The world around us changes; you don't need me to tell you that. The sun rises, the day grows warm, the winds blow, the sun sets, the moon hangs high, the stars twinkle, the night settles and a chill runs down your spine. The world slumbers and the cycle begins anew the next day.
In a manner then, each day bears shadows of that which follows and that which precedes, and yet, each day, each hour, is unique. Each moment of life is an opportunity to explore the depth of the surrounding holy.
Though the world changes, the changes of the seasons are predictable, just like the twenty eight day cycle of the moon. Seeds slumber beneath the ground giving life to buds of spring. Vegetation matures, animals give birth. The world ripens. Harvest comes, the leaves wither and fall from the trees, t he days grow steadily shorter. Darkness prevails, cold descends, plants die, animals hibernate. The ground thaws, the buds bloom and the cycle begins again. The cycling of the seasons is sacred; many of our myths are deeply rooted in these changing seasons. The eight Sabbats of Wicca are turning points; days which mark the coming together of two periods of time, two different paradigms. The day itself is not as important as the concepts it conveys: union, coming together, fusion, and the resulting creation of something different. Another way to look at the Sabbats is as a time of transition, when we look back on our journey thus far, notice the seeds that have been sown, and begin to plan for their harvest.
The approach to Wheel of the Year presented here is a mythic approach, exploring themes and archetypes that appear in mythologies worldwide. There is plenty of information on the Web and in books about the traditional Wiccan Sabbats, and we will be exploring those concepts in class. Here, we will endeavor to go one further, and explore the cross-religious significance of the changing of the seasons.
The element of water is representative of the psyche, of dreams, of the deep self, the unexplored territory of our true nature. In autumn, we celebrate both the last harvest and the slipping away of nature into a time of darkness, a time of rest. And with physical rest there comes the opportunity to frolic in the world of dream, the world of the subconscious. A strong image that prevails this season is the image of the sleeping babe in the womb. Seeds are at rest now. The earth is at rest, slumbering away in the living waters of the universal womb, awaiting its own rebirth. This is a time for our own contemplation as well.
As the world browns and turns silent, we reach inward and downward. We reflect; we look back over the year and see what we have done, and plot where want to head. Now is not a time of action; now is a time of remembering, reconsidering, understanding.
This is the perfect time of year to arm ourselves with the knowledge of our true selves. To protect Achilles from his fate, the Goddess Thetis dipped her son into the river Styx, rendering him invincible everywhere but the back of his heel. The imagery here can be read several ways: by dipping him into the water, he was baptized, reborn. Another way to read the myth is to see Thetis anointing her son with the gift of self knowledge and an understanding of his own strengths, rendering him invincible to the outer world.
Similar myths utilizing water and the concept of rebirth are the biblical account of Noah and the flood, where Yahweh sends a great flood to wash the earth clean and be made anew, and Cerridwen and her cauldron wherein Gwion tasted the contents of the cauldron, was pursued and eaten by Cerridwen, and reborn into the bard Taliesin.
All of these myths demonstrate the essence of this turn of the wheel : the dark, the silent, the inward reaching, dreamsleep, searching. A note of caution: when we are taking a good look at who we are, it can be easy to become self involved and self-absorbed. As Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in the water, a very real danger of self exploration is the inability to take our knowledge of self and apply it to the world around us. We mustn't forget to acknowledge the world around us.
In the deep of the earth, in its cold, dry darkness, the great myths of the Underworld unfurl. Many Samhain celebrations explore the Underworld—it is a powerful place and time for personal transformation. The descent can begin at Samhain, but the completion of the descent, the process of rising again, does not happen until Yule.
Armed with self knowledge, we descend into the Underworld to confront our demons, to seek the darkest recesses of ourselves. Kore descends into the Underworld and learns what happens to life once it enters the Great Below. Inanna gives up the seven holy me in order to gain knowledge about the most secret, the most occult. Osiris, too, gives us his lesson--there is no such thing as true death, for death only gives unto new life. Though Osiris rules the Underworld, he is also the god of vegetation, the "benefactor of humanity".
Once we understand our own darkness, we can use it to enrich our lives, cultivate it to bring fruition to our plans and projects. In the Underworld, we begin to plant our seeds for ourselves. This is not the time to think larger than the self, not the time to plan for community action. That will come later. Before we can change the world we have to change the self. Nestled in the earth, cloaked in knowledge of the self and with our seeds for self evolution newly planted, we are ready to be reborn into the world that we left behind. The night is still long, but the days are growing longer. As the sun struggles to overcome the dark, so do we struggle to break free of our egg, to burst into sunlight as the young sun god slides free of his mother's womb.
Newly born, one of our first lessons is to discover how we fit into our environment. We make plans to commit ourselves to a certain path of learning, for now that we are changed and reborn, our place in society and the local community may have changed. We take our first looks around, take in the surroundings, and reevaluate what we want to do with this world. We make promises to our gods and to ourselves to continue this process of evolution, and to grow into the new skins that we have been granted.
The element air and the concept of breath are linked with the concept of creation. Air is the element of intellect, creativity, and imagination. We take in our first breath and are filled with the essence of this world, and thus, begin to change it.
This is the time when we begin to set about creating our environment. Sure in who we are, and strong in our convictions, we begin to cultivate the world around us and mine it for possibilities. Our awareness extends out of ourselves and into the communities we belong to. We begin to forge relationships and commitments, both social and romantic. It is a
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time of initiations and new beginnings. We begin to create something for ourselves in this world, whether it is a career, a creative venture, a family or a commitment to the Divine. Now is the time to begin taking actions. Our days of inward looking and downward reaching are done, and it is time to build ties with the community, and to place ourselves firmly within the world that has given us birth.
In the Old Testament, the god Yahweh speaks the world into creation; his breath is the causing force of all creation and life. Similarly, the Egyptian god Hu and "The One Thing" from the Hindu Rig Veda are said to have breathed the world into creation. (Hu was actually the creating breath himself.)
Once we have established our place in our communities, we begin to transform the world around us. The nature of fire is transformative. Of all the elements, fire is the most brazenly destructive; even a single lick of flame has potential for danger. But with that great power comes great possibility for change.
Firmly planted in our communities, we begin to see the flaws, the places where our communities could stand a "fresh coat of paint". We begin the process of destruction so that we can make way for new growth, for the new life that we foresee. The Phoenix was destroyed by fire and born again of his own ashes; this is the vision that we have for our communities, and this is the reality that fire offers us.
But now we also look ahead toward the coming autumn and winter, and begin to wonder what kinds of changes are in store for us in the coming months and even years. We know that nothing is static; we've had a complete cycle to see this. Now, with a full understanding of how the wheel turns, we can begin to make long term plans, to look deeper into the future. And here the seeds for personal growth are sown, and the wheel begins to turn again.
Inspiration for this outlook came from Mike Nichol's essay, "The Ever Widening Circle", found at
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