The Year Wheel to the right represents how I feel and what I see in the natural world. Bare in mind that all cycles are not represented and a few of the images do not correspond with their actual occurrences, but. more on that later.
Wicca and Paganism of today is presumably based on the natural cycles of the Earth’s seasons as well as, agricultural, and horticultural cycles. We all know from previous authors when the Solstices and Equinoxes are celebrated. What we do not know is how these dates correspond to what actually occurs in nature. Authors of previous publications would have us believe that the dates and customs of our Sabbats are accurate. Research has led me to believe that not only are some of the dates wrong, but there are natural occurrences and activities in which our Celtic ancestors took part that have been overlooked. Our ancestors were not only agriculturists; they were also hunter/gatherers and fishermen. If we are to model our Celtic ancestors’ lifestyle and celebrations, we need to know what those were. We also need to determine which time period and which Celtic culture we are basing our information on.
According to modern practices, there are typically two breeding, birthing, and slaughtering cycles for livestock as well as two wheat planting and harvesting cycles. There are also separate hunting seasons for deer, rabbit, and fowl. Deer seasons are further categorized by the type of weapon used and also separated into buck and doe seasons. There are also two separate wild turkey seasons. And, there are two sand bass runs per year. All these different cycles can be complicated and confusing to the individual sustenance farmer or to someone who chooses to hunt only during one season. Hunting seasons are established and appropriate permits and licenses are necessary to curb wildlife populations and to prevent poaching or over-hunting a specific habitat. Current livestock management cycles are intended for commercial purposes. I have provided that information here and in my calendar so the reader may see how agriculture has changed since early techniques were established. However, on the individual pages highlighting each month, I will focus on the early single-cycles and practices for simplicity.
I believe that there are more than three harvests and that these harvests are entire seasons lasting a month or more. The "Sabbats" of Wicca do not fully encompass what occurs in nature. The problem I have with the Wiccan "Sabbats" is that they misrepresent natural and agricultural cycles. And for this reason, I feel that these Sabbats fall short of their intended celebratory goal. It is my personal belief that spirituality and mythology are reflections of the basic necessities for human survival.
February 1 and 2 are very important dates in agricultural and pastoral societies. Animals briefly come out of hibernation and everyone is anxious to know whether or not they will see their shadow because if a hibernating animal (bear, snake, groundhog, or hedgehog) sees its shadow, it means that there will be six more weeks of winter that will continue through the month of February and into the first week of March. (This is actually a long-held myth explained in detail on the February page.) On a lighter note February 5 marks Mid-Winter, the astronomical midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. After the threat of last frost has passed, the ground should be tilled and fertilized. Seeds should be sown indoors after Imbolc in preparation for planting outside. Imbolc was most important to early societies because the birth of livestock meant prolonged sustenance through the winter. The word 'Imbolc' literally means, "ewe's milk." The only way to obtain milk from an animal is through birth. Therefore, lambing during Imbolc and the availability of fresh milk goes hand in hand. Cheese, an important food item, as well as butter and cream can only be obtained from fresh milk. Sheep were originally bred solely for milk and wool. Parchment was also made from sheep skin after the animals were slaughtered. The birth of spring lambs was certainly a time for celebration. Wild birds also begin mating during February, which is why I refer to Valentine's Day as Bird Mating Day or the beginning of bird mating season which lasts throughout the year until the onset of winter.
March marks the beginning of Spring and planting season. It is also a time when sheep are released to summer pastures with their young, and blessed for protection from wild predators. Herders and their dogs should also be blessed for protection. Livestock could also be rotated from winter to summer pastures if they are not kept indoors during winter. Holidays that occur during March are St. Patrick's Day (Eire's Day), Spring Equinox (Ostara), and Arbor Day or Week. Ostara is simply a celebration marking the official and astronomical arrival of Spring. By this time, rabbits, fowl (especially chicks), and all other wildlife is born during this time. It is a celebration of new life, new growth, and the survival of winter. Arbor Day or Arbor Week, which occurs on March 23 and continues until March 29 in Oklahoma, is a new holiday established to promote the planting of trees to increase our sustainability and that of the earth in general. Any kind of tree can be planted, however, the Arbor Day Foundation (established by John Denver, the late folk singer from Denver, Colorado) stresses the importance of planting indigenous trees and will supply up to ten trees based on an applicant's geographical location. The winds of March also spread pollen. Kite flying is a popular activity during March.
April marks the beginning of the spring flower harvest, but this is optional. Bees also begin to produce honey during this time, and they help pollinate plants. Taurus enters the sun on April 20. April 22 marks the beginning of cattle breeding season. During the early days of pastoralism, cattle were only bred for their meat, hide, and as beasts of burden (ox in particular). Vellum was also made from calfskin. Cattle should be blessed for fertility before mating begins. This would only be the case for selective breeding. Otherwise, cattle would be released or rotated to summer pastures at the same time as sheep and should be blessed for both fertility and protection from wild predators. Earth Day, a new holiday established in 1970 is also observed on April 22.
It is popular consensus among Wiccans that livestock are bred during Beltane and birth during Imbolc (although I have yet to find a source for this misinformation). In order to plan the birthing time of livestock, the animals must be bred according to their estrus and gestation cycles. This is called selective breeding, as opposed to natural breeding. One must also keep in mind that there are cycles within nature that are beyond human control, no matter how hard we try. How may times has a pregnant woman been given a "due date" only to have her baby two weeks or even a month early, or up to a month late in some cases? It happens every day, and selectively breeding livestock is no different than calculating a woman's due date because the same principles and mathematical calculations apply. Therefore, it is wise to allow at least two weeks of flexibility in a breeding/birthing schedule.
As far as cattle are concerned, the problem lies in both the date for Beltane and the gestation period of modern cattle. First of all, the accepted dates for Beltane are: April 30, May 1, or May 3. Secondly, the average gestation period for modern cattle is 284 days. In order for cattle to birth by Imbolc, they should be bred on April 22. According to this breeding schedule, cattle should begin calving from February 1 until about February 4. Here, we have two agricultural seasons for Imbolc and Beltane. Imbolc (the birthing season) would occur from February 1 to February 4. Beltane (the cattle breeding season) would begin on April 22 and continue until May 5. The gestation period for sheep is 144 days, and in order for sheep to lamb during Imbolc (February 1), they should be bred on September 9. The gestation period for swine is 114 days; sows should be bred on October 10 to birth on February 1. Therefore, it would be impossible to breed any livestock during Beltane (April 30-May 3) and for them to birth on Imbolc (February 1) because these accepted dates to not match natural gestation cycles for modern domestic livestock. However, sows will birth on May 1 if they are bred on January 7. Sheep and swine are actually bred and slaughtered twice per year in modern times giving us spring and fall born lambs and pigs. Separate cow herds may also be bred twice per year and yearling to two year old calves slaughtered every other year or every two years.
There is a catch here. Wiccan authors and adherents purport that the religion itself and its Sabbats hail from the earliest beginnings of humankind, and from the beginnings of domestication and agriculture. With this in mind, I plan to research Paleo-zoology and Paleo-horticulture alongside Paleo-anthropology. I also intend to investigate the gestation cycles of modern wild animals and compare them to their Paleolithic ancestors. I realize that climate and diet play a significant role in mating and gestation cycles. It could be that at one time these dates may have been accurate. However, they are not accurate by today's standards. The reader should also bare in mind that I live in Oklahoma and that my observations and knowledge of agriculture and livestock are based on the conditions present in the north southwestern region of the state.
I will now discuss the harvest seasons which occur from May through November or December.
May 1 marks the beginning of the Morel mushroom harvest and is the first official harvest of the year which ends on May 26. Other mushrooms and truffles are also harvested during this time. It has been long reported that mushrooms have an aphrodisiac effect, and that the mushroom harvest may lend an air of sexuality to the Beltane celebrations. Beltane is the celebration of human fertility and prosperity which occurs from April 30 until May 3, depending on one's perception. It is a time for large social gatherings before the hard work of the major harvests of the months ahead. It is also a time for people to chose their mates and conduct Handfastings. Summer Solstice is also a traditional time for Handfastings. Freshwater fish spawning season also begins in May and fishermen cast their nets during this time. Fall pigs are born on May 1 and cattle are purified after birth and blessed for protection from predators by running them between two Balefires on a hill as they are let out to summer pastures. May 5 also marks the astronomical occurrence of Mid-Spring.
June marks the beginning of the major harvests of the year. Take a look at my Wheel and notice the depictions for June. The first illustration, the one closest to the earth pentacle, is a pig's head on a platter surrounded by lettuce. Pigs are slaughtered every six months, first in June and again in December--hence the traditional Christmas ham. Spring born lambs are also slaughtered in June and fall born lambs are slaughtered in January. June also marks the end of fish spawning season for most freshwater fish, bass and catfish in particular. Many anglers begin fishing during this time because fish are easiest to catch while they are nesting. They do not move around as much, and catfish hardly move at all. I have not yet researched the habits of saltwater fish or the practices of ancient fishing cultures. Two of the illustrations on my wheel for June are a bass and a lobster. The third primary harvest in June is the berry harvest. June-bearing strawberries are so named because they ripen in June; Juneberries are also thusly named for the same reason. Raspberries, Blackberries, Mulberries, Boysenberries, Currants, Cranberries, and Cherries are all harvested from June through July. Tree fruit, except apples, and melons are also harvested from June through July. The Honey Harvest also begins in early to mid-June for southern states, and early to mid-August for northern states. Litha, which falls on the Summer Solstice, is the celebration of all of these harvests combined.
The next harvest is the Grain Harvest, primarily summer wheat, which occurs throughout July and ends by August 1. Therefore, Lughnasadh is the celebration of the grain harvest and not the harvest itself, except for wild rice which is harvested in August. Some early vegetables are also harvested in July. Although there is no Wiccan Sabbat for July, I do celebrate Independence Day along with my fellow Americans. This holiday may also mark a time of rest and socialization between the harvests of June and the grain harvest that follows in July.
The month of August marks the beginning of the wild rice harvest, pinto and soy bean harvest, as well as other legumes. However, these harvests are secondary to the important task of processing the grain that was harvested in July into bread and liquor. One may question the importance of liquor, but make no mistake. Grain alcohol, known today as Everclear, can be used as a fuel source. Many of the first automobiles, Model A and Model T Fords, were fueled with moonshine by those who could not afford to purchase gasoline. Grain alcohol is a renewable and viable gasoline additive. It burns cleanly and it is environmentally friendly. August 5 marks the astronomical occurrence of Mid-Summer.
September is a very busy time for gardeners. The last of the year's vegetable crops, pumpkins, squash, apples, and herbs are harvested and food is stored in preparation for the coming winter. Most of the food is canned, pickled, dehydrated, or frozen. The last of the fruit is also preserved as jelly, jam, marmalade, etc, and canned or dried. Some of the fruit, grapes in particular, is made into wine. Sheep should also be bred on September 9 to lamb during Imbolc (February 1-4). Fall Equinox occurs on September 23, and Mabon is a celebration of the vegetable harvest.
October is also a very busy time because it is the Meat Harvest. Livestock are slaughtered in preparation for the coming winter, and that is the reason why there is such a heavy death aspect surrounding Samhain. Besides the spiritual belief that the veil between this world and the spirit world is thinnest at this time. Meat is either smoked and dried, salt cured, or sugar/honey cured and stored in a cool dry place. October is also the beginning of the wild game hunting seasons, starting with rabbit and deer on the first of the month. Sows are bred on October 10 for an Imbolc birth. Samhain, October 31, celebrates the meat harvest. Samhain also marks the New Year on the Lunar calendar, according to the logic that all life is born out of darkness. Winter wheat is also planted from October 1-20. Fall born calves and lambs should be born around October 28.
November begins with yet another harvest. The wild fowl hunting seasons start on the first of the month and is the reason for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. I celebrate Thanksgiving as well. Also the nut harvest, for pecans in particular, begins after the first frost which usually occurs during the second week of November. Usually after first frost, the weather warms up and we experience what is commonly referred to as "Indian Summer." I believe this is Mother Nature's way of giving all her children one last chance to prepare for the coming winter. November 7 marks the astronomical occurrence of Mid-Autumn.
Though it is not critical, pigs are slaughtered again in December and, as previously stated, is the reason for the traditional Christmas ham. Otherwise, the harvest season ends in November. December is a time for merriment and socialization after all the hard work is finished. It is also a time for candy making using the nuts from the nut harvest. A lot of popular candy and cakes seen during Christmas time include nuts. Divinity, a Christmas tradition in my family, is a much sought after candy made with pecans. And there is the ever-traditional fruit cake and rum cake. Winter Solstice, also referred to as Yule, is celebrated in recognition of the astronomical occurrence of the return of the sun's light on December 22.
January 1 marks the beginning of the New Year on the solar calendar. January is also a month of socialization and story telling was especially popular, thus the bardic tradition among the Celts. A good story teller was a welcome addition in every household because the stories helped prevent depression during the cold winter months before the advent of radio, television, and computers. Bards were indispensable and highly esteemed. Do not get the impression that the winter months were a time to be lazy. Far from it. Winter offered a prime opportunity to craft hunting weapons or agricultural tools, kitchen implements, braid rope, knot fishing nets, and make new clothes or mend old ones. A truly survivalist lifestyle is never stagnant; there is always work to be done. And in today's society, summer wheat is planted during January. Sows are bred for Beltane birth (May 1). Fall-born lambs are slaughtered on January 9.
As you can see, there are technically 17 distinct harvests. There is an optional Flower Harvest in April. (Some flowers are edible; safflower and saffron, the stamens of which are highly prized spices). The Mushroom Harvest falls in May. The Fish Harvest also begins in May through June and occurs throughout summer. The first Pig, Berry and Fruit and Honey Harvests occur in June. The Grain Harvest occurs in July. The Bean Harvest occurs in August. The Vegetable, Apple, and Herb Harvests occur in September. The Meat Harvest occurs in October. The Fowl, Wild Game, and Nut Harvests occur in November. Lastly, there is an optional second Pig Harvest in December. To the best of my knowledge, there are no harvests in January. Also on a modern day schedule, wheat is planted and harvested twice per year with the first harvest of winter wheat from March to April, which would bring us up to 18 harvests per year.
To the right is the link to my public calendar into which I have entered information about planting, harvesting, breeding, birthing, spawning and hunting schedules. These dates are approximate because I could not enter all of the information for the dates in the same space. Also, the harvest dates are based on California growing cycles. I will eventually research Oklahoma growing and harvesting cycles for more accurate dates. I have however provided links to the OSU Extension website to obtain this information. For the fishing and hunting seasons, there are links to the Oklahoma Wildlife Department. You may have to copy and paste these links into your browser's address bar. I have also provided celebration schedules to aid in preparation amidst the survivalist's hectic lifestyle.
In time, I will add information pertaining to the history, mythology, lore, and activities of the Wiccan Sabbats. But first, I want the reader to understand the logic and the real reason behind them. It may now be apparent why I can not accept Wiccan's explanations for the Sabbats, as these explanations are illogical and simply do not measure up to the reality of what actually occurs in modern-day Oklahoma. These explanations also conflict with my childhood memories of living a Gaian lifestyle.
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