Increasingly, as we become more attuned to holistic approaches and the intersection of body-mind-spirit, we are expanding our awareness of the diverse influences upon physical, emotional, and energetic well-being. We pay attention to home, leisure, and work environments. We read labels to determine the integrity of ingredients that we put into our bodies. We shift to natural cleaning solutions to eliminate chemicals from our quest for cleanliness. We bring peace into our bodies with meditation and yoga. But, though we can feel great love and affinity with Nature, we don't always necessarily extend our awareness of the impact of the environment upon our overall health to that of Nature around us, particularly as it relates to the annual dance through the cycle of the seasons. There is much informal evidence to support the concept that, consciously or not, we innately understand this impact. Many of us feel the urge to cocoon in the cold, barren months of Winter. We feel our spirits come alive once more in the refreshing, warming breezes of Spring. We tend to feel amazing in the long, hot days of the Summer, but we can become melancholy in the face of the decay we see around us in the Fall.
The word "innate" itself alludes to how internal and unconscious this process is. Related to the same Latin root that gives us "natal," "nativity," and "native," innate refers to something with which we are born and hat we carry within us. It points to that which is both archetypal and enduring. That so many of us respond similarly to what is going on in Nature around us helps to illuminate what the archetypal energies are. Pagans connect to these mythological themes through ritual. Drawing on the teachings and traditions from the ancestors, the Wheel of the Year helps to position us in the agricultural growing and harvest cycle. It is an easy shift from the physical world to the emotional and psychological one. Archetypal psychology accomplishes a similar result on an individual, personal level by asking the question, "How do these archetypal energies affect me and how can I utilize them to create change in my life?" Rather than focus on the natural world, the growing and harvest cycle references something within us. The seeds we plant. The hailstorms that threaten. The bounty we celebrate.
In my work as a Spiritual Psychotherapist, I have noted how the themes of presenting issues across a spectrum of clients from innumerable backgrounds very often reflect the energies of the season in which we find ourselves. This does not minimize the veracity of the client's experience, nor does it invalidate its significance. Rather, it points to yet another aspect of Nature's brilliance to help guide us to our inner truth. It acts as a mirror to help us see what within us may still be in need of attention.
In my book, The Great Work: Self-Knowledge and Healing Through the Wheel of the Year, I present each of the eight spokes on the Wheel of the Year from eight perspectives that, when combined, illustrate where an individual may be on the physical, emotional, mental, and energetic levels. The central anchor is the mythological theme that draws on the ancient traditions and practices with which many a Pagan are familiar. The mythological theme is that innate archetypal energy that provides the framework and impetus for potential healing. Seeing Ostara as a time of resurrection or Samhain as a time of mystery and transition is accessing the archetypal perspective. It is both timeless and universal. And thus, it is an extremely powerful and profound approach.
Expanding the archetypal themes into a holistic perspective, eight different paths for each spoke on the Wheel are presented through which to deepen our understanding both of the theme and our own relation to it. Focusing on the physical, there are the elemental and the active paths. Focusing on emotional healing, there are the developmental and the psychological paths. Appealing to the more intellectual or mental aspect of self, there are the alchemical and energetic paths. And, allowing for expansion into communication and communion with the Divine, there are the guidance and intuitive paths. One theme exploring the four aspects of being through eight paths. The purpose of identifying how these themes play out in our lives is to understand where we may still be blocked or challenged. It helps us to use the energy of the season and the tools or paths for each to jumpstart our own batteries, achieving holistic health with a transformational approach.
So how might this work? How can you start to incorporate the Wheel of the Year into a practical modality for self-understanding and healing? There really are innumerable ways to approach it, but here are five easy ways to start.
- Identify your own personal flow.
How do you respond to each spoke on the Wheel of the Year? Is there a particular Sabbat to which you feel aligned? Is there one during which you would ideally like to hide under the covers until it is well gone? To tell the truth, in my line of work, I don't fuss too much about those things that are going well in our lives. If it is "of the Light" and provides positive energy, optimism, vision, and support, then that is wonderful. I say best to leave well enough alone, although it can be very helpful to acknowledge and anchor that positivity. It is, after all, light that we need to see our way through the dark. But I tend to be far more interested in what we try to hide from or push away. Though it can feel very uncomfortable, this is where the potential for growth lies. So, in looking to how you flow through the Wheel of the Year, where are your bumpy bits? When you have identified them, ask yourself the following questions:
- What it is about this time of year that makes me uncomfortable?
- Is there an experience in my past that happened around this time of year that still brings up fear or anger or sadness in me?
- How does this time of year relate to the cycle of growth and fulfillment and what might my resistance tell me about my own openness to manifestation?
How we respond to the time of the year and the cycle of the seasons has far less to do with Nature itself than it has to do with our own inner life. Fall is not inherently depressing, even though everything is dying around us. But if we are not able to flow with the need to let go, we will definitely struggle during the time when everything around us is pretty much reinforcing the message that life and everything in it is transitory. For years, I found myself out of sync with Spring. By the time Ostara came around, I was not only exhausted, but I was discouraged that I was exhausted. I felt the world coming alive around me, yet did not have the energy to join in. It was not until I recognized that I had a tendency to push myself full-bore from Samhain through to Imbolc without honoring my body's natural impulse to slow down and embrace the stillness echoing in the Earth that I was able to shift myself. Now I try to acknowledge a bit more "bear energy" in the Winter months with the joy of napping and welcome an inner surge with the groundhog in February.
- Apply the awareness of personal flow to varied expressions of cycle.
The beautiful thing about cycles is that the same pattern exists no matter how big or small you make it. The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that we see in the Wheel of the Year is reflected as much in a day or in a lifetime as it is in a year. As such, the same form of exploration can be applied to a day or a life. In truth, we can extend this to past and future lives as well. Cycles of patterns repeat. We can use this truism to find where patterns have gone off-kilter and to seek guidance on how bring them back into resonance again. Ask yourself:
- Am I an early bird or a night owl?
- Do I long for the freedom of childhood?
- Or the freedom of retirement?
- Does my physical energy wane at a particular time of the day?
If you do find certain daily patterns or feel a strong connection to a particular stage of life, determine the correspondence on the Wheel of the Year. As with looking at personal flow, this can help you gain a sense of what is supporting you at this time and what may benefit from some shifting. Longing for the teenage years, reflective of when the year is past its first fledgling months but still quite vibrant, can indicate a need to look at how to transition from Beltane to Litha. Beltane is great, but if we don't keep on moving through those every-so-important Summer growing months, we aren't going to have much of a harvest.
- Pay attention to which particular deities call to you at what times.
Do you feel that you have been touched by a specific reflection of the Divine Feminine or Masculine? Do you have a special relationship with a particular God or Goddess? Or even several? Have you found that different ones present themselves to you at different times in your life? To see how the Gods and Goddesses show up in your life as speaking to what is actually going on in your life at that time gives you wonderful tools for moving through whatever challenges you may be facing.
At a certain point in my life, after reading Merlin Stone's The Paradise Papers: The Suppression of Women's Rites (London: Virago, 1976), I found Artemis showed up for me again and again. She reflected to me a deep anger that women's sacred spaces had been destroyed so many centuries ago, calling for me to harness young, invigorating, indefatigable energy and create a Goddess Temple in my basement. Lilith showed up when I was considering entering a particular academic training program. Her message, which came in a beautiful meditation that saw Her dancing out of a walled gate into open spaces with flowers sprouting from Her feet, was an unequivocal, "Do not choose that path, but choose instead this other." (Interestingly, this other path was the one that ultimately led to me writing The Great Work.) Ceridwen was by my side constantly during my beloved Mom's last days. I still vividly remember praying, "Please, Ceridwen, embrace her in Your arms and let her be free" just hours before my Mom's spirit left the earthly plane.
Though it does happen amazingly often that what we are going through within ourselves reflects what is transpiring in Nature, there are those times when circumstances highlight different "seasons" within. If Hekate comes in Spring, ask yourself, "What of the wisdom of the Great Mystery might I be exploring at this time?" Or if Poseidon comes to you in Winter, ask yourself, "What emotions may be lying beneath the surface that could possibly become turbulent if left unchecked?"
- Be aware of Animal Guides, Nature Spirits, and Ancestors.
When we pay attention to the natural world, we see that there are certain aspects of Nature that are more prevalent at certain times. Though we can certainly connect to fairies and ancestors at any time of the year, fairies tend to be more evident when trees and flowers are in their full glory and we tend to feel the presence of ancestors more acutely as the year wanes. Though every year brings the full spectrum of creepy-crawlies, I find each year tends to bring a particular species a bit more vigorously than the others. It is interesting to pull the symbolic significance of this buggy abundance to gain some insight into what the personal or interpersonal energies may be in the coming months. Over the past few years, I found May and June brought the year of spiders, the year of ants, and the year of the nipping ladybugs. I found myself proceeding forth with particular caution and awareness the May that hinted at the year of the centipedes—hiding out in the damp, dark places with the ability to move alarmingly fast! I am not suggesting that our region was inundated with these creatures. In the way that Spirit so often works, there was something in me that brought those particular creatures into my field of awareness. As with all other psychospiritual approaches, it is always the response that indicates the places of learning and growth. You could say, "One man's spider is another man's butterfly." I consider the animals and creatures we love to be Light teachers and those we seek to avoid at all costs to be Shadow teachers. Ultimately, they are all teachers—as are the beings of the non-physical world such as Elementals, angels, and ancestors.
- Let your body be involved.
By definition, a holistic approach involves all aspects of the whole. We can appreciate sensing the energy of the cycles within us and we can learn wonderful things by approaching the cycle through archetype and metaphor, but how does the body actually and physically respond? One of the greatest pitfalls encountered in the healing arts is that we stop at knowing something without pulling it into our bodies and enacting the change to make a difference. I may know something in my head, but if I don't know it in every cell of my body, chances are I won't shift. As you move through the Wheel of the Year, listen to your body.
- Does it want to sleep?
- Does it want to dance?
- Does it feel disconnected or flighty?
- Is it filled with languid fluidity?
- Or is it filled with stuck, heavy, burdensome solidity?
There is great wisdom held in the body and the particular beauty of the body's wisdom is that it not only tells us where the challenge lies, it also provides the answer of how to respond. If your body feels like singing, allow that energy to move through you. You may not want to burst into song on the bus, but take a moment to acknowledge that wonderful energy flowing through you. And maybe let a tune come out once you arrive home. It may be reflecting the birdsong of Spring, bringing new life to a project or activity.
The most important thing to remember when seeking within to learn more about yourself is to approach the inquiry from a place of curiosity and gentleness. Regardless of whether you are using the Wheel of the Year as a template through which to explore or whether you are engaged in any other of myriad approaches, discovering what makes you tick benefits from the same tenderness as nurturing a delicate, new bud. Each of these five methods has the potential to open you up to a new relationship both with yourself and with the world around you. The greatest adventure, albeit never without challenge, is that of discovering the truth of who you are and embarking on a life in full bloom.