Paganism and Wicca are diverse religious pathsPaganism and Wicca are diverse religious paths, many of which celebrating the cycle of death and rebirth in their Wheel of the Year, or festival calendar. Eight festivals mark the usual Wheel of the Year and mark important natural intervals like the winter and summer solstices, spring and autumn equinoxes, and the halfway points between them.
Typically, the cycle of death and rebirth coincides with the mythos of the Goddess and God, their love, and the abundance they bring to the people. Midwinter marks the birth or rebirth of the God. From that point, the holidays each mark certain times of His development as well as His relationship to His mother/lover.
This mythology may not appeal to all Pagans, considering the diversity that occurs within the religious category. But Pagan religion can offer us the ability to customize our festivals and beliefs to better suit any aspect of our lives. First, let's take a look at the various gods, goddesses, creatures, and other beings that can be applied to the Wheel of the Year concept.
Representations of power, wisdom, and wealth, their appeal is universal. Cultures around the globe have some interpretation of the dragon. They are sometimes benevolent, potentially destructive, and can provide us with great inspiration.
Popular among European based Pagan faiths, fairies are interpreted differently by various traditions. To some, fairies are representations of the elements. They can be seen as the spirits of things like plants, bodies of water, and rocks. Some even believe them to be the human dead while others consider them to be sentient spirits like people but not. Stories abound concerning their adventures which gives us loads of material to work with when devising a story structure to go with our Wheel of the Year development.
In ancient times, the Wheel of the Year was not universal. While seasonal festivals did take place annually, they may not have resembled the ones practiced today. The Roman calendar, for instance, considers January 1st to be New Year's Day while northern Pagan paths may consider the day after Samhain or even a date in spring to be their spiritual New Year. Taking inspiration from a different pantheon can create a new Wheel of the Year that better accommodates your spiritual beliefs.
Animals and types of trees can even be the characters in your story. A journeying bear, for instance, or different trees representing each season.
The previous four recommendations barely scrape the surface of what you can do to develop your own Wheel of the Year. To better understand how to implement these items and to see how I determined which ones to introduce you to, let us now discuss some very basic story lines that can be explored as holiday cycles.
Battle and Conquest
Another popular alternative to the Goddess and God Wheel of the Year is the tale of the Oak and Holly Kings. In a nutshell, at Midwinter and Midsummer, the two battle for dominion over nature. The Holly King wins at Midwinter while the Oak King wins at Midsummer. The choices I mentioned previously may all be applied to this storyline, with more specifics added as the celebrant sees fit.
Practitioners against prolonging violent stereotypes may prefer to exhibit the cycle of the seasons as shared dominion between elemental rulers. For instance, four dragons share dominion over the earth; Water rules winter (representing snow), Wind rules spring, Fire rules summer (representing sun and heat), and Earth rules autumn (representing the harvest or barren land). The choice is really up to you. The same can be applied to fairy queens or troupes, as well as types of trees or animal representations of each season.
Similar to the story of the Goddess and God, the seasons can be celebrated through the story of parted lovers or families. A fairy queen, for instance, brings life and abundance to the world while her daughter is visiting, but draws away into a cold, infertile depression while she's away (at school, perhaps, or visiting her lover in an opposite hemisphere). The story of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades can easily be applied to the Wheel of the Year as well, the various points throughout the year marking Persephone's progress toward returning home. If using the dragon representations, a dragon king and queen can be your inspiration.
Educational or Respectful
Your Wheel of the Year also needed follow a story at all. Depending on what you belief, you can simply honor certain gods at specific times of year, for instance. It can be a useful tool in developing personally as well; Midwinter can serve as a time to brainstorm new projects or set a list of goals for the year, while the remainder of holidays coinciding with the personal development process.
You may, of course, choose not to celebrate the festivals that have become popular amongst Pagans and Wiccans. American holidays take place at times that coincide with seasonal shifts, though many of us do not realize it. Easter, for instance, was usually the day that my family began unpacking the garden tools and equipment. Thanksgiving served as our harvest festival. Halloween and Christmas are another two American holidays that have abundantly Pagan themes.
The reason I chose to use dragons, fairies, specific gods, and other representations of the seasons as our characters was because of these four types of stories. Nearly any characters can be used along these story lines, but this is not to say that you are limited to these examples.
Developing a Wheel of the Year story or system may take years to grow into something you feel truly dedicated to. The possibilities are endless as well and that can leave some individuals feeling a bit confused. Take the following example if you're having trouble figuring out where to begin.
Roman-American Wheel of the Year
Midwinter traditions may be the same as Christmastime ones, and religious imagery may or may not be included. It is a time for family, for sharing blessings, and ensuring that your loved ones survive the coldest season. Like the Romans, New Year's Day is celebrated on January 1st. Come February, Valentine's Day may be called Lupercalia and is a time for lovers. Easter is celebrated as Cerealia in honor of Ceres or as the Floralia in honor of Flora. It's the time of year to get things ready for growing season. Tulips and daffodils coincide perfectly with Easter as well as these holidays. Independence Day occurs near the Roman Carnalia, perfect for grilling and enjoying the fruits of the summer. When Halloween comes, it's a time to honor the dead as well as the mysteries of the other worlds. Thanksgiving finishes the Roman-American Wheel and can be sacred to Dionysis, whose feast occurs on November 11.
A Tree Calendar
The year begins one day after October 31. The first quarter is ruled by Pine, a conifer that survives the winter. Pine represents rejuvenation. Winter is a time to rest, assess our lives, and determine what we need to improve. At Imbolc on February 2nd, Maple takes over. Its sap is collected during this season and made into syrup. It represents awakening, development, and rebirth, a time of beginnings. Oak rules the summer beginning on May 1st. A symbol of strength and family, the prosperous oak represents our prosperous summer. Its rule ends on the traditional Lammas, August 1st, with the mournful Willow representing the season of fall as the life of the land diminishes. It's a time to look back at what we've accomplished and of giving thanks for what we've achieved.
As stated previously, the possibilities are truly endless. One should also realize that other nature inspired calendars are available. The lunar calendar, for example, can be adapted to fit the spiritual needs of many traditions.
It's important that a sense of creativity and self-invention be instilled in members of Pagan paths. As the world is always changing and evolving, so should our spirituality. Our religion is less cut and dry and more a quest. Festivals and holidays are one of the best ways we can develop our spirituality due to their importance and what they represent to us personally.