The Wheel of the Year, or Eightfold Wheel, is a magical and spiritual division of the year that may date back to the first agricultural societies. It was formalised by the Celts, although some historians believe that it was predated by an earlier threefold division that celebrated the beginning of winter, midwinter and midsummer, and was perhaps linked to the movement of the herds.
The Wheel of the Year co-exists with the wider seasonal divisions of the year and incorporates the four solar festivals; these fall on the solstices and the equinoxes, the astronomical marker points of the ebbs and flows of cosmic energies. Between each of these solar festivals, which are known to witches as the Lesser Sabbats, is one of the four great Fire festivals that are major rites in the Wiccan and neo-pagan calendar, as they were to the Celts.
It is interesting to note that the Wheel of the Year is mirrored almost exactly in the Medicine Wheel, or Circle of Power, that is central to all the magick of the Native American Indians. The spokes of the Medicine Wheel link the celestial, human and natural cycles. The Medicine Wheel was made of stones and could be created wherever a tribe camped. Some were 90 feet in diameter, but research suggests that some were much smaller and were placed around ceremonial tepees to be used not only by the shaman but also by anyone seeking a spiritual path. Depicted around the wheels are totem, or power, animals, representing each birth month and season, the four main directions and winds. The totems vary according to each tribe's mythology. There are more than 500 different systems in North America alone.
In the southern hemisphere, as I explained on page 42, practitioners can re-time the magical associations so that, for example, the midwinter solstice falls in mid-June, rather than December. However, some parts of the world do not have four seasons. For example, parts of Australia and other lands in the southern hemisphere have just two, the wet and the dry, and others have three or six seasons. In parts of the US too, there are not such definite seasonal variations, while in Northern areas of Scandinavia and Canada, it may still be snowing and icy on May Day, so the Swedes, for example, have their equivalent of maypole dancing round then: midsummer tree.
In practice, wherever you are, you can either carry out the symbolic rituals at the times I have suggested or adapt them to your own clime. You may, indeed, find that if your ancestors came from another land or continent, your seasonal energies resonate more with theirs. Even if you live in Sydney or Florida, it may be that come November you instinctively hibernate; in this case, you may find the Celtic pattern right for you no matter what the barometer says.
Because the solstices and equinoxes are astronomical measures - that is they depend on the movement of the planets and stars - the dates will vary by a day or two depending on the year.
I have written in several of my books about the folk and religious lore behind seasonal festivals and there are many other good books on this subject. In this chapter I mainly focus on the way they amplify the positive energies of the universe and provide a personal connection to the ebbs and flows of the cosmic cycle of existence. The rituals can be either private or group celebrations of power.
They will also vary because they originate from many different myths, so that different gods and goddesses may appear in a variety of aspects. This may give rise to what seem to be contradictions, but in the coming together of myths this is inevitable and the god and goddess forms are a powerful metaphor for the energies of each era. One theme common to all, however, is the belief in a cycle, or wheel, of birth, maturity, death and rebirth, which underpins nature and, some believe, all creation.
The energies of the eight major festivals of the Eightfold Year reflect global as well as personal concerns, and our ancestors linked their own fortunes with those of the herds, the soil, the trees and the crops. This is a very valid principle of white magick and one that I have returned to many times in this book. If our spells focus, for example, on increasing general abundance at the time of the harvest, our own needs will be met as part of the cosmic process of regeneration.
What is more, the responsibility felt and still expressed in ritual by some indigenous peoples, for the coming of the rains or the annual rebirth of the Sun, is not merely an unlearned response as some anthropologists suggest. It acknowledges the interconnectedness of universal and personal life forces and the responsibility humans have for care of the Earth. As an ancient Malaysian proverb says: 'We have not inherited the Earth from our forefathers, but borrowed it from our descendants'.
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