The Wheel of The Year, A Guided Visualization:
Julia Phillips & Rufus Harrington
Make sure you are seated comfortably, and spend a few moments quietly, allowing your mind and body to relax. Now, close your eyes, and allow these images to build in your imagination:
It is dark, and a chill wind is blowing. You are standing within a mighty forest, and can feel the ground hard and cold beneath your feet. You look up, and see the stars, but there is no Moon. Patiently, you wait. You hear a sound behind you, and turn and look over your shoulder. You realize that you are standing upon the edge of a clearing; at its center burns a fire, with an old man seated before it. He is wearing tattered animal skins, and has long ragged hair which blows about in the wind. On the far side of the clearing you see the mouth of a cave, and standing before it is the mighty figure of the Horned God.
You turn back and look through the trees, looking towards the eastern horizon. For tonight is the longest night: the dark time before the Sun is reborn at the Winter Solstice, and you wait patiently for the first rays of the new born Sun. At last you see a faint glimmer of light upon the eastern horizon, and as the rays of the new born Sun rise in the morning sky, you hear the sound of a new born babe crying. You turn and look back across the clearing as an old woman walks out of the cave carrying a new born child in her arms. The Horned God reaches forwards and caresses the child's cheek, and then the old woman takes the child, and sits by the side of the old man at the camp fire.
As the Sun continues to rise in the sky, you know that you have witnessed a very great mystery - the mystery of birth - the birth of the Sun, and of the Son. You leave the clearing, and walk back through the forest to your own cottage, where you warm yourself at the fire, for you are chilled through after your long vigil throughout the darkest night.
Days pass, and although the ground is still hard and cold, and the nights long and dark, you are aware of a change in the season, and know that winter is drawing to its close. One night as you are about to go to bed, you hear a tinkling of bells from deep within the forest, and are strangely drawn towards their sound. As you make your way through the night, a waxing Moon lights your path, and at last you find yourself once more in the clearing. You look towards the cave, and see that a great red veil hangs across the mouth, and that the old Crone, and another woman stand before it. The other woman is younger than the Crone, but obviously not a youth, and you instinctively realize that this is the Crone's own daughter.
As you stand and watch you realize that the bells are being shaken by the Crone, and that she and her daughter are softly singing an ancient song: a song which calls to the Virgin to awaken, and to come forth as the herald of winter's end, and spring's beginning. The two women reach up, and with a single movement, rend the veil, tearing it away, revealing the Virgin standing poised upon the threshold. She is purity and innocence: a young figure - blindfolded, dressed in white, and carrying in her hands a posy of bright yellow flowers, symbolic of the growing powers of the Sun.
The Mother and Crone reach forward, and linking their hands behind the Virgin, they pull her out of the cave. They lead her towards the fire, and then the Mother speaks quietly to her. You see the Virgin nod. The Crone then seems to ask her a question, and although you cannot hear the answer, it seems she has spoken truly, for the Crone nods, and reaches up to remove the blindfold. The Virgin blinks her eyes, and stretches. She begins to dance slowly around the fire at the center of the clearing, full of the joy of her awakening, and in the knowledge of her power and potential as a woman.
Self-contained, she dances the dance of life; of blood and waters flowing freely, no long frozen and still. You turn and leave the clearing, taking one last look at the Virgin dancing joyfully around the fire. As you walk back through the forest, you feel an answering power moving through the land, and you are aware that the Earth is beginning to come alive beneath your feet, and on the trees you see the yellow blooms which are the promise of spring, and the end of winter.
Day by day the Sun now grows visibly stronger: the land has awakened from its sleep with the fire dance of the Virgin, and now the Sun itself approaches the magical time of the Equinox: the time when day and night are equal, but when light is in the ascendant. The day of the Equinox dawns bright and clear. The wind is fresh, and all around you are signs of spring. From deep within the forest you hear the sound of a horn, and deep within your innermost self you are aware of a stirring response to its call. You make your way quickly through the forest; as you approach the clearing, you realize that you are not alone, for all the creatures of the forest are gathered upon the edge of the clearing. They too have answered the summons of the horn.
At the center of the clearing stands a naked young man, his skin shining with reflected sunlight. He is blindfold: before him stands the old man, and behind him, the mighty figure of the Horned God. It was he who blew the horn. The old man dances around the youth - slowly, a shambling kind of dance - shaking a rattle and chanting softly. He stops. The Horned God whispers to the youth, who nods his head in reply. The old man then asks the youth a question, and after listening to the reply, nods, and reaches up and removes the blindfold. The youth blinks, and stretches. The Horned God hands him the horn. He puts this to his lips, and a single blast echoes through the forest. With a laugh the youth leaps away into the forest, followed by all the birds and animals, for he is Lord of the Forest. You feel a stirring in your own blood, and before you realize what has happened, you find yourself chasing the figure of the youth on his mad dash through the forest. It is a wild and carefree dance, and you feel the answering echo from the trees, and from the Earth, as they are warmed by the growing Sun. The Land and the Youth both awaken to their fertile potential.
As you run through the trees, out of the corner of your eye you see a flicker of white; you turn, and there hidden in the trees you see the Virgin, watching and waiting. She is looking curiously at the Lord of the Forest, intrigued by his strength and drawn by his beauty. He sees her watching, but on this day, he is too full with the joy of being in control of his own creative power to cease his headlong chase through the forest. Gradually you tire, and at last you find yourself walking back through the forest to your own cottage, where you find rest.
All through the growing spring the Virgin and the Young Lord watch each other through the forest. Each aware of the other, but both self-fulfilled with their own potential and power. But the Sun keeps getting stronger, and at last we come to that moment where the Young Lord and the Virgin realize that they have a greater destiny to fulfill, and driven by their natural desires, and the signs of the burgeoning world all around them, they seek each other out, and in celebration of the great mystery of the Land Marriage, they join as one.
It is the height of spring, and the signs of fertility are all around. As you make your own way towards the clearing, you feel the warm Sun upon your face, and feel the life in the Earth beneath your feet. In the center of the clearing stands a great tree trunk, crowned with a garland of spring flowers, with many red and white ribbons fluttering in the breeze. From far and wide people have traveled to the clearing, for today is the day of celebrating the growing Sun, and the fertile Earth. Men and women take hold of the ribbons, and enact their own celebration of Life as they dance the pattern of the sacred spiral of creation around the tree. You hold your ribbon firmly, and watch the spiral form as you dance the ancient steps that have been danced since first Man and Woman were joined as one.
You hear cheering and shouts of laughter, and there, walking through the crowd hand in hand come the Young Lord and his wife - Virgin no longer. Together they have celebrated the sacred mystery in accordance with the Old Laws: for they have joined in love, and so have become the King and Queen of the Land.
And the weeks pass, and the Sun grows ever stronger in the sky, and the King grows in strength and majesty. The Queen begins to show signs of her pregnancy, the mirror of the crops and fruits that the Land begins to produce, for the Queen represents the Land, and is at one with it.
At last the day arrives when the Sun reaches its most powerful time: the Midsummer Solstice. The King and Queen are at their peak too, reflected in the majesty of the King, and the growing life in the womb of the Queen. To mark this day, the King and Queen host a great celebration in the forest clearing: a feast to mark the Solstice day, and their own creative powers which have brought many good things to the Land. All day the feast and games continue, with the King and Queen bestowing their blessings upon everyone.
At long last the Sun begins to sink slowly towards the west; as it falls you hear a disturbance upon the edge of the clearing. You see people running, and hear their screams. And then into the clearing stalks a dark figure, his black cloak swirling around him, wearing a helmet which obscures his face from view - shadow of darkness in the forest. He strides towards the King, and in a loud clear voice, challenges him for the right to rule the kingdom, and for the Queen as his consort.
The King must protect what he has striven so hard to create, and must protect his wife and unborn child. He accepts the challenge, and a great battle ensues as the Sun slowly sinks in the west. The challenger lays the King's thigh open with a sweep of his sword, but is unbalanced, and despite his wound, the King manages to throw the challenger to the ground and disarm him. The challenger begs for mercy, but the King fears this dark and threatening figure, and so ignoring his cries for mercy, he plunges his sword deep into the challenger's heart. And so in order to protect, the King destroys, and a shadow of darkness is cast upon the Land. The challenger's blood soaks into the Earth, and the Sun finally sinks beyond the western horizon.
You make your way back to your cottage, as the King is carried away to have his wound attended to. The next day the Sun rises as before, and seems as strong as it ever was, but you have seen and felt the shadow of the dark, and now sense a change in the Land. Instead of growing, things are ripening; the heat of the summer Sun brings the crops and fruit to ripeness, but the growth is now over. And just as the Land gives forth its fruits, so now does the Queen give birth to her son. The wheat is harvested; the barley made into ale; and a great feast is held to give thanks for all the good things of the Earth, and for the safe birth of the King and Queen's son.
But in giving birth, the Queen is no longer simply a wife; she becomes the Mother. She knows that her son is the hope for the Land, for the King's wound, taken at the Midsummer battle, is a wasting wound, and will not heal. He grows weaker by the day, a reflection of the waning powers of the Sun. The Queen knows this, and as her son grows, she trains him in the ways of sovereignty. The King sees only that his son grows stronger, as he grows weaker. He watches the Sun wane day by day as summer slips towards the time of the Equinox, when once again day and night are equal; but this time, the dark is in the ascendant.
At last the night of the Equinox arrives. The King feels drawn towards the clearing in the forest, and under a waning Moon, he makes his way along the track. He remembers his initiation at the Spring Equinox; his love for the Virgin, and their joyful celebration of the Land Marriage at Beltane; he remembers how proud he was of his creative powers at the Midsummer Solstice, and with a pang of sadness, he remembers how he had to face the dark challenger who threatened his Kingdom and his Queen. And finally, he remembers the birth of his son - a joy now turned to sorrow, as the King finds himself once more in the clearing, where waiting at the center is his son, armed with a spear.
Out of the corner of his eye, the King sees a movement in the shadows, and remembers how he first saw his beloved wife, when she was newly awakened, a young Virgin, and he was the Lord of the Forest. Now his wife hides in the shadows - she wears a black cloak, and covers her face with its hood. The King and his son face each other, and then without a word being spoken, the King draws his sword and they begin to fight. Sword against spear, a mighty battle rages in the clearing. The powers of light and dark are equal, but the powers of darkness are now in the ascendant, and as the night grows on, the King begins to tire. The wasting wound he suffered at the Summer Solstice has never healed, and his powers - like those of the Sun - are waning.
There is a brief pause in the fight: the King and his son look deep into each others eyes. There flashes between them recognition of the mystery that light and dark are equal: that they are not fighting each other, but that each is fighting himself. For the light and the dark are one and the same, as are the King and his son, and with this realization, the King joyfully lifts his guard, and is impaled upon the spear as he drives his sword deep into his son's heart. Together they fall dead to the ground, and their blood pours out upon the Earth.
At the edge of the clearing the Queen watches, and as she sees her husband/son die, she sends a great wail echoing through the forest. There, standing in the cave mouth is the Lord of Death and Resurrection, but she cannot see him. For her husband/son/lover has now become the Lord of the Otherworld, and she is still of this world. The waning Moon watches as she tears her hair, and as one possessed, runs through the forest in an agony of grief. For she too saw the mystery, and now she understands that the light and dark are but the same. She knows that her husband/lover/son has passed beyond the veil, and that her creative time is passed. For the Queen is now a Witch: the ancient Hag Crone who knows the mysteries of life and death and has walked the path of initiation. In making her journey she has truly found the gods, and knows that behind the wheel of the seasons there is an ancient power. By walking the wheel she has joined with the mystery. She has been a Virgin, a Wife, the Queen, the Mother and the Crone. She has walked the way of the seasons. She has seen the spring, the summer, autumn and winter, and she understands that an ancient truth lies hidden within it all.
At last the time of the dark Moon arrives, when the Sun's powers are low, and the veil between the worlds is thin. Standing alone in the forest she makes her way to the clearing. She stands alone for she is feared by those who have yet to walk the wheel. For now she must perform the supreme act of magic. She kindles the ancient Samhain fire, with woods of all the sacred trees. One for each season, one for each way, one for the night and one for the day, one for her lover and one for her son, one for the serpent and one for her song.
As she raises her arms in invocation a great storm gathers. With a final act of understanding she opens the veil between herself and the gods. She opens the veil of the Otherworld and calls back the spirits of the dead. For she knows now to fulfill the mystery she must join with the Lord of the Otherworld; they must love and join as one. The storm breaks: lightning and thunder tear and crack at the ancient night as the trees creak and bend in the wind. For the wild hunt is now upon us as the spirits of the dead are led from the Otherworld by the Horned God. Chaos now reigns in the world for the Mystery is upon us.
But to join with this mystery the Crone must embrace the Lord of Flame, the Lord of Death and Resurrection, and go with him back into the Otherworld. To join with him she must become the Goddess. So of her own free will, she dies the death of true initiation and enters into the cave, and passes with the Horned Lord back into the depths of the Otherworld. There they join in love as one: the supreme moment of the true Great Rite in which all the mysteries of the male and female; all the mysteries of the light and dark are married together as one. For love has always been the key. It is love that conquers our fear and shows the way to union. For true love is true death, as the individual sense of self is transcended by a vision of the One. As the gods fulfill the mystery of love, the seed of new life is planted deep within the womb of the Great Mother.
And the land sleeps, for the dark time is upon us once again, and the God and Goddess lay in each others arms, deep within the Land, hidden from sight. The Sun quickly wanes day by day, the nights growing longer, the days shorter. Winter grips the land as a cold wind blows through the forest. The darkness seems complete, but those of the Wicca are wise and weep not for they know that the Sun will be reborn through the love of the God and Goddess. Life will not fail - the Sun will return again. And at last the night of the Midwinter Solstice arrives: the longest night of the year, but we know now it is only the darkness that comes before the dawn.
As you stand upon the edge of the forest, you see the first signs of the new born Sun rising upon the eastern horizon, and hear the sound of a new born babe. But this time, you walk away from the clearing towards the rising Sun, and as you leave the forest, you turn and see that it is no more than a shadow behind you. Before you is a world which you know well; it is the world in which you live, and now it is time to return. The Otherworld is real, and you may return at any time, for the mysteries of the gods are there for all to understand, if you have but eyes to see. You continue to walk into the everyday world, and become aware of the sounds around you, and of the place in which you sit. Spend a few moments quietly re-attuning yourself to your normal state, and then open your eyes and stretch. (End of Guided Visualization)
If you want to make any notes do, but please remember that the Wheel of the Year is an emotional experience, not an academic exercise!
And finally, always have something to eat and drink after any activity which uses an altered state of consciousness. This is the most effective and efficient way to "ground," and is vital if participants are traveling home after the working.