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Turning The Wheel By Choice

Author: Janice Van Cleve
Posted: January 20th. 2008
Times Viewed: 7,174

Bills! Meetings! Work! Birthday! Dentist! Insurance! Car repair! Laundry! More bills! Our lives seem to be a rat race from one priority to another. There are the daily hassles of commuting, personal hygiene, and fixing dinner. There are the career hassles of appointments, deadlines, and bosses. There are relationship demands from children, lovers, friends and social connections. And of course, there are the bills.

Our system of thirty-day months (plus or minus) doesn't help either. We barely get the lights taken down and the needles swept up out of the rug when it's February. Valentines, Easter, and taxes rip us right up to May when we go to the parent teacher conference and find out that junior has been failing all year and we have to arrange for summer school.

Vacations and camping turn out to be just another task to perform and then we're back in school in September, pushing for our company's fourth quarter returns, and getting slammed with confusing political elections. By then it's already November and the deluge of relatives, Thanksgiving, and the holidays are upon us.

Damn if it isn't time to put the lights up again. Where did the year go?

Being an urban Pagan doesn't necessarily help out matters. Trying to squeeze Sabbats and Estabats into this already crowded calendar would be hard enough. It is even more difficult when most of the books on Paganism talk about seeds and fruits and stuff we find only in the produce section of the supermarket.

There are a few books on being Pagan in an urban environment like Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein (2002), City Magick: Urban Rituals, Spells, and Shamanism by Christopher Penczak (2001), and Urban Pagan: Magical Living in a 9-to-5 World by Patricia Telesco (1993). For the most part, however, these just substitute city words for farming words.

They do not address the real issue: time.

Time can be frustrating if we allow each day to be the same. Days must be grouped into larger units to give us a sense of meaning and purpose. Ultimately we have to respond to our internal biological need for seasons. Farmers have their four seasons for planting, growing, harvesting, and fallow.

But how do we find seasons in our air-conditioned, concrete and steel, insulated lives?

Accountants have found seasons. Their year is divided into quarters. Different reports and tax filings are required at the end of each quarter. They count by day or week of the quarter and they compare the current quarter's results with the same time the year before. These reports are important and have real financial consequences, which act as strong motivators to focus attention and action.

State legislators have found seasons. Their year is divided into thirds. The first third is usually in legislative session. The second third is public appearances to excuse or blame what happened in the first third. The final third is fundraising and campaigning. This cycle is important and has real political consequences, which act as strong motivators to focus attention and action.

Both these professions, like the farmers, have found the key to what a season really is: a unit of time that has real consequences that focus attention and action. How can we apply that lesson in our urban Pagan lives?

First, of course, we do have to realize that we, divine though we are, cannot do it all. Trying to do it all gives priority to nothing and results in chaos, leaving us to wonder where our year went. If we want a seasonal life, we have to make a conscious choice to do so and then give it meaning. We have to put everything else into the context of that seasonal life.

A farmer denies the darkness and harvests all night long if he knows a storm is coming to ruin his wheat. An accountant does not take spring vacation until after taxes are in.

Second, we have to decide what meaning to give to our seasons. Mythical struggles between Holly and Oak kings, Persephone’s comings and goings, and running cows through Beltane fires probably doesn’t relate in our world where the nearest thing to Nature is the potted plant in the reception area.

So what meaning can we urban Pagans give our Sabbats?

Traditionalists may try to reinterpret ancient agrarian myths into today’s modern realities, but there is no reason why we cannot create what we need for our own time and circumstances.

Here in Seattle, our Women Of The Goddess Circle – a Pagan community of women in the Dianic tradition of Wicca – does turn the Wheel of the Year by choice. This far north, the new light of the coming year is not really apparent until Imbolc, so that is when we begin our year.

Imbolc is a time for dedication to the Goddess and making vows for the year. Annual vows are like new years resolutions except that when they are made to the Goddess in a ritual context, they do take on real consequences and do serve to focus attention and action.

Lammas, the opposite cross quarter, is a good time to check in how we are doing on our vows. Sometimes we relight our Imbolc votive candle every month and repeat our vows just to stay on track.

The equinoxes are an obvious pair of seasons for examining contrasts. Ostara in the spring is a good time for choosing to start things we have always wanted to do but never really gave ourselves permission to do. Signing up for a class, joining a club, committing to something that will come back and make demands over a period of time and from which we will gain a desired benefit – these are things to mark in spring.

One year started a class in Spanish. The homework and peer pressure from my classmates kept me at my work and by autumn I was habla Espanol. Mabon is not only a great time to reflect on accomplishments and commit that last surge of effort to finish before the end of the year, it is also a time to clean up after ourselves. Paying off debts, speaking truth to power, settling conflicts, making peace – these are all appropriate to an urban Pagan’s fall season, and they are even a sort of harvest.

Beltane is a great time to initiate relationships. One can never have too many friends and seeking deeper connections with some of them can be very rewarding. Love is not limited, after all, to the exclusive binary pattern predominant in our culture. We all need friends and how much can it really hurt to tell one or all of them how much we love them?

Summer Solstice in the Northwest is the beginning of hiking season. Sure it’s still raining, but we have the option of heading over to eastern Washington where the sky is blue, the ground is dry, and the flowers are beautiful. This is a great season for urban Pagans to step out of the city and choose to get out into Nature – maybe do a ritual in jeans or shorts or around a campfire. Summer Solstice is like opening day to bless outdoor adventures.

At Samhain, most Wiccan circles face the issue of Death. We journey to the Underworld. We hold Dumb Suppers. We remember our ancestors. Samhain is probably the Sabbat least affected by our modern culture because Death is a universal reality that knows all times and all places. Death is one of the strongest motivators of choice because it is inevitable and we cannot opt out. However, we can reflect on the choices we have made in the past year and choose to continue or not the behaviors we have used. We can lay down the baggage and burdens that somehow attached themselves to us and choose not to pick them up again.

It is at Winter Solstice that our Women Of The Goddess Circle probably exercises its most striking Sabbat choice. We do not celebrate the coming of light. We stay in the deepest dark, the void of blackest night. The reason, of course, is obvious. Not only is it actually still dark up here in the Northwest but also all of Nature is still sleeping. This is the quietest, most profound Sabbat of the year. – not that you would know it from the annual American consumer orgy that rampages every December.

In sharp contrast to the commercially driven urge to fill up with stuff, we lay still in our emptiest state of being. In deepest dark and blankest vacuum we lay open to the unprocessed voice of the universe and there find our truest selves. We do not hurry into a new year. We let the old one die at Samhain and don’t raise up the new one until Imbolc. The three months of darkness, emptiness, and rest are very refreshing!

Choice works both ways of course. When we chose one thing, we deny another. That’s the point. Without exercising our own choice of seasons and what they will mean to us, we get buffeted around by bosses and babies, retailers and relatives. Without choice, we risk surrender of our time and focus to greeting card companies or somebody else’s grimoire.

Sure, there are still the monthly bills and business necessities to take care of, but just because somebody else divided the year into twelve months doesn’t mean we have to follow it. How would it change your life if you marked your internal calendar only by the eight Sabbats? How much longer could you appreciate what each season means to you if it was six weeks long instead of only four? How much more could you prepare for each season consciously and assign to it a personal meaning on which you could focus and really develop before the next Sabbat comes along?

Like the farmer, the accountant, or the politician, intentionally living in a seasonal pattern that has real consequences in our lives gives purpose to our actions and action to our purposes.

It allows us to turn the wheel of the year by choice instead of being run over by it.


Janice Van Cleve

Location: Seattle, Washington

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