Rewriting the Wheel of the Year

When I first began celebrating the Wheel of the Year, at Yuletide 1995, I largely followed the Celtic traditions vis-a-vis the stories told and seasonal elements that were celebrated by each holiday. At the time, I was attending graduate school in Pittsburgh, PA, where the climate and weather patterns more closely resembled those of the British Isles. Everything seemed to fit, and our celebrations looked a bit like this:

 

Then, after graduating, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Suddenly, nothing seemed to fit any more. The holidays lost their magic and meaning for me. We just did not seem to have seasons at all, let alone those of the Celtic year, and so I abandonned the holidays, entirely.

It was not until my husband and I began our ecosystem restoration project in 2004, and I started carefully tracking the local climate and weather patterns, and the changes in the local flora, that I came to realize we did have seasons. Big, blatant, vibrant seasons. But nothing in my past experience had given me the tools with which to perceive them.

Overview of the Coast Range Seasons

Here in the coastal mountain range of California (just south of San Francisco), we are technically in the temperate zone, and technically well (enough) watered on non-drought years to qualify as “non-desert,” but the traditional Celtic cycles and symbols of the seasons do not work well for us because of exactly when and how our water arrives, because of the specific nature of our “four seasons,” and because of the very narrow range of temperatures we experience.

Our “winter” (Samhain-Imbolc) begins with the first rains (around Oct/Nov), and marks the time of most green growth in our landscapes. The grasses and wildflowers sprout (but do not yet flower). The evergreen oaks put on a growth spurt and exchange old leaves for new (the new growth is what pushes our leaf-drop, and not a process of hibernation). We very rarely get a bit of light frost, one or two times per “winter” but often none at all. No snow, no ice. Mostly just chilly rains with occasional weeks of 70-degree sunshine. Regular temps between 50-60s in day, and lows of 35-45 at night.

Our “spring”(Imbolc-Beltaine) is typically marked by vibrant flowering of everything that grows. Wildflowers riot on the hills. Temperatures more consistently reach the 60s and 70s in the day, but still in the 40-50 range at night. The rains peter out during this time.

By “summer” (Beltaine-Lammas), most of the native flowers in our area are finished (a few last into June). The rains are over. The land dries out quickly. Shrubs and trees are still deep green — at the start — but they quickly grow dusty and tired, and begin to go drought-deciduous in July. Temperatures, on sunny days, warm to 65-75 during the days with rare forays into the 80s, and lows in 50-60s. But with the arrival of the seasonal upwelling of icy water just off the coast comes the “May Grey” and “June Gloom” of our icy summer fog, which advances and recedes in a weekly cycle.  If you grow food of any kind except native berries and acorns, you are irrigating. And you still need to use row covers to keep much other than peas and “winter greens” growing in these coastal hills. The remains of the moisture in the ground from winter, coupled with slight increases in warmth lead to our oaks pushing their second round of new growth (and leaf drop) for the year. Then, they go drought-dormant as well.

From Lammas-Samhain (our “Autumn”) all deciduous trees lose all their leaves due to lack of water (rather than cold or darkness), Many shrubs do likewise. The hills are dead, dusty, brown. The fogs finally dissipate.  And now, we finally get some real heat.  And wildfires, feeding off the tinder-dry flora.  Wild animals start dying from lack of food and water. Everything waits in breathless anticipation of the return of the winter rains.

So, even though we are northern, temperate, and not a desert, we are still very different from the environments and nature cycles that gave rise to the traditional Celtic “Wheel of the Year.” We are not even truly “Mediterranean” here, as our weather never gets warm enough. Upon this realization, I felt inspired to rewrite the Wheel of the Year, to create new symbols and celebrations, in accordance with the actual seasons where we live.

My new Wheel of the Year (as of January 2018) looks like this:

The solstices and equinoxes have become celebrations of the key ecological markers of the seasons where we live. Yule is still most notable for being the darkest time of the year, and our celebrations focus on cultivating light in the darkness, planting seeds for the new year, and wassailing our fruit trees. Flower Fest is our celebration of the peak of California wildflower season, the arrival of the salad fairies, and the joy of all other unbidden blessings (like brush-rabbits breeding in the Salvia patch). Midsummer focuses on the cyclical waves of fog that roll in, and on the inward journeying, and search for inner wisdom, that the visual and auditory stillness of thick fog encourages. Rain Song is our heart-felt prayer for rain, and re-focuses our attention on emergency preparedness and on providing caring stewardship for all life, in the time of death and dearth that is California’s blistering Wildfire Season.

What is the shape of your Wheel of the Year?

Rituals for the Winter Solstice

Here in the central Coast Range Mountains of California, where I live, the Wheel of the Year is quite different from most other places in which Druidry is typically practiced. In order for my personal practice of Druidry to authentically connect with the land, sea, and sky with which I live, it was necessary to rewrite the Wheel of the Year and develop a completely new set of seasonal rituals, which honored our local spirits of place, and the wisdom embodied by the natural seasons and cycles, found here.

The following activities are those which I perform on the eve of the Winter Solstice. The rituals are begun indoors, at the foot of our Yule Tree, then move into the wet, greening gardens of our home, for the wassailing of the orchard, and the planting of native wildflower seeds in our muddy garden bio-swales. Gortex is the preferred ritual garb for this season!


RAIN SEASON – READ-ALOUD

I/We come to the Sacred Grove tonight, to celebrate the Winter Solstice, time of shortest days and weakest light, when the world around us seems most dark. In the Coast Range Mountains of California, the Winter Solstice is also the time when the Rainy Season reaches its full, majestic power. It brings much-needed water to the parched soils. It fills our lakes and reservoirs. It soaks long-dormant seeds, encouraging them to sprout. It swells the mycorrhizae in the soil, in preparation for next year’s drought. And it encourages the herbs, shrubs, and trees to push new growth, re-greening a world that has for so long been dead.

This is a time of great hope and joy. It is a time to plan and prepare for the learning, growing, and creative work of the new year. And it is time to offer support and encouragement to family and friends of both human and other-than-human-kind, as they prepare for their own seasons of bright new growth and creative expression.

It is also time to recall that the true power of magic is in our ability to control the thoughts and emotions which we allow to rule our minds, and hands, and hearts: ‘Tis the darkness or brightness one carries within that marks our true value to heavenly kin. It is time to choose joy, and rekindle inner light, in the deepest, darkest time of the year.


RAIN SEASON – ACTIVITIES

Light the Yule Tree.

Sing: “Spangle Dangle Glitter” (words and music by Larisa A. White)

If you would like to download a copy of the sheet music, for personal, private, non-commercial use, you may download a copy, here:

Spangle Dangle Glitter (basic lead sheet)

Spangle Dangle Glitter (duet lead sheet)

Spangle Dangle Glitter (sheet music for the full arrangement)


Place gifts for the family at the foot of the Yule Tree.

May these gifts bring joy to my human family.

Place an offering of native wildflower seed in the offering bowl on the altar.

May these gifts bring joy to my other-than-human family.

It is my intention, for myself, in the coming season of light and new growth, to…
(Fill in here with a spoken description of my plans for personal learning, spiritual growth, and creative expression in the coming year.)

Commit these intentions to writing, in ink on paper.
Place the written intentions into the prayer-box on the altar.

So may it be.

Wassail the family orchards.

Sing:  “Coast Range Wassail” (a traditional wassailing tune, with original lyrics by Larisa A. White)

If you would like to download a copy of the sheet music, for personal, private, non-commercial use, you may download a copy, here:

Coast Range Wassail (lead sheet)

Scatter native wildflower seeds in the muddy swales of our native garden.

Return to the foot of the Yule Tree to close.

“Coast Range Wassail”

original lyrics set to a traditional wassailing tune,
words by Larisa A. White

I composed new lyrics to this traditional wassailing tune, in order to make it more relevant to my local flora, fauna, and ecology, and particularly, to the denizens of our little family orchard, which we began wassailing each year, as part of our Yuletide celebrations:

If you would like to download a copy of the sheet music, for personal, private, non-commercial use, you may download a copy, here:

Coast Range Wassail (lead sheet)

The True Colors of Humanity

by Larisa White of California, U.S.A.

Brazilian photographer Angélica Dass has created a wonderful exhibit that explores the true colors of the human race, calling into question the absurd habit of referring to people as belonging overly-simplistic color categories like “black”, “white”, “red”, or “yellow.” She calls it her Humanae Project.

For this project, she has photographed thousands of people, from many different countries around the world. She then took a sample of color pixels from the area of their noses, and matched this color to a Pantone color code, and used that matching Pantone color as background for the portrait. A sampling of the portraits she created looks like this:

 

For me, seeing this work has been a delight, as it demonstrates so beautifully what I have been trying to teach my own family, in words — when asked how a family made up of one “whitish” European mutt, one “yellowish” Asian-American mutt, and one “cocoa-brownish” Ethiopian boy can really be a family when we all look so completely different. The things that unite us in love cannot be seen in the surface-coloration of the individuals. True beauty is only found in the complexity of wondrous diversity.

Ecological Succession in Alaska

I just returned from a week-long cruise to Alaska. It was amazing to spend time in a place where the Living Earth was so blatantly ALIVE — changing land, with geological contours reshaping themselves before your very eyes; changing waters with 20+ foot tidal swings, and flowing ice rivers crashing into the sea; changing skies with dancing mists and clouds and rain. Cruising – in a single day – revealed a complete, 200-year ecological succession story along the length of Glacier Bay.  It began with the bare rock, recently exposed by receding glaciers. The next step was the arrival of mosses & lichens, which clung to the bare rock and began to crumble it into soil. Then, there were the first few pioneer herb plants and low-growing shrubs.  Then, the first few trees to establish, followed by a young forest, and at last, a majestic stand of old-growth rainforest, swirling in mist. WOW!!! A sampling of images, for your enjoyment:

A tidal glacier, calving:

A receding glacier (note the river of ice, which no longer reaches the sea):

Pioneer mosses and lichens on bare rock:

Hills covered in low herbs; a field of saplings on lower ground:

A full-blown temperate rain-forest:

The power and speed of change evident in these landscapes reminds me of just how powerful Mother Earth really is, and how well she is able to recover from dramatic climate changes. In an age where worries about human-generated climate change have caused so many people to despair, this story — written in land, sea, and sky — also gives us a reason to hope.