180 Degrees of Separation is a series I am doing about the differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in Paganism, Witchcraft and related areas. I am Australian and like every Aussie Pagan (not a generalisation), I notice that the large majority of 101 resources for Pagans are quite north-centric, which can be a bit of a problem for us in certain cases. There are of course many Aussie bloggers who are trying to share how these things are different and what it means – but in my opinion, the more of us doing this, the easier the knowledge is for others to find. So, the more the merrier!
These posts are not only for us in the south though – I am sharing information for both hemispheres, about both hemispheres. So people in the northern hemisphere will hopefully find value in these posts as well – keeping mind these are a bit 101 so if you’re an experienced Pagan, you probably already know most of what’s here anyway. But you might not know about all the hemisphere differences, so you may still find this series a worthwhile read.
The past two weeks we’ve been looking at the wheel of the year, the seasons and the Sabbats. Last week was all about looking at your local area and trying to discover your specific regions real seasons, as opposed to the usual four seasons that often represent very little of the real world. I was just going to leave it at that, the first Wheel post was about adapting the Sabbats, the second about discovering the seasons – but it occurred to me, eventually, that the two are kind of mutually exclusive. If you discover your local seasons and they don’t match the usual four, how are you supposed to celebrate even adapted Sabbats?
So this week, we are looking at the problem of Sabbats and seasonal festivals when you discover your seasons are no match for the usual 8 Sabbats. Keep in mind I was not expecting to write this post, so it is perhaps not as elaborate as the others.
The Solstices and Equinoxes
These ones are simple. We assume they are based on the seasons, and as such are seasonal festivals, because of their names – Autumn/Spring Equinox, Summer/Winter Solstice. The seasons are in the names, so obviously they are about the seasons. Right? Apparently everyone thinks so, I have seen numerous debates about whether the summer solstice is the start of summer or is it as the other name suggests, mid-summer? And the same goes for the winter solstice and both equinoxes. Are they the start of their respective seasons or the middle, or something else entirely?
The answer is the latter, something else entirely. You can go back to part 1 of the Wheel of the Year if you like to have another look at the part about axial tilt and why our four seasons are opposite – I state that when we have less sunlight and more darkness, being tilted away from the sun, this is when the weather cools. And the opposite is so for when we are closer to, tilted towards the sun. In between, with the equinoxes, the world is darkening and becoming cooler, or brightening and becoming warmer. This is all still true in the general sense.
But it actually doesn’t mean anything in relation to the other aspects of our seasons. So the solstices and equinoxes indicate the basic change from warm to cool to warm again. But heat and cold are only two little things in the greater part of our real seasons. The solstices and equinoxes are indicators of temperature changes, but not necessarily other parts of the seasons.What they are however are astronomical immutable moments, they happen at exact times that do not change because of our seasons. They are moments to do with light and darkness. They are in truth solar festivals rather than seasonal ones – therefore, no matter what your seasons are they still exist and are able to be celebrated for what they are.
The longest day and shortest night.
The shortest day and longest night.
The two periods of almost equal night and day.
Indicators of growing darkness or growing brightness.
The solstices and equinoxes are, therefore, still relevant moments for us as Pagans. If we choose for them to be so. This is of course up to the individual. I have already stated I do not observe them, except the summer solstice, mostly secularly as a replacement for Christmas for my kids. This may change as I develop my regional Hellenic calendar, but for the moment, these days are nothing more than indicators of light changes, not moments to celebrate.
The Cross Quarters
And this is where it gets a bit more difficult, the cross quarter festivals, Beltane, Samhain, Imbolc and Lammas. These are not based on any immutable thing, but certainly on regional activities and changes of a somewhat specific area – The British Isles. Let’s break them down and have a look at what they mean, at their most basic. In order of how they appear in the southern year.
The first harvest. The grain harvest.
So, mostly to do with the harvest of grain. If you want to celebrate Lammas/Lughnassadh it may be best to leave it until your local grain harvest – if you have a grain harvest at all! Alternatively you may be able to find some other local harvest festival for this approximate time of year (February or August) and celebrate it in a similar way.
The third harvest – meat. The new year. The end of summer. The day of the dead. Liminal, veil is thin.
There are multiple aspects here. Meat harvest and end of summer would be determined by location. The new year is something you have to figure out yourself. The day of the dead aspect however is something I would like to briefly discuss – the large majority of death feasts occur in autumn, suggesting there is something about this time of year that calls to the dead or our awareness of the dead. Now if you have discovered your own seasons, then autumn may be something you don’t care much about any more, but it may be worth looking into why death feasts so commonly happen at this time of year.
Personally I suspect it has to do with the growing darkness more than the whole “autumn” thing. So it may still be relevant to you – especially if you note the thinning of the veil at this time.
The light festival. The lead up or beginning of spring.
As a growing light festival this may indeed be relevant to you, depending on your area. For me personally Imbolc happens when it is still mostly cloudy, so even if the days are getting longer, I don’t really notice much more light. As with much of this, it really depends on your area.
Fertility festival. Fire festival. Heat festival. The release of cows from their winter pens. Liminal, veil is thin.
As a fertility festival this is probably relevant for a lot of areas, traditional spring time does indeed match up with the mating and birthing seasons of many animals and of course the growth of plants in abundant areas.
As a heat festival, once again this is dependent on your area. Some years it is indeed warming up nicely at this time of year, other years it is still pretty much winter, in my area – so it’s a difficult one for me.
This is a liminal time like Samhain, if you take note of such things, this festival is still relevant for you as well.