Many years ago, when we lived in Oxfordshire, we used to invite friends to celebrate the seasons with us. Meditation, poetry, music and yummy food were the ingredients for many magical evenings together. We put together a calendar to include eight festivals, based on the times that have been celebrated in various forms for thousands of years in the Northern hemisphere. These special events mark the turning of the solar year: the Equinoxes and Solstices, as well as the Cross-Quarters, which occur midway between a Solstice and an Equinox.
A friend of ours, Sally Morgan, gave us a magical silk painting to illustrate the eight festivals, which we named after the annual cycle of growth, blossoming, fruiting and decay of a deciduous tree:
Today, festivals often don’t line up exactly with the astronomical event they were originally meant to mark. For instance, Christmas is celebrated on 25th December, whereas the Winter Solstice is actually on 21st or 22nd* of December. These discrepancies are to do with historical factors. Here are the dates of our festivals, together with a selection of other celebrations held at about the same times:
|Date*||Astronomical||SoulSchool festival||Selection of other festivals|
|20 March||Spring Equinox||Sticky Buds||Ostara, Easter, Pesach.|
|5/6 May||1st Cross-Quarter||Blossoms||Beltane, Ascension, Lag b’Omer|
|20/21 June||Summer Solstice||Golden Boughs||Midsummer, Corpus Christi, Shavuot|
|7 August||2nd Cross-Quarter||First Fruits||Lughnassad, Lammas, Tish B’Av|
|22/23 September||Autumn Equinox||Falling Leaves||Ingathering, Harvest Festival, Sukkot|
|7 November||3rd Cross-Quarter||Deep Roots||Samhain, All Saints, Sigd|
|21/22 December||Winter Solstice||Yule||Christmas, Hannukkah|
|3/4 February||4th Cross-Quarter||New Shoots||Imbolc, Candlemas, Tu B’shvat|
|*Exact dates sometimes vary by a day or two from year to year.|
It was important to us that we identified these celebrations with names that had no connection to the various religious festivals that take place around those significant points in the year. We didn’t want to connect them with any particular tradition, so we also avoided using the old Celtic names, such as Imbolc, Beltane, Samhain, and so on.
Our gatherings were mostly informal, with people bringing poems, songs, circle dances and food to share. And we always had a bonfire! It is a very magical experience, to create sacred ceremonies with like-minded folk, invoking the nature spirits and honouring the invisible powers that sustain Creation.
The eight points of the year’s turning wheel feel like natural opportunities to recognise the abundance we receive from Mother Earth. You don’t have to be ‘religious’ to find inspiration and delight from simple celebrations like these. But you need to be willing and open to the magic of the natural world, and be surprised when you voice your personal needs at a ceremony and later find they have been answered. Nature recognises your willingness to be supported. She creates a cradle, a hammock, in which you can rest after making your contributions, which must always be according to our life’s destiny. There’s no point in making offerings to invisible powers unless they come from your heart, from your own deep-seated REAL presence in the world – what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger called your Dasein: your essential, primordial being-ness. When you offer from your root, from your core, that’s when the magic begins.
At a heart-felt ceremony you will be doing magic for yourself, for others present, and for those beyond the limitations of the time-space dimension where the ceremony is taking place. In order to participate in any ceremony at such a deep level it is essential to be adept at accessing realms of inner space through your regular meditation practice.
The turning cycle of natural growth within the year and the cycles of the heavenly bodies reflect each other. Watch the cycles of change and take delight in them, but never feel you are subject to time. You are an eternal being who has stepped into the flow of history and your contribution will be simply to enjoy and, above all, give thanks.