Around the Cauldron · Celebrating the Sabbats · The Pagan Experience 2016

Traditional vs. Local – How do you celebrate the festivals of the land?

It’s that time of year again. The stores are chock full of chocolate eggs, there are bunny decorations and fun things for children to occupy themselves with. The hot cross buns came out sometime in January – there are even cards with gorgeous symbols of Spring and fertility (when did giving cards at Easter become a “thing”?). It’s weird. Symbols of Spring and new life are all around us, yet here in Australia we’re meant to be entering the dark half of the year.

I say “meant” because the weather is clearly indicating that we’re still in late Summer, and Autumn is no where to be found (at least it is here in Western Sydney).

Every year I drift further and further away from the Traditional Wheel of the Year as it makes less and less sense the older I get.

The Tradition Wheel marks eight festivals that neo-Pagans come together to celebrate, to honour the land, to honour the Old Gods; sometimes alcohol fuelled benders or a night of passionate love making, or simply sitting around the fire – it all depends on the holiday, your age, and whether it’s going to be a family-friendly event. The Traditional Wheel is based on the Northern Hemispheric lay of the land – the harvest times, the equinox and solstices, and holidays laid in between based on what is happening with the land.

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For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, most of us simply just flip it around. Northern Vernal Equinox is our Autumnal Equinox, the Northern Yule is our Litha, and so on and so forth. This presents us with some difficulties when we have to explain why we have Yule decorations up in June (for the Winter Equinox) and why we celebrate the “Pagan version” of Halloween in May…at our Samhain.

The reason I’ve been drifting further and further away from the Traditional Wheel is because I don’t believe it represents the land here in Australia. Our harvest times mimic what is done in Greece more than our convict ancestral lands of England, but even then the harvest depends on what’s in season, where in the country you are, and what time of the year it is. It’s our second (third?) week of 30C+ days (86F+) so although we’re approaching the Autumnal Equinox, it’s still very much daylight at 8pm.

And I am still driving home from work and university with my car’s air conditioning up as high as it can go, and opting for cold showers shortly after walking through the front door (where normally we’d be entering long-sleeve pyjama time).

(EDIT: Sydney has had 32 consecutive days above 26C (76F) which breaks a new record. By the end of this week it’ll be 39 days).

Years ago I was introduced to a concept I honestly hadn’t considered – change the Wheel to suit your locality. I have blogged about this a few years ago, and the concept that Julie from Druids Down Under had created based on her perceptions of the changes Coastal Sydney offered.

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Coastal Sydney Wheel of the Year by Julie Brett @ DDU

When you stop and really have a think about it, it makes a lot of sense, and leaves you wondering why you hadn’t considered it before. Because it’s different? Because it’s not “traditional”? Because it’s not of your tradition?

What really got on my nerves this year was the message from Facebook on March 1 saying, “It’s the first day of Autumn!”

Those of us who honour the land know that the seasons don’t follow the Gregorian calendar. Mother Earth, Gaia, the essence of the land, She doesn’t look at the calendar and think, “well, it’s the first of March! Better send a memo that it needs to get cooler.”

So why not use a system that is (for lack of a better word) tailored to suit your locality? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and can see that the Traditional Wheel sits beautifully for your area, then that’s great!

Over Summer I took a unit at university called Mangamai’bangawarra, or Indigenous Science. The course content is largely based on two books by Aunty Fran Bodkin, both written about the D’harawal nation, who are the Traditional Owners of the land where a part of Sydney now resides (Sydney sits over five different nations) but the unit is more specifically detailed than the books.

(NB: I am not of the First Nations. I am a “mongrel” who’s settler ancestry can be traced back to people who arrived here on boat and plane).

Through studying Mangamai’bangawarra I felt like I had come home, like a missing piece of me had been found. Through talking of how the D’harawal listen to the land, how they measure time, through their own Wheel of the Year, their Laws – it gave me a better understanding of what I’ve been looking for for so many years. Changing how you honour the land depending on locality is completely normal. Sometimes, you need to go to those who have been honouring it for hundreds of thousands of years – those who truly know and understand this land.

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D’harawal Nation Seasonal Calender.

Through studying Mangamai’bangawarra (which is limited knowledge, only what they allow white fellas to know since we are not of their nation, which I deeply respect) I found that my connection to this land, this land that I honour and love, grew stronger.

It can become really difficult studying and learning and developing your own Path when the resources at hand largely come from the Northern Hemisphere (and for many of us, our ancestral lands that we may never even step foot on). It can be difficult when you’re starting out and your intuition says one thing but these books are saying another.

The longer you walk this Path the more you learn to ignore the books and rather listen to your intuition. The land is telling us that the seasons are changing, and so it’s time to change how I give honour to these changes, and look for the similarities in my own life.

So while the Western World prepares to binge on chocolate eggs this month, and our Ostara another six months away, I’m thankful that I can no longer eat chocolate. I’m lucky that as we don’t have children, there’s no obligation to celebrate the Commercial versions of our Traditional holidays, so instead I look forward to honouring the late change of the seasons when the cooler weather does come.

Although there’s something truly special about easter egg chocolate. It just tastes different. I wonder if they could make some lactose-free chocolate to taste like a normal Cadbury egg…

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3 thoughts on “Traditional vs. Local – How do you celebrate the festivals of the land?

  1. Greetings
    Your intutition is absolutely right on this: Locality drives the Wheel of the Year and you are doing fine work in reconfiguring the Wheel so that it works in SW Australia. Once you strip out all the cultural overlay of Northern Europe, you are left with the bones of time (‘seasons’) and place (SW Australia in your case, Derby UK in mine) – both very different. Imagine if you lived in Sri Lanka or Alaska! If the Wheel to be meaningful, then it has to work at this fundamental level for every Locality.

    Best wishes x

  2. Listening to the land where you live is the essence of where the traditional wheel came from. It was about connecting the human year cycle with what was happening with the land. The whole idea of set dates has always been arbitrary. I hardly think 5,000 years ago people whipped out a calendar and said ‘no, it says here we have to do the party today, I don’t care what the land is saying.’ Cues were always taken from what was happening in the environment, the changing in air, the change in smells, the change in animal behaviour. That should be our only cue to when it’s time to move into the next season – never a date.

    As for how many seasons, well that depends. Some places in Australia have 2 seasons (think top end), some have 6. I even heard one Aboriginal people celebrated as much as 12 seasons traditionally. When I lived in Melbourne, winter was 7 months long. Now I’m in Brisbane, summer is 7 seasons long. It’s not just about flipping a wheel, it’s about being fluid and ready to change how you celebrate, depending on where you move to in this country. And lets not forget the larger-than-year cycles: drought for 10 years, flood for 2, back to mini drought.

    I stopped celebrating the changes years ago. It’s never been part of my connection. I listen, I watch, I acknowledge the changes. Nights are now cooler? Time for the cardy in the evening and the doona back on the bed. Changes in clothing and meals are the recognition for me.

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