I am at the time of writing a member of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and we are an independent and progressive Pagan coterie. We are based within the English Midlands, our praxis and ethos being inspired by the traditional custom and belief found within our British and European Folklore. So far so good. Our Hearth’s declared aim is to meet and celebrate the Eight High Holy Days of the modern Wheel of the Year, we leave Moon observances to our member’s solitary practice and no obligation is placed on our members to do such.
We do not have a hierarchy and we do not operate a degree system, although membership does require a rite of admission. We are a closed group and membership is by invitation only. However, guests are occasionally permitted to attend and participate in our rituals; again this is strictly by invitation.
Our name should be enough to suggest where our focus lies. That it is the celebration and observance of the ‘Wheel’ and the associated esoteric meanings within, that lie at the heart of our family. The contemporary Eight Spoked Wheel of the Year that we and many others follow, is not an ancient concept or model. The festivals that create the wheel most certainly are, as each has a long and distinguished pedigree. The idea of placing them together as an evenly spaced calendar of eight festivals, is a twentieth century innovation. The Wheel of the Year in its modern form is the creation of Ross Nichols, Gerald Gardner and others, its conception and perfection is genius. As a model it is both simple and deeply complex.
Our calendar follows the progression of the four tides of the year, with Lambtide or Candlemas as our starting point, the tide of lustration or sowing. Maytide or Roodmas is the tide of activation or growth. Lammastide is the tide of consolidation or reaping and Hallowtide is the tide of recession or death, thus leading to new growth and the start of the cycle once more.
There is a general perception that the Eight High Holy Days are entirely Solar in their symbolism and their meaning. This is incorrect, the Wheel of Eight Festivals consists of four ‘Lights’ and four ‘Darks’ that spin in perfect unity. The four solar festivals are obviously the Lights, leaving the four remaining cross quarter days as lunar Darks.
Our Lambtide or Candlemas is symbolised by the visible New or Waxing Moon. The Spring Equinox is symbolised by the Sunrise and Maytide by the Full Moon. The Summer Solstice is the Sun at Zenith, while Lammastide is symbolised by the Old or Waning Moon. The Autumn Equinox is symbolised by the Sunset, Hallowtide: by the Dark Moon and the Winter Solstice is the Sun at Nadir.
The important element to be found within our own approach to the Wheel of the Year, is noting that the time of balance and shifted balance; that specific point of symbolic change between the winter and summer tides, differs from that of many other working groups. In many groups the solstices are regarded as being the points of change but our approach is quite distinct. To us it seems anomalous that the winter Holly King should reign at Summer Solstice when the light is still dominant although diminishing. Equally anomalous is the concept that the summer Oak King should reign at the Yuletide, when darkness is strong and the tree itself is asleep.
The solstices are symbolically times of ‘birth,’ as either the Holly King or the Oak King begin their respective journeys. The solstices are also the times when one or other King reigns at his peak. As one reaches his peak in power, the other is reborn. It is the equinoxal points that see the shift from light to dark or dark to light, so for us the equinoxes are when the symbolic crown is passed from one ‘King’ to another.
We should further observe that although I have focused here on the modern Wheel of the Year, there are other festival calendars. These alternative calendars consist of a different number of festivals, dependent upon tradition and historical inspiration. Some individuals and working groups, may observe only four or five of the common eight presented here. Others may observe nine, ten or eleven significant dates.
The Hearth is greater than the sum of its parts and each individual member brings something unique to the Cauldron. The experience, the knowledge and the ability of each individual are combined there, to create the alchemy that is the Hearth of the Turning Wheel. Like streams that conjoin to form the main current, each member is a conflux and their tradition the confluence; their merger and flow creates the greater stream that is the Hearth of the Turning Wheel.
By actively participating in rites from another tradition, we add to rather than distract from our own crooked path. The walking side by side with others while on a different journey, will afford us the opportunity to explore new worlds and gain a fresh understanding.
It is these points and others that define the Hearth as what it is, as we define for ourselves a tradition that is itself without a name. Although influenced by Wicca, Druidry, Traditional Witchcraft and Heathenry, we are none in our entirety. We are the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, is the Hearth of the Turning Wheel. We are what we are and we are not what we are not.
Our actual philosophy is difficult to explain and our methodology is best experienced in practice. The same I think can be said of most working groups. One can read a ritual in print, one can research the teachings but until there is participation, a piece is missing from the jigsaw. One can read all the books you want on Freemasonry but until you stand on the square, the angle will not be true.