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.
This weeks post is all about the Wheel of the Year, the seasons and the festivals. Seasonal differences are something those of us in the south are keenly aware of but it takes a bit of prompting and reminding for those in the north to remember that these differences exist. I have friends on Facebook, Pagan and not-Pagan, who live in the US or UK and who often comment on photos of my kids in summer with surprise that I would let my kids dress in singlets and shorts in December. Some of them have asked if we are having some unnatural heat wave when I inevitably complain of the heat in February, or are we going through some weird extended winter when I complain about the cold in June.
These aren’t, generally, stupid people. Most of them do actually know about the differences, but because this world – at least the western world – is north-centric, not just in Paganism but on TV, movies, books, magazines, mythology, lore, stories, fairytales and the list goes on, it can be easy for those in the north to forget that the south is different. It’s not like you are inundated with south-centric information to remind you of the differences. Whereas we are inundated with north-centric information that reminds us, almost constantly, of those differences. It’s not stupidity, it’s not lack of awareness – it’s simply about what is shoved in your face constantly, and what is in our face is how different we are, what is in your face is normalcy. Though sometimes it is lack of awareness – if no one has told you about the differences, how are you to know about them?
The above image shows the basic idea of axial tilt and how that changes our seasons. Because our planet is on a tilted axis this means that at one part of the year, peaking at June, the top part of the planet faces the sun for a longer period during the day – leading not only to summer for the north but also the most northern parts of the planet getting up to 6 months of constant daylight and no night at all. At the same time the southern part of the planet gets exposed to less daylight hours, more night time hours – leading to winter and colder conditions as well as the most southern areas getting up to 6 months of constant darkness and no sun light at all.
This changes as time goes on until we reach December and it is opposite – the southern half of the planet is more exposed to the sun, the northern less exposed. Without the axial tilt and the angles at which we revolve around the sun, the entire year would be equal for sunlight and night time, and the Gods only what that would mean for the seasons! Okay scientists probably know too, but I don’t.
The image below shows us the way it all looks at a specific time during what I assume were the solstices and equinoxes in 2004. The two on the left show the equinoxes – which is almost equal lengths of day and night, for both the south and north. But the seasons are still opposite, spring up north is autumn down under, despite equal sunlight. They may be equal at these moments, but they are coming from different directions, so to speak. For the north, at spring time, you are coming from less sunlight and the days are getting longer, after the equinox day will be longer than night. In the south after the same equinox in March, which is autumn for us, we are coming from long daylight hours and slowly getting less.
So, if our seasons are opposite what does this mean for the Sabbats, the eight Pagan festivals? Well this is largely dependent on the individual. Here in the south we have many choices of what we can do. Most common is to do the 180 switch, Beltane for the north is Samhain for us. This is a pretty obvious choice given that our summer solstice happens during the norths winter solstice and the solstices are astronomical events, not something that can be changed by the weather, desire, 101 books or even witchcraft.
Some Aussies and I assume other people in the southern hemisphere choose to do something else – they stick with the northern festival dates. I kind of understand this – it is easier to celebrate Yule when everyone around you is celebrating Christmas, Ostara when everyone is celebrating Easter and Samhain when everyone is Halloweening. But on the other hand, I just can’t figure it – I mean I don’t actually observe the Sabbats personally, but I also hate Christmas because I cannot stand the winter symbolism in the height of summer!
By doing the 180 switch we do face a couple problems though. This doesn’t affect every festival, but it has some rather annoying affects on others.
Summer Solstice is in December for us, near Christmas. This means we are surrounded by winter symbolism. This also means that if we want decorations and such for Yule we have to buy it during summer for the next winter. It also means that if we do choose to put up a Yule tree or use Christmas-like decorations for Yule, in June, well we kind of look crazy. It’s not Christmas in June.
Autumn Equinox is in March, when the shops are selling chocolate rabbits and eggs and various spring symbols. If you want to buy stuff for Ostara, you need to do it now and hope the chocolate keeps. Which is doubtful. Chocolate is yummy. And again, we look a bit crazy celebrating what may look similar to Easter, in September.
Samhain is at the end of April or beginning of May, depending on which date you subscribe to. There is no merging with Halloween for us, no trick or treating and dressing up will get you some odd looks. Not that I care, I once dressed up vampiric for a normal Friday the 13th. This one has a slight upside though, if you do want to celebrate Halloween, there is absolutely nothing wrong with dressing up and wandering the streets on Beltane! And while I don’t like being whacked over the head with seasonal symbols that don’t match our current season – Halloween is the one I forgive, because, well, it’s Halloween! It can be Halloween all year long and I will be happy.
So as you can see, this can create a few problems because of commercial festivals. At the same time though, it is in a way easier for us in the south – we can easily separate our festivals from the commercial. There is no mistaking one festival for another. You try to celebrate Yule near Christmas, people will think you’re doing Christmas. But when we decorate our homes in summer flowers and various summer symbols, no one is mistaking that for Christmas. But of course this depends on if you want them to be separated.