There is no longer a question of whether the Crisis of 2020 will happen—we are deep in it. The question has now become what will happen. Impeachment, which a few years ago would have been the event of the decade, is now totally eclipsed by the COVID-19 epidemic. By the end of the year, that, too, may be eclipsed by the next crescendo of the crisis. This is how the saecular season of Winter unfolds: one storm after another batters us.
The concept of the saeculum, the Great Year, comes to us from the Etruscans. Like the Wheel of the Year, the Great Year has four seasons, each about twenty years long, with the entire cycle taking about eighty years—the length of a long human lifespan. In other words, every eighty years or so, we pass through an era of crisis, our saecular Winter.
Let's count backwards. Eighty years back from 2020 is 1940, with the world at war and the US on the brink of World War II. Eighty years beyond that brings us to 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War. Eighty-four years beyond that brings us to 1776 and the American Revolution. And so on back: the rhythm of our lives is the rhythm of the long seasons. Winter comes, a crisis comes to a head and is resolved. Spring comes and we expand in optimism and hope. Summer comes and we are laden with passionate uncertainty as society undergoes social change. Autumn comes and we grow cynical at the same time that the pursuit of wealth becomes paramount. Each season repeats in its turn throughout history.
Therefore, it's no surprise that 2020 is a year of crisis in a season of crisis. While we cannot ever entirely predict the exact form of the crisis, we can absolutely predict there will be crises, just as we can predict cold weather in winter. We may not be able to say months ahead that it will snow on a particular date, but it's no surprise if you live in Minneapolis that it snows in January!
In other words, we might not have been able to exactly predict COVID-19, but we could certainly see the signs that our medical systems and infrastructure have been stressed for a long time, leaving them vulnerable to an outside event that would test them to the max. Sooner or later, some event would. It's like driving on a tire that's low. It might not blow this time, but sooner or later it will unless you fix the tire. When it does blow, it's not a shock.
History tells us that each crisis era lasts 4-7 years before it reaches resolution. Based on our Pagan understanding of the Great Wheel, in mid-2020 we have perhaps five years of Winter ahead of us. What can we expect in the next months? What is our long-range forecast?
In the summer and autumn of 2020 we can expect an increase in climate-related natural disasters. Record warmth over the winter has left sea temperatures unusually high, which often presages an active hurricane season with strong storms. What storms will reach the US and when is entirely variable, but it is likely that at least one major hurricane will come ashore in the Gulf or Eastern Seaboard with serious consequences. Likewise, the corresponding dry and hot temperatures in the West make an active fire season probable. It's no secret that fire season has been getting worse. We can expect that to continue.
The Election of 2020 will be unlike any other in our lifetime, perhaps unlike any other in American history. Bluntly, if Donald Trump loses, do you think he will shake hands, say the best man won, and quietly retire? Or do you think he will challenge the legitimacy of the election, refuse to relinquish power, and ask his supporters to rise in his defense? How this plays out depends on many things, including the makeup of state legislatures who will choose electors to the Electoral College and certify/refuse to certify their states' returns, the exact nature of election day disruptions, and whose orders various military and civil authorities decide to obey. Astrologically, we are headed for enormous upheavals in late December, just at the point when the election may finally be decided. By January 2021 we may have either president or multiple claimants to the presidency, each recognized by different states or different groups of people. The dice are rolling. The only certainty is crisis.
Early in 2021 we will be in the thick of it. As with hurricanes, it's impossible to predict this far out exactly which communities will see major disruption, though it's safe to say some will. Will this simply be a few armed radicals having stand-offs with local law enforcement? Or will it be official bodies squaring off—ICE against the Coast Guard, Blackwater-style companies against urban police departments, or National Guard units against militia? We don't know. But we do know that tempers are high, guns are available, rhetoric is increasing in intensity, and the cohesive bonds that prevent violence are waning. The momentum is running toward a change as profound as the American Revolution or the Civil War.
Spring will come. Somewhere around 2025 Winter will end. We will pass into the next season with this crisis resolved. What that resolution will be depends on the events of the next few years, but inevitably, certainly, Spring will come.
So how do we, as individuals and responsible members of society, weather these crises? First, we bear in mind that others always have. Because the Great Wheel is 80 years long, few people experience the same season twice except as very young children and again in old age. Today, those who took an active part in World War II are few and far between. We feel that our era of crisis is unique because we literally cannot remember the last time this happened. However, those who came before us left us road maps to the season, something I explore in my book, Winter: Rituals to Thrive in the Dark Cycle of the Saeculum. We can find and follow the maps our ancestors left us.
Second, we must each do our part. No one can sit this out. Whether it's by creating a haven for people displaced by wildfires and hurricanes or taking care of the children of medical professionals fighting an epidemic or by taking an active role as guardians of our communities ourselves, the way to the best resolution of the crisis is by being the heroes we need.
Third, we must conserve the things of value, protect the things that make life rich and beautiful so that in the Spring we will have nice things. Whether through the arts or through scholarship, whether through virtual curation of music or actual protection of cultural treasures, we can't lose sight of the things that make our lives and communities joyful.
As Pagans, we have an intuitive understanding of cyclical time. The Great Wheel is simply the Wheel of the Year writ large. We can use that understanding, and our connection with the gods, to do what needs to be done to resolve the crisis era well. In Winter I provide examples of rites for each of these actions, calling upon Classical deities such as Diana Nemorensis in her role as protector of the vulnerable, Mars the warrior who guards the community, and Mercury who aids clear and accurate communication. With their help, we can be our best selves and rise to the occasion of our times.
The main thing to remember is that while we may not be able to predict the exact events of the next five years, we know that they will challenge us. We are already in the Crisis of 2020. We are deep in Winter. It is going to get worse before it gets better. But it will get better. Just as winter inevitably comes, so does Spring. It's on us to make our Winter choices wisely so that when the time comes we can step into Spring unafraid.
Jo Graham (North Carolina) has practiced in Pagan and Hermetic traditions for more than thirty years, including leading an eclectic circle for nearly a decade. Dedicated in 1989, she took her mastery in 2004. She has studied ...