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Honoring The Earth's Seasonal Rhythms Through Festival And Ceremony

To people of the Old Ways, Nature and the natural realms were inextricably linked to the human world. Nature was the connector where the human world and the spiritual realms intersected.

To people of the Old Ways, Nature and the natural realms were inextricably linked to the human world. Nature was the connector where the human world and the spiritual realms intersected. In fact, Nature was the realm of spiritual revelation. Land centered people do not worship Nature, they honor Nature and their spiritual relationship to it, but they worship the Spirit of which Nature is a reflection. |

We, in the 20th Century have lost a very important relationship – our spiritual relationship to the natural world – that great mystery that sustains us. We inherited a mechanical world-view and are programmed by mass media to consume. We think life is a matter of obtaining material things in an externalized world. We have lost the realization that we are spiritual beings in a spiritual cosmos – homo reverential. One of the ways of recapturing the spiritual significance of our life on Earth requires that we turn inward to explore our own nature and its relationship to the Natural world.

It is easiest to do this at the sacred wild places that still maintain their numinous, or spiritual power. In those places we are freed from the habitual which lulls us into complacency. Our minds cannot perform their rote mechanical functions and we must approach what is happening with “fresh eyes”. We are also freed in these places from the toxicity of asphalt, petrochemicals and plastic. It is in sacred wild places that it is easiest to “re-member” our axial position (and responsibility) between above and below.

As spiritual beings we have a sacred purpose for being on this Earth. We have a sacred injunction to recognize (“real-ize”) our spiritual Origin. As we do this we fulfill our axial role, and Spirit, (through Nature), supports us. If we no not fulfill our sacred purpose and take our axial position between above and below, spiritual power withdraws its energy, and sacred relationships can no longer be created. This is the desolation and despair or “dark night of the Soul” that so many traditions lament. Amerindian elders state that the spirits will leave an area in which this divine covenant of being a conduit of spiritual power is ignored or not practiced. (Having traveled extensively in countries in which forms of spirituality or spiritual expression were banned by the state, we can attest to the physical bareness of the energy of the land. The people of these countries still possessed their divine spark though in some it was asleep or unawakened. After their spiritual re-awakening, the change in the energy of the land is palpable.)

Exploring, developing and honoring our sacred relationship to spiritual aspects through contact with wild places requires that first there be some of these places preserved and second that we actually make contact with them on some sort of regular basis. We are fortunate in the United States to have some lands preserved for the people though we lose access to much of this acreage for spiritual pursuits because of governmental economic pursuits. In most of the court cases that have been presented in a effort to protect lands for spiritual reasons, lack of regular use seems to be the factor that allows the judges to rule in favor of economic uses (logging, mining and leasing to private individuals for grazing lands). Because of this many private individuals are dedicating and preserving lands for sacred use. But whether we have the resources to buy land and preserve it for sacred purposes or not, we still must make contact and use land on a regular basis for its spiritual connection.

Another way to establish sacred relationship with land is to reclaim parcels that have been stripped for their economic value and replant and restore them to natural habitat states. We can even do this with our yards and lands that surround our living spaces by planting native species and practicing organic planting and gardening methods.

Sacred relationship with the land can also be established by celebrating a seasonal wheel. The wheel of the year has 8 spokes that mark the ancient, agrarian, and pastoral (pagan) festivals. These events told the people when to plant and harvest and gave them the opportunity to practice their spirituality in a formal way; and so for thousands of years our ancestors celebrated the passing of the seasons, or the “turning of the wheel” with community and personal celebrations. Each holy day (holiday) reflected or marked and honored a change in the agrarian life of culture.

The observance of this seasonal wheel is based on the premise that all of Nature is a manifestation of Divinity, Sacred Spirit or whatever you call the Most High; that everything in Nature has a spirit, and that as Nature proceeds in cycles of the seasons, so do we cycle between being born, dying and being born again. By actively participating in these natural cycles (through rituals, festival, ceremonies, or even just by acknowledging their passing in our minds), we can attune ourselves to the creative forces that flow through us and all nature so that we live happy, harmonious, creative and productive lives; for our own benefit and that of the planet. Though the festivals served many community purposes, perhaps the most important was the deepening of the people’s sense of connection with the land and the Source of all life. The celebration of the seasonal wheel was a way of renewing the community’s and individual’s bonds with nature. As Gertrude Mueller Nelson says in her book, To Dance With God, “Seasonal cycles offer larger repetitions of the birth, life, death and rebirth of nature. The mysteries of the church year coincide with the mysteries of nature. Being in touch with nature’s transitions allows us to engage our own inner transitions.”

In these outward oriented days of the end of the twentieth century, we seem to be mostly interested in human business and rarely look up at the night sky. We only note the sun’s setting with casual interest, and hardly ever greet the dawning of a new day. Meanwhile our ties with nature and its life-giving aspects are damaged possibly beyond repair. We all know that our air and water is being polluted and that the deforestation of our land means that there will be no way to regenerate new clean air or replace water reserves because of run-off. Our relationship with the animal world is further strained as we cause species after species to become extinct. We tend to think of the Earth as a political map or as the sum of our economic resources. For the ancients, the sky was a constant source of awe. The position of the Sun was noted throughout the day and the phases of the Moon, the constellations and planets were noticed at night. The animals and plants were intelligent beings, our intimate companions whose songs and habits were woven into the fabric of our lives.

Perhaps recovery of the ancient seasonal festivals could be more than a symbolic gesture. Perhaps it could be a meaningful way of reminding ourselves of the natural order of things, and thus provide opportunities to increase our awareness of nature and affirm our commitment to its welfare.

The festival year that is being revived and used by many who have chosen an Earth-centered path to use as their “liturgical calendar” is an amalgam of Celtic and Greco-Roman lineages. They were key elements of the religions of pre-Christian Europe, but they transcend religious ideology. They reflect the annual cycle of the seasons and the eternal ebb and flow of human life. The cycles of birth, death, and rebirth are played out in an endlessly repeating pattern that has much to teach us about our sacred rhythms. By attuning ourselves to the creative forces of the universe as they are manifested in nature, we align with the Sacred through the intention of our acts.

Holy Days of the Wheel of the Year

February 1Candlemas, Imbolc
March 21Spring Equinox
May 1Beltane
June 21
Summer Solstice, Midsummer
August 1Lammas, Lughnasadh
September 21Fall or Autumn Equinox
October 31Hallowmas,Samhain,Halloween
December 21
Winter Solstice,Midwinter,Yule

(* These date are approximate and range anywhere from the 20th to the 23rd of the month in any given year. Also, a “day” for the Celts was marked from sundown to sundown, not midnight to midnight as in our Gregorian Calendar, so Samhain actually starts at sundown October 31, and runs to sundown November 1, and Beltane likewise actually began on April 31 at sundown.)

Midsummer, or Summer Solstice and Yule, Midwinter or Winter Solstice are the two points of the year when the Sun reaches its most northerly and southerly points on the northern hemisphere’s horizon. Winter Solstice, around December 21, marks the shortest period of daylight of the year north of the equator and Summer Solstice, at about June 21, marks the longest period of daylight of the year north of the equator. The Spring and Fall Equinoxes are the two moments in the year when the Sun’s path is over the equator and (at the equator), day and night are the same length. Spring Equinox, March 21, marks the half-way point between the Summer and Winter solstice and Autumn Equinox, September 21, the half-way point between Summer and Winter Solstices. The quarter days, Beltane, Lammas, Samhain and Imbolc, mark a quarter-way point between the Solstices and Equinoxes. They were called fire festivals because great bonfires were lit to celebrate the light and movement of the sun and to properly usher in spring, summer, fall and winter. The two solstices and equinoxes are the cross-quarter days. If viewed on a wheel, you can see how each holy day or Sabbath, has its opposite on the other side of the wheel and how they mark the quarter points and cross-quarter points on the wheel. (See diagram that follows).

Holy Days of the Wheel of the Year

Darker Half of the Year Lighter Half of the Year