Many contemporary Pagans use some form of the Wheel of the Year to mark the Sabbats, the eight times of ritual celebration usually determined by the sun's procession, and the general seasons we experience. At least, that's what I was always led to believe during much of my training with different groups and traditions. Solstice and equinox mark the quarters of the wheel, and the midpoint between covers the "cross quarters". The odd thing is that we rarely actually do what we're saying we're doing here.
I'm not talking about the unfortunate trend contemporary Paganism has all too easily adopted of celebrating the Sabbats when it's convenient, as though they were a dentist appointment, but I'm talking about the fact that so many Pagans are so out of touch with the natural cycles of our world that they've just taken to using the Gregorian calendar, a Christian invention, to dictate their holiest of days. Don't believe me? Ask yourself or nearest Pagan when your Samhain celebration is this year. I've seen where it's being done as early as the 21st of October this year. Why? So everyone can attend all the Samhain celebrations, of course. Where's the sanctity in that? Are these rituals performed at our most sacred times of the year or are they holiday parties with a bit of chanting and deity lip service thrown in to assuage the guilt?
I'm not judging anyone for how they "do their thing", it just seems that so many of us complain about living unfulfilled, "out-of-sync" lives, and the answer for so many of us is to simplify those lives and get back in touch with the cycles of world. It doesn't mean give up your stuff or live in poverty, but if you have a bunch of stuff and you still feel unfulfilled, do you really think the answer is adding more stuff to the mix, and all the efforts and stress that go along with those acquisitions?
So what am I talking about when I say "by the stars"? Well, I think most of us can agree that because the solstice and equinox are both derived from astronomical phenomena, it stands to reason that the midpoints between them also do. We used to use the stars (especially the one closest to us) to determine the timing of all of this. The midpoints today, however, don't usually follow this formula. Take Samhain, for example, which is celebrated on October 31st is the northern hemisphere, even though in 2012, the midpoint really is November 6th. The same shift occurs for all the cross quarter days, in other words, Pagans commonly celebrate the cross quarter Sabbat earlier than they think they are. What's even more interesting is that the earliest reference to Samhain, on the Coligny Calender dating to around the 2nd century AD, marks Samhain in terms of summer, according to today's scholars, not autumn, and doesn't clearly define it in a way that we could fit it into the framework of our modern calendar. Regardless of the seasonal difference, the framework of using the stars/sky as the determining factor for the celebrations is clearly in the origins of Sabbats.
So who's right? There is no right answer to something like this, but my belief is that if we have a contemporary understanding that Sabbats are determined by the stars, informed by historical evidence from around the world, not just Coligny, France, then we should stick to that, even if it's inconvenient to do so. Perhaps the palpable sacrifice of celebrating a Sabbat at the actual time, which is likely what was done in the past, when such times were considered much more sacred than we seem to hold them today, might increase not only our appreciation, but also our connection to the sacredness of these times and for the reasons we do the rituals.
I'll be talking more about this topic on the Samhain 2012 episode of Pagan Musings, but I wanted to at least lay a foundation for the concept of The Wheel of the Year in my spiritual tradition, the Winding Path because frankly a lot of you are writing me asking for it.