A Journey With the Wheel of the Year

The Wheel from The Wildwood Tarot

The Wheel of the Year is, easily, one of the most unifying things in the neo-pagan community. The seasonal festivals might have slightly different names or customs between practitioners and groups, but most (that I’ve seen) seem to acknowledge in some way, shape, or form, the eight stations of the Wheel of the Year.

In recent years, I’ve seen (and participated in) a number of attempts at re-thinking the Wheel of the Year. After all, the eight sabbats were created based on ancient western European agrarian festivals. While incorporating ancient practices and interpretations brings us closer to our long-lost pagan ancestors and the rhythms of the land and its seasons, it’s a system that doesn’t necessarily fit everyone’s paganism.

Michigan is definitely not in perfect sync with the traditional Wheel of the Year. For example, Imbolc and Ostara, usually regarded as the beginnings of spring are usually cold and icy here- with snow storms likely to continue well into April. Lughnasadh doesn’t quite see the first of our grain (though there is some summer sweet corn), but there are tart blueberries to pick.

Much of the last few years had involved much of coming into my own particular path as a pagan as well as a young adult. I’ve gone over the high days almost each time they come to pass, rethinking traditions, adding new things to my celebrations, letting go of what is of little use to me, etc.

But something happened: I graduated from college, and suddenly all the markers I used to use for stopping to observe my place along the Wheel of the Year were gone. It wasn’t noticeable at first. Beltane just after I’d graduated from college was, after all, still the sweet beginning of summer and freedom from the academic part of the year. Midsummer was my usual return to my spiritual and artistic work… But Lughnasadh was no longer about preparing for the coming school year- in fact, there was very little to really prepare for, because I work in an industry with a busy season between May and October. If anything, it was a breath of release- but I didn’t know what to do with it.

I had spent the last thirteen years or so of my path defining my year by the patterns of that which had defined a great deal of my life: school. My view had been framed around cycles of classes and how my paganism and my artistic interests were able to be enjoyed in relation to those cycles. My rituals for the sabbats centered around preparations for what was to come: being away at school, finals perhaps, a free period in the summer to work on my own projects, etc. I had celebrated the turning Wheel of the Year with the same handful of people- people who have since gone about their separate ways, who are in different parts of the state or country, or vastly different paths in life.

By about Imbolc, I was feeling really very lost and lonely, and really beating myself up for not having “done anything” for most of a year.

A short while after Beltane, when all had come full circle once again, I felt the strength to sort of pick up where I’d been with my OBOD course work and personal study. What I realized was that it was completely OK that I hadn’t performed any rituals or felt connected to the few celebrations I had hosted. After all, a great deal of my previous frame of reference was sort of lost in a pretty sudden way.

What I’d accomplished in not worrying about the rituals or the fact things hadn’t gone exactly the way I’d hoped, was that I was able to observe and learn a new cycle for the year. Now, it’s almost flipped from what it had been: where my period of “rest” and personal work had once been May-September, now it’s more like October-May when work is slower and there’s less yard projects to worry about around the house.

I’ve become more intimately aware of the seasons and patterns of nature as they manifest around my local area. The leaves turn gold in October. Orion is visible over the horizon in late September. Sometimes there’s a random thaw in January. This is where I can see the Moon through my bedroom window in the summer time. The crows return to the yard in late June and stay through most of the fall… These sorts of things are now a part of my view of the wheel, and I’ve begun again the process of reexamining the cycles and seasons of my life and my practice.

What is your relationship with the Wheel of the Year? Have you ever experienced a period of time where it seems almost entirely foreign to you? How did you overcome that? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Yours beneath the maple boughs,

Rachel

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