It’s been a while since I started this, more time that I intended to pass, but there have been a lot of things going on IRL, things that will change my practice and some of the topics I talk about on this blog in the next year. I’ll get to those developments later (so stay tuned?) but for now, I wanted to get back to this. If you’ve never read To Walk a Pagan Path (TWPP), and/or you missed the rest of the blog series thus far, you might want to start with the first chapter (part 1-intro and part 2-7 steps), as well as my side tangents on connecting with spirit (part 1-deity, part 2-nature, part 3-the Self, and eventually part 4-community)…its not essential, but it might be of some interest none the less!
Chapter Two (pp. 37-60) is titled Sacral Calendar and discusses Albertsson’s 6th step to living as a Pagan, “observing holy tides”, by which he suggests that “The important thing is not what calendar you follow, but that you consistently observe the hold tides–the holidays of that calendar. By doing so, you touch the earth, attuning yourself to the seasonal change occurring around you.” (p 32) Albertsson starts out with a brief discussion of the various calendars–our secular calendar, the lunar calendars, etc, as a way to “define the passage of time in a way that gives it meaning”(p 37). He believes that we should each have a calendar to follow that “should create and even deeper meaning reflecting our spirituality”p 37.
Albertsson mentions the history of the (Wiccan) Wheel of the Year (WotY–which I’ll use as a general term for Pagan religious holiday cycle) as a general sacral calendar for Wiccans (also for the Church of All Words, and ADF), eclectic Pagans, or for Pagans of different traditions getting together for ritual purposes, pointing out that since it “combines Celtic fire festivals like Samhain and Beltane with Anglo-Saxon solstice celebrations”p 38 (and it combines these two traditions because it’s an English reckoning, created by an Englishman–Gardner, and the ancient history of England is incredibly Celtic and Anglo-Saxon), we might have to adapt it (or use another) for it to be important to our own individual paths. He discusses his own tradition’s calendar, which is lunar and celebrates the beginning of a new month at the full moon (as opposed to the Greco-Roman dark and new moons, respectively), and how he observes the passage of the year religiously (offering cakes during the month of Solmonath, etc).
According to Albertsson, “by observing the lunar cycles and traditional Saxon holy days, I honor not only my gods but also the ways of my (spiritual) ancestors”p 42; for Pagans that follow a single established tradition, this is a pretty straightforward idea (once you figure out that tradition’s calendric system). Albertsson then goes into some good detail about some other tradition’s sacral calendars, which may be of interest to the reader. If you are seeking to build your own, based on your tradition, there are number of guides online (and off) that are already figured out the traditional holidays and festivals of the major ancient pagan religions for you, from the Greek, Egyptian, and Roman calendars (which bear little resemblance to the WotY) to the Heathen or Celtic calendars, etc…its just a matter of research. For some Pagans, following your tradition’s religious calendar might be an act of devotion; if that is how you feel, then go for it. For others, it might not feel right–a Wiccan in the Southern Hemisphere might feel great about celebrating the WotY “flipped” to match their seasons, but they might not–I used to know (online, not IRL) a girl that felt awkward celebrating Yule in June and Samhain in May because she associated them with the secular seasons of Halloween and Christmas.
With that in mind, where you live is a huge consideration in creating a meaningful sacral calendar. Coastal Virginia has more in common with a Mediterranean climate than a Northern European one (though not totally)…and what about the Southern Hemisphere’s opposite seasonality, the lack of seasons on the equator, or climates where seasonality is tied more into rain/dry seasons? Historically many holy days were related to food–when it gets planted or harvested, when it makes babies or is birthed or get butchered. When festivals and holy days celebrate gods of the harvest, it might not make much sense if your local calendar says its blooming time. Additionally, when it comes to the solstices and equinoxes, there are often day-length considerations to be made when it comes to latitude…for example, my friend V lives in Yellowknife (62.4 degrees N), which gets 19 1/2 hours of daylight on the summer solstice and 19 1/2 hours of darkness on the winter solstice (and for about 2-3 days before and after), while I get a solid 2 hours less over a two week period for both holidays (at 36.9 degrees N)…and when we move (one of those changes I mentioned before), this difference will become even more pronounced for our family’s sacral calendar.
My suggestion to building your own sacral calendar (and one that I did before reading this book) is pretty similar to Albertsson’s–look to your tradition (or, if you are an eclectic or non-theistic pagan, look at a number of traditions, including our secular calendar) and look around you (both at your local ecosystem and your community). When do the trees bud, the first flowers bloom, the birds nest, the polar bears leave their dens, the dolphins show up, the sea turtles hatch, the first frost show up, the leaves change color? As Albertsson says, “You may occasionally need to strike a compromise between your spiritual path and your environment, while at other times these issues may come together to form a unique synthesis in your sacral calendar”p 52. I personally use the WotY dates as solar touchstone (the solstices and equinox) and as a seasonal touchstone (the cross-quarter days), and I incorporate those (mostly Greek and Roman) traditional holidays that are meaningful to my personal path, along with modern constructions, into the WotY dates.
Additionally, I celebrate some secular holidays as religious holy days (Memorial Day, for one)–Albertsson mentions that some American Heathens choose to observe the Feast of Einherjar on the secular Veteran’s Day; Albertsson himself celebrates Earth Day (and he includes a ritual to Herthe in the chapter). He says, “Any secular holiday can be sacralized in this way and given a special place in your personal calendar.”55 I also know of American Pagans that celebrate the 4th of July as a celebration of the (modern) goddess Columbia or as the Roman goddess Libertas or the (possible) Greek goddess Demokratia (one person I know, IRL uses the iconography of the Goddess of Democracy from Tiananmen Square). In addition to Memorial Day, we celebrate Earth Day, Darwin Day, Arbor Day, the 4th of July, Valentine’s Day, “Columbus Day” (we aren’t celebrating Columbus), (our name for the UU’s Chalica) Principalia, Thanksgiving Day, and the Feast of St. Francis.
It will take at least one full year for you to develop a sacral calendar that is truly relevant for your local environment. To do this, you will need to put down the book, step away from the computer keyboard, turn off the television, go outdoors, and really look at the world around you.p 50
Yes, building your own sacral calendar will take time, in my estimation, it will likely be worked on your entire life–I’ve been pagan for over 20 years and it’s still evolving. Climate change hasn’t helped, neither has moving. Expect that relocation will require a change in thinking, a reestablishment and perhaps a readjustment of your sacral calendar to meet the changes of a new environment. This is especially true when your path is highly influenced by your bioregion. Our holidays should reflect our paths–not just celebrations of our gods, our ancestors, and our bioregions, but celebrations of our ideals. But doing so definitely brings a richness and depth to our personal practice!