The Wheel of the Year – Valid or Not?

Poplars_in_four_seasonsI sometimes watch with confusion the conversations that develop on social sites like Facebook and Twitter over some of the things we do as modern Pagans. One of the topics that seems to get regularly dissected is the Wheel of the Year and the way it is celebrated. There are those who love it, there are those who say that it is a modern invention so therefore we shouldn’t be following its pattern, there are those who see its value in the regular connection with the natural world, there are also those who express a form of superiority by turning their back on it in order to practice something more ‘authentic’.

I must be a little weird because in these situations I just think if you don’t like it, don’t work with it, simples.

Why is there the need to place one practice in a better light by denigrating the practice you don’t do? Why not live and let live and just do what is right for you? These are the things that occur to me when I see people laying into the Wheel of the Year.

But I also don’t mind being challenged to take a fresh look at why I do what I do. Sometimes this is a very valuable exercise, to challenge something I hold as sacred every now and then – to make sure that I’m not just blindly following something, but that it is still a practice that I find valuable and of importance. So I took the time to take another look at the Wheel of the Year, to see where I stood in relation to it as a practice.

I took three of the most common accusations I’ve read over the years against the practice of the Wheel, and then wrote my thoughts on each one in turn.

So here goes.

1. “The Wheel of the Year is not an authentic ancient Pagan practice.”

No, that’s right it isn’t. Although we know that Pagans have been marking each of the 8 festivals individually, the placing of them into the 8-fold Wheel of the Year was probably created by two men, Gerald Gardner (the father of modern Wicca) and Ross Nichols (the founder of the OBOD), sometime back in the 50s/60s. So as the pattern of a cycle of festivals this practice probably goes back 60 or so years. Does that matter? Not to me. I’m not seeking complete ‘authenticity’ of practice, I’m seeking meaningful ‘validity’ and connection.

See I think those two men tuned into something very powerful. We know that the ancients marked the Solstices and Equinoxes, and we know that our farming ancestors marked the agricultural festivals. When I stand in circle to mark the Winter Solstice I know that this is a moment that connects me not only with the turning of the planet, and its relationship with the Sun, but it also connects me with my ancestors who also marked this time at passage grave and stone circle. The same is true for each of the festivals. The pattern is the glue that brings each festival in relationship to the other, and it does it beautifully. If we were living during the time of Taliesin, and he had seen the connection between these festivals, I think we would have honoured that insight of Awen with respect. I honour the inspiration that has given us this mandala. I have no need for that aspect to be ancient. It works.

2. “People who practice the Wheel of the Year are not farmers anymore so it is no longer relevant.”

No, that’s right, many of us are not farmers. And that is an even more important reason for us in this modern time to make that regular connection with the turning seasons and with nature. Many of us are so busy, running from job to home, to kids, to work, to home, that we can be swept along by the demands of modern life. But every 6 weeks or so we consciously make the time to turn away from that and go outside so a place that has some kind of significance for us. To look around, to see the changes that have taken place in the landscape, to smell the difference in the air, to notice the touch of the air upon the nerve endings of our skin. To mark our place in time.

At the Anderida Gorsedd we have just entered our 14th year of continuous open ritual celebrations at the Long Man of Wilmington. 13 times through the Wheel of the Year with 104 rituals, rain, shine, or snow. The regular marking of the Wheel gives a connection to the seasons that is tangible, with memories of 13 Imbolc rituals going back to 2001 you get to know and understand where the cycle is and what to expect of each time of year. The wheel goes way beyond farming practice, and for us with our disconnected lives, where we sometimes get to spend little time with our eyes well and truly open to see the changes of the seasons, the festivals that make up the Wheel are probably more important now than they ever have been in the past.

3. “Celebrating Spring when there is still snow on the ground is stupid. Winter is still here.”

This is one for 2013’s Spring Equinox. We had our Spring Equinox ceremony at the Long Man and it was ice cold. It didn’t feel like Spring at all, that’s true. But I have two reasons to still mark that time. The first is that the Equinox is a celestial event – it’s happening regardless of the weather. It is the time of equal day and night and is the relationship between the sun and the earth’s axis, and regardless of the weather it is the bringer of Spring. It’s here and ready to burst. It just needs the wind direction to change and those leaves will explode. The other reason is hope, particularly this year. We know it’s cold. But we also know that the Green is ready, and some plants and trees are already opening their leaves.

So for me the Wheel is still very much a part of my regular Pagan practice, and I can’t see that changing. It might not be for everyone, and that’s ok. But for those of us who do mark the turning seasons in this way, if you don’t, try not to make the judgement that it is meaningless. There is deep meaning here, laid out in the movements of the sun, the moon and stars, the changes of the landscape, and the honouring of the ancestors.

23 Comments

  1. Giles Murray April 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    As ever Dave you nicely walk the balance point that ought to be the watchword for all of us! Thank you. I have been saddened by a sudden flurry of “Christian Bashing” this last weekend. So much so I have been forced to unfriend three otherwise sensible Pagan acquaintances. But the point is the same. If you or I believe one thing but another does not. I am secure enough in my belief not to feel any need to mock/correct/analyse/dissect the belief system of any other.

    Let light love and truth increase, without discord, we are all sons and daughters of the earth.

  2. rachel mayatt April 3, 2013 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    I think the main thing for me is that something has meaning and authenticity to me regardless of whether someone else thinks so. Im not looking for a re-enactment group or spirituality. Im doing something that feels authentic to me. I follow the wheel of the year cos it feels good for me. In the same way that I may do a ritual to Isis, Cerridwen or even Zardos if it moves me.

    All wheels have spokes and they all lead to one centre. Lets all enjoy our own paths, ways and truths As long as the intention is good, what does it matter.

  3. Vicky Walker April 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your wise words Dave, what you say is very much how I feel about it. For me they are moments when I stop and notice what is happening in nature, acknowledge, celebrate and give thanks. I notice what is going on around me at other times as well but these festivals give a focus that seems right for me, and thank you also Giles Murray, as you say, there is no need to bash other beliefs, I noticed that Philip Carr-Gomm very graciously gave respect to other beliefs in the recent TV series Pagans and Pilgrims and I was glad of that.

  4. Kirsti April 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Bless you for sharing your musings πŸ™‚ Agree agree agree. And I stand in a completely different land with different shifts and seasons and traditional practices. And yet I too resonate deeply with our practices informed by our Wheel of the Year – it gives motion and movement to our lives and helps us connect deeply with the sadness in the darkness and the light in the still ness πŸ™‚ /|\

  5. Max Hale April 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    The wheel is a guide and good guide at that to our changing seasons and our responsibilities to ourselves and our earth. I, like you Dave am not concerned about others driving force for their pagan practices and that is what makes us unique. Pagans are truly the free folk not tied down to a sacred book or fixed deity, it is truly open The tangible elements of the wheel showing the four seasons and the sabbats giving us opportunity to demonstrate our commitments and best of all celebrate all that is beautiful on our planet. If you feel that it is not for you then I respect your decision to live without.

  6. Mojo April 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Excellent piece, Damh. Very much, All about the Love! I have always told folks that if the Festivals don’t line up perfectly for where you live, it’s just another reason to get together again in a couple of weeks, ‘when the snow is gone’, so to speak…..

  7. Eltjo April 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Eloquence abounds in your thought perusal. Thank you for sharing and putting the question πŸ™‚

  8. Raven Seven April 3, 2013 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks for posting this Dave. Just hit a low period in my life and I find that the Wheel of the Year gives me a definite focus. I know that it has to keep turning and that it takes me with it. Comforting when times get hard.

  9. Denise Moody April 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    You put it well. For me not being farmers anymore is more reason to follow the wheel. The further cultures get away from the land the more harm to people and the land. Celebrating the wheel connects all of us who practice Pagan ways. Even if we are alone in our homes we know we are not alone in our practice.

  10. Kris Hughes April 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Nice post, Dave, and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you!

  11. Marc April 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    I have watched with some bafflement and amusement the same thing too over the years, I have come to a place where I use what I want (as far as dates etc go) and discard the rest to do my own thing. I did once stick to the dates for the celebrations regardless of days of the week then discovered that I was not getting paid for the days work that I missed (go figure) So I tried to think what would ‘normal’ hardworking people have done in the days before the internet and clocks. So now I celebrate when it wont interfere with my daily work and when the moon/sun is right for the ritual in hand, this seems to work well for me and mine so we continue.

  12. Alison April 3, 2013 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    I follow the wheel of the year for all the above reasons and some personal ones, I suffer from a recurrent depressive disorder and following the wheel of the year gives me structure always something to look forward to, something to study and investigate. So for me it is a healthy uplifting way of life it has really helped me so much. And I love the people at Chiltern Nemeton `grove as they are so excepting and I have to say its well good fun!!

  13. Alison April 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    sorry about spelling mistake I mean accepting

  14. Stephen Barnes April 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    If the human race today took note of the wheel and his place within Nature, learned to work with it, not trying to control it and abuse it for material gain. Just simply love Nature and the Earth we would not be in the mess we are in today. We are supposed to be so intelligent, why is the human race so blind to the fact we are all part of the Circle, we don’t learn from the past, we don’t live and see what we have today, what is going to be left for the children tomorrow . For me today’s Pagan has nothing but Love to give, that’s what the wheel teaches to all. It’s that simple. /|\

  15. tempesthearth April 3, 2013 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Beautifully reasoned, as always. I think we should work with what makes sense to us and not worry about ‘authenticity’ too much. I really don’t understand why some pagans feel the need to criticise everyone else’s practice. I am not you, you are not me: we each do what we need to. Personally, I feel celebrating the wheel helps me to feel more in tune with the earth’s rhythms, which we so often ignore otherwise these days.

  16. Ellie April 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    I find the wheel of the year a way to connect my practices with the reality around me. I am lucky to live in the country and see the turning of the year and the smells and sights connect with the wheel. Unlike many festivals they have an actual place in time and for me that makes them a real way to revere the earth and nature. I have no problem with celebrating Spring Equinox with snow on the ground. It is about light not temperature.

  17. GreenFae April 3, 2013 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    When I started on my Pagan path, about 10 years ago, the Wheel gave me something to follow. It gave me structure and understanding of what was going on around me in nature, how life was reflected in a real way. Now the Wheel helps me keep my focus on my Paganism, making me (a busy manager in engineering company and a sole trader on the web) make time for my rituals and take note of what is happening around me in the real world, not just the world of work!
    I will continue to celebrate the turning of the wheel until I personally pass Samhain, and hope to find it again in my next life! Blessings GF /|\

  18. From the Desk of MarDrag April 3, 2013 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    Great post Damh. I find it sad that there is discord about this subject as it indicates once again the disconnection of “modern wo/man” to the “nature” of life. We all spring from nature, we are born of it, so to judge giving attention or reverence to the cycle of the year is puzzling to me. We were not born of the concrete and steel of today. We were born of the earth, from a seed. And remembering to give thanks for that is so important. There is energy to be given and taken there, and it can only benefit the flow of life.

    I wrote a piece on my blog this past Spring Equinox/Ostara that speaks of this and have linked it here in chance you would like to read it. http://fromthedeskofmardrag.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/the-beauty-of-renewal/

    Many Blessings to you fine Bard!

  19. derwyddes April 4, 2013 at 9:19 am - Reply

    I liked your observations enormously. No one should have to feel put down by others for their spiritual beliefs. I love the wheel of the year, personally. It has always made a lot of sense to me on very many levels. πŸ™‚

  20. Sue April 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Hi, I’m new to your blog but not paganism. I would like to say you have fully encompassed everything I feel about the wheel of the year and paganism in general in one post. I don’t feel I can add anything to what you have said but maybe here here πŸ™‚

  21. Marion April 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    My Pagan practice is all about honouring and celebrating Nature’s cycles and rhythms, flows and balances- the ‘wheel’ of birth, death and rebirth. This can be experienced not only in the wheel of the year but also the wheel of the day, of the lunar month and of our lifetimes. Emotionally too, when we are down, or in the dark, it can offer the certainty that there will indeed be a time when the we are lifted
    up again and the light will return. As the previous post says, the wheel makes sense on so many levels. Thanks again Damh for your sensible and sensitive analysis.

  22. Persephone Pagan April 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    I do believe that many whom are seeking their heritage or ancestry have turned to Paganism or Wicca to find what we Pagans have always known. I don’t behoove a Wiccan the Wheel if they truly follow the seasons and are not posers but maybe just maybe even those folks might be touched by what they learn from recognizing the seasons.
    I’m only dismayed when we are considered a fleeting Fad, no one considers Christianity fleeting hence the irritation of many who were never baptized but lead a Pagan life since baby hood. No denying the Wheel is Wiccan in general as stated by Dave made up by Gardner and Nichols so obviously there are other ways to recognize the Gentle Change as our ancestors did but I have no issue with it if it allows those in need to become intuned.

  23. Anocht April 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    For your point 2:
    I live in Carpathian Basin (Centra Europe). Usually our wheather crazy, seasons completly disappear, and rain come randomly. But these celebratings important us: give signs, when the wheat will grown, when corn needed to be seeded, and gives hope, something soon will start. I think nowadays very importent to all of us tofind out the agriculture, the basics of living, and accept: we depend from nature, and if we destroy or change it, it will take (lethal) effect on us too, what we cant avoid (we cant summon food from nothing).
    I want to say: if the exact days not so important those, who dont use the fields or work with nature, but important the meanings of it, what should understand all of people (not depend on religion or thinks). And if it happen, many of people will wonder, how clearly the “spirit of wheel” works…

    Thank you for the spirit, what you make by your music.
    (From a hungarian beginner wiccan, and environmental engineer).

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