The Wheel of the Year is a Celtic solar calendar followed by those who once lived close to the land. It was a way to measure celebration, harvest and the harsh cold time of the year, a way to “read the signs of the wood” and keep track of time by paying attention to the relationship between the Sun and the Earth. The “New Year” starts at Samhain, contrary to our typical Gregorian calendar which begins after Yule.
Samhain means Summer’s End.
In the traditional view Samhain (“Sow-wen”) is the end of a yearly cycle on the wheel and the beginning of a new cycle. Typically found on the same day as Halloween, the energy of Samhain is much more than a day. Often spanning several weeks, it is the last of 3 harvest holidays and the beginning of an inner quietude.
The dark reigns and cold begins, a perfect time for resting, (starting Journeywork) going fallow ourselves, just as the fields did but also a time of great overhauling and inner preparation. We are turning over ourselves internally, preparing to become new people but we are in-between death and birth, in this liminal space, we may not recognize ourselves or others. Things around us may seem mysterious or chaotic as our culture does quite the opposite of what Mother Earth is urging of us; to rest.
Unfortunately, we are draw into “the Holidays,” full of social pressure, possibly unsettling forced family time, with little room for nurturing time or food, solitude and solace, thus “the sick season.” Try carving out 5 minutes of quiet alone time every day for yourself in this season of darkness and inner focus. If you are really ambitious, try turning all the lights out, make the house as dark as possible and prepare for bed as the natural light fades. We may need more rest during this time of elongated darkness. Soon, Solstice will be here and we will celebrate the return of the “Sun King,” although we will be entering the coldest period of our year.
Yule overlaps many holidays, just as most of the Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year do. Yule typically happens around Winter Solstice when we recognize the darkest, longest night of the year and the next day starting to bring the light back. From this point on the days will get slightly longer until we get to the Spring Equinox in which we have equal day and equal night.
Yule is a hopeful time when we decorate with fairy lights to keep our spirits up in the dark time of the year as plants turn brown, but not our evergreens. Yule is a wonderful time to connect to the evergreens in your neighborhood.
I’ve often had the experience here in the Midwest of visiting the woods during Solstice and stumbling upon a “Crow Convention;” hundreds of crows flocking together and heading off to their next destination. A familiar call in the mornings, crows speak during the winter times, just as the evergreens continue on.
Despite the major commercializing of the holidays at this time, we can choose to create a quiet, dark nest haven in our homes, to turn the lights out as soon as the sun sets and just be by candlelight. This time of year begs us to stop, to listen to our own innerness, which can be quite difficult for some. It may be a time ripe for shadow work. Some still use a Yule log to celebrate the yuletide season while others do bring evergreen trees into their homes to decorate. However you choose to celebrate the end of our calendar year, the beginning of the light and sitting with the darkness, may it be healing!
Imbolc is considered a “cross-quarter” holiday! Groundhog Day is a lot more than it appears. There are ties to the activity of Bears flatulating (yes really) in German forests at this time of year to indicate the forecast of a long or short winter. Staying with tradition but lacking in bears, the groundhog was an apt substitute in North America.
On the Celtic wheel of the year this date is know as Imbolc, the time when ewes start to give milk. Could you imagine the glory of having some sort of fresh sustenance in the coldest time of the year?
Also known as St. Brigid’s and Candlemas, it is a “cross-quarter” holiday meaning it falls between solstice and Equinox.
All cross-quarter holidays are celebrated with Fire! At this time in particular we light the fires to clear stagnant winter energy and celebrate the returning heat and light coming in just 6 weeks – one more turn of the wheel – the “new year” Spring Equinox, usually March 21st or so.
Spring is coming!
Ostara is another holiday, much like Yule that is celebrated in innumerable ways. Ostara typically falls around the Spring Equinox, a time of equal day and equal night. We look forward to the budding of new life and may start to see daffodils around us and the promise of warmth and light returning.
Ostara is a time when the Mother Earth gives life again to the masculine energy in the world – the Sun’s rays are connecting with Mother Earth and inviting seeds to spring forth. This is a sacred time. I often experience the energy of this time as massively chaotic and sometimes quite difficult as the Mother is in the pangs of labor! The energy of a life coming to birth is quite intense.
Typically there are clearing winds that sweep through at this time, as they say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, this is the elemental connection of air, wind, helping the Mother to usher in change and new life, the old must be cleared and swept away, sometimes rather violently.
When these winds come if you are feeling spiritually vulnerable, you might want to just stay inside and be protected by the physical walls of your space. If you are feeling bold and ready, you can take your self out into the wind and allow it to cleanse the stagnant energies from the winter season. You can even blow your energy out into the air or send out your intentions with pieces of paper, cornmeal, tobacco or ash, or any number of spiritual allies you work with (plant or stone material perhaps?).
On this day, the May pole is one of the aspects used to celebrate the pre-beginning of Summer. In many cultures there are beautiful examples of the coming together of man and woman to create new life. This festival is about celebration and drawing forth abundance. Decorating the may pole is a clear way to celebrate the feminine and masculine aspects coming together. We can see this in India with the yoni lignum statues and the Lakota pipe. When we bring together the pipe stone and the stem, the feminine and masculine pieces we create a new being and that being allows our prayers to travel to the Creator.