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The Druid Circle Of The Year - Part One: It's Scheme and Conception

On previous posts I discussed about the lunar influences on theThe Gaulish Lunisolar Calendar System Properties and Months and Historical Sources, which in fact is an attempt to reconcile both the cycles of the moon and sun, as is the modern Gregorian calendar.

Afterwards I outlined an insight to The Wheel Of The Year, a NeoPagan calendar based upon the annual cycle of Earth's seasons. Seasonal Festivals or Celtic Sabbats, and the observance of Solar energies at the solstices and equinoxes and the Fire energies on the cross quarter days, is a common theme throughout the world.

But how do Druids conceive this Wheel?
The lineage of the Druid spiritual tradition can be traced across many thousands of years of time. There is an interesting blog upon the Eight-Fold Year (aka known as The Wheel Of The Year) as posted by Philip Carr-Gomm , founder of The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. all rights reserved by the author.

Philip Carr-Gomm states "Gerald Gardner, with the help of Ross [Nichols], had introduced 'Traditional British Wicca' to the public... Both men drew on folklore, mythology and the Western magical tradition to create new kinds of spiritual practice rooted in the pre-Christian traditions of the British Isles and Ireland."(P Carr-Gomm "Druid Mysteries" Rider Books 2002, pbk p49)
Nichols, who used the name Nuinn as founder of the Druidic Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, was, like Gardner, a member of the Ancient Druid Order. He joined Gardner's Five Acres naturist club and helped edit Gardner's book "Witchcraft Today".(R Hutton "Triumph Of The Moon" OUP 1999, p244)

It seems likely the two were friends during the late forties and Carr-Gomm credits Nichols and Gardner with joint responsibility for founding modern paganism. It may not be too far fetched, therefore, to presume that Nichols may have influenced Gardner in developing an existing prediliction towards the pre-Christian Celtic religion as a basis for the Eightfold Festivals. If so, he was already building on the work of Robert Graves.

From anecdotal evidence, the Eightfold Wheel or the Wheel of the Year - the seasonal cycle of Wiccan festivals - did not spring fully formed with Gardner's covens, but grew as Wicca became more popular. These are the natural divisions of the year, and all of them were celebrated by our pagan Celtic ancestors in Druidic times.

"When I met the old Chief Druid, Nuinn, -as Carr-Gomm states- he spoke of a way that had never severed its connection with nature, and which conveyed a sense of the immanence of the divine in all things. In Druidry you communed with God in the 'temple not made with hands', in the 'eye of the sun', in the open air, in the environment made by God not by humans. In Druidry God was seen as being in everything, omnipresent yet manifesting differently in stone and star, tree and celandine.

I was introduced to a way of orienting my life that meant I could be in tune with nature, not separate from it. Looking back, I now realise what an extraordinary gift it was for me to have been given such a way of understanding life at such an early age. My teacher explained the festival scheme, the central observance-pattern of Druidry, to me one day in this way:

'Take your life and its events. Place them in one line with birth at one end and death at the other end', he said to me in a cafe, picking up a knife to illustrate his point, 'and you have an isolated line beginning in the void and terminating in the void. Other lines might run parallel to yours, collide or cross, but they will all end as they begun - with nothing.' He paused, looked at me with a shrug, and then said 'But we know life isn't really like that. We know that death is followed by rebirth because we see it with the rebirth of life in the Spring, and, if we are lucky, we remember it when we reach far back in our own memories. So life is like this,' he said gesturing to the plate, 'Not this!' [putting the knife down with a touch of theatre, as people started to look at us in the cafe.]

He then ran his finger around the circumference of the plate, saying, 'You are born, you grow old, you die' bringing his finger back to the starting point, and then again 'You are born, you are a child, a young man, an old man, you die. You are born, you die,' and so on, several times until he put the plate down to allow the waitress to serve our meal.

'What is it that guides the course of this cycle - this circling?' He asked me. My mind went blank for a moment. 'What lies at the centre of this wheel? What or who is responsible for its turning?' I got it: 'My soul - my true identity that endures through every life!' 'Exactly,' he said, placing a pat of butter in the centre of my dish of spaghetti to mark the place of my Soul.

Adapted from: Carr-Gomm, P. (1991). The elements of theDruid tradition.
Rockport, MA:Element Books, Inc.

'Now let us forget the individual,' he went on, 'and look at the world. The seasons are clearly cyclical - one following the other inexorably. So we can place them on a circle. That is the circle of the year. But the life of each day we can place on a circle too - it is born at dawn, reaches its peak at noon, and passes from dusk into night, before being reborn again the next day.' He began circling his plate with his finger, more gingerly now, to avoid the food.

"The circle of the year and the circle of the day have affinities."

"Winter is like the dead of night, when all is still.
Spring is like the dawn of the day when the birds awaken and praise the sun.
Summer is like noon - a time of maximum heat and growth.
Autumn is like the evening, when the autumn colours seem like the colours of the sunset.
So there are the two cycles of the Earth harmoniously brought together.

'Who or what do you think it is that controls the turning of this wheel?' he said, taking the opportunity finally to begin eating, and also taking great pleasure in the coincidence that now he needed to turn his spaghetti on a fork, which operation he naturally chose to perform in the centre of the plate. Again, for a moment my mind went blank. 'God?' I said. 'Well, yes, God is at the centre and is the cause of everything. But what specifically causes the cycle of the day and the seasons on Earth is the Sun.'

'The Sun causes the wheel to turn.'

I thought about this and realised it was true. Leaning forward he peered at me intently for a moment, before asking his next question: 'And what do you think the connection is between your cycle' he said, pointing to my plate, 'and the cycle of the earth?' pointing to his plate. For the moment I could see no connection - they seemed entirely separate as were our two plates of spaghetti.

Nuinn circled his plate with his finger once more. 'Birth, death, rebirth. Winter Solstice - the longest night. Will the sun be reborn? Yes! And here, opposite, at the Summer Solstice he is at his maximum strength, at the time of the longest day.'

Pointing to the top of my plate, he said 'Here you are born, incarnated as a spark of light, and there,' pointing to the other side of my plate, 'you are in the prime of your life.' He suddenly grabbed the pepper pot and made a dash of pepper on my plate at these two points, saying 'Summer, Winter.' And then two further splashes were made to either side: 'Spring and Autumn.'

Pointing at each mark, he continued 'Here we see how the cycle of your life and the life of the Earth are entwined.'

'The Spring is the time of your childhood,
the Summer the time of your manhood,
the Autumn the time of your maturity in old age,
and Winter is the time of your death.'

'At the centre of the turning wheel of your life is your Soul.
At the centre of the turning wheel of the Earth is the Sun.'

He looked around the table for something to use, then with a flourish he tossed a spoonful of parmesan cheese into the centre of my half-eaten pile of spaghetti. 'The Sun and your Soul! Now perhaps you know why the Sun is revered so much in Druidry.'

At this point I experienced one of those sudden rushes of insight in which everything seems to come together and make sense in one flash, even though one's everyday mind cannot quite grasp all the connections. 'This is perhaps why it is said that the Druids believed that our Souls originate in the Sun. They believed that between lives we go to rest on the moon until our last three incarnations on earth, when we are allowed to rest between lives in the heart of the Sun, with those golden Solar Beings who guide the destiny of our planet.'

That was my introduction to the Eightfold Scheme that lies at the heart of Druidry, and indeed the Western Pagan Tradition, of which Druidry is one manifestation and Wicca another. Both Druids and Witches celebrate these eight festivals, although in a different way, and with different rites.

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