Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year (WOY) is about connections to the cycles of nature, to the cycles of our own lives, to life, to community, to the world, to ancestors and to generations to come. We honor special points on Earth’s annual dance around the sun: solstices, equinoxes and the 4 cross-quarter days in between.
For a number of years we have had 6 to 8 UU events each year where we gather together to celebrate and honor these special points along the Wheel of the Year. We honor the wisdom of different cultures and traditions as we craft our own forms of ceremony and ritual. We gain insight into the natural cycles, seasons and their connections to our daily lives. They represent good times to connect to our ancestors who experienced the same patterns of light and dark. They are good times to connect to future generations who will be experiencing the same solar cycles that we do today.
We want to thank the NatureWise Immersion Program, both the participants and the facilitator, Jessica Heiler, for putting on six WOY celebrations in 2016. The NatureWise program is now complete and you can learn more about it here.
Because of what is happening in the political arena, we are putting our UUFC WOY gatherings on hold until we see just how much energy is needed to respond to the new administration. We encourage you to still honor this part of the cycle either on your own or in small groups (see the following section). It is important for our actions to be grounded in the natural cycles and in meaningful connections. There are few guarantees in life, but a very positive one is the wonderful cycle of light and dark provided by the interaction of our Mother Earth with our Father Sun.
Early February in the Willamette Valley: An Example of a Cross-Quarter Time
Take some time in early February to honor this special point in Mother Earth’s annual dance around the sun. This is a time to celebrate the returning light, because we have come to the end of the three months of greatest darkness. The solar winter that began in early November (Samhain) and was centered on the Winter Solstice (Yule, Midwinter), now ends in early February. Patricia Montley, in her book In Nature’s Honor, writes: “Although in the United States we think of spring as beginning in March at the time of the Vernal Equinox, this is largely a twentieth-century American shift. In many other places and in earlier times, spring was welcomed at the start of February”. So one could say, in terms of the traditional seasons based on light, early February is the beginning of the solar spring.
The days are noticeably growing longer, so take a walk and observe that: the first small bulbs like snowdrops and crocus are blooming; Indian Plum is the first native shrub to soon bloom in the forest; the green shoots of daffodils are growing taller; lambs are being born; each day the sun rises earlier and sets later; you can plant snap peas like, my favorite, Oregon Sugar Pod II. Here in the Willamette Valley we can look forward to a long spring with an extended parade of blooms starting now and reaching their crescendo in the summer blooms of roses and dahlias. The long parade has begun.
This is a time associated with a number of themes in this time of waxing light as seeds of creativity are now stirring within us. One theme is purifying or cleansing: What needs to be cleansed or swept out in your life to allow the new creative seeds in your life to grow? Another theme is patience: The increasing light provides the promise of Spring, but we must be patient for the warmth of Spring that naturally lags behind the increasing light. So, too, should we be patient and gentle to allow our creative seeds to unfold naturally without being forced.
This “cross-quarter” day half-way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox (about February 2nd or so) has many names. One Celtic name for this time is “Imbolc” which many think refers to sheep’s milk. Another name is “Brigid” for the mother goddess of Ireland. The Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, healing, childbirth and healing is celebrated in many European countries.
Happy Imbolc! Happy Brigid’s Day!
A Resource: In Nature’s Honor
In Nature’s Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth by Patricia Montley (Skinner House Books, Unitarian Univeralist Association, 2005).
Quoting from pages 345-346: “How different the condition of the planet might be if we allowed ourselves to be renewed at each turning of the wheel of the year, if we took the time to periodically celebrate the beauty and bounty of nature.
Celebrating the renewal of the earth gives us an opportunity to become new ourselves – to let go of old hurts and failures, to forgive ourselves and others, to get on with life as nature does, to open ourselves to hope and possibilities, to welcome the fertility of spirit that gives life its richness.
And because we all share the same earth [and the same sun], we can celebrate the renewal together….Recognizing our mutual bond with the earth [and sun] can strengthen our bonds with one another and put into perspective the things that separate us….
The ground we stand on is holy — and it is our common ground.”
Wheel of the Year Dates in 2017 on the Pacific Coast of North America
Date Some names for the time Traditional Seasons (explained below)
Early February Imbolc / Brigid End of Winter, beginning of Spring
March 20th Spring Equinox / Ostara Mid Spring
Early May Beltane End of Spring, beginning of Summer
June 20th Summer Solstice / Litha Mid Summer
Early August Lammas / Lugnasadh End of Summer, beginning of Fall
September 22nd Fall Equinox / Mabon Mid Fall
Early November Samhain End of Fall, beginning of Winter
December 21st Winter Solstice / Yule Mid Winter
The Naturewise Immersion Program.
Although there typically is a sizable group of enthusiastic volunteers to help with the Wheel of the Year gatherings, during 2015, a leadership shortage developed. Most of the long-time leadership consisting of individuals with both the knowledge and experience to facilitate the creation of the ceremonies decided to move on to other interests. To address the shortage of leadership the Fellowship asked for a training proposal from Jessica Heiler, a community builder and faith-keeper with more than eight years of experience in creating nature-connected community events. She proposed a year-long immersion program based on experience-based learning models to support connection with the inner self, with nature, with spirit and with the community of individuals in the program. By putting on the Wheel of the Year events during 2016, program participants would then gain experience in creating meaningful, nature-connected ceremonies that would naturally express the many connections they were developing. The UUFC entered into a partnership with Jessica Heiler to see if enough people would sign up for this proposed NatureWise Immersion Program with its considerable commitments of time as well as a fee. The program had enough interest to get started in February 2016 and put on 6 wheel of the year events during the year. The program is now complete and we have asked a participant to write a letter describing their experience and interest in continuing to create Wheel of the Year ceremonies at the UU Fellowship. Excerpts from that letter will be included here soon.
The Traditional (Solar) Seasons.
The modern astronomical seasons that begin on the solstices and equinoxes were not the traditional seasons of many people in the past. For example, traditionally Midsummer celebrations throughout Northern Europe happen around the Summer Solstice. The Summer Solstice would then mark the middle, rather than the beginning, of summer. This traditional perspective is based on the energy coming from the sun which changes during the year due to the Earth’s tilt and its movement around the sun. The traditional or solar seasons are based on the cycle of light and dark which had great importance for people when gathering food and fuel could largely only happen in the daylight hours. Because they could not do as we do today and simply flip a switch to bring light into our lives, the ancients needed to be much more aware of the cycle of light and dark.
SOMETHING GOOD THAT WE CAN COUNT ON. The awareness of the cycles of light and dark can be very grounding, partly because they are unchanging. Although many things, including the weather, are somewhat different every season, the cycle of light and dark is the same every year.
CONNECTS US TO OUR ANCESTORS AND GENERATIONS TO COME. The annual cycle of light and dark that we experience is very much that same as that experienced by our ancestors. Our children and many more generations to come will also experience essentially the same cycle.
SOMETHING WE SHARE ACROSS THE WORLD. The timing and general pattern follows the same pattern everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. The primary difference is the greater extremes of day-length through each year as you move farther from the equator.
LIGHT BEFORE WARMTH. As the light returns after the winter solstice, it takes time for the earth and its waters to warm, so that there is a delay in the increases in the average temperature. This is called the seasonal lag and it is an example of thermal lag. So each year after the winter solstice there is a promise of coming warmth, but we have to be patient.
The “cross-quarter days” that are halfway between solstices and equinoxes were the beginnings and endings of the traditional seasons because they divided the year into 4 meaningful periods with respect to the amount of daylight that we experience in the Northern Hemisphere.
SOLAR WINTER Samhain (early Nov.) to Imbolc/Brigid (early Feb.): The 3 months of least daylight. The middle of this period is the Winter Solstice (Yule, Midwinter) when the day length is shortest. At Yule the change in day length has slowed to zero and it reverses. The light begins to return as day lengths start to get longer.
SOLAR SPRING Imbolc/Brigid to Beltane (early May): 3 months that are roughly half day & half night, moving toward increasing daylight. The middle of this period is the Spring Equinox (Ostara) when about half of the 24 hour day is daylight and half is night (Balance). At the equinox the change in day length is the fastest. From that point on the change in day length will begin to slow, as we move toward the longest day.
SOLAR SUMMER Beltane to Lammas (early Aug.): 3 months of greatest daylight. The middle of this period is the summer solstice (midsummer, Litha) when the days are longest. At the summer solstice the change in day length has slowed to zero and it reverses. After that the day length will begin to get shorter each day.
SOLAR FALL Lammas to Samhain (early Nov.): 3 months that are roughly half day & half night, moving toward decreasing daylight. The middle of this period is the Fall Equinox (Mabon) when about half of the 24 hour day is day time and half is night. At the equinox the change in day length is the fastest. From that point on the change in day length will begin to slow as we move again toward the shortest day.
Posted by: Cliff Pereira and Cyndi Leech January 2017