Stepping onto an earth based path from having previously been a Christian was very unnerving for me. I had absolutely no idea what to do to get myself up and over the invisible wall that I imagined was blocking my way. Even though I knew deep down that the faith I grew up with no longer served me, at least there was a safe familiarity about it; the routine, the boundaries, the expectations. All of these were ironically comforting. I didn’t have to think for myself because it was all done for me.
My free fall into unfamiliar territory was thankfully short and my discovery of ‘The Wheel of the Year’ gave me the structure and guidance that I so desperately needed. ‘The Wheel of the Year’ as many of you will know is the neo-pagan seasonal calendar that celebrates the solstices, the equinoxes and the four fire festivals; the latter being based on the agricultural year and Celtic mythology. Collectively, neo- pagans call these celebrations ‘Sabbats’.
My journey along the path of seasons and ancestors was and still is a slow and appreciative one. I see the world through the eyes of a child, noticing the subtle changes of Mother Nature’s breath; subtleties that I never would have made the time to notice before because I was just too busy being busy. But now I make a conscious effort to stop and take note.
How could I have seriously believed that February was winter and that August was summer? Lambs take their first tentative steps in February among the snowdrops while crocuses burst through the frozen ground. These are the subtleties of spring. And as for August, how did I not realise that the leaves begin to turn and the mornings hold the promise of cooler days ahead? These are the subtleties of autumn.
As I have been celebrating each turn of the Wheel I have come to realise how much more connected I feel to the land around me. Each spoke of the Wheel gives me the opportunity to take stock of my life and to appreciate how far I have come. With our busy modern lives it is all too easy to lose track of time as we get caught up in the daily humdrum, forgetting that we are one with the world; the world that is right outside the kitchen window.
If we were to just take notice of the earth’s rhythms, her ebbs and flows, our five senses would explode into life. We would see the grass snake basking in the last rays of sunshine. We would hear the swallows as they take off for warmer climes. We would smell the musty damp leaves as they slowly decompose and become part of the rich soil. We would taste the bonfire smoke on our tongue and feel the crisp sharp wind on our face.
So this is how it has been for me for these past few years until this autumn when I didn’t celebrate Lughnasadh. My heart just wasn’t in it, there was no anticipation and this led to me feeling very disappointed with myself. I had never missed a seasonal festival ever; I loved them all.
Yet I came to the stark realisation that a change was needed. I had to start thinking for myself again and break away from yet another stale practice. Even following the ‘Wheel of the Year’ can deprive a person of a free flowing, organic and creative spirituality.
The traditional ‘Wheel of the Year’ has been a wonderful introduction to a pagan practise and I am grateful for the solid foundation that it has given me, but I no longer want to be comfortable, I no longer want to follow the crowd and just go through the motions. I needed a practise that meant something to me; to my land, my ancestors, my folkways.
My spirituality is a living breathing organism. It doesn’t want me to practice the same rite on the same day, year in year out. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? It wanted me to go outside and be guided by the wildflowers, the trees, the standing stones and the streams, to follow the heart beat of the earth and allow it to show me when the right moment was to celebrate the transition between the seasons of where I lived. Spontaneous and unpredictable it needed to be nurtured.
This way of conscious living reflects entirely how our pre-Christian ancestors would have lived. People long ago were not enslaved by the clock and the calendar; instead they allowed themselves to be guided by the earth and the moon. Rituals were not rushed and the preparations took the time they took. Celebrating the arrival of spring on the Isle Of Man did not happen at the same time as celebrations in the county of Kent and so it should be the same for us today.
So now I am looking to reinvent my own wheel of the year at the same time as being mindful of the rhythms within the landscape that surrounds me. And if I happen to celebrate the turning of a season the day before everyone else or a week after everyone else then that is just fine. We all need to follow the beat of our own drum, as well as to remember that our ancestors celebrated more festivals and rites on their own than they collectively did with their tribe.
For the moment I am thinking about ways to personalise my year so that it will compliment my spiritual path as it stands today. To achieve this the following are just a few ideas that I would like to incorporate into my daily practise.
- Research the folkways of my Celtic and Anglo Saxon ancestors and how they celebrated the turnings of the seasons.
- Mark meaningful days to me on my calendar such as Joan of Arc’s feast day and days of remembrance for my kin and other figures that inspire me to be a better person.
- Carve out time to explore and reconnect to my landscape, trusting in the natural signs that indicate when change is occurring in my environment and not just celebrating a festival because the calendar says I should.
- Go for daily walks even in the rain.
- Leave small daily offerings in the garden or out on my walks, such as native wildflower seeds, acorns, hazelnuts or homemade bread. These offerings could be for a deity, my ancestors or the land spirits.
- Keep a field guide where I can write about my explorations, thoughts and impressions. A notebook that I can fill with sketches, maps, leaves and flowers. A place where I can observe and note down the weather, temperature, moon phases and the time that the sun and moon rise and set or even the return of the swallows that nest in the old barn behind our cottage. Poems, herbal remedies and rituals. A messy and wonderful keep sake of my spiritual journey.
If you are feeling that your spiritual practice has become stale and uninspiring then I urge you to give some of these ideas a go and let me know of the things that you do to keep in tune with the unfolding of the seasons. I would love to hear about them.
The photo is of the Boskednan Stone Circle in Cornwall