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Recently I put up a fairly extensive blog post about celebrating the Wheel of the Year, not in a ritual or religious sense, but in a festive, family, and traditional sense.  I think I came up with some really good stuff, but for it to really make a lot of sense, I need the religious and ritual aspect as well.  The traditions don’t hold weight unless they mean something, and the most enduring traditions are the ones that are steeped in layers of sacred meaning.

The thing is, I am a Hellenic polytheist, and the Wheel of the Year does not really come to us from Classical or Mediterranean culture at all.  Honestly, it is a synthesis of Northern European folk traditions and modern innovations.  I do want to celebrate it, though, even though there is not an obvious Hellenic connection, because although my gods are the gods of Ancient Greece, I feel a strong pull to the lore and practice of modern Druidry, which incorporates a lot of modern Neopagan practices, including the Wheel of the Year.

Though I find a lot to criticize about Wicca, I do find the Graves-Murray-Frazer-inspired theology of British Traditional Wicca absolutely fascinating.  While it may not actually be ancient, I think it has a lot of truth.  And, for what it matters, the modern practice of celebrating the Wheel of the Year is steeped fairly deeply in this stuff.  So the problem for me is to figure out how to think of the symbolism of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year in terms that are relevant and that make sense from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

Some of it writes itself: the Wheel is very wrapped up in ideas of birth-life-sex-death-rebirth, and in the successive cycle of kings and gods, which are concepts we find everywhere in Greek myth.  Artemis has obvious connections to Imbolc, and the entire spectrum of fall-winter-spring is clearly connected to Persephone, Demeter, and Hades.  Dionysus is a god-king who dies and is reborn.  We have sun-gods, we have Zeus and Cronos, we have gods of sex and motherhood.  I feel like the pieces are all sitting there, just waiting to be put together.

One concern I have is completeness: if I just stick one god or goddess onto each of the eight major holidays, I will not come anywhere close to a full landscape of what Greek myth and Hellenic polytheism have to offer.  And I have a sense that as a cycle, the Wheel should in some sense be reasonably full and complete.  That means that the different holidays and cycles need to be related to more than one god and to more than one myth.  I’m fine with that–I like the idea, even.  The trick is, however, how to actually go about planning and practicing it.

Probably the Hellenic Kin of the ADF have a lot of resources and ideas about this very topic, but unfortunately their section of the ADF website is protected, which means you have to be a paid-up ADF member to take a gander.  I think I will probably wind up joining the ADF eventually, but I’d like to visit some meetings first.  And I’d like to not be as strapped for cash as I am now.  So I plan on having access to that stuff down the road, but it doesn’t help me right now.  Fall Equinox is rapidly approaching, and I don’t really want to let another Pagan holiday roll by without celebrating it meaningfully.  I also am eager to start the AODA first-degree curriculum, but in order to do that, I need to figure out a little better how to integrate Druidry with my own polytheist direction.

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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.

Beltaine
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.

Midsummer
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.

Lughnasa
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.

Autumn Equinox
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.

Samhain
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.

Yule
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.

Imbolc
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.

Spring Equinox
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.

FOLLOW-UP: I have put up a new post about trying to piece together the ritual and religious aspects of the Wheel of the Year, specifically from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

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While cleaning up around here and updating my Where I’ve Been page, I felt the need to tackle some of the blogging lacunae that I have left during periods where I did not blog very much, but nevertheless continued on with my spiritual development and my quest to figure out life, the universe, and everything.  So if you’re interested, I have retroactively inserted the following posts:

Placeholder Post: Zen and Christianity in 2008 covers a period from the Spring to the Summer of 2008, starting around when I temporarily dropped this blog to start the now-defunct Dharma Bum and ending sometime in the early Fall when we came back from New York and got back into the swing of things here in Maryland.  It’s a brief summary of my dabbling with first Zen Buddhism and then an abortive attempt to fling myself headfirst (or mind-first at least) into the Episcopal Church.

Searching For A Source, Unfinished Notes on Part III: Religious Choices And Their Values is the final installment in my Searching for a Source series about morality. But it’s not really finished, and I decided I didn’t really want to finish it, so it’s basically some notes, more or less fleshed out in different parts, about the ramifications of the question of objective morality on my process of choosing a religion or at least a spiritual direction.

Both of them have been added to my collected chronicles page of important posts, so future readers who want to go back and get the whole story don’t have to deal with confusing gaps.  But the rest of you might be interested, too.

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