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THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR
Every 365.25 days or so, the Earth completes one full orbit
around our star, the Sun. Every year
the seasons commence again, and repeat this process in a seemingly
endless cycle that has been
going on for the duration of recorded history and man's knowledge.
This cycle was observed by
very early man, and it was recognized from the earliest times
as the cycle that governed much, if
not all, of their regular existence.
Recognition of the annual cycle, or the Wheel of the Year, was
not limited to one specific
culture. In the old world of Europe it was recognized with specific
seasonal events and
celebrations that are still recognized by many pagans today
as the Sabats or holy days. On the
North American continent the native Americans recognized this
annual cycle on a regular basis
reflecting the growth and development and specific moons that
reoccurred throughout each year,
similar to the lunar esbats recognized by many modern Pagans.
The eight-spoked wheel is also
the Buddhist symbol of the endless cycle of birth, life, death,
and rebirth that governs the
existence and transformation of all things.
Understanding the Wheel of the Year is important for us. It
draws our attention to the natural
cycle that was emplaced by the Great One and that still governs
the lives of virtually everything
that lives on the planet. We can encase ourselves in climate
controlled buildings and cars, adjust
the amount of light we receive indoors, and surround ourselves
with house plants that stay green
the year round; but the cycle continues nevertheless, and we
feel it. Our bodies and souls attune
to it. We may work and live around it; but still it remains
an essential part of us. By recognizing
it and understanding it, we reclaim or retain a part of our
inherent nature as creatures of the Spirit.
The Wheel of the Year also symbolizes an inherent truth about
our existence: that we never fully
"die" and cease to exist. Just as the trees and plants
regrow or are reborn each spring after periods
of dormancy, and the baby animals leave nest and borough to
greet the spring, so we to are
constantly in a cyclic state in the world of the Spirit. We
are born, we live, we pass on into
another level of existence, and finally we are reborn into the
cycle again. Our lives are cycles as
the Spirit intended. Physical death is not the end... it is
the beginning: the beginning of a new
cycle of rebirth and life once again for us. The Wheel of the
Year represents and recognizes this
cyclic existence on the path of the Great One.
The Old World/Celtic Wheel of the Year
As human society evolved from the nomadic hunter-gatherer culture
to the agrarian and
husbandry culture in the Old World, the agricultural wheel of
the year became increasingly
important. The first recognized divisions of the Wheel were
probably the four that had the
greatest impact on society's agriculture and animal husbandry.
These, correspondingly, had the
greatest impact on the food supply and the existence of the
people. They are Imbolc, Beltane,
Lughnasadh, and Samhain. Later, as the societies observed specific
solar activity that
corresponded to certain times in the Wheel of the Year, the
solar Sabats were added and
observed. These are Ostara (the Vernal Equinox), Litha (the
Summer Solstice), Mabon (the
Autumnal Equinox), and Yule (the Winter Solstice). Together
these eight days comprise the
major Sabats or holy days of the year, and are recognized by
almost all pagans who observe oldworld
customs. They mark eight major spokes in the Wheel of the year
Imbolc, on February 2nd, is the first beginning of the
period of growth. The soil begins to warm
and soften for coming plant growth and ewes begin to lactate.
In many Pagan traditions, this is
represented as the boyhood of the God and the recovery of the
Goddess from the cold winter and
her birthing of the God child. It is a time of coming forth
from the cold, dark confines of winter,
and a celebration of the return of the Sun after the long days
of darkness that occurred over the
Ostara, around March 21st, is the day of the Vernal Equinox
and truly the first day of spring. On
this day the length of daylight and darkness are equal, and
it can be seen that once again the
power of the Sun is growing to conquer the cold and darkness
that has ruled the world during the
winter months. A time of great springtime celebration, many
Pagans recognize this day as the
day that Goddess shares her fertility with all of the planet,
and the process of new growth will
commence in earnest.
Beltane, on April 30 (May 1st), is primarily a day for
celebrating the first green shoots of spring,
and to a lesser extent for recognizing the time when cattle
were first driven to the fields to graze.
Many Pagan traditions recognize this Sabat as a day to celebrate
the maturing of the young God
into puberty, and the first sexual urges of the God enticing
him to impregnate the Goddess. It
was traditionally a fire festival where great fires were lit
to welcome and coax back the returning Sun.
Litha, around June 21st, is the Summer Solstice and the
heart of the summer when the greatest
fertility of the earth is demonstrated and the longest day of
light occurs. Many pagan cultures
recognize this day as the day when the God and Goddess are at
their strongest, and their gifts are
shared with the entire planet.
Lughnasadh, on August 1st, is the day of the first harvest.
A day when bread was made from the
rich first harvests of grain, and a day of celebrating the taking
in of the fruits of the years labor.
In many Pagan traditions, this represents the time of the year
when the God, as the plants, begins
his slow descent into weakness and old age as winter and his
death ultimately approach.
Mabon, around September 21st, is the Autumnal Equinox
and a day when the periods of light
and dark are equal; but this time the strength of the light
is waning. The days of winter approach,
and the harvest from the crops begins to reduce. The harvesting
of crops that began at Lugnasadh
is completed. In many pagan traditions, the God is seen as dying
at this time. His bright fire is
dimming, and the cold, longer nights of winter seem to approach
all too fast.
Samhain, on October 31st, is a day of death and sacrifice.
Originally celebrated for three days
from October 31st through November 2nd, the last gleanings of
the fields are brought in and the
cattle are brought in from the field. Animals are killed and
the meat preserved for winter, and the
death of the God is recognized as the Sun descends into the
long cold winter that follows. This is
traditionally the start of the Celtic New Year and is a day
of truly great celebration.
Yule, around December 21st, is the Winter Solstice and
the shortest period of light of any day in
the year. It is a day of the start of renewal found in the darkest,
coldest reaches of the winter's
realm. From this day forward the days again begin to lengthen,
and the blessings of the sun begin
to return once again. Many pagan traditions recognize this day
as the day of the God's rebirth; a
day when the people may look forward once again to receiving
the blessings of the God as the
light of his sun slowly starts to regrow.
And thus does the Wheel of the Year constantly turn. Whether
we celebrate the Sabats or not, we
all recognize the wheel. We feel it as it rotates annually through
our lives, and as our lives follow
it in form as we ourselves cycle through the creation of the
The North American Wheel of the Year
Unlike the Old World Wheel of the Year, the native North Americans
recognized the turning of
the wheel through the evolution of the 12 moons that occur each
year. In addition, they
celebrated the changing of the seasons as the major events of
the seasons occurred. With less
focus on an agricultural system of existence, the North American
Indian moons represent an
even closer tracking with the heartbeat of the Earth Mother.
They demonstrate a clear evolution
of not just eight seasonal nodes; but a monthly recognition
of the changes in the Wheel's cycle
that governed, and still govern, the life of the people.
The Medicine Wheel is a uniquely native North American understanding
of the turning of the
Wheel of the Year. At the center of the Medicine Wheel is the
Creator, the One Great Spirit.
Toward the East (right) on the Medicine Wheel is the Earth Mother
who gives birth to all things.
Proceeding clockwise around the Medicine Wheel from the Earth
Mother one encounters
representations of the Father Sun, Grandmother Moon, the element
of Water, the element of
Earth, the element of Fire, and the element of Air. Finally,
around the circumference of the
medicine Wheel are representations of the twelve moons that
occur in each solar year. The
lessons taught by each position of the Medicine Wheel are all
of the lessons that one needs to
learn to become a complete person and to rightfully walk the
path of the Spirit. The Medicine
Wheel teaches the fundamentals of successful and complete life.
Once these lessons are fully
learned, and the moons of the year turn to complete an entire
annual cycle, an individual is
prepared to pass over into the next cycle of existence in the
world of the Spirit.
The 12 moons that were recognized by North American Natives
represent specific locations on
the Medicine Wheel, which is a different, but similar, way of
viewing the evolution of life in an
annual cyclical pattern that constantly renews itself. In addition
to the significance that each
moon carries for defining features of the evolution of the year
(as made apparent by the name of
each moon), each moon also carries with it lessons that assist
one in growing on their path as the
wheel progresses. Eventually, the lessons taught by all of the
moons (and the other positions of
the medicine Wheel) provide one with the sum total of information
they require to be a full
person on the path of the Spirit, and prepare one to move on
in the Spirit's cycle when called to do so.
The Earth Renewal Moon occurs between December 22nd and
January 19th. The Earth Renewal
Moon is the first moon of the year, and begins around the winter
solstice. It signifies the new
beginning of life and growth that commences as Grandfather Sun
once again approaches his
people and brings toward them the blessings of a new annual
period of growth. On the Medicine
Wheel, the Earth Renewal Moon indicates a position of great
power, and teaches people to be
fluid, clear, adaptable, prudent and wise.
The Rest and Cleansing Moon occurs between January 20th
and February 18th. It is a moon that
teaches the ability to like others and to be more caring in
ones views and attitudes.
The Big Winds Moon occurs between February 19th and March
20th. This moon teaches the
meaning of value and protection, and helps to discover one's
own medicine power and psychic abilities.
The Budding Trees Moon occurs between March 21st and
April 19th. Occurring around the time
of the Vernal Equinox, this moon teaches one about energy, intensity,
optimism, fearlessness and change.
The Frogs Return Moon occurs between April 20th and May
20th. This moon teaches lessons
about perseverance, patience, stability, and practicality.
The Corn Planting Moon occurs between May 21st and June
20th. It teaches lessons of beauty in
all people and in our environment, and about healing abilities.
The Strong Sun Moon occurs between June 21st and July
22nd. This moon teaches about
relationships and family, mothering, and nurturing.
The Ripe Berries Moon occurs between July 23rd and August
22nd. It teaches lessons about
working from the heart, demonstrating affection, facing fears,
and leadership abilities.
The Harvest Moon occurs between August 23rd and September
22nd. It teaches lessons about
discrimination, fair decisions, good sense, perseverance, confidence,
and analytical ability.
The Ducks Fly Moon occurs between September 23rd and
October 23rd. This moon teaches
lessons about showing physical affection and how to be comfortable
in the earth and the sky.
The Freeze Up Moon occurs between October 24th and November
21st. It teaches lessons of
traveling between different levels of creation and becoming
a messenger for spiritual aspects of one's life.
The Long Snows Moon occurs between November 22nd and
December 21st. The last moon of
the year, this moon teaches about mental strength, fear of emotions,
relationships, teaching and communicating.
Whether one views the Wheel of the Year from the old world view
of the seasonal progressions,
or the Medicine Wheel of the North American Indians, or the
eight-spoked Wheel of Life
understood by Buddhists as representing the eternal cycle of
birth, life, death, and rebirth; the
Wheel of the Year is always around us. Regardless of one's background,
your ancestors probably
knew of the Wheel in one form or another and used it effectively
to govern their actions
throughout the year for centuries, to serve as a calendar, to
record the growth and passing on of
all things, and to understand the nature of existence on the
path of the Spirit. We all still benefit
from recognizing and using this centuries-old understanding
that transcends any modern,
synthetic comprehension of life!
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