Hello again, beautiful creatures.
The imminent arrival of the Autumnal Equinox makes this as good a time as any to confess that I’ve never felt any particular attachment to the “Wheel of the Year.”
This much-beloved chronological construct of the modern Pagan movement, suggested to be a syncretism assembled by Gerald Gardner and OBOD founder Ross Nichols, is a focal point for many folks’ traditional observances of the passage of time and the turning of seasons. For witches and other folks, it’s a solar counterpart to the lunar calendar, the eight great Sabbats overlaid upon the thirteen full-moon esbats. As a baby witchling, I learned all of the eight high holy days—their meanings and symbolism, their traditional (or “traditional”) names, the arcane methods of their calculation—with the same air of dutiful, reverent dubiosity with which I learned to read and write Theban.
Alas, the solar-agricultural mythic language encoded in the Wheel of the Year never quite seemed to gel for me. I understood the metaphors, of course, but I didn’t feel them. Maybe I was too ensconced in my birth culture, too much a product of late-20th-century life to find the deep spiritual significance of sowing, reaping, harvesting, and lying fallow. It didn’t stop me from celebrating the Sabbats, but it did mute my enthusiasm for them. After all, I was a witch, but I was also a digitally-minded urbanite whose livelihood was far more dependent on handling sheaves of paper than of wheat.
When I began to study Feri, I was amused to note that my coven at the time observed the same holidays as my previous British traditional Wiccan coven, though with a Feri twist on things that removed them somewhat from the metaphorical language of farming and animal husbandry. Still, I found myself ruminating on the curiosity of these nature-based holidays within a tradition of witchcraft that was more ecstatic than agricultural, and on their broader appeal. I’ve seen Thelemic Beltanes, reconstructionist Samhains, even a Discordian Yule… which, to be honest, wasn’t all that different from some of my Christmases as a child. Why has so much of the p-word community, even folks whose traditions had nothing to do with Wicca or Druidry, latched onto this Celto-Germanic framework of holy days?
My feelings about Mabon were, if anything, even more conflicted. The Autumnal Equinox was loaded with a host of emotional baggage that had nothing to do with the last crop-gathering of the year. Then again, where I come from, “Harvest Home” was a TV miniseries1 adapted from a Thomas Tryon novel. As a kid, the end of September was the beginning of both the school year, with all its attendant social pressures and nightmares, and the icky-weather seasons, with their constant damp chill. Even as an adult, I found little to celebrate about the dimming of the light and the fading of the warmth.
This began to change when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, where the seasons seemed to have a little more of their own character. I found myself looking forward to the way that September’s changeable moods led into October’s brisk, businesslike brusqueness. Moreover, this far north of the equator, I was able to really notice the change in the balance of daylight. At the height of Summer, the Sun would shine well after 9 PM, but after the Equinox, it would be setting before I was ready to make dinner. The fantastic cloudscapes of our skies would shift from vivid blues and whites to soft shades of grey, and I soon found the internal rhythms of my own life changing to accommodate the change of my environment. I would go to bed earlier and sleep deeper. My eating habits changed to favor heartier meals, and at one point I caught myself actually looking forward to baking.
Those of you for whom the metaphors of the Wheel of the Year hold deep resonance may be shaking your heads at my obtuseness, and I accept your rebuke with a rueful grin. I hasten to add in my defense that this blind spot isn’t entirely a function of my obtuseness. I had approached Mabon (and the other Sabbats of the Wheel) as I found it presented in the traditions and materials available to me: as a set of historical symbols and ritualized actions, preserved relics from another time and place. The reality, though, is that I’m a modern American living through the early 21st century, not a scion of some Celtic or Germanic tribe in pre-Christian Ireland, Gaul, or Old Saxony. I can’t claim to find the same resonances my ancestors found in the cultural signifiers of their era. I can, however, find meaning in the same natural phenomena they experienced, and I can take cues from the ways they reacted to those phenomena. I can observe, reflect, and respond to the tipping point of the year, as the Sun begins its slide into the chilly dark of Winter. I can bake bread, make stew, and brew countless pots of tea. I can haul out the extra blankets, set out extra candles, and open my home to family and friends in need of warmth and light. I can take stock of my larder and stores, and make sure that I have not only enough for the days ahead, but enough to give to those who might run short, or who are already in need.
I can choose to see, in this inflection point between day and night, a symbol for all moments of decision, all shifts from this state of being into that. It was just this resonance which led my partner and I to choose it for the date of our wedding, five years ago3. In choosing to link the formal observance of our emotional and spiritual bond to a cyclical physical phenomenon, we were reminding ourselves, and each other, of the cycles in all of life. Hardships and sorrows will come, but so too will joys and celebrations. The Equinox is the moment of change, holding within it the promise that change is not the end.
You don’t have to be a druid or a witch to find meanings in such things. You just have to be alive, awake, and willing to look for them.
A blessed Mabon to those of you who celebrate it, and a blessed Autumnal Equinox to us all. ♥
- Which I was too young to watch when it aired in 1978, and so missed out on the deliciously creepy Pagan themes.
- Though not one of the Autumn People. That would be creepy.
- In the interests of full disclosure, it also makes remembering our anniversary a snap.