The Wheel of the Year is a representation of the turning seasons and the repeating cycles of the agricultural year. The current 'eight spoked' wheel has become familiar due to its association with Wicca, although a similar system is also followed by, at least some, modern Druids.
Historically the wheel, if it existed at all, was unlikely to be identical to the one I follow, and show, here. Indeed it is now thought that the Celts celebrated the four 'fire festivals' of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain and paid little heed to the other four solar festivals. In West Country Wicca, Rhiannon Ryall describes a different wheel, one where the festivals are fewer and in fact completely absent at those times of the year when all hands would be required in the fields.
I, however, follow the modern, Wicca styled, wheel as I find it not only convenient, living in a modern town environment, but also a comfortable reminder of the processes of Nature. The eight festivals also serve another purpose; they mark out the relationship of the Mother Goddess and her consort the Horned God in their annual journey through the year. This too is probably a modern reinvention, but whereas within Wicca where these are seen as the male and female aspects of the Divine power and as such The God and The Goddess, I regard them as symbolic constructs; metaphoric tools to explain the great cycle.
Both the God and the Goddess have their own stories to tell in the yearly cycle, and by following them you can trace the seasons, from the new shoots of spring to the death and sleep of winter.
The principle stories are:
The descent of the Goddess into the Underworld
This tells of how the Goddess goes into the realm of the dead and is held there for several months. This leads to the withering of all the vegetation on the surface and until the Goddess returns to the upperworld no new shoots grow. When the Goddess is released her return to the surface brings new life. This is basically an explanation for the seasons of autumn, winter and spring.
In historical myth this same story probably originated with the Sumerian Goddess Inanna/Ishtar and evolved across time and many differing cultures until it reached the Roman/Greek cultures and spawned the Ceres/Demeter-Proserpina/Persephone story, while incidentally splitting of various aspects of the original goddess to form the Greek goddess Aphrodite
The God that dies and is reborn.
The God is the source of life and vitality, the Goddess may give birth to life, but without the spark provided by the God there would be no life. The God however gives all his strength to his progeny and as the crops grow strong, the God begins to weaken. Rather than see the crops fail with him, the God sacrifices himself, normally at the hand of the Goddess, so that his blood returns to the earth and his strength and fertility with it. The Goddess however is now pregnant, from her coupling with him at Beltane, and at Midwinter she will give birth to their son, who is the reincarnated God.
This of course mirrors the growth of crops from green shoots in the spring, till they are cut down at harvest. Some grain is kept safe over winter for sowing the following spring, thus starting the cycle once more. This tale runs in parallel with that of the Goddess and comes to us in the stories of Attis and Dionysus amongst others.
Another story linked to this progression is that of the Oak and Holly Kings. These two figures are essentially green men figures and share the rule of the year; The Oak King reigning from Midwinter to Midsummer, the 'light half' of the year, and the Holly King from Midsummer to Midwinter, the 'dark half'. At each solstice the kings fight, the winner takes the crown, the loser dethroned.
I start my wheel with the rebirth of the Sun at Midwinter, but others choose Samhain or Imbolc, and mark each festival with a simple ritual, during which I contemplate the meaning of the festival and share an offering of food and drink with Nature. In each of the sections here I have outlined the meanings the festivals have for me, and details of any rituals that are particular to that festival; simply click on a festival to learn more.
The wheel turns through the year,
The seasons call to those who hear.
At winter solstice the year's begun,
As Mother Goddess births the Sun.
This shortest day is night's defeat,
From light of day, dark now retreats.
Come the first shoots of green,
Imbolc now, first growth is seen.
Celebrate now this time of fire,
Watch the Sun climb ever higher.
Equinox is Ostara's gift,
Day and night on equal shift.
Spring is here, Nature's rebirth,
A cloak of green to cover the Earth.
April's showers bring May's fine weather,
God and Goddess come together.
Circle the Maypole till you drop,
Beltane rites for a hearty crop.
Its midsummer now and the day is long,
The Sun is high, the God is strong.
But now the God will wane in might,
As the days give way to night.
The wheel half turned the year half done
Now at their peak both God and sun
At Lughnasadh or Lammastide,
Our Lord from duty will not hide.
To save the land the God lies dead,
His blood is splattered, poppy red.
Give thanks for the harvest summers brought.
At equinox when days grow short.
Make the most of weather mild,
The Mother's belly swells with child.
Samhain comes but once a year
The barriers fall and spirits near
The Goddess now prepares to go
She joins the God in the world below
The wheel has turned a circle full
The year begins once more at Yule
© Kev the Cosmic Fool 2004