Re-Inventing the Wheel
The Wheel of the Year is one of the first things that new witchlings and baby pagans come across when they start along the path. Learning which days are sacred to nature-based worship is often a point of interest, and dozens of books have been written on the subject of sabbats, their history, and how to celebrate them in our day and age. But for many people, the Wheel of the Year is a tricky thing to incorporate into their Gregorian calendar, and lately, I've been no exception.
What we have come to know as the Wheel of the Year is a mish-mash of various ancient and modern holidays, that are spaced equally over the span of a Gregorian calendar, about 6 weeks apart from each other. Many of them have related holidays close by, or on the date of pagan holidays, with different names, like Candlemas or Imbolc landing on the modern Groundhog Day. When pagans first start to circle the wheel, it can feel very strange or even out of place to celebrate a day that they have never given much second thought to. After all, did any of us really feel the need to make a bonfire or light some candles just because the groundhog didn't see his shadow?
To our ancestors some days did feel sacred and special, like when the sun reached its zenith and lowest points in the year, and those very important equinox days. Some cultures celebrated the lunar phase changes more than others, and some cultures were much more in-tune with when the wet and dry seasons were most powerful. Cultures all over the world have had a variety of holy days, and the pagan Wheel of the Year just doesn't reflect the breadth of them all. It focuses on the Celtic holidays, and even then, not all of them are accurate on what is now, our Wheel.
So its no surprise to me when I hear that some people, even those who live in an area whose environment closely resembles Celtic weather and seasons, are having trouble getting in touch with the pagan Wheel of the Year. Some of the days seem arbitrary and archaic, and have no personal significance for them whatever. Beltane, for instance, is one I often struggle to feel anything for. I don't find myself feeling particularly fertile or passionate or fiery during that time. In fact, I'm rather a summer-hater... I wilt in the heat like a delicate little flower, and I burn very easily. I enjoy getting outside during the summer months, but I usually limit my activities to areas of deep shade, or I get done what I want to do in the early morning or late evening hours, when the sun isn't quite so powerful. Litha too, doesn't make me feel like celebrating. I'm pretty famous for skipping those sabbats, or only doing a minimum amount of ritual for them.
But is is right, is it pagan to rework the Wheel of the Year, and make it your own? Assign your own relevance and deities to certain days or times of the year? In my own personal opinion, yes! To me, paganism and witchcraft is a spiritual practice that is all about following a nature-based path, and nature differs all around us. We live all over the globe and see many different types of weathers and local deities and cultures, and I believe our practice is largely affected by that. Our personal ancestry also comes into play as well, and since the bulk of my ancestry is Celtic in origin, or Native American I bring some elements of those cultures into my personal practice.
I don't think there is anything wrong with differing from the norm. Hell, if any group of spiritualists should be tolerant of being different, it's pagans! We're already on the outs in a lot of ways, and someone feeling a need to deviate from the collective to make something work for them shouldn't be causing any ripples. For people living in the Southern Hemisphere, there is the normal switching around of the sabbats to fit their changing seasons, and for people of desert areas there is the tendancy to skip some of the in-between sabbats like Ostara and Mabon as they don't really experience a spring or fall type of weather.
Personally I have rearranged my Wheel of the Year to start at Mabon. It feels like a natural beginning to me, as my area begins to experience the signs of autumn around this time, the kids are going to back to school, and that feeling of newness and change is in the air. The trees drop their dead leaves effortlessly, and it feels natural for me to follow suit. This is when I really look at my past year, my habits and my behaviors that I want to fall away, and by the time Samhain rolls around, I'm usually fully ready to dive into the dark half of the year, grieve what I've let go of, and move into some deep spiritual hermitage, so that when Imbolc arrives I'm getting ready to emerge as a new person once again.
The height of my spiritual path is always in the fall and winter months, when I'm feeling the most spiritual. When the warmth really returns to the earth I naturally move towards a more shamanistic type of practice, and I spend much more time focusing on the signs from the animal world, and working in my garden and with my plant allies. Reworking the Wheel of the Year to fit what feels right for me for nature-based worship has led to deep spiritual understandings, moving experiences, and powerful messages being received. I change how I open myself up to the divine to fit the time of year, and what feels right for me, and there's no way you could convince me that this reworking of the Wheel is wrong.
I always like to pay a little bit of homage to the "traditional" sabbat when it comes, even if' it's just reflecting for a few minutes about what it means to me, or how the time of year seems to match, or not match up to the sabbat's traditional meaning or feeling. But now, I pay more attention to my inner compass, and follow a celebration schedule that seems right to me. At the heart of paganism is the people who practice it, and I love how different our individual practices and beliefs can be. The uniqueness of this path is it's strength, and I think that it's worth celebrating, just as much as Samhain, or Beltane, or Yule.