The Wheel of the Year – Valid or Not?
I 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.