I was introduced to the “School of the Seasons,” when I encountered the Eightfold Year of the Neo-Pagans (Wheel of the Year). Before that, I, like many other people, automatically adhered to the U.S. civil calendar. Summer started Memorial Day (around May 27), high summer – the Fourth of July, and the end of summer – Labor Day (around September 4). Fall lasted until Thanksgiving in November, when the holiday season began and continued to New Year’s Day. Winter was the next day and continued until Easter, when spring arrived. This was unsatisfactory to me since the delineation of the seasons seemed arbitrary. Since it did not fit the climate that I lived in, I felt out of sync with the natural world and living out of natural time.
Dividing the year into eight equal parts seemed to me a better way to follow the cycles of nature. The Eightfold Year starts with Yule at the winter solstice. The longest night and the returning of the light is commemorated. Imbolic (cross quarter – February 2), a time of restrained joy, celebrates the first signs of spring. Ostara, at the spring equinox, honors spring. Beltane (cross quarter – May 1) focuses on fertility in all its forms. Midsummer, at the summer solstice, commemorates the longest day and the coming dark. Lammas (cross quarter – August 1) is the first harvest. This festival celebrates the waxing and waning of the plant world. Mabon, the autumn equinox, focuses on the descent of Queen Persephone into the Underworld and the coming winter. Samhain (cross quarter – October 31) is the time of the Ancestors.
The Eightfold Year seemed to be more in sync with the actual seasons of my climate. However, I had several problems with it. First, it is man-made, and therefore arbitrary in deciding natural cycles. Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, and Ross Nichols of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) based this Wheel of the Year on their romantic ideas of ancient Pagan festivals in Britain.
The second problem with this Wheel that it follows the climate of Britain. I live in Washington D.C., which is in the humid subtropical climate zone. Our seasons consist of mild winters from December/January, a windy dry March, the hot and humid springs of April-May, and tropical summers that extend from June into October. Fall usually runs from mid-October to end-December.
However, the Eightfold Year is an elegant way of discovering the actual cycle in the natural world. Dividing the year into segments of six weeks gives shadings to each of the seasons. This is an excellent start to reconsider how to live in each season. It can be adapted to the climate that one lives in. As Roman Polytheist, I do not celebrate the Neo-Pagan festivals. However, I do appreciate the approach to constructing a Wheel of the Year.