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  • Writer's pictureCadence Moffat McCann

Honouring the Wheel of the Year

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

"The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows." - John O'Donohue

Humans have been celebrating the turning of the seasons since time immemorial. Our land-based ancestors lived in accordance with the natural rhythms. They were entirely dependent on nature for their survival and thus, engaged in regular rituals and practices to maintain balance with the earth.

In many ways, we have forgotten we are still part of these cycles. We have lost touch with our connection to the land that sustains us. By engaging in nature-based rituals throughout the year, we come back into harmony with the earth and our ancestors.

I began following the Wheel of the Year a number of years ago. Personally, this has been a journey of tuning in with what's happening on the land around me and listening to the guidance of my ancestors. I will share a bit about my practices and invite you to find ways to celebrate that feel resonant for you.

In honour of my Irish, Scottish, and British ancestors, I follow the Celtic Wheel of the Year, that includes Four Sun Festivals (the Two Equinoxes and Solstices) and Four Fire or Cross-Quarter Festivals that fall between the sun festivals.

Image: "Wheel of the Year (Northern Hemisphere)", courtesy of Tiger Snake Studio

I mark the beginning of the year with Samhain (sah-win), the fire festival in honour of the ancestors. Samhain means "summer's end" in Gaelic. It is typically celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on November 1st. This is a time when the veils are thin allowing us to communicate more easily with unseen realms.

Then, we have Winter Solstice or Yule around December 21st that marks both the longest night of the year and the return of the sun the following day. This is a time for coming indoors to gather around the hearth fire; to feast, sing, and share story.

Next is Imbolc, that happens between February 1st and 2nd. The word Imbolc means "in the belly" in Gaelic because the seeds of spring are beginning to stir in the belly of Mother Earth. This festival marks the returning of spring and is a time to begin to prepare for the life that will soon be returning to the land

As we follow the turning of the wheel, we arrive at the Vernal Equinox around March 21st, also known as Ostara. The word “equinox” comes from the Latin words meaning “equal night”. This means the hours of day and night are nearly of equal length. This festival marks the height of spring.

Then, we have Beltane near May 1st which means "bright fire" and marks the other time in the wheel when the veil is thin; a time when magic is possible. Beltane is a celebration of fertility, sexuality, passion, and honouring the instincts of our wild, animal bodies!

Next is Summer Solstice or Litha that falls around June 21st and marks the longest day of the year, the peak of the summer sun. Celebrations for this festival are boisterous with lots of music and dancing around a large, communal bonfire.

Continuing along the wheel, we come to Lughnasadh (loo-na-sah) near August 1st, the feast of bread that marks the beginning of the harvest season. This is an opportunity to offer deep gratitude for the bounty of the land and relish in the abundance of fresh food.

The last festival is the Autumnal Equinox or Mabon that happens between Sept 21st and 23rd. It welcomes the first nights of colder weather and the end of the harvest. Mabon is a time of letting go and embracing the winter season ahead.

I invite you to start paying attention to the changing of the seasons on the land around you. If it feels right, begin honouring the Wheel of the Year. You can start by making offerings at a place in nature, setting an altar to mark the seasonal shifts, or asking for guidance from your ancestors.

If you'd like to gather in community, join us for the Wheel of the Year Gatherings. Find more details here:

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