There will be many references in this blog to ‘The Wheel’ so I thought it would be helpful to give a brief explanation of which Wheel I am actually talking about.
The WHEEL OF THE YEAR is a cyclical calendar that includes eight festivals and is primarily used to track seasonal changes. They fall approximately 6-8 weeks apart and they are relatively evenly spread throughout the year.
The Wheel breaks up the year into eight portions. In the Northern Hemisphere Dec/Midwinter is at the very top and June/Midsummer at the bottom.
The four ‘compass points’ mark the Solstices and Equinoxes; the exact date of these astronomical occurrences can vary slightly each cycle so the festival date will move in response to this.
The four ‘cross quarter’ festivals mark the historic Celtic Fire Festivals that are known in folk history. These dates tend to be the same each year.
A popular characteristic of the Wheel is that the timings of actual celebrations can – if preferred – be moved to fit in with other needs. Whether this be syncing in with the lunar calendar or simply fitting it around your work and play, it is commonly accepted to be flexible with dates thanks to the fluid nature of the changing year. In my experience, the set festival dates tend to mark the ‘peak’ of a seasonal period (for example, Midsummer is the height of the bright, summer time) with the weeks just before and just after the date still evoking the energy and themes of the festival just as well as the day itself.
The name of each festival changes depending on who you ask and is often determined by personal practice. Over time people have developed and sometimes altered the names to suit their preferences and purposes. Below is a list of some names and approximate dates for each festival; the name in bold is the one I use and will be using in this blog:
21/22nd December – Midwinter, Winter Solstice, Yule
1st Feb – Imbolc, Imbolg, St Brighid’s Day, Candlemas
21st-23rd March – Spring Equinox, Vernal Equinox, Ostara
1st May – Beltane, Beltaine, May Day
21st/22nd June – Midsummer, Summer Solstice, Litha
1st August – Lammas, Lughnasadh
21st – 23rd September – Autumn Equinox, Mabon, Harvest Home
31st October – Samhain, All Souls, Hallowmas, Halloween
Each festival has its own collection of themes, myths, stories and traditions. Some of these will have been around for many years, others will be newer additions. There are a few over-arching myths that tell the story of the whole Wheel in one go; it is not unusual for such a story to be portioned up and told over the course of 12 months.
Most festival traditions are linked to the weather, the agricultural calendar or local folk history;often a mixture of all three. Some of the festivals have more ephemeral ideas linked to them too, such as spirits at Samhain. It has become popular in recent times to use the Wheel as a method of self-exploration and development too.
At its core the Wheel of the Year is a symbolic representation of the turning seasons and the sensory and energetic changes that take place in the World and our lives as we move through the year. Despite its close acquaintance with Paganism, following the Wheel is not limited to those who would identify as such. Anyone can choose to Walk the Wheel and find it an enjoyable and inspiring way of keeping time and keeping track of life; after all an appreciation of the World is not limited to those with religion or faith.
All of the above (and much of this blog, in fact) comes from my own experiences and ideas. I always try my best to quote sources and references when I know they are needed, but suffice to say that much of my writing is woven from years of reading, talking, internet-searching, participating and pondering; so not all of it will have a single, clear source (unless you count me!).
I hope what you read on this and other pages is of interest and that it inspires you to seek other sources yourself. Here are a few suggestions:
Glennie Kindred – website and published works
Vivianne Crowley – The Magickal Life
Ronald Hutton – Stations of the Sun
The Witches of Eileanen series by Kate Forsyth (fiction, full of rich myth surrounding the Wheel)
Pic credits: 1) A Crone's Garden 2) Anthony Galbriath @ fineartamerica