Back in April when I first started to come out as a Pagan, I mentioned that one of my goals was to figure out some good ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. Although my emphasis is typically on the Hellenic gods, and my personal practice draws more from reconstructionism than anywhere else, I do not necessarily self-identify as a hard reconstructionist. I’m suspicious about extensive New Age influence in Neopaganism, and I am cranky about eclecticism generally, at the same time I feel drawn to multiple strands of pagan worship and theology. To make a long story short, I feel drawn to celebrate the eightfold Wheel of the Year (solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days) despite the fact that as a whole it is a recent phenomenon. As John Michael Greer is fond of pointing out, the validity of a spiritual practice comes from whether or not it works, not whether or not it is ancient.
One of my earliest specific pagan epiphanies was with the Wheel of the Year. As a teen, I was immensely interested in mythology and pagan religion (ancient and neo-), but was often nervous about telling other people about it, so I did a lot of reading and research in secret. One day I was sixteen or seventeen or so, I was looking at a calendar with the eight pagan holidays on it, and I was calmly and peacefully but intensely struck by the rightness of it. It was particularly significant to me because that kind of spiritual reaction was the kind of thing I had always been raised to believe would be the Holy Ghost’s witness of the truth of Mormonism. And there I was having it over a pagan calendar. I called up my best friend John (maybe he’s reading this?), and told him about it. It was really the beginning of my secret adolescent religious rebellion.
Anyway, since I have felt comfortable ebracing my Pagan identity, I have let three of the eight major holidays pass by without doing anything about them, because I don’t know what to do. I don’t really have a group of fellow-believers to practice my religion with, so most of my spiritual expression winds up being in a personal or family context. Luckily, my beautiful and sexy Christian wife is more than willing to be supportive and take part, but since it is my thing, I really have to take the lead.
I like holidays and festivities a lot, and that’s what I am looking for here. Not rituals, but traditions, the things that make the day and the season feel festive and special: decorations, meals, traditions, things to think about. The eightfold year is a cycle, so it lends itself well to that kind of thing, but it can be hard to find resources about it. Most of what is available on the internet is either too generally stated to be useful, or it is presented in ritual form, which is definitely not what I am loking for. While ultimately I do plan on engaging in seasonal religious ritual as part of my Wheel of the Year celebration, I really want to also lay a festive foundation for said ritual. Maybe I’m going about it backwards, but this is the way it makes sense to me, and it is the best way to share with friends and family. Over time, I expect my religious and ritual explorations would influence and affect the festive traditions. But I want something to start with.
The other consideration I have is the similarities between some of the holidays on the pagan calendar and Christian and civic holidays. Christmas is similar to Yule, Samhain matches Halloween, the Spring Equinox parallels Easter, etc. For most pagans, this is not a problem: they give rpesents on Yule instead of christmas, and they decorate eggs and such on the Equinox instead of Easter (shoot, the Easter Bunny actually makes a lot more sense as a part of a pagan holiday than a Christian one). But my family is interfaith, which means we’re celebrating both sets. So I don’t want two Easters. I want to figure out how to celebrate Easter and the Spring Equinox, etc., in a way that makes them both not only enjoyable but also sufficiently distinct.
I finally sat down about a week ago to start hammering all of this out. I showed it to my wife, and she thought it all seemed interesting and fun, but she also pointed out that the problem for her was that it was not always clear what all of these traditions actually mean. It’s a fair question, and one that I can’t easily answer. This list is really something I have cobbled together from a lot of different sources, whatever sounded good to me, and from things I intuited on my own. Unfortunately, my own personal theology is still in development, so it is not easy to weave my own meanings into these traditions. That gets us back to the long view: as my spirituality develops, I imagine I (we) will tinker with these holidays and alter or replace traditions that do not make sense in my own pagan context, and emphasizing those that do.
So without further ado, here is my Official Wheel of the Year Resource. Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, insights, questions, whatever.
Date: May 1.
Description: A time to light bonfires and revel, to celebrate fertility and sexuality.
Traditions: Most importantly… hot sex. Possibly sex outside if practical. Hot sex and huge bonfires, lit on a hilltop (toss juniper sprigs in the fire, and leap through it for good luck)..
Holiday Food: Rabbit, Strawberries (strawberry pie or strawberry shortcake), Mead
Decorations: Flame, wildflowers, rowan crosses, may boughs hung over doors and windows.
Date: June 21
Description: A second bonfire—bonfires on the water (the ashes bring good luck), and active holiday where the sun is at maximum power and energy is strongest.
Traditions: The veil between the otherworld (or the un/subconscious) and the waking world is thin, it is a good time for resolutions, and for putting plans into effect. Keep vigil through the shortest night, waiting for the rising sun. It is also a good time to gether fresh herbs.
Holiday Food: Lamb, fresh produce, lemon merangue pie.
Decorations: Wheels, sun symbols, St. John’s Wort.
Date: August 1.
Description: The first harvest festival, Lughnasa is a time for being outside, for celebrating the physical world with games and physical activity. It’s a time for dancing and bonfires, for blessing the fields. And it’s a good time for marriages.
Traditions: Bread is baked in the shape of a man and eaten to represent the Dying God (Cernunnos, Dionysus, Odin, Osiris, Jesus, Arthur, the Green Man).
Holiday Food: Bread, beer, watermelon, barbecue.
Decorations: The Green Man, a flaming wheel.
Date: September 21
Description: The second harvest festival—the harvest of fruit—a time of thanksgiving and recollection, the in-gathering of experience.
Traditions: Make and burn a straw or wicker man, to represent the burning of the Harvest Lord.
Holiday Food: Corncakes, Nuts, Berries, Fruit Pies (not apple), Wine.
Decorations: Pinecones, acorns, gourds, gold, red, orange, and brown.
Date: November 1
Description: A night when the borders between the living and the dead are the thinnest, the last harvest. Time is abolished and the spirits of the dead walk free. A time for remembering those who have gone before. The time of year when livestock were slaughtered.
Traditions: Leave an extra place at the dinner table for dead ancestors. A perfect time for divination. The day after Samhain is a day forcleaning and getting rid of old things.
Holiday Food: Pork Roast, Apples, Apple Pie, Cider, Hazelnuts, Pumpkin Bread
Decorations: Leave a candle burning in a western window to guide the spirits of the dead.
Date: December 21
Description: The shortest day of the year, this is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. It is a time of rebirth and stillness, a time to celebrate intuition. There is a lot of symbolism between intuition, the Pole Star, the Great Bear, and King Arthur.
Traditions: A Yule log is burned for ten days (Yuletide lasts from December 20 to December 31), and then the ashes are strewn on the plantings in the spring. The wood from the log is yept to light the yule log the next year. Give libations to the fruit trees.
Holiday Food: Baked goods in sun shapes, and mulled wine.
Decorations: Sun wheels, decorated trees, candles, wreaths of mistletoe, holly, and ivy.
Date: February 1
Description: The holiday of the lambing, or childbirth (it is no accident that Imbolc is exactly nine months after Beltaine…). It is a time for initiations, and purification. It is a good time for meditation.
Traditions: Write and read poetry. Share it, have a poetry competition. Leave a white cloth out a window for the goddess to bless, and when the first light of the sun touches it, it gains healing properties throughout the year. Candlemaking.
Holiday Food: Milk, honey, dairy foods (a massive cheese smorgasbord).
Decorations: Hundreds of candles, and pools of water.
Date: March 21
Description: A time to celebrate planting and prepare for the gifts of the summer, and to recognize the power and presence of spring. A time of emergence, fertility, and balance. A time that is sacred to Persephone, to celebrate her return from the Underworld and her reunion with her mother Demeter.
Traditions: Decorate eggs.
Holiday Food: Twisted bread, honey cakes, eggs, carrots.
Decorations: Flowers (honeysuckle, iris, peony, violet, lily, daffodil), in baskets or garlands.