I have come up to my favourite stone circle to write this blog today.
Many of you will have been here with us as we regularly ran full moon and Wheel of the Year celebrations here before the pandemic, much like we now do online.
Arbor Low is a special place for me. This stone circle was one of my go-to places during a major transitional phase of my life that began just over ten years ago. At that shaky time, one world was falling away, but the next one hadn’t yet emerged. I was in what Charles Eisenstein calls ‘the space in-between stories’. I found comfort when I came and spent time here during those years.
One of the reasons I love this place is because the outlook is incredible. You can see probably for as many as twenty miles in several directions. I have watched countless sunsets here and a few sunrises too. I have seen an electrical storm journey past way over on the horizon and rainbows and sundogs in the sky. I have been here in the dark, with rain lashing down, and in the glorious sunshine. I have held ceremonies here, from solo ceremonies just for me right through to large gatherings of over one hundred people with Jason. I have been up here to celebrate the Summer Solstice, the Winter Solstice and many full moons. I have slept up here, picnicked up here, drummed, and journeyed.
Today I am up here alone, the sun is shining, and I have my comfy chair and drum. I am planning to be here for some time. It's a great writing spot for me as it's almost always very quiet. Although Arbor Low is a big stone circle, the stones have been knocked over and are lying flat on the ground, and so it's less popular than some of the other stone circles in the Peak District.
As with other circles across Britain, some of these stones align with the rising and setting sun at certain points of the year. I love to think of people amassing here thousands of years ago, attending celebrations and ceremonies as the seasons went by.
Along with the Arbor Low stone circle, the Wheel of the Year also has a special place in my heart, as it was my route into the Earth spirituality path. The Wheel of the Year is an old calendar followed by our distant ancestors. Our Celtic forbears worked with the Wheel, and it is likely to predate them by several thousand years. There are eight festivals, which align with the movement of the sun on the horizon, and land roughly six to seven weeks apart.
Coming from an Evangelical Christian upbringing, after I left that faith I started to question the festivals that we celebrated in the Christian calendar. I knew that some of them aligned with particular stages in nature’s cycles, such as the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Easter and the Spring Equinox. I wondered why this was.
One day, my question was answered when I was in a book shop, not too far from here, in Buxton. The book was about how the Christian calendar overlay something far more ancient: the Wheel of the Year. For some reason, I chose not to buy the book that day. I thumbed through the pages in the book shop with interest, but procrastination got the better of me, and I put the book down. It wasn’t for perhaps another year until I came across a similar one, this time on a hen party in Keswick, Cumbria as I waited for the other hens to arrive.
I bought the book that day and decided to start to celebrate the festivals myself. I followed the author's instructions, decorating my home with nature finds and carrying out the rituals, much to the bemusement of my then-husband. I even organised meals and invited my friends. They talked with me with interest about the Wheel, asking me questions, which I did my best to answer. They didn’t ‘get it’ though, not as I did. They just enjoyed the excuse to gather and eat food!
Several full turns of the Wheel went by, and I marked each festival in some way. The energies of the Solstices and Equinoxes were easy to understand. Some of the cross-quarter festivals like Beltane at the start of May were too. Other festivals took a little longer to understand fully, but I celebrated them nonetheless.
I loved the process, but I wanted to share the experience with people who felt the same way I did about it. As I started to consider how I might find a group I could walk the Wheel with, an email popped into my inbox. It was for a year-long shamanic medicine wheel. A group of six participants and the facilitator were to come together for the weekend at the time of each of the festivals. It was being run in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, and so quite local to me. It sounded perfect. I made contact with the organiser, Jayne Johnson, and enquired about coming along. There was one place left, and so I booked on. That course changed my life, but that is a story for another time.
The Wheel as a spiritual practice
So, I get very sentimental about the Wheel of the Year. Since going on the shamanic medicine wheel course almost ten years ago, not a single festival has gone by that I haven’t acknowledged and marked in some way. Often Jason and I hold a big celebration which we offer out free for anyone to come along. These used to be in physical locations, like here at Arbor Low, but they have been online for the past eighteen months.
As well as the community events, Jason and I also do something privately too, just for us. Sometimes this is a day out somewhere local in the northwest of England, and sometimes it's a holiday where we go further afield. Other times it is a shamanic journey at home. Occasionally we are so busy we don’t manage to schedule in time. That in itself teaches us something. It usually happens around one of the Equinoxes, the time of balance, teaching us the need for more balance in our lives!
The Wheel allows me to reflect on where I am up to, look ahead, and set goals for the period ahead, whether the next six weeks, three months, or the entire year. The Wheel's turning gives me a flag that I need to journey to my spirit guides if I haven’t done that for a while.
It also helps me keep an eye on what is happening in nature. I notice each year whether spring is late or early when I get to Beltane, depending on which trees are in leaf. I notice how quickly autumn is on its way at Lammas at the beginning of August. This year it felt about ten days later, although now it has caught up. I can orientate myself around the Wheel, so I know where I am.
Before I was conscious of it, I thought winter was just three long months of darkness. Now I treasure each phase of our coldest season. I observe the rapidness of the nights drawing in from Samhain at the end of October through to the Winter Solstice. I cherish the long evenings by the fire, knowing they will carry on for several months.
Then, at the Winter Solstice, I celebrate that the days will once again get longer. I listen out for the change in the song of the Great tit, which is the first bird I hear that changes its tune with the light. At Imbolc, I know that spring is here and revel in seeing the snowdrops push their noses up through the soil. Their tiny white flowers are amongst the first flowers to bloom, showing me that the light has well and truly returned. So, although it gets colder after Imbolc, and we often get snow and hard frosts, spring has begun for me. I can imagine all the activity going on beneath the soil as life awakens one again.
Another benefit I get from the Wheel is that following it enables me to align my life with the natural flow of nature. As nature slows down in the cold months, this somehow gives me permission to take the pressure off doing so much in the winter. If nature has stilled, then so can I. As spring emerges at Imbolc, I begin to stir myself into action, ready to throw myself into things from Beltane onwards right through to the harvest season.
This is counter what was expected from me when I worked in the corporations. Working in a professional job, there was the expectation that a person would perform consistently right the way around the year. I wouldn’t have been permitted to do less work in the winter than in the summer like nature does. That is why I was always susceptible to hard-hitting winter colds when I worked in a mainstream job.
Culturally we are expected to do the exact opposite when the rest of nature is still and resting. At Christmas, everything ramped up, so deadlines had to be met before the Christmas break, as well as parties and work-dos to attend. Back then, as I was busy expending my energy, nature was sleeping. Now, I sleep along with nature. The Solstice is a rest period for me, and I hope always to be able to keep it that way.
Now I manage my workflow around natures cycles. I will share a couple of examples to illustrate how I do this. At the moment, Jason and I are relaunching our Mystery School, and there is a reason why it is happening at harvest time during August and September. This is our harvest from a long period of work that ramped up during the spring and summer as the rest of nature was growing. Last winter, we did the quiet work, sowing the seeds, beginning the rebuild of our school and planning out the new content.
For my second example, I will take you back further to three Samhain’s ago. Samhain is the Celtic festival of the new year and lands on the 31st October to the 2nd November. It marks the end of one cycle and the start of a new one. At a celebration we held at The Monastery in Manchester, I set the intention to write a book about one of my ancestors, my Irish great-great-great grandmother. She fled the Great Irish Famine in 1848 and came to live a tough life in the slums of Victorian London. This was to be an ancestral healing book, helping others work through the same process as me to heal unresolved ancestral trauma. It was also time to tell Catherine’s story and release it from the dark into the light.
It was to be my first book, and was a daunting task. I had no idea how to start. I spoke out my intention in the ceremony at Samhain and then put the thought to one side as I got on with my day-to-day work. A writing mentor had approached me by the Winter Solstice and offered to support me in my endeavour. Until then, I didn’t realise writing mentors existed. It was a perfect solution for me and one that I had not consciously undertaken to find a mentor. I sense that my spirit guides sent her to me after they heard my words of intention. Working with Sally-Shakti enabled me to get the idea into a manuscript and isn’t something I think I would have ever managed on my own.
I worked with the Wheel of the Year through the whole writing process. I chose to write the bulk of the book between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, as nature was going full pelt. Then, in the following few months, I got it ready for its proof-read during the harvest season. My edits took a further full-year cycle turning the Wheel, and I worked with each season, completing various milestones in line with the festivals. The most recent was completing the final edits and the manuscript in time for the new moon following Lammas. Now I am complete, and come the Harvest full moon, I will turn my attention to the publishing process.
Jason and I manage our lives and our major projects by the Wheel. Everything flows, everything gets done but at natures pace. Sometimes this takes a little longer, but it is the way to do things, just as nature creates. So, come Samhain, we will again be hunkering down by our wood burner in our cottage on the edge of Anglezarke moor and incubating a new set of plans for the coming spring.
It is a valuable part of our spiritual practice, and we love to share how we work with the Wheel. We do this through holding festival celebrations, teaching our approach in free Pop-Up Talks and through one of our foundation courses in our Mystery School.
Coming up next
If you have enjoyed this blog, you might like to consider coming along to our next and final Pop-Up Talk in our free series on Shamanism and nature connection. It’s about working with the Wheel of the Year and how to align your life with the cycles of nature. The date is Thursday 16th September, starting at 7 pm. The session will be recorded, so if you can’t make it register anyway, and you will receive the replay with 24 hours of the evening.
Click here to book on if you haven’t already registered for our free training series. You will receive the joining details for Thursday's talk along with the other replays for this series.
We also have another of our free celebrations coming up. This next one is on Monday 20th September at the time of the Harvest Full Moon, two days before the Autumn Equinox. It will be a special celebration for us for two reasons. It marks the end of our Mystery School relaunch period and the bringing in of the final harvest. It also marks the completion of a full, unbroken cycle around the year offering free online gatherings to our community. Registration details will follow soon. If you aren’t already on our new mailing list, click here and enter your details in the box at the bottom of the page.
Finally, we have a free Wheel of the Year guide. If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to download your copy.
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If you would like to hear more about The Mystery School, where we teach about the Wheel of the Year, click here.
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Click here to download our free Working with the Wheel of the Year guide.