Welcome to the Yule-Moon issue of Rûna Eormensyl. This month’s offering is a seasonally-relevant piece on the Wheel of the Year by Dr Jon Sharp.
A good Yule to all our readers!
The Wheel of the Year – A brief exploration
Most, if not all of us, are familiar with the concept of the ‘Wheel of the Year’, but there is often confusion about the authenticity of its inclusion within Heathenism. To some, the Wheel of the Year is a contemporary invention that has no necessary relationship to the praxis and beliefs of the pre-Christian peoples of Europe.
This begs the question of what exactly we mean when we talk about ‘authenticity’. If this term is understood in the historical sense, then the Wheel of the Year is authentic only if it can be shown that it was originally used by our pre-Christian ancestors.
However, if we think of authenticity in Jungian or existential terms, then the authenticity of the Wheel of the Year is dependent on whether it performs a useful integrative function in the life of the individual who engages with it conceptually, aesthetically or through their spiritual or magical praxis.
When we examine the origins of The Wheel of the Year, we must acknowledge that it is a product of the Twentieth century. It first appears in the 1950’s, and it used by both the Gardnerian Bricket Wood coven and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. The first published Heathen Wheel of the Year was designed by Stephen McNallen in the early 1970’s. If we are concerned solely with historical provenance, the Wheel of the Year is certainly not authentic.
However, there is a fundamental contradiction in valuing a conceptual design by virtue of its antiquity, while at the same time regarding the associated praxis as something more profound than a form of re-enactment. Ritual structures are formed within a matrix comprising (as a minimum) spiritual universals, tribal or clan based particulars, historically shaped modes of behaviour and the cultural environment in which the ritual structures develop. Consequently, ritual praxis must respond dynamically to the changes in the cultural environment in order to be effective. By the same token, valuing ritual purely in terms of its historical trappings confuses the contingent form of ritual with the source of its functional power.
My own approach is to value Traditionalism as a methodology to be applied rather than to value the artefacts that it might generate at a given point in history. Traditionalism does not depend on the ossification of behaviours or on quasi-religious games of dress-up; rather it requires that we apply the core values and modes of being predicated by Traditionalism within our current historical context. It may be a paradox, even a Dagazian paradox, but Traditionalism is most effective and authentic when it is dynamic.
The Wheel of the Year, whether 6 spoked, 8 spoked or some other variation, is a wholly modern invention, but it is nonetheless authentic. What matters is that we approach it with a clear understanding of its history and value it as a useful tool rather than a faithful representation of ancestral conceptual structures.
If we take a Jungian approach to authenticity then the Wheel of the Year has much to offer and we will explore this in the next issue of the blog. . .
Purpose and Application
While there is no evidence that the Northern European peoples made use of a Wheel of the Year, the temporal divisions it displays and the festivals it records, were understood and embedded in the culture of our ancestors. Moreover, the Wheel of the Year visually emphasizes the pre-Christian understanding that time is non-linear.
A Wheel of the Year hanging on the wall can remind us on a deep level that time is a circular/ spiralling function. At its most basic level, it can also be used as a handy calendar. We can draw one out and use the dates of the current conventional calendar to ensure that we never miss Walpurgis Night again.
We could select a version of the Wheel of the Year that includes only those dates of consequence that we definitively know our ancestors marked through some particular celebration or rite. Using this model of a Wheel of the Year we can learn much about the aspects of life that mattered most to our ancestors; which seasonal periods were times of concern and anxiety and which were associated with plenty and conviviality.
At another level, the visual structure of the Wheel of the Year encourages us to think about the nature of time itself. In particular the circular repetition creates a model that both emphasises the permanence of the cycle of return and the ephemerality of each individual year. This in turn has implications for we might think of our own place in the Heathen cosmological model.
In closing this very brief consideration of the Wheel of the Year as a tool within our Tradition, I would like to suggest some thoughts about how we might use the concept to stimulate a deeper understanding of Rûna.
Runic epistemology as discussed in my Master-Work, moves from a trothful approach based on accepted lore and the knowledge given by our senses, through to a pragmatic and skilful application or manipulation of knowledge and finally to a deeper or wiser appreciation of the Mystery within. We can apply this epistemological triad to the different focal points in the wheel of the year and to the concept of the wheel as a whole. Each festival is both a moment of manifest trothful activity and requires the application of knowledge to be celebrated. From a runic perspective we can also use the three modes of knowing from the final stage of epistemology – Thinking, Remembering, and being fully conscious to explore the runic nature of these festivals more deeply.
Dr Jon Sharp