When I first came to Druidry I put in some years honouring the wheel of the year. During that process, I learned that what I was working with is a modern system, inspired by Celtic practice, but not an authentic historical model for nature worship. There’s lots of evidence from the alignments of stones and burial sites that our ancestors honoured the solstices back into pre-history. There’s far less for the equinoxes, and little folklore to go with them. As for the ‘fire festivals’ of Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain – these are not universal Celtic festivals. Those are Irish names, and my understanding is that there’s little evidence to suggest any group of people historically honoured all of them. (Ronald Hutton is my source here)
The wheel of the year is a useful system for organising people to meet up and share ritual in community. On those terms, it doesn’t really matter what its origins are. The reason it exists in both modern Druidry and Wicca has a great deal to do with the relationship between Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner. It can be useful, but if it isn’t, don’t feel restrained by it.
The trouble with the wheel of the year is that even within the British Isles, we don’t all get the same seasons at the same time. We may well also get local phenomena that are important to our landscape but that don’t fit into the wheel of the year. I live close to the River Severn, and the bores on the river are of great local significance. We get migratory swans coming in for the winter. We’re traditionally a sheep rearing area, but there are no lambs in the fields at Imbolc, they’re out now.
Over recent years, I’ve built up a seasonal calendar of things that are part of my landscape –much of it has to do with which flowers bloom when, and I make a point of going out to see them. It’s all very personal and immediate to where I live, and it shifts year to year depending on the exact weather conditions. It’s also a constantly expanding process as I learn more, or find new places to see particular things.
Rather than celebrate the wheel of the year, I’m in a week by week process of encountering the slow turn of the seasons. I don’t know how my Pagan ancestors celebrated in this landscape – there was a temple on the Cotswold plateau, but I do not know what they did there. Roman ancestors in the area likely honoured Orpheus, if the mosaic at Woodchester is indicative. Anyone living near the Severn will have honoured the river, and some of them called her the Goddess Sabrina, and I expect some of them honoured the elvers who used to be a seasonal feature and a significant part of the local diet.
There are many barrows in this landscape. They are in exposed, hilltop locations and if you want to spend time with them you really have to be there in the summer, because in the dark half of the year, the perpetual wind around them, and the cold makes them inaccessible. You can’t do ritual around a barrow when the wind takes your voices. Whatever was done here with the barrows, I feel confident that the end of October was not a focus.
I find it hard to imagine that anyone round here was, before the arrival of modern Paganism, celebrating Irish-named festivals. Aside from being confident about the river, I don’t know what people might have celebrated. Thus it makes more sense to me to develop my own relationship with this landscape, as I encounter it now and not how it may have been in the rather different climate of two thousand years ago and more.