The Wheel of the Year has been an important axis for me to move through life with over the last five years and continues to be. Have a read and see what you make of it.
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals consisting of eight key points in the year that relate to the solar events on earth — two solstices (Litha and Yule), two equinoxes (Ostara and Mabon) and the four midpoints between each solstice and equinox (Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain). Below you can see these eight points as they are positioned in the Wheel of the Year.
The solstices happen at the point in the year when the sun, at noon, reaches its highest or its lowest point in the sky. The summer solstice (Litha) marks the longest day of the year and our maximum daylight, and winter solstice (Yule) marks the longest night and the least daylight.
The equinoxes occur when the sun crosses the celestial equator and day and night are of equal length. There is the spring equinox (Ostara) and the autumn equinox (Mabon).
The picture below shows when these changes in daylight occur in the northern hemisphere, mapping the equinoxes and solstices onto the Wheel.
If you reflect on how different times of the year feel for you, you may find the equinoxes feel the most pivotal as they signal the shift either towards more daylight with longer days ahead after spring or less daylight and more darkness as we enter autumn.
This is the case for me, so much so, that I have shifted the beginning of my year to align with the rhythms of the amount of daylight and seasons. Instead of January 1st, I see my year starting on Ostara the spring equinox when there begins to be more daylight than darkness each day. It syncs with the time when the plant kingdom really wakes up from the winter, photosynthesising more and surging in growth towards the extended light. Historically, in medieval times, this was also considered to be the beginning of the year, with New Year’s Day on March 25th, shortly after the Equinox. This was the case until 1752 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted and with it the January start we are now so used to.
Between each solar event (solstices and equinoxes) lies a midpoint that marks the first day of each season: Spring (Imbolc), Summer (Beltane), Autumn (Lammas), Winter (Samhain). See these dates for the northern hemisphere marked in the picture below.
This Wheel of the Year is observed by Pagans. Within Paganism — which has existed for thousands of years — several different orders exist including Wicca which is Pagan witchcraft. The word Pagan (from classical Latin pāgānus "rural, rustic,") was first used in the fourth century by early Christians for people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism and were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population. It soon became a derogatory term for anyone believing in a religion other than Christianity. In the 19th century, paganism was adopted as a self-descriptor by members of various artistic groups inspired by the ancient world. In the 20th century, it came to be applied as a self-descriptor by practitioners of Modern Paganism.
There have been many attempts throughout history to stamp out Paganism, as it was seen as a threat to other religions, systems and orders. Paganism was widely practiced amongst the heretics (people with strong beliefs that fall outside of the established ones) and associated with the revolts during the transition from feudalism to capitalism in the Middle Ages in Europe. I recently read Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, an eye-opening account of the oppression of the heretics and marginalised people (particularly women through the witch-hunt) during the social, political, and economic shifts in the world at that time. It reveals how the foundation of capitalism is built and dependant on ideas of oppression, one of the many critical parts of history that is often brushed under the carpet as it is ridden with shame. I really recommend bringing some of this history to light by reading this book: download a free copy of the book here.
Many Pagans practicing today draw on the ancient pagan theological structure and ritual practices that have been used over thousands of years, one of the central aspects being nature worship. We can see this reflected in how the Wheel of the Year creates a structure for the year that connects you to your environment, the seasons, and changes in amounts of daylight. Often as we move through the year, these changes in nature around us can reflect how many people are feeling or what they are experiencing. As the daylight becomes less the trees draw in energies, drop their leaves, and animals hibernate. We too can have instincts and tendencies to hibernate, however many environments, particularly in urban areas, have so much stimulus (e.g. light and noise pollution, copious entertainment and social opportunities, cities have 24/7 activity) which increases the temptation to keep going and makes it more difficult to deeply rest over the winter. I’m definitely not a Pagan but draw on some of their ideas around nature worship and their seasonal celebrations throughout the Wheel of the Year. Nature holds a lot of power and it is the core aspect of all the creative practices I do — Shiatsu, Acutonics, working with plants and nature connection.
The practice of Shiatsu can really help people through the shifts in seasons as we move around the Wheel of the Year, especially the transitional phase between seasons, and connect people with the natural world through the Five Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These Elements inherently refer to nature and are a foundational principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I find it really interesting how The Five Elements can map onto the Wheel of the Year — and for me, how these two conceptual frameworks (which are rooted in very different geographical areas) align so neatly, seemingly says something of the importance of relating to our year in terms of natures cycles. You can see how I map the Five elements onto the Wheel of the Year in the picture below.