel is most evident, both visually and emotionally.

In these last hot weeks of the Summer, there's a definite melancholy in the transition. The light becomes more golden, the plants begin to look droopy and tired. We feel nostalgia as go home after vacation, and are surrounded by back to school advertising. We see our gardens start to slow down and stop producing. We feel the need to get ready for the descent into the dark, at the same time that we cling to the light. I spent a few hours today in the Sun and water, and it felt marvelous, but next weekend the pool closes, my kids are already back in school, and the crush of Autumn's events and demands begins to loom, ending this time of relaxation and leisure and play. So there's always a little bit of sadness in saying goodbye to the Summer, even if we are excited about the coming Fall.

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Seeds Sown, Seeds Grown

The sunflowers bloomed this week. Overnight dozens of bright petals opened up to line the road along my drive to work. They are small now, but by the time Autumn arrives some of them will tower 6 feet high or more, and their button-sized faces will be the size of dinner plates. There are more of them every day, dark eyes lashed in bright yellow, nodding on their sticky tough stems. They always bloom in July, opening up when the Sun is still fierce but lower in the sky, and the monsoon rains have come. The apples on my trees are swelling and the tall grass along the back fence has turned from green to bright gold. The Wheel is turning.

Summer goes on, luxuriously. It's still hot, the days are still long. But there is a subtle shift, as we approach August, and the harvest of first fruits, known as Lughnasa or Lammas. We see it in the plants and trees, heavy with fruit and leaves, in the creeks choked with cattails and reeds. We see it in the gardens of our neighbors, and it's on display in every farmer's market. The Earth is abundant and full, and all of its abundance spills out, in the life going riotously around us, in the light and pleasures of the season.

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"Let the Beauty You LOve, Be What You Do"

A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers asked, what exactly do you do for the Summer Solstice? And while I had any number of answers for her, about typical Midsummer traditions and rituals, all of them boiled down to: enjoy your life and all the pleasures that life brings.

Turning to the Summer Solstice, feeling the power of the Sun and standing on an awakened Earth, when all that lives is busy photosynthesizing, eating, mating—the wonders and gifts of being embodied are so evident. There is joy in stretching our muscles, feeling the Sun on our skin, eating that first juicy peach, smelling cut grass and flowers. Summer Solstice is a moment to revel in all our senses, to take in all the sensations of the season. But this beauty and pleasure is not just for the Solstice Day itself, but permeates the whole Season. The magick of Summer is not bound up in the moment when the Earth is closest to the Sun, although that is a profound and magickal moment. Summer's magick is bound in passion and pleasure and experience.

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The Green Season

I don't think I've ever been so happy to welcome the Spring as I was this year. This Winter was so cold, so long that Spring really was a dim memory. Even warm-ish days didn't get my trust. I have only recently packed up my winter clothes, and despite a lot of mowing and weed whacking, I haven't started putting in my garden quite yet. Because the Winter was inside me by the time the snow and ice and freezing weather finally retreated. A hard Winter, like the one we just had, will wear on you, make you feel tired all over, a deep tired that will take more than just a few warm afternoons to shift. This is perfect for introspection and meditation, but beyond the usual quiet of the Descent, I realized that Winter had settled into me, settled into my bones and muscles the way it had frozen the lake and bound the land under snow. Even when the snow started to melt, the chill didn't leave me. It was hard to remember what sweet breezes had felt like, with icy blasts blowing in my face.

This Winter brought lots of worry and sorrow to my door. The stress became part of the the work of Winter: the slogging through the cold, the shoveling of snow, the march through short days of low, subdued energy. Even as the first gentle days showed up, when the world seemed to be a closed fist slowly opening, it was hard to trust it, hard to sink into the promise of warm days to come. It was hard to feel the Spring, or I should say, it was hard to allow myself to feel Spring's optimism and new beginnings. The Winter had settled into my mood, and it was hard to generate much “fire” for anything beyond getting through the day. I wasn't depressed, exactly, but a certain limitation had settled down on my thinking, like a visor. I stopped thinking about a time when I might have more energy, more enthusiasm, when I felt passion and excitement for any of my fallow projects. The world outside was monochrome, all pewter and taupe, and even as the light came back, and the land opened up, my thoughts remained dull like that as well. When the sky got even darker with the brooding rain clouds of early Spring, my thoughts did not leap ahead to the sweet green season yet to come. They remained in the inky black nimbus clouds that poured sleet and hail down, that made tame creeks open up into roiling muddy rapids, and turned the stone cold ground into brown mud. Dark weather for dark moods.

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Dishwater Days: Clearing out the end  of Winter

Towards the very end of Winter, the weather suddenly turns darker. The days have been getting longer, so by early March, there is a lot more daylight. The weather is slowly warming up. There may even be signs of the approaching Spring in birds returning or buds developing on trees. But suddenly a cloudy day no longer has a white or pale gray sky. The clouds are brooding, bruise-colored, dark. The clouds that pour over the mountains on those days are not fluffy and soft. They look dirty, like mop water. I call these dishwater days, the late Winter days when the season has lost all its icy sparkle and it looks as though all the grime and soot from the past three months is being washed away.

Because as thick as the cloud cover is, the clouds get blown away by strong winds, after they dump whatever sleety snow-rain mix they carry, and the whole next day feels fresh and clean. The wind is bracing, not brutal. It suddenly seems easy to think about new possibilities, new ideas. The wind blows through our hair, through our thoughts, sweeps detritus away like a broom.

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I've been helping my oldest kid with her homework lately. Her grades are slipping a bit in science, which is normally her best subject. It's not a mystery why this is happening: she's in middle school and the work is getting harder, the concepts more complex. Her class is working on geology and evolution at the moment, so she's learning about continental drift, natural selection, DNA, fossils and mutation. She's working hard on it, and I'm glad. She has to work hard because there's a lot of material and it requires her to put real effort into understanding and applying it. It's hard because she's learning science, real science, and that's something you cant take for granted anymore.

We live in a very conservative congressional district. Our house is literally surrounded by churches of various kinds. My congressman is rabidly anti-immigrant and has sponsored fetal person-hood legislation; he obviously does not represent me or my values. While I do not hide my faith, I do not feel empowered to speak about it to my neighbors or the parents of my kids' friends. I accept all of that with more or less good grace. While I hate to use the phrase 'culture war' and give energy to that narrative, I feel the annoyance and discomfort that comes with being a member of a minority religion, when the majority culture is resentful of sharing space. So I put up with the clueless chirping about “having a blessed day” and puzzled inquiries into whether I'm Jewish, when replying “none” to inquiries about which church my family attends. And I fully admit, I still fall back on traditions I grew up with, putting up a Christmas tree and saying, “Merry Christmas” without discomfort, and let other people make whatever assumption they want. I have no desire to do a mini-interfaith negotiation with random neighbors and co-workers by wishing them “Happy Solstice, and have a blessed Yule.”

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