I’m not Buddhist, but I am sort of Buddh-ish. Compassion, peace and lovingkindness resonate with me. I do meditate. I’m not a Christian, but I do follow the teachings of a Jewish carpenter from 2000 years ago, and consider myself his disciple. I’m also not Pagan, but I do mark the Wheel of the Year.
For those unfamiliar with paganism, first let me say that yes, there are 21st century pagans. A lot of them, actually. And they come in many varieties. From the modern Reclaiming movement to Faerie Traditionalists and various types of Druids, paganism is diverse and thriving. Like other faiths, there are a few aspects of paganism that resonate with me, and many others that do not.
One that does resonate is the Wheel of the Year. Most pagans mark the movement of the Earth around the sun via the solstices, equinoxes and the days that are about halfway between them (known as cross-quarters). Today is a cross-quarter day. Lammas (or Lughnasad) is halfway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox, and is sometimes known as first harvest. These days are celebrated as festivals by pagan communities in various ways around the world.
So here I am, halfway to fall. Today I changed the silk flowers in vases around my house from the summer daisies to the late summer sunflowers. I changed the wreath on my door. Tonight, I’ll cook ratatouille for dinner (a dish that celebrates the season’s bounty) and serve it with a loaf of crusty bread. And that’s about it, really. There’s nothing particularly mystical about what I do. It isn’t even especially “spiritual.”
So why do I do it?? What’s the point?
Have you ever had a New Year’s Eve where you wondered where the year went?? It all seemed to fly by, and you were so busy that you suddenly found yourself, champagne in hand, wondering what in the hell happened?? In our incredibly supercharged, fast paced world, I think most of us have had that experience at least once. Marking the turning of the wheel helps you avoid this fate.
The solstices and equinoxes are natural inflection points in our annual journey around the sun. They are simply astronomical realities, not anything inherently religious in and of themselves. Add in the cross-quarters, and you have a pause, a day of note, about every 6 weeks. That’s enough time to notice a change in the natural world. The local vegetation progresses through growth, flowering, fruiting, going to seed… The sun angle has noticeably changed. The light lingers a little longer, or darkness arrives a little sooner depending on the time of year.
The simple act of marking the day, noting the change, acknowledging the passing of time in a tangible, physical way, helps to counteract the fast pace of our busy lives. As the seasons turn, as the wheel makes yet another round, we note the passing of time in our own lives. Children grow. Elders pass. We move from stage to stage on our own journey. Bringing this to conscious awareness heightens our appreciation for life and its gifts.
It also adds a rhythm to our lives that is grounding and centering. Change is all around us, but still the sun follows the path it has followed for eons. There is something intangible yet comforting in that fact. Knowing it and consciously pausing to reflect on it connects us to a story much larger than our own, the story of the Universe (or possible multiverse), of which our tiny spinning planet is a part.
The wheel can be imagined as the path of the Earth around the sun and the seasonal change of the stars in the night sky as we travel on that path. We can see seasonal metaphors of our own lives. We can note that although our own personal springtime may have passed, we are not yet in winter’s deep darkness. All this, duly noted as the wheel turns, can add a richness to our lives that is accessible to people of all faiths, or no particular faith at all.
Blessings on your journey.
Rebecca Hecking writes from her home in northwest Pennsylvania, USA. She is the author of The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices from Skinner House Books.