Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories
When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.
When to celebrate Samhain?
The 31st of October is traditionally Samhain, and also All Hallows Eve. It has a long tradition as a festival, as do Beltain, Imbolc and Lugnasadh, all popular with modern Pagans. However, Pagans in the Southern hemisphere have long since decided that it makes no sense to celebrate Samhain at the start of what, for them, is the spring. Southen calendars swap the festivals around, putting seasonal relevance before an ancestral connection with dates.
At both Samhain and Beltain it is common to hear modern Pagans talking about an event – the thinning of the veil. Faeire hordes traditionally ride at these times, and magical possibilities abound. Is that connected to a calendar date, or a season? Why do we celebrate a fixed day? Is there genuinely a tangible event coupled to a day of the year?
My gut feeling is to say ‘no’ and my reasoning has everything to do with calendars. In 1582, our modern calendar was reformed to bring it in-line with Christian beliefs from the fourth century about when Easter should fall. Both lunar calendars and systems without leap years give us a gradual shift in relationship between calendar year and the actual solar year. The net result of that rogue quarter day, is that mostly calendar days do not fall on exactly the same point in the solar wheel each year, that pre 1582 the dates were different, and shifting significantly due to lack of leap years, and there are Christian re-shuffles in the mix. The faeries probably don’t give a monkey’s buttock for Gregorian calendars anyway!
My perception of when the festivals ought to fall is entirely tied to seasonal events. For me, Samhain and the move into the dead and dark time of the year comes when the last of the deciduous leaves have been stripped from the trees. Some years that happens in September. Right now, there are still green leaves outside my window. The dead time has not yet come. In different parts of the world, this would naturally happen at different times. In a landscape devoid of deciduous trees, the whole logic of the festival could use a rethink, connecting it to something meaningful that actually happens.
If we imagine that reality is global, then Samhain can be one big event happening on the 31st October (calendar issues aside). If we take our reality at the local level, as our ancestors must have done, then it is the local events that matter. Your local faerie horde isn’t waiting for the clocks to go back, or for some human measure of days. But they could be waiting for the leaves to fall, or for the deadly dry season, or the first frosts, or some other tangible marker that makes sense. Perhaps nearer to the Artic circle, they wait for the days to be sufficiently dark. Perhaps it is the north east wind, that brings the migrant swans from Russia to the UK, that also alerts the faeries to a seasonal change. I’m open to suggestion.
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