Thursday, September 21, 2017

We Spin The Wheel

We Spin The Wheel – Bringing the Sun down to Earth; an exploration of the meaning of the Sabbat Cycle in mundane life.


Wicca is many things to many people. One of its aspects as a religion is its function as an ethical system. The mythical origins of the craft suggest it is a resistance movement characterised by strategies for circumventing and undermining a dominant and hostile paradigm, but the modern experience is more that of a framework for expressing certain and progressive ideals of the dominant culture rather than opposing it utterly. Still, we have not usually considered the case of how a society would be structured if the craft itself were the dominant paradigm or how that position would act to impose modifications in our formulation of ethics and conduct. This field is far too large to make significant inroads today, but I would like to suggest an approach by which we can consider the issue.

The wheel of the year is the story of the cycle of the Sun, and therefore in Wiccan understanding, of the god. Behind all lies the Great Mother who underpins the very existence of the universe within which our solar system has its being. The goddess also has her part in the wheel of the year. The wheel itself is determined by the course of the Sun, and the goddess’ role in it is ancillary. It is the life story of the god we will be focusing on in this talk.

The wheel being seasonal is usually understood in an agricultural, environmental or astronomical sense, or as the cycle of a life. These are all valid interpretations, but they are ubiquitous to the point of obscuring alternatives. It is one such alternative I shall outline today.

The gods are our vehicle for relating our human experiences with the cosmic whole, so it behoves us to examine that which defines us as humans. We are physical animals and self-aware perceivers of our internal and external realities as well as possessing high intelligence, but those features are not unique to us, not even the high intelligence. What truly sets us apart is our mode of survival, which is founded on active restructuring of the world around us in accordance with our will. The truest manifestation of our nature in our worship of and interaction with the gods will recognise this reality and incorporate it. The wheel of the year provides an ideal opportunity to express this.

My idea for examining this understanding of the wheel and how we can best engage with the gods through it is to treat it as the embodiment of all stages of a project. The life story of the god is mapped onto the experience of a person attempting to organise and execute a specific act of creative will, as well as their experience of what ultimately becomes of that effort. This is highly atypical, but I believe it offers a fresh approach for engaging people who are not usually intimately connected with the cycles of nature or the practicalities of traditional agriculture and who might not have more than a vague notion of astronomy or astrology, but who are used to seeing the world, especially in their work environment, through a task-oriented lens. Such people are the overwhelming majority in our high-tech urban age, and if the craft is to continue to grow much beyond its current level, those people must be able to find something within it they can understand and connect to. Such engagement will eventually also lead to a greater appreciation of the natural cycles the wheel draws inspiration from.

Getting to the meat of the topic, we need to select a starting point for our journey around the wheel. We shall commence our journey through the life stages of the god with Yule.


-Read ‘The Second Coming’.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;”. With these insightful words, W, B Yeats captures a vital aspect of the essence of Yule. The cycle must be, for stasis is impossible and inherently unstable. There is no staying in the moment, however much we may wish to. The present is a fragile platform, forever collapsing beneath us.

Yule marks the commencement of the round and is symbolically considered to be the moment of conception of the god. His father is the god of the previous cycle, and the world which has been left from the action of that cycle forms the very circumstances, the DNA so to speak, which shapes the form and potential paths the new god must take. The old order of things established a particular way of doing things and a particular pattern of consequences of this. Those consequences form the new dialectic which gives rise to the new cycle.

The ritual exchange between the High Priestess and the god through the High Priest is as follows:

HPS: "Great god, new star in the hidden firmament,

Lord of light and life and fire,

Naked energy, nascent lord,

Bringer of new life, torch glowing upon untrodden paths,

Descend we pray thee, upon thy servant and priest here."

God Speech:

"The past is the father and eternity is the mother of the future. Whatever we do, there comes a time when it is done, and what has been done is over. Promises, hopes, victories, defeats, achievements, losses, joy and bitterness, the rising and falling of the wheel. The present is fragile and we cannot remain in it. It cannot sustain us. It breaks beneath our weight. The new impulse must emerge from the death of the old. Now in the time of the dying of the past light, the world is left pregnant with the hopes of the future. A secret flame has been kindled in the darkness, new light for the world."

At Yule, the god is as yet just a growing potential without awareness of the world around him or of himself and his own nature. This stage should be considered that of the unfolding of the consequences of the previous cycle and the development of the conditions which will shape the new cycle. This is the time in which the existential basis of the future consciousness and existence of the god is being founded.

The tool associated with Yule is the pentacle. The stage of the god's life cycle is conception. The associated quality is compassion. The associated virtue is to remain silent.


Imbolc celebrates the descent of spirit into matter. In terms of this round, it marks the first emergence of blind awareness of the developing god of his internal and external reality. This consciousness is as yet embryonic, reacting to the circumstances of His existential situation, allowing the established conditions of the old order of things to shape His orientation to the world and the future. In spite of this reactivity, there is a sense of open possibility and new paths awaiting. The form of the god is set by the circumstances of His ancestry and emergence, but his choices are not. What he must respond to, the world as it is, is set, but the nature of the response is fluid.

In keeping with the theme of the round as emblematic of the execution of a project in accordance with will, at this point, participants are asked to begin consideration of an individual project of their own to work on as the wheel progresses. The project should be substantial enough to require work and devotion not trivial in terms of an effort of several months or a year, but not so involved and demanding that there isn’t a reasonable prospect of completing it within the year either. Participants are instructed to formulate their plans in silence until Spring Equinox, when they may reveal their ideas to others if they so desire.

When I first worked this round and set the task of formulating a project to work on, but before I got to the bit about doing so in silence, one of our participants immediately shouted out “Chicken run!” In honour of her enthusiasm, that project will be used as our example for demonstrating what happens at each stage.

For a sense of how the themes of the sabbat are woven into the ritual, consider the invocation and god response for Imbolc, as follows:

HPS invocation:

“Feel the pulsing, beating rhythm

As your forming heart awakens,

Indwelling Spirit quickens Your Being.

Your presence, still nascent, yet guides us

On an unwritten path, awaiting the light.

Appear to us now so that we may know.

Great Lord bring enlightenment to us tonight,

Descend, we pray thee, upon thy servant and Priest.”

-HP God Speech.

“Oh, star in dark of frigid night,

From heaven’s limit shines the light,

Upon the frosty ground so white,

Blank as the unwritten page,

Empty as untrodden stage,

The story of our will to write.”

The intent here is to draw a comparison between the white frosty ground of a cold Imbolc pre-dawn night and a blank slate waiting for a new history to be written in accord with the choices of the new god. The page is blank, the slate is clean. Darkness still abides, however, and the time has not yet come for those choices to be made. Will is not yet formed. At this time, the foundations of the mind are being laid for the rise of the first informed thought.

In terms of our project for the round, we have just started to think about what we might want to do. The back yard has been nagging at you to do something with it. You have all that empty space. What could be done? What might interest you or enhance your life? How about a vegetable patch, or a flower bed? What about a gazebo? Or an ornamental maze? Or perhaps you could keep chickens, or maybe ducks, or goats. Each choice involves a different set of requirements, of levels of effort and commitment, of expense and hassle and ongoing maintenance. Each has its own kind of reward. Each choice, if made, will involve sacrificing other potential uses, with some doors closed while others open. These are all aspects to consider as you ruminate on a plan.

The tool associated with Imbolc is the wand. The stage of the god's life cycle is the descent of spirit. The associated quality is humility. The associated virtue is to know.


Ostara takes place at the spring equinox and is ably symbolised by the rising sun and the dawning of the light. This represents the birth of the god into true sight and perception of the brilliant light of day, and marks the dawn of active conscious thought and enlightened perception. With the advent of sight, knowledge becomes clear and thought works with that certainty toward its goals. With sight and knowledge come the potential for power over the world, but also a keen awareness of the constraints and limits of the world’s various potentialities, and as a consequence, an encounter with limitation. The main themes, however, are light, sight and knowledge. These are expressed and reinforced several times in the course of the ritual banter, as shown with the following:

Sabbat Speech (SM):

      “Spring is symbolic of the first touch of light, hence of understanding, of engagement with the world. The dawning of the mighty Sun reveals that which has been hidden, and lights our path. This is the birth of the God into manifestation and action, the breaking of the seedling through the surface of the Earth, the first opening of newborn eyes and first mindful grasp of the way ahead.”

Coven Chant:

      “Hidden fire, wrapped in night,

      Rise in glory, bring the light!

      The God is born, now is the day,

      Reveal the vision, show the way!”

      HPS God Invocation:

      God Response:

      “The Sun is risen, the world is created anew. As Above, So Below. The slumbering spirit awakens ambitious and knows itself in full for the first time. Fate and destiny wait upon Me. Inner sight informs the outer path! Marshall your wisdom! Go forth with Knowledge!”

In terms of our project, you’ve considered all your options since Imbolc, and settled on a chicken run. You may now reveal this to others if you wish, or remain silent on the matter if you prefer. It is time to face what this means squarely, to begin planning your finances and time, creating a design for the structure, calculate the building material you need, decide if you have the necessary skills yourself to see it through or if you have to get some help or hire someone to do the work for you, research what the local council requires of you, check regulations on keeping livestock, look into what sort of chooks you want, where to source feed and so on through all aspects of this mission. This sabbat is deeply tied in with the functions of sight and thought and research preparatory to action.

The tool associated with Ostara is the scourge. The stage of the god's life cycle is birth. The associated quality is mirth. The associated virtue is to know.


Beltain is celebrated at the beginning of the final month of spring and is symbolised by the midmorning Sun. It is a celebration of the core of the act of creation and its manifestation in human life in the act of sexual reproduction. The young god unites with the goddess in ecstatic union and the Earth is thereby made fertile, All nature bursts with new life.

There are deeper significances to this process. Beltain is a celebration of love inspired by beauty to bring forth the good, and this occurs on many levels. To understand how deep this process goes, we can examine the ‘ladder of love’ as explained by Socrates’ speech in Plato’s dialogue ‘The Symposium’. Socrates recounts a conversation with the priestess Diotima of Mantinea. In it, Socrates learns that love is the need for beauty, and that beauty is experienced by people in an ascending hierarchy of virtue, starting with the desire of physical beauty and expanding to include ever more abstract notions. It goes from appreciation of physical beauty in people to appreciation of spiritual beauty in people, then to appreciation of the beauty of morals and art, then to appreciation of the beauty of truth and wisdom, and finally to an apprehension and appreciation of pure archetypal beauty in and of itself. Along the way we learn that every desire for the good is love, that love is the desire for the perpetual possession of what is good and that the object of love is both beauty and the procreation of beauty. Understanding this, it becomes easy to slot our interpretation of the wheel into an expanded concept of Beltain, insofar as we are honouring a creative process whereby we seek the good.

How can we express these ideas in ritual exchange? To my mind, we can still use the traditional model of interaction between the HP and HPS performing as the god and goddess. The god is still representative of an impulse conceived in the realm of linear time seeking to make a mark in the realm of eternity, symbolised by the goddess. A suitable sabbat speech introducing the action might be as follows:

Sabbat Speech:

“This is the time of year we come together to celebrate that touch of the god upon our spirit which strives toward the highest and greatest beauty we can perceive, whatever that might be and in whatever manner we do so. The young god is transported by the beauty of the goddess and yearns above all to unite with Her in ecstasy forever, for through that union lies the door of immortality wherein eternity dwells in a moment.”

Goddess Speech:

“I am the circle of the world,

The All-Encloser,

I hold the seed of all within me,

I am perfect as the silver moon,

What need have I of thee?”

God Speech:

“Perfect thou art, but what of this?

Perfection is sterile as marble,

But I am the fire which quickens the seed.

Through me your potential shall come alive,

Made manifest in the world of time and action.

You cannot deny me the prize.”

In terms of our project, now is the time to begin putting our plans into action. We’ve done our research and laid our plans. Now we apply to council for all the permits and approvals needed. Now we begin the purchase of materials, lay out the groundwork in the back yard, start digging postholes and gathering nails, chicken-wire, cable-ties and whatever else we need. Now we approach chicken breeders and negotiate the purchase of our chooks. All the work needed to establish our project as a real thing commences at this point. The act of creation has begun and our will is being actively worked in the world.

The tool associated with Beltain is the censor. The stage of the god's life cycle is sexual maturity. The associated quality is beauty. The associated virtue is to will.

                                   Summer Solstice:

Summer Solstice is celebrated at the summer solstice and is symbolised by the Sun at midday. The god is at the height of his power, fully enthroned as ruler of the world, the divine god-king, warrior and lawgiver, protector and defender of His realm and all who look to him, consort of the goddess. He has married his beloved and is fully established as the ruling power, fully conscious and capable in His control. Life is at its peak. The creative phase of life has been achieved and fulfilled. The god is now dedicated to managing His creation.

Some thought might be given for each sabbat to appropriate music to set the mood for what is going on at that time of year. In the case of Summer Solstice, I’ve often thought that ’Stay’ by Australian band ‘Undermines’ would make a good introduction. It contains elements both of the attitude appropriate to a king as well as a reference to the test to come which shall be the true proof of kingship.

-Play ‘Stay’.

The ritual will include references to the king’s role as protector and lawgiver, and emphasise his rulership over the Earth. The narrative might include the following:

Sabbat Speech:

“After long striving the god has reached His goal and reigns enthroned as King of the Earth. Hail to the King, protector, master, giver of law! The land is fruitful beneath the brilliant midday Sun and the Lady is fulfilled of promise!”

HPS Invocation of the god:

“Lord of the Earth, Master of the world of nature and the world of women and men, Father of Law, come to us! Protector of the land, warrior valiant, benevolent one, Come to us! Oh King beneath whose hand the people grow and prosper, come to us! Oh Lord of shining countenance, light-bringer, come to us! Descend, we pray thee, upon thy servant and priest!” 

God Response:

“Oh path well-trod! Oh striving sated! Will has mastered the waiting world and shaped the life of all. Inner vision is put forth and the outer realm is formed as clay on the potter’s wheel. The light of hope once so dim and fickle shines with daystar might and sheds largesse upon the world from the throne of noon. Rejoice in victory! Revel in the high days of bliss and plenty. Take what I have provided and go forth with wisdom, taking thought for the days to come.”

In terms of our project, the chicken run has now been built, the chooks have been introduced and the eggs are flowing steadily. Things have been established and are running smoothly. You are large and in charge and rule the roost, so to speak.

The tool associated with Summer Solstice is the sword. The stage of the god's life cycle is mature manhood. The associated quality is power. The associated virtue is to will.


Lammas is celebrated early in the final month of summer, when the warmth of summer is at its height. The Sun at mid-afternoon is the symbol for this sabbat. The king has ruled since summer solstice, the warmth of the year and of the day is at its peak and is set to decline from here on. The impulse which started His journey has reached its fulfilment and now faces its conclusion, for Lammas is the sabbat of the sacrificed god.

Lammas reminds us that everything has its price and all actions have consequences. The gods inspire us to be the most we can be, and thus incorporate extremes and absolutes in their life cycle. For a journey which has no set finite limit to how much can be achieved, there is only one possible price, and that is everything you have and everything you are. At this point the god willingly pays that price.

Sacrifice is entrenched in our cultural understanding of the world at many levels, from the Christian idea of the sacrifice of Christ (who is also held to have died at 3pm) to the concepts of duty and honour which motivate and obligate the sacrificial spirit from our warriors and other defenders and protectors commissioned to place themselves between harm and the rest of society. In a wider sense, any action we undertake has as a necessary consequence the closing of some options, referred to as the ‘opportunity cost’ in economics. As such, sacrifice is an inherent property of life itself, and it is right to acknowledge this reality of our world. Beyond this necessary choosing and culling of potentials, there is the spirit which goes above and beyond, offering the ultimate price for the achievement of the supreme good.

People’s vision of the good and the desirable varies greatly, of course, and not all will agree on a given path. Some of the finest expressions of the dedication needed to risk all are found in countercultural expressions of determination and defiance. In that spirit, I propose the following song as an appropriate expression of the main theme of Lammas. Within it we find not a celebration of victorious heroism and sacrifice with confidence of inevitable victory, but a stark look at doubt and difficulty in the battle for self-mastery in the face of uncertainty. This is an old punk/folk band called New Model Army, first active in the 80s, and the song is called ‘The Attack’.

-Play ‘The Attack’.

The ritual exchanges for Lammas of course reflect the themes of the sabbat, as follows.

Sabbat Speech:

“With every choice we make, something is gained and something is lost. We gain that which our chosen path leads us to. We lose the status quo of the aspect which the decision impacts. That which we were is no longer what we have become. That which we could have been before we chose is no longer available to us. For everything we undertake, a sacrifice on some level is implied. We come together now to acknowledge and celebrate that which has been surrendered so that we may move forward on our quest.”

God Invocation:

"Great god, Stag of the woodlands, lover of the Goddess,

Master of destiny and giver of law, ruler of all under the Sun,

Come as the Soldier, come as the Pioneer, come as the Scientist, come as the revealer and bestower, come to your fate. Come as the Rebel, come as the Heretic, come as the Bringer of Light in a darkened world, come as the Fulfiller of Oaths.

For your day has had its zenith and your light has guided the Hidden Children's labours. The impulse is discharged into the world and the lives of women and men. Come to us, Oh King! Come we pray thee, and descend upon thy servant and priest here!"

God Response:

"Passage of time and ken of things undone

lay heavy on a mind in the westering Sun

But the work of labouring for the light

will ease the heart as it faces night.

As the children revel in largesse of day

I willingly kneel, the price to pay."

As the god lays stricken upon the Earth, the coven chants in anticipation of the new adventure awaiting the fallen king, as a presentiment of the journey to the underworld and the ongoing role of the slain king.


"Sun is falling on its way,

Darkness follows on from day,

Praise the god who'll sow the light,

In darkness deep and womb of night."

Looking to our project, this sabbat gives us pause to reflect on that which has been lost or turned aside or destroyed through the particular choice you made. You love those chooks, but they sure make a mess of the garden. The special mobile chook run you have for them needs to be moved often or they’ll turn that patch of ground into a desert. You can’t leave home for extended periods of time without imposing on others to help, because the chooks aren’t going to feed themselves. Some things you wanted have been put off while you absorb the financial cost of setting the chicken run up. While they have certainly enhanced your life in some ways, they have also imposed a price.

The tool associated with Lammas is the athame. The stage of the god's life cycle is the point of death. The associated quality is honour. The associated virtue is to dare.

                                    Autumn Equinox:

Autumn Equinox is celebrated on the astronomical occasion and is symbolised by the setting sun. This is a ceremony of remembrance and a celebration of the end results and consequences of the life of the god. Traditionally it honours the results of the harvest, and it is the same in modern times. The god has performed His work. We now partake of the fruits of those labours. Autumn Equinox is, in a certain sense, the fulfilment of the whole round. It is the final stage of the process, the end-result to which we have been working. In terms of the project we’ve been following, this is the omelette.

The energy of Autumn Equinox is the energy of crystallised results. It is the energy of ultimate, actualised consequences to actions, grounded in reality and established in the realm of time, beyond possibility of change. The successful businessman retiring with great wealth into a life of leisure, the scientist whose patient work has at length resulted in a great breakthrough in understanding now foundational to human understanding, the lifelong alcoholic now facing death from liver failure beyond any medical hope of cure and the vicious serial killer whose crimes have finally caught up with him and now will spend the rest of his days behind bars, all these are equally partakers of the energy of the autumn equinox. Their fates and the desirability of enjoying or enduring them are radically different. The choices we make in the early part of the round are critical to where we end up, and working the round as an exercise in empty form will not save anyone from their poor choice of content. This is reflected in the sabbat speech which introduces the theme of the ritual.

Sabbat Speech:

“The long striving of the God is over and we live in the shadow of His life and the bounty of His efforts. Rejoice therefore for His life, and the memory of the light we have known. Contemplate where our striving has bought us, and look back, whether in satisfaction or regret, seeking the guidance of the Gods. Discern the seeds of the future now achieved, that we might benefit from our hard-won wisdom in time to come.”

As I said, in terms of our project, this is the omelette, that is, this is the point at which we enjoy the results of our efforts and gain the rewards of our labours. Your chooks are producing a regular supply of eggs, enough for you to make yourself an omelette whenever you please, and even swap some with friends and neighbours for things you want or need, or just give them away out of generosity if you so wish. Your situation also provides the basis for future opportunities. One of your neighbours is a beekeeper and provides you honey and beeswax in return for your eggs. Another grows great fresh vegetables and has fruit trees. Yet another is a computer geek who is willing to help build that website you want.

While the celebration of this crystallisation of results proceeds, in the back of our minds awareness stirs that as we rejoice in the ultimate fruits of the god’s labours, the story of His spirit is not yet done, and while we take our repose in the world He created for us, He has embarked on another journey.

The tool associated with Autumn Equinox is the boline. The stage of the god's life cycle is the aftermath of death. The associated quality is reverence. The associated virtue is to dare.


Samhain is in something of a unique position in the cycle (although all the sabbats are unique in their way) in that it deals with the actions of the god beyond the veil, and in that the traditional function has more to do with fellowship with the dead rather than the specific actions of the god in relation to the wheel, which actually form the basis of a foundational Mystery of the craft. Although Samhain is the sabbat which most closely matches that Mystery, it does not usually present its working. In this case I will briefly discuss how we might understand the progress of the wheel at this time in relation to the paradigm we’ve been looking at.

As stated in the discussion about Yule, the residue of the old cycle forms the impetus for the development of the new. At this point, the god dwells in the underworld, the realm of the dead, the discarded, the ignored and the damned. The established order always has its particular set of the damned, be they people, things, ideas, behaviours or whatnot. Now the god dwells amid the discarded, the ignored, the outcast. The established order inevitably generates the seeds of a reaction to and possibly against it as the paradigm it has established generates a new set of issues to be dealt with that lay beyond the scope of the capability of that establishment.

The Samhain ritual will properly deal with the covener’s personal relation with Death and those who have passed beyond. Text for the critical part may be something such as follows:

Sabbat Speech:

“Darkness has fallen and we enter the realm of winter. In the deep of the night of Samhain, the Lord of Shades and of matters finished has the power to reach those who have the courage to call. Tonight, we face the veil as it shivers with the longing of those on both sides to bridge the gulf.”

Invocation of the God:

HPS: “Here in the stillness, in the darkness and the cold, I call unto Thee, O Lord of the Underworld, Lord of the Shades, O Horned One, Visage of Terror, Bringer of Rest, Comforter and Consoler. Come forth and be with us, O Guardian of the departed! Descend, we pray Thee, upon Thy servant and priest here!”

God Response:

HP: “Dwell not in regret of the wall separating the realms of Life and Death. Be glad of the lessons, the wisdom and the growth born of the strivings of those now gone. Their works echo still in the texture of life. I bid you commune in silence with the Mighty Dead, and listen for the promptings of the inner voice of the spirit.”

And meanwhile, back on our side of the veil, you have become quite fond of your chickens with their ability to charm and relax you with their quirky little ways. Originally you just wanted to do something with the yard, and you rather liked eggs, but now your research into these birds, inspired in part by your own growing love for them as unique and interesting, as well as useful creatures has brought you to thinking about the plight of those caught up in factory farming, and a new direction is slowly building within you.

The tool associated with Samhain is the cords. The stage of the god’s life cycle is the Lord of Death. The quality associated with it is strength. The associated virtue is to remain silent.


Looking at the wheel in this way reveals some interesting patterns and symmetries. First, a key to understanding the nature of the wheel is understanding the difference between the Greater Sabbats (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltain, Lammas) and the Lesser Sabbats (Yule, Ostara, Litha, Mabon). The Greater Sabbats are those where actions are performed. The Lesser Sabbats celebrate the outcomes of those actions.

The tools associated with the Greater Sabbats can be classified as ‘active’ and those with the Lesser as ‘passive’. When we examine the nature of the action of these tools with regarding the direction of the influence of the power, an interesting thing is revealed. Those associated with the Lesser Sabbats (pentacle, scourge, sword, boline) are conduits of power or influence directed from the higher to the lower. Those associated with the Greater Sabbats (wand, censor, athame, cords) are primarily intended to transmit influence or power from the lower to the higher.

The qualities associated with each sabbat have their own interesting symmetries. For instance, strength and beauty have been assigned to Samhain and Beltain respectively. These qualities are the only two out of the eight referenced in the fivefold kiss. In the case of Beltain, it is the beauty of the goddess which compels the god to the chase to attain the prize. In the case of Samhain, it is the strength of the god in his role as Lord of Death which compels the goddess to undertake the descent which results in their union in the underworld. Humility is important at Imbolc and ties in with the association of Imbolc and Ostara with East and Air, symbolic of thought, intellect and enlightenment. It is only with deep and thorough humility of truly knowing that we do not know that we can clear away all preconceptions and set out on the search for truly useful knowledge. Reflection on each of the qualities mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess as they have been assigned to paired sabbats at opposite sides of the wheel should reveal many truths and symmetries.

Although the wheel is presented as a progression through time, some of the issues associated with a particular sabbat can occasionally appear out of sequence with that progression, such as the loss of alternative options as soon as a decision is settled on, implying an element of the sacrificial even within the contemplations of spring. This also happens in real life and thus does not invalidate the model.

That concludes the lecture. Thank you all for your attention. The floor is now open to questions until the close of this session.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Apparent Solar Motion in the Southern hemisphere.

It is often taken for granted in the Australian pagan/neopagan scene that circle-casting in the southern hemisphere should be done anti-clockwise. The usual justification for this is that the circle should be cast in the same direction as the apparent motion of the Sun (and all the other heavenly bodies) across the sky, and while that motion is clockwise in the northern hemisphere, it's anti-clockwise in the southern hemisphere, so we need to reverse the traditional circle-casting direction when south of the equator. I shall examine the “following the Sun” concept by assuming it is true, and determining what it means for practitioners at different latitudes.

The trouble with using these assumptions is that it is simply not true that the Sun always follows an anti-clockwise path through the sky in the southern hemisphere (nor does it always follow a clockwise path in the northern hemisphere). It is true that the sun's apparent motion is always in the same direction when viewed from north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn, but it is not true of any point within the tropics.

To visualise the reasons for this, we start with a simplified model of the situation by assuming that the Earth is not tilted on its rotational axis relative to its orbit around the Sun. Later we will build on that model to arrive at a correct understanding of the Sun's actual motion through the sky (within reason; I'm not going to go into more arcane matters such as the precession of the equinox, only what we need to determine the Sun's true apparent motion with regard to direction).

Let's start by imagining we're standing on the North Pole. Before us is the Sun, burning with attenuated light right on the horizon, appearing to be half set. If we remain there for a full 24 hours, the Sun will seem to move clockwise around the horizon through a full circle and return to its starting point.

Now imagine us travelling south from the north pole. The Sun rises as we move south, soon clearing the horizon altogether. If we stop at various points on our journey and observe the Sun through a 24 hour cycle, it still travels through a full circle to return to its starting point, but that circle is no longer identical to the circle of the horizon. The southernmost edge of the Sun's path is now above the horizon by as many degrees as the degrees of latitude we have moved south from the north pole. No matter where we are in our journey from the pole, the Sun will always rise precisely in the east and set precisely in the west. The Sun's path acts as if it's a great circular hoop attached at two points to the horizon, directly to our east and west, with the hoop being tilted further up into the sky to the south (and down below the horizon to the north) the further south we go. As we continue our journey south across the northern half of the planet, the Sun's apparent motion remains clockwise.

Eventually we find ourselves arriving at the equator. The Sun, which was previously due south at local midday is now directly overhead. We have reached a critical boundary in our journey, for there is now no objective way to ascribe either clockwise or anti-clockwise motion to the Sun's path. To do so would require selecting which direction along the north-south path you're taking to 'face' the Sun from, and there's no objective reason for either choice. This is why some practitioners who accept the 'Sun-wise' casting paradigm will often state that the equator is an exceptional place in this respect.

We continue our journey south of the equator, and once again it makes sense to speak of the Sun going around in a particular direction, but now that direction is the opposite of that for the northern hemisphere. From the southern hemisphere, the Sun appears to go around anti-clockwise. This evolution continues until we reach the south pole, and we once more see the sun half-sunken beneath the horizon and moving around it once every 24 hours, but this time it is clearly appearing to move in the opposite direction to its motion at the north pole, anti-clockwise instead of clockwise. Of course, the Earth is still spinning in the same direction as before, but we are seeing the results from a new perspective. We are effectively standing upside down relative to our orientation at the north pole.

Imagine that Earth is at the centre of a very large hollow sphere and the sky above is the inner surface of the shell. Directly above the north pole is a point on that imaginary sphere called the north celestial pole, and above the south pole lies the south celestial pole. A point above the equator will trace out a great circle across the celestial sphere over a 24 hour period called the celestial equator. In our simplified model, the sun always remains exactly on the celestial equator, and if that were true in reality, the claim that northern hemisphere = clockwise solar motion and southern hemisphere = anti-clockwise solar motion would always be true, regardless of our latitude or the calendar date.
Because the Earth's rotational axis is tilted away from a right angle to its orbital plane, the true situation is more complicated. The Sun spends some time close to the celestial equator, but it's usually perceptibly removed from it, and reaches 23.5 degrees north or south of it during solstices. When it is some distance away, it's path is not a great circle, but a nearly circular spiral sweep at some particular celestial latitude in the northern or southern tropics. Once again, anyone north of that path (i.e., the point on the celestial sphere directly overhead from them is north of that path) will see the Sun moving clockwise and anyone south of it will reckon the Sun to be moving anticlockwise, but that path could be as far south as Rockhampton or nearly to Alice springs, or a bit further north than Hawaii. The closer a tropical location is to the equator, the more evenly the time is divided between being north or south of the Sun's path. Darwin is over halfway to the equator from the Tropic of Capricorn, and so spends about 25% of the time being north of the Sun's path, whereas we would need to drive a few dozen kilometres north of Rockhampton to ensure at least one full day of seeing the sun passing to our south at southern midsummer. Residents of Honolulu might get several days of seeing the Sun pass to their north around midsummer for the northern hemisphere.

Practitioners living in the tropics who adhere to 'Sunwise' casting may want to learn about how the Sun's apparent motion varies throughout the year, and cast in the direction indicated by local astronomical conditions. What is correct one day might not be on the next. People who live in the tropics and wish to experiment with the results of casting the circle this way or that relative to the Sun's apparent motion have an interesting opportunity to check an extended range of possibilities.