My personal spiritual experience has grown to become very practical and earthbound, which is what the concept of everyday magic is all about: to experience the divine in everyday activities and through the senses: in nature, in our relationships etc. This newfound intimacy with the Spirit through nature has rekindled my interest in the wheel of the year, the modern pagan’s way of celebrating the cycle of the seasons through the sun’s journey in the skies, which is marked by the solstices and equinoxes. Even though the wheel of the year is an invention of contemporary Wicca, in which ancient celebrations from different Indo-European cultures blend together to form a new holy narrative, the foundation is the agrarian year common to us all.
Agricultural society dominated human existence for 10 000 years before the industrial world developed in the past three centuries. From a historical perspective, it is a very short period of time that we have lived in a world of electricity and indoor plumbing, alienated from nature and the movements of the sun, the moon and the seasons.
The old religions were deeply rooted in the everyday life of agrarian society and served practical purposes. The gods and goddesses dwelled in nature commanding the forces of wind, rain, fire, trees, animals and the heavenly bodies. Sacrifices were made to the appropriate god/dess to ensure enough rain, a good harvest, a healthy pregnancy etc. Our ancestors prayed for nature to let us live and thrive.
In this era of climate change, we are reminded of the fact that we don’t control nature, and that we need to re-establish a more loving and respectful relationship with mother earth. The paganism of the 1960’s and 70’s drew inspiration from the rise of the environmental movement and it’s interesting to note how a political revolution could have such strong spiritual consequences. In a sense, the New Age movement evolved our view of society (in the west) from a secular-political to a more philosophical and religious plane. Celebrating the wheel of the year can be a way of honoring this newborn spiritual diversity that characterizes our time.
For me, celebrating the wheel of the year means to reconnect with nature and the civilizations of old through creative recreations of the agrarian year. This is a practice rather than faith and can be celebrated in any religious tradition. It serves as a reminder that even us humans in the digital age can cultivate a relationship with nature and connect to a historical human experience.
Imbolc and the struggle of being born
The inspiration for the Wiccan sabbat Imbolc can be traced to a Gaelic spring festival, but many other cultures, past and present, celebrate the first signs of light and the awakening of the earth around this time of the year. Christians observe Candlemas and the North Americans know February 2 as Groundhog Day. The Chinese New Year is a Spring festival that follows an old lunar calendar, and the celebrations begin with the occurrence of the new moon between January 21 and February 20. The Romans celebrated a purification festival called Lupercalia/Februa (from which we have the name of the month February), and ancient Norse and Anglo-Saxon folklore refer to the charming of the Plough, a time to prepare the earth for sowing.
I love all the aspects and associations that the different spring celebrations bring forth. It’s all about new beginnings, about planning ahead and sowing the seeds of future projects. On a practical level, the spring festival is a time to honor and boost the success of any type of project or career. Ritual activities could include writing down your goals or making an inspiring vision board to help you ground and center in new ideas, as well as a traditional “spring cleaning” which literally gets rid of the old and makes space for the new.
My ritual work for Imbolc included the actual planting of seeds. As I put tiny seeds of Basil, Cilantro and Chives in the prepared pellets, I envisioned a thriving herb garden on my windowsill that will bless my food with nutritious green freshness and heavenly aromas. Watching the seeds grow and push through the earth, little by little, enlightened me about the struggle of being born. Only some of these seeds will grow roots and survive battle through the soil and into the sunlight. Fewer still will grow and evolve into strong, healthy plants. To me, the battle that these little herbs have to fight beautifully illustrates the struggle of being born, in every aspect and every phase of life.
Birth is a metaphor for every new step and transition. In this day and age, when just about everything changes all the time for everyone, rebirth becomes a symbol of our shared life-experience. Every new hobby, job, relationship, child, pet, aspect of our personality etc., is born into our lives, and so much hard work is required to cultivate all the different seeds that contribute to the creation of a good life.
In Wicca, Imbolc is one of the four cross-quarter Sabbats. These festivals mark the halfway point between a solstice and an equinox and are linked to the element of fire. There can not be enough celebrations of light and fire. Just like the seeds in the earth, we humans need light and warmth to grow strong and healthy. The element of fire also symbolizes such mental, emotional and physical qualities as strength, passion and courage, all of which are needed to begin, and follow through, with any meaningful project. In the end, the celebration of the seasons is a reminder that change is the only constant that exist. Life is movement: the cycles in nature, the seasons, the dance of the sun and the moon in the sky. It is the life span of humans, plants and animals. This is the truth that is captured, honored and imagined in the celebration of the wheel of the year.
I found Llewellyn’s introductions to the Sabbats, in this case Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Brigid’s day, to be very inspiring. The author, Carl F. Neal, truly conjures an image of how people in the agrarian society rejoiced in the first signs of spring. The short introduction to the different seasonal celebrations across the globe and throughout history is also interesting. The book includes a bibliography as well as tips for further reading.
For those seeking a more scholarly approach I would recommend The Solitary Druid by Robert Ellison. Since Wicca developed in Britain, the Celtic culture and its religious traditions have had a strong influence on this modern religion. Ellison approaches the subject of his book like a historian, discussing the sources of our knowledge of the Druids, namely the observations of some of the Celtic tribes made by Greeks and Romans. The information about the celebration of the solstices and equinoxes found in this book are well researched.