Plans for organising the Midsummer observance of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel near went somewhat awry this year. Not for the first time and to the continued inconvenience of many, we have been incommoded by family and work commitments.
The date of the Solstice was itself open to serious scrutiny, the Sun entering Cancer on Monday the 20th of June 2016 at 22.34 GMT, meant that the astronomical and the astrological Solstice fell during the hours of darkness. This left many with the option to observe either the sunrise before (the Monday) or the sunrise post (the Tuesday). English Heritage, again not for the first time, chose the latter (the 21st of June 2016) and set something of a policy for many.
We in the Hearth did our best to make our own arrangements independently of others, as far as was reasonably possible of course. Noting that if we did organise a trip to Stonehenge for example, then it would have to be Tuesday the 21st of June. So it was that at shorter notice than we would have preferred, a date was set, a ritual from the Hearth archive was chosen and notifications were sent. Our final decision was to hold an eve of the Solstice observance on Sunday the 19th at an indoor location.
My Sunday began with my meeting a former work colleague for a midmorning ‘brunch’ and pot of tea at a relatively near garden centre. An enjoyable pastime that had the added convenience of my friend helping me harvest oak branches from the hedgerows. These oaken boughs together with a small branch of holly, would go on to form the decorations of the evening. So it was that I spent my Sunday afternoon hanging oak branches and making an oaken crown for the ritual.
The Hearth of the Turning Wheel, as a coterie (I do like that word) of somewhat independently minded individuals, representing something of a diversity of experience, interests and paths, remains a sovereign order. Taking our inspiration from a variety of sources, the local environment, folklore and tradition, is a vital and intrinsic element within our path. Our approach may to some outsiders appear idiosyncratic and arbitrary, yet there is a key to our understanding but unfortunately (perhaps), many cannot find the lock.
The Hearth of the Turning Wheel is a small, private group that does on occasion invite carefully selected guests. Our evening ritual was therefore, a small close affair and we had present two guests. The ritual this year was heavily focused upon poetry and fairy symbolism, we included several Shakespearian quotations.
One important key as it were, to our own understanding and practice; is a differentiation made in our perception regarding the beginning of the seasons, the height of those seasons and the symbolism of the Kings. Many a calendar will inform the reader that the Summer Solstice and the longest day, is the first day of summer. The fact that many practitioners know this time as Midsummer, should be enough to illustrate that there is a difference in perception.
A key that is perhaps more specific to the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and a few related groups, is our observance that the equinoxes (both spring and autumn) are equally the midpoints and not the beginning of the respective seasons. More than that however, is the distinction made that although the Maytide and the Hallowtide mark the approximate beginning of our summer and winter. The symbolic changeover of Oak King to Holly King and Holly King to Oak King, takes place not at the solstices or the quarter days mentioned, rather we judge that transformation to be at the equinoxes themselves, when the balance truly tips.
There are of course good reasons for the observance of these changes at the times mentioned above, including the fall of Baldur at the Summer Solstice and the rise of the Avenger at the Winter Solstice (see blog link below), yet here in the English Midlands the land is verdant and the Oak is at his peak. This we reflect in our rituals, the Oak King reigns still and he is not yet ready to pass his crown to another.
Another relevant blog post: