January 21st, 2008

Constructing a Local Cosmology: The Annual Cycle and Time



Another component of constructing a local cosmology is the observation of the Annual Cycle, termed by some, the Wheel of the Year. Anthropology uses the term "Annual Cycle," generally in reference to the cycles of subsistence tied to the planting, care and harvest of plants, wild or domestic, and also of animals. Generally, these subsistence cycles are celebrated or ritualized through accompanying ceremonies and festivals.

The subsistence and festival cycles are tied to the resources of a region and the worldview of the culture which depends on those resources. Further, the resource cycles of animal/plant birth, fertility, and death necessarily depends on the ecosystem and meteorological cycles that shape the resource cycles.

This is expressed as: meteorological cycle -> resource cycle -> cultural subsistence cycle -> ceremonial cycle

Let us look then at a familiar example from Druidry and the European cycles of the Eightfold Wheel of the Year.

(meterorological) -> Solar/lunar/seasonal/weather cycle of Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter
(resource) -> plant/animal birth, growth, florescence, fruition, death, rest
(subsistence)-> preparing the earth, planting, birthing the lambs, plant care, harvest/slaughter, seed saving, rest
(ceremonial)->
Alban Arthuan (Winter Solstice; sun at its southernmost point and days begin to get longer; promise of the sun's return);
Imbolc (the ewes produce milk for the lambs which will soon be born);
Alban Eiler (Spring Equinox; plants begin to sprout);
Belteinne (Height of Spring and Renewal of the Earth; young plants at their highest in vigor);
Alban Heruin ( Lammas/Lughnasadh (the newly harvested grain is made into bread),
Alban Elued (heart of the harvest season),
Samhuinn (last harvest; livestock slaughter) etc.

So in constructing a local cosmology, the annual cycle of one's locale (meteorological -> resource -> subsistence) should be integral to one's ceremonial cycle. There are various ways to do this.

Meteorological Cycles: What are the annual meteorological patterns of one's immediate area?
The solstice and equinox cycles are global...although the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are reversed in the experience of winter and summer (which affects the whole traditional eightfold wheel tradition ...it is rather silly to be celebrating grim and dark Samhuinn when the little flowers are popping up all over, and the little birdies are hatching away!)
- One's latitude has a lot to do with how the solstices and equinoxes are experienced. Not all areas experience winter (cold) and summer (hot) the same way...some latitudes closer to the equator experience wet and dry seasons, and/or storm/typhoon/hurricane seasons instead.
- Are there times of the year that one experiences significant or characteristic, often "named" winds (the winter Chinook of the northwest and northern plains for example, or the Santa Ana winds of southern California)?
- When do the different kinds of storms hit? When I lived in Iowa in the 1990s, I could count on an ice storm hitting the area around Halloween, and a big snow on Thanksgiving...and the first tornado warnings in June.
- How about phenomena like the Aurora Borealis? Or when certain constellations move, like the alternation of Scorpio and Orion, and are seen in different places, along with planets like Mars and meteor showers like the July Perseids?

Resource Cycles: What are the natural resource cycles of one's immediate area?
- What wildflower pops out first above the snow? In much of the Plains it is the Prairie Smoke.
- What foods did the indigenous people depend on, and when was it ready for gathering? In Montana, the bitterroot was ready in June and the camas in July. In Alaska, the first salmon runs are in June.
- What natural signs told the aboriginal inhabitants about what was going on? In Hawai'i the wiliwili tree bloomed at the same time the sharks were breeding, and so the wiliwili was a sign of danger for the swimmer.
- Learn the traditional calendar of the indigenous peoples of your area...they often reveal the significance of the lunar months and the annual cycle. Our Ioway people called August "the Buffalo Bull Rutting Moon," September "Frost in the Animals' Beds" etc. The Lakota had the "Moon of Popping Trees" (when the sap freezes in deep cold and splits the wood of trees).

Subsistence Cycles: What are the annual subsistence cycles of one's immediate area?
- Indigenous subsistence cycles depend on the plant or animal upon which the culture depended. Most had a primary source. In the Great Plains, this was the bison (American buffalo). In the Northwest, this was the salmon. In the southwest and eastern woodlands, this was maize (corn). The primary food source always had a ceremonial association. What is your primary food source, and how can you recognize that in your cosmology?
- In terms of domestic animals and crops, when does the major crop of your area blossom and ripen for harvest? Is it an apple? A peach? An orange? Local old-time farming cultures such as that of the Amish of Pennsyvania are like indigenous people's calendars in that they are tied to a cycle of harvest worthy of understanding and observance. Perhaps you really do have an Imbolc/Oimelc (ewe's milk) to celebrate if you have lots of sheep raised in the area (such as Wyoming and Idaho)...but do the ewes really lactate in early February? Adjust Imbolc accordingly!

Ceremonial Cycles: What are the ceremonial cycles that could be instituted based on the local cycles?
- How do the solstices and equinoxes relate to the local resource cycles, or do they?
- Besides the local resource and subsistence cycles, what local cultural features should/could be incorporated? For example, what local indigenous ceremonial patterns existed based on the subsistence cycles? How far do you go in honoring those predecessors without pretending to be something you are not, in terms of cultural misappropriation?
- How do you utilize ternary thinking to examine the existing natural and indigenous cycles, in comparison to the Druidic cycles, and the cycles of your childhood and society (both religious and secular)? For example, how do you decide how to construct a workable cosmological approach to the period of winter solstice, if you wish to incorporate indigenous people's cycles, natural resource and meteorological cycles, along with Druidry's Alban Arthuan or neopagan Yuletide, as well as secular American cycles of Christmas or Christian celebrations of the Christmas season? CAN YOU, or do you have to make some hard choices, and in the process throw away a part of your life experiences?

Next time, I will try to begin this process for myself, as an exploration of a local cosmology for the Helena Valley.