The Wheel of the Year: Celebrating the Seasons
(text: Iris Toister and Reverand Alon Kobets)
NATURE religions, pre-dating Christianity, visualised the year as a wheel with eight spokes. Each spoke is a major festival or a Sabbat. Solstices, Equinoxes, and midpoints between – also known as the Cross Quarters – have been celebrated by a variety of Nature peoples, also called Pagans, around the world and across the ages.
The rhythms of nature are easy to ignore in the modern world, where electric lighting takes away the terrors of the long and cold winter life. Most of us do not have to pay attention to the times of sowing and harvest, lambing and culling. Food is there for us in the stores, all year round. For our ancestors, the cosmic drama of seasonal change gave shape and meaning to life. They had no guarantee that the sun would return to them after its winter decline, and if harvest failed, they had few resources to fall back on. All ancient cultures paid close attention to the wheel of the seasons and their monuments often functioned as solar and lunar observatories.
The festivals of the wheel represent the active and dormant states of nature, man and agriculture. Each of the Sabbat days was ruled by a governing deity, whether a God or a Goddess, with each region having its own associated deity. From planting to reaping to winter to summer, the seasons were of great importance because living depended upon good harvests, mild winter and enough rainfall.
The festivals did not disappear with the rise of the monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity. Jewish authorities attribute many customs and doctrines of “Judaism” to Persian, Babylonian and Assyrian sources although festivals’ customs are less obvious then in Christianity. The word Sabbat, used to describe the festivals, is derived from Hebrew. It describes a day of rest, or cessation from labour. This rest day was compulsory, being a commandment from God Himself. The word Sabbat was implemented into the European languages by the Christians, along with other Hebrew words, such as Haleluja, or Amen, and is used to describe a holy day, not just the weekly Sabbat day.
Two mighty religious systems, Judaism and Paganism, prevailed when Jesus established his church. Judaism was strong on salvation by ceremonies. Paganism was known for its ceremonies connected to nature, and many gods. Both seeped into many of the churches. Even during the third century much of the religion of the times was little more than a compound of Paganism and Judaism with a slight seasoning of Christianity.
THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR
The Four Seasons are known as Solar Festivals, in that they mark a seasonal change caused by the Sun. The four Fire Festivals are usually celebrated as signiﬁcant agricultural festivals. Together they make up the eight Sabbats of the Wheel. Diﬀerent languages have diﬀerent names for the eight Sabbats.
Started in Israel, such festivals are making a comeback. Mabon is one of such festivals, commonly celebrated between September 21–24 in the Northern Hemisphere and approximately six months further in Southern Hemisphere. It is also a celebration of the Autumn Equinox, when day and night are equal in both physical measurable time and immaterial spirit.
The Israeli festival Mabon 2011 was held between September 22 to 24 at an Eco farm in Southern Israel. The event stretched over three days, starting with some activities like workshops to decorate the place and prepare for the rituals to follow.
On the whole, there were three rituals held; one to open the festivities on the ﬁrst day and declare the whole space as a holy ritual ground; the main ritual is held on the night of the second day, and the closing ritual on the early afternoon of the last day.
Since the Israeli Pagan community is small, but quite diverse, the organisers, had to come up with a ritual style that honoured everybody present, with their individual beliefs among other things, and at the same time be interesting and engaging enough to perform as a ceremony that everybody can attend together. It was quite a challenge, but the festival was considered a success.
THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR IN MODERN TIMES
Centuries of persecution, torture and execution of wise women, men and children, has led to the disappearance of Pagan religions, but many of the customs found their way into Christianity and Judaism. A rebirth of Paganism has started in the first part of the 20th century. Perhaps it is the decline of popular religion, perhaps a need to reconnect to nature’s stability, in times of uncertainty and a rapidly changing world.
Today, Wiccans and other Pagans often blend together ancient as well as contemporary approaches to celebrating these seasonal festivals. They believe that the earth is a living being whom we need to honour, and they try to minimise the damage they do to her through ecological movements. Their values, such as respect for life, a cheerful acceptance of the facts of life, such as sex and death, arise from observation and celebration of the natural world through the eight Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.