Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Wheel of the Year

Ever since I encountered the first neo pagans in my life, I have felt ambivalent about the 8 festivals they celebrate every year. I'm not a farmer, but a city girl and I know nothing about sowing and harvesting. And anyway the growing of our food has very little to do with the seasons nowadays. So I find it difficult to relate to the neo pagan wheel of the year.

The beginning of summer and summer itself, and the beginning of winter and winter itself are what I can notice in my daily life. Times of harvest can vary in different places in the world and in different eras, but the solstices and equinoxes are the same everywhere and always.
I never really liked to celebrate midsummer though, because all it means to me is that there will be less light soon.

So it's only 3 festivals I have been celebrating consistently over the years. Oh yes I tried all the other festivals too, but only the beginning of summer- spring, the beginning of winter – autumn and midwinter are always honoured with special celebrations and at least a seasonal altar. This is how I feel it and this is what, in a very natural way, became my practise over the years.

This happens to coincide with how the ancient heathens of Northern Europe did it :)
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that Scandinavian pagans only knew 2 seasons: summer and winter. Hence the names MIDsummer and MIDwinter for the solstices. And they celebrated only 3 large seasonal festivals: the beginning of summer, the beginning of winter and midwinter. But the exact dates could vary.

That these three festivals were also celebrated around where I live, in the province of Noord Holland in the Netherlands, is proved by some very interesting archaeological finds. Sacrificial pits were found around iron age farms at different locations. Analysis of the content of these pits shows, that the sacrifices took place three times a year: at spring, autumn and winter.

It is not just coincidence that these three festivals became prominent in the Roman Catholic calendar: Easter, All Saints and Christmas. Of course minor agricultural festivals were celebrated also, but those festivals had a wide variation, depending on climate and soil. There was never a thing like one big harvest festival all over Europe. That's just impossible in practice! When harvest is done, you celebrate and give thanks. And this can never be on a set date, for it depends on sunshine and rain. This city girl understands that much about farming.

So whenever I read yet another invitation to one of the 8 neo pagan festivals, it all feels a little forced to me. City folks driving their cars to a place in a park or wood, to re-enact a farmers festival that never took place in pagan times. Connecting with Mother Nature, while polluting the air on their way back home …

Of course, of course I know about the deeper spiritual meanings of the wheel of the year, how it reflects the seasons in our lives, etc. I also know about different myths, old and new, giving more meaning to it all. And I understand it is a perfect structure for the work in a coven and it's a lovely excuse for regular social meetings. So if you feel like it, please continue to celebrate all of them. Please do!

But please also know your history. Know that Gerald Gardner, the founding father of Wicca, started with only 4 seasonal celebrations, based on some festivals found in different locations in Great Britain: Imbolc, Beltaine, Lammas and Samhain. Only later he added the 4 festivals celebrated by the English Druids: the equinoxes and solstices. And so the 8 spokes of the wheel of the year were born, about just half a century ago.

For me the number 3 has my preference.
It is my UPG (unverified personal gnosis) that this number, together with triangles, were immensely important to the ancient ancestors.
3 x 3 = 9 And the significance of the sacred number 9 can hardly be over estimated. I think many will agree with me on at least this.

I do realize that just 3 festivals do not cover all the traditions of our ancestors.
- There is the first of May, when annual salaries were paid (and debts collected!). What might explain the tradition of celebrating and getting married on that day. Or was it the other way round and were servants paid because it was a special day?
- And what about carnival? The feast of the reversal of roles, when villages and cities were ruled by a fool. In a highly hierarchical society like pre Christian Europe, with it's sacred kingship and slavery, there was a need for a few days like that.
- Another is the day of Saint Nicolas, with a kind of re-enactment of the wild hunt.
- etc. etc. etc.

But I know for sure that these traditional celebrations never neatly fitted into a schedule with periods of 6 weeks. Our ancestors feasted when the time was there and only when the important work was done.

Hail to the Ancient Ones!

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