Wheel of the Year
Like each concept on a magickal path, the Wheel of the Year – the turning of the seasons – holds secrets waiting to be discovered.
The Wheel of the Year is a pretty simple concept at first glance. In its basic form, it’s simply a way of describing the solar year – but that’s not quite the whole picture. It would be easy to say that the Wheel of the Year starts with the sun being born at Winter Solstice and follows the growing and fading of light, the changing of the seasons, and the journey that the sun takes until Winter Solstice is reached once more and the Wheel returns to its beginning.
But that’s not the whole picture either.
Like all circles, the Wheel of the Year has no beginning and no end. It simply turns. If you were to lay a bicycle on its side so you could freely spin its front tire, ask yourself, “Where does the bicycle wheel start? Where does it end?” It doesn’t. It simply spins. The Wheel of the Year describes a never-ending cycle that turns and turns and turns.
If you think about it, that’s a beautiful concept. Our calendar ends. There’s a first page and a last page. At the end of the year, we take our calendar off the wall and toss it in the recycling bin. The hidden message in a calendar approach to the year is that, “All things begin, all things end. Nothing carries forward.” The hidden message in the Wheel of the Year is that, “All things continue.” Whether we’re looking at the seasons, a moment in our life, or the cycle of reincarnation, the Wheel of the Year is a reminder that endings aren’t concrete – they’re simply a transition from one thing to something new.
But there are other secrets held in the Wheel of the Year as well.
Most pagans will tell you that the Wheel of the Year marks eight Sabbats (holy days in the solar year), and while that is a common approach, it’s not entirely accurate. I’ve met pagans, many from hereditary Traditions (paths that are passed down through the family from one generation to the next) who celebrate only four, five, or six Sabbats. When I first began my path, I only celebrated six Sabbats myself – the solstices, equinoxes, Samhain and Beltane. It took years for me to gain the perspective and understanding to really embrace the remaining two days.
If you were to observe the rising of the sun each morning, you’d see that it rises a little bit farther north or south with each sunrise. One day, toward the latter part of June and again in the latter portion of December, the sun would seemingly “stop” and would begin moving in the opposite direction with each sunrise. These days are the Solstices – summer and winter – the days when the hours of sunlight are the longest or shortest in our part of the world. At the mid-point between these two days are the Equinoxes – spring and autumnal – when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal.
This accounts for four of the eight days, but what about the other Sabbats?
If the solstices and equinoxes divide the year into quarters, then it makes sense that the remaining four Sabbats (which fall mid-way between each equinox and solstice) are referred to as “cross-quarter” Sabbats. These are typically found in February (Imbolc), May (Beltane), August (Lughnassad), and October (Samhain). In case you’re wondering, the names of the Sabbats differ from Tradition to Tradition depending on the historical (or modern) sources that the names are drawn from. The solstices and equinoxes are often referred to as Yule (Winter Solstice), Ostara (Spring Equinox), Midsummer (Summer Solstice), and Mabon (Autumnal Equinox).
One of the secrets that the Sabbats hold is the concept of duality within a larger journey. If you were to draw a circle and divide it into eight equal parts and place the name of each Sabbat in its appropriate place, you’d discover that the Sabbats line up across from each other in pairs. Each pair of Sabbats reflects the duality of an energetic experience. For instance, if light grows at Winter Solstice then it fades at Summer Solstice – and the two are directly across the circle from each other. Beltane is a celebration of life and fertility while Samhain, found directly across the Wheel from Beltane, is its duality – a time of honoring death and the afterlife.
We do things a little differently in our family, as detailed in A Unique Wheel of the Year. Beginning with the birth of the sun, we refer to the Sabbats as Winter Solstice, First Spring, Spring Equinox, First Summer, Summer Solstice, First Autumn, Autumnal Equinox, and First Winter. Rather than being based on Wicca or other modern traditions, our family’s approach relies on astronomical events and changes we can observe in the natural world around us.
As with all things in magick and spirituality, “Your heart is your map and your intuition your compass. Follow them. They won’t lead you astray.” That even applies to how you approach the turning of the Wheel of the Year.
This lesson is from Week Ten: The Wheel of the Year. The week’s focus includes: