Category Archives: Nature

The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year

The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year is a solar calendar marking the eight seasonal points of the ancient and indigenous western European holiday tradition.

It has always been vital for human survival to live in tune with the seasonal cycle in order to plan ahead and prepare for the various environmental changes that occur over a year. Our lithic ancestors needed to know when berries ripen, when herds migrate or when the snow comes just for basic survival. Along the way certain specific celestial events were noted that marked the beginnings and midpoints of the seasons and these dates were set apart as special. As civilization developed and farming became central to life, celebrations and holidays were created through tradition and the foresight of wise and creative participants. This is such an intrinsic part of our evolutionary heritage that our greatest holidays, those with long histories attached to them still carry these ancient seasonal and astronomical markers.

In the mid 20th century an uncertain group of Euro-traditionalist scholars combined the four-point seasonal holidays of the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tradition with a quite similar though differently organized traditional Celtic holiday calendar to create the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle. Though originally combined by neo-pagans to satisfy their need for a holiday cycle and to reclaim the old ways, it corresponds naturally with the holiday cycle already celebrated throughout Western civilization. It serves as a useful toolbox for those desiring to orient themselves with a more naturalistic or even indigenous outlook on life.

The Holidays

There is no “true” beginning or end to the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle, and different communities begin their year at different points for cultural and historical reasons of their own. Since I have a strong affinity for the Irish Celtic orientation I would normally begin with Samhain, but for this article I’ll start at at a point that seems like a more natural beginning, Yule.

Each holiday is presented below in brief. Click on the name of each holiday to be taken to a full article describing that day in more detail.

Yule, Dec 21st
A Germanic holiday in its origin, Yule falls at the winter solstice. It’s a time of new beginnings as the midpoint of winter. After two brutal months of winter the days are finally becoming longer once again and there is hope for a new summer just months ahead. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of a new year, and new sun. Yule traditions coupled with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia and transferred into a Christian context have been handed down to us as the modern day Christmas.

Imbolc, Feb 1
Imbolc is an Irish holiday. It’s the first defining evidence of the fulfillment of the promise made at Yule. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun has begun to show signs of his virility. This is when seeds that have lain dormant in the earth begin to show the first signs of sprouting. Life is starting to become more active after the hard winter. It is a time for lovers. The symbolism of Imbolc has been adapted into multiple different celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.

Ostara, March 21st
Ostara falls on the Spring Equinox. At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the Spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the animals are starting their mating dances as pollen wafts through the air. This holiday was wholesale converted, name and all into the Church as Easter and many of its symbolism such as rabbits and colored eggs were adopted along with it.

Beltane, May 1
Beltane is an Irish holiday and is also full of fertility symbolism. As the crops and herds are flourishing and pollinators are active, sexuality is pervasive through Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for trysts and escapades. The Maypole with its phallic symbolism was commonly danced at Beltane.

Midsummer, June 21st
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness. It is the counterpart to Yule, the fulfillment of prophecy. The Solar Hero born at Yule rises to his destiny. He could be King Arthur, Lugh Lamfada or God.

Lugnasadh, Aug 1
Lugnasadh is the first real harvest festival. It means “The Wake of Lugh.” As autumn approaches, summer day’s become noticeably shorter as winter’s grip is only a short way off and the sun begins to die. As a celebration many competitions and public dances are traditional.

Mabon, Sept 21

Mabon is the autumnal equinox. To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The Solar Hero is near death, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in steadily to rule the land. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat and the hero meets his doom.

Samhain, Oct 31st-Nov 1st
Samhain traditionally celebrates the last harvest of the season. It was the highest feast day on the old Celtic calendar and often regarded as the Celtic New Year. It represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season, the season of death as the solar hero lies slain. As such the date is associated with ghosts and dark themes eventually becoming the modern day Halloween.

As you see, the Solar Wheel follows the annual cycle through the activity of the sun and its relationship with the earth in order to sustain life. The symbolism associated with that has been built into allegories, mythologies and cultures, but at their core lays our genuine evolutionary nature. As natural beings, we are dependent upon this cycle of life, the dance between sun and earth. By living in tune with the seasonal cycle along with other traditions, customs and philosophies which I can only call Indigenist, I think we become more centered and grounded as human beings and more complete. With that completeness we lose a lot of insecurity, and anxiety about the meaning of it all and our place within it. This is just such a thing I think can help restore a bit of sanity to modern humanity.


Ostara and the Origin of Easter’s Symbolism

Easter is perhaps the most significant day on the Western liturgical calendar, celebrated in commemoration of the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion on Good Friday. Many of the symbols and traditions of Easter have their origins in an older, Germanic tradition that is still celebrated to this day by Christians and neopagan revivalists alike, Ostara.

Ostara is traditionally celebrated on March 21, spring equinox as it is the solar compliment to Easter’s lunar reckoning. It is one point on the Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year, and it is regarded as one of the four high holy days in modern Druidry called Alban Eiler: “the Light of the Earth.”

The word Ostara derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of an obscure Germanic goddess about whom little is known today. Her name is linguistically related to the word for “east,” giving further credence to the strong solar significance of the holiday. And from this name we also derive the word Easter.

In modern paganism Ostara is regarded as the Festival of the Trees, due to the regrowth of their foliage at this time of year, a strong metaphor for resurrection and rebirth. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the insect population is making a drastic comeback. The animals are beginning to start their mating dances and pollen wafts through the air fertilizing the crops. Colored eggs and rabbits are indicative of this season by virtue of their association with fertility. In such, this holiday is directly associated with the inner Cauldron of Incubation. This is a very inspirational time.

At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy and often symbolically sacrificed as an expectant mother must sacrifice of herself to bare and care for her children. This is a consistent theme amongst many agricultural societies from the Anglo-Saxon John Barley Corn to various Native America manifestations of the Corn Mother.

It’s not all just joy and the pleasures of fertility, however. Ostara also has certain themes of conflict associated with it. As the day that finally signifies the summer’s conquest over winter, the conquest of darkness by light, and allegorically the conquest of evil by the good an d majestic solar hero. And so we see ritual competitive sports and ball games are traditional at this time. Amongst many Western European populations there will be a ritualized and symbolic battle between the seasons, often in the form of a sword dance wherein the participants act out the opposing roles as either teams or one on one.

Ostara may not be Easter, but the two holidays share a common history, symbolism and philosophical character that are significant to the natural cycles of life. The winter has finally ended. There is abundance in life and resources looking forward. The darkness has been conquered.


Cannabis as Medicine; A Brief History


Cannabis is a genus of flowering, aromatic medicinal plant related to hops and native to Central Asia. Cannabis Sativa, the most commercially viable species in the genus is often known by its various pseudonyms; hemp, marijuana, ganja, and most unceremoniously “weed.” It is one of the oldest botanicals used medicinally, and religiously. It has been used industrially, medicinally, ceremonially, and recreationally for over 100,000 years, so long, in fact that our bodies are evolutionarily designed to make use of the plants organic chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Today we are only just beginning to really understand all the benefits that can be derived from its various uses.

In Ancient History
When we talk about ancient medicines it is important to realize that throughout the majority of human existence the concepts of medicine and spirituality or religion were not always the separate subjects they are to modern Western civilization. In fact, it was not until approximately 460-370 BCE that Hippocrates separated medicine from religion and philosophy in the Western tradition. With a 200,000 year history of modern Homo sapiens, that’s not much time. So, when we observe ceremonial and ritual uses of plants this is often due to the substance having been recognized as a beneficial medicine as well.

The earliest evidence of cannabis use by humans is a collection of seeds, resin and ashes from indica, a subspecies of cannabis sativa found in a 120,000 year old archeological site in the Hindu Kush Mountains. This proves modern Homo sapiens have been using the medicinal plant for more than half our existence.

Ancient Egyptian texts such as the 4,000 year old Ramesseum medical papyri list cannabis as a medicine alongside basil, and hibiscus.

Chinese Medicine from the Shang Dynasty as early as 14th-11th century BCE, over 3,000 years ago list cannabis as a medicine alongside ephedra and ginseng and recommended its use for treating gout and rheumatism among other things.

The “Holy anointing oil” mentioned in the Biblical Book of Exodus (30:22-23), contained over 6 pounds of kaneh-bosem, identified by experts in various fields as cannabis, extracted into olive oil with other fragrant herbs. This is the very same oil used by Jesus to anoint his disciples. Cannabis is mentioned in many other parts of the Bible as well.

Bhang, an edible concoction made from cannabis has been consumed recreationally and ceremonially in India since at least 1,000 BCE.

Cannabis, called Bhanga was also recorded as the first among 10,000 medicinal plants in the Zend-Avesta book Venidad, a Persian Zoroastrian text from 700 BCE.

The Scythians used cannabis smoke ritually as well as during steam baths to cleanse the body and spirit.

The Scythians introduced cannabis to the Ancient Greeks who by the 5th century BCE had created their own medicines and intoxicants from the plant such as potamaugis, a mixture of cannabis and wine.

Germanic people from the time of 500 BCE used cannabis and gave us the origin of the word hemp from the proto-Germanic hanapiz. Evidence of hashish, a resin made from cannabis has been found in archaeological sites from Halstatt where the Celtic cultures originate.

Medieval Arab doctors used cannabis and hashish from for a thousand years between 800 and 1800 CE.

In 1538 CE, William Turner published New Herball in which he wrote a very high opinion of hemp as a healing herb.

Hemp was brought to America in 1600 by Jamestown settlers and became an important part of the colonial era, both industrially and medicinally.

Modern Medical Cannabis
The Irish surgeon William O’Shaughnessy is credited for the pioneering of medical cannabis use as we think of it in the modern era with clinical trials. His research found cannabis to be useful in treating symptoms related to rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, convulsions, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and menstrual cramps. By 1850 the US Pharmacopeia created hemp standards and measure for treatment of all sorts of specific ills

By 1937, after prolonged progressive prohibitionist campaigning cannabis was outlawed and virtually all legal medical use was halted, pushing the herb into the black market. This move was opposed by the American Medical Association. In 1942 cannabis was removed from the US Pharmacopeia.

Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Even after the criminalization of cannabis, research into the plant continued. In the 1940s cannabinoids, chemical compounds were discovered in the cannabis plant. There are at least 113 cannabinoids in cannabis, the most commonly known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the compound which causes the euphoric feeling of “getting high,” but has also been found to have many therapeutic uses. CBD is a compound that has been recognized as having quite a lot of medicinal qualities from pain relief, anti-inflammation, anti-seizure and improved cognition just to name a few.

In the 1990s scientists discovered the human body, as well as all vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system. This is a system of cannabinoid receptors in the body which are involved in regulating numerous physiological and cognitive processes and the immune system. In short this means the human body is designed to work with and make use of cannabinoids in order to maintain proper physical and mental health.

Throughout all of known human history there is evidence of our use of cannabis for medical, spiritual and meditative purposes. Today we know that the human body is designed to make use of the chemical compounds found in cannabis to regulate of physical and mental well-being.

It seems that cannabis in not just beneficial to, but necessary for maintaining our proper health and wellbeing.


Lughnasadh: Harvest of Life

The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.



The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.

Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity.  It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.

This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar.  As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death.  In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.”  Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise.  With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off.  Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.

The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath.  Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows.  These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions.  Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.

                     

Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades.  Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.

This is a celebration of the Harvest.  On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.

Wildflowers

They say “April showers bring May flowers,” and what an assortment of flowers they bring.  I’ve always loved the springtime, and nothing impacts that love quite like wildflowers.

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You belong among the wildflowers. #flowers #nature

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Flowers are beautiful, even domesticated varieties, but wild flowers have a spirit all their own.  They grow wherever they want without the need for the cultivated touch of human hands, beautifying often otherwise bland landscapes.  Even magnificent landscapes are improved by their presence.

I’ve always had an affinity toward wild things in general.  It’s just part of me.  Ever since I was a child I spent as much time as I could exploring the wilderness, trying to escape civilization any chance I had, and along these journeys wildflowers were always a fascination for me. They are a reminder of an epoch of history when the world and life was much more natural, and unprocessed by scientific engineering.

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You belong somewhere you feel free. #flowers #nature

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They are more than just pretty little blossoms to me.  Wildflowers are sensual beings who fill the air with hypnotic fragrances, arousing and seducing the many species around them to come explore their allure in an erotic dance that perpetuates the abundance of life on this lonely rock drifting through empty space.

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Passion Flower #nature #flowers

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Wildflowers are uncivilized, barbaric in their beauty, and defiant in their tenacity to thrive. They persist with unrelenting certainty that they shall … flourish … as they grow across the land whether in the deep woods, along busy streets, or even peeking out from a crack in the sidewalk.

They are everywhere, fully pervasive and free.

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Stillness. #flowers #nature

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